It's none of your business

I got one of those annoying Powerpoint presentations sent via my email yet again the other day. You know the ones. They’re full of truisms, aphorisms and motherhood statements written over the top of (and wrecking) great photos and backed by funeral parlour music. Then you get told to pass it on to seven (why seven?) of your friends or your house will be invaded by giant moths. Or, worse, you’ll spend eternity forced to watch endless replays of Friends. I wish I knew who is bored enough to invent these things and then send them out into the ether to propagate. It’s one of the great downsides of the internet that people can get an audience so quickly. They’d be less inclined to do it if they had to stick stamps on zillions of envelopes and post them. Still, we can simply press the delete button, which is an upside to the technology. You can’t always do that in face-to-face conversations you are having with people that are driving you mad can you? Interesting idea though as you will see below.

For some reason, I guess it must have been a weak moment brought on by too much Easter egg chocolate, I opened the presentation and turned off the dirge that accompanied it, and scanned the 45 or so sayings. And there it was; a gem. Just goes to show you that sometimes it is worth paying attention because there might be something really worthwhile among the rubbish. Perhaps I should listen more carefully when Uncle Bob is droning on about nothing in particular after Sunday lunch.

You’ve probably heard it (I’m usually the last to know anything) but the jewel was: What other people think of you is none of your business!

My experience as a therapist and consulting in organisations (is there a difference you might well ask) is that many people are often paralysed by worrying about what other people might think of them if they were to do or say something. The fear can stop them from saying what needs to be said to difficult children, partners or relatives about damaging behaviour (to themselves or others). It can stop us speaking up when someone is treating us badly or unfairly at work. And it can make you send those stupid Powerpoint presentations on to seven others because some god or other will get peeved.

We learnt this behaviour when we were children and Aunty Maud would come to afternoon tea. There was always one last chocolate biscuit left on the table and you wanted it really badly. But no, it had to be left to rot because Aunty Maud might want it and it was important not to upset her. She never ever ate the damn thing but there you are.

So, the conversation in your head goes something like, “I’d better not say (do) that because the person might not like me. So, I’ll suffer in silence and be miserable.” Assertive people learn the following conversation instead: “I don’t deserve to be made miserable by that person’s behaviour so I am going to do something about it. I don’t really know how they’ll react so I’m imagining that they might not like me for choosing not to be a doormat any longer. And in any case, what they think of me is none of my business!”

Send this to seven other people… or you’ll have to have afternoon tea with Jerry Seinfeld.

Dr Stewart Hase is an Adjunct Fellow with Southern Cross University and a consultant psychologist.


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