How NOT to Get Offended

I wrote this post for asmithblog.com. It appeared there first.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphoto.net
We live in a politically charged, politically correct environment and it can feel like we are all walking around on eggshells hoping not to offend anyone. Discussions about religion, abortion, race relations, sexual orientations, politics, and the role of government can all turn heated and ugly pretty quickly.
You may have asked why are people taking things so personally? As I mentioned in the It’s Not Personal. Its Business post, taking something personally doesn’t mean the receiver is weak. It usually means they have been offended. In this post, I am going to talk about why we get offended  and what to do about.

When you see people taking things “personally”, you are really seeing them getting offended.
Offense causes us emotional fight or flight. We feel threatened and then our bodies prepare to fight or flee. Blood rushes to our large muscles groups in preparation. Blood flows away from the cognitive centers of our brains and thus inhibits us from thinking normally.
Offense is a noun that means a violation or breaking of a social or moral rule. A transgression of the law, or something that offends and displeases people. In other words, offense occurs when a core belief or value is or feels threatened or violated. That is the cause of most offense.
The beauty about passion is that is a blessing and a curse. Passionate people get offended more often than people who lack passion. Offense comes when one either passionately over-identifies or passionately under-identifies with someone or a topic.


I admit that I am not an animal lover. So during college, when my good friend’s childhood dog died and she couldn’t get out of the bed, I was perplexed. She ended up going home for a few days for his burial. She was very angry with me because I said, “I don’t get it. It’s just a dog.”
Clearly, I under-identified with her. I didn’t get it. But just because I didn’t understand her passion for Sam didn’t give me the right to belittle her for it.


Conversely, when I moved to the south and was called “gal” for the first time by an older white man, I got offended. Technically, gal is the female equivalent to guy. But I didn’t see it that way. I saw and heard an old white man in Mississippi refer to me using a term my grandmother said maids in the south were called once the “N” word wasn’t acceptable in public discourse anymore. Clearly, I over-identified and applied the wrong meaning to that situation. But, just because I over-identified with the topic didn’t give me the right to accuse him of being racist.
Good communicators need to be equipped to deal with offense. They have to learn and practice how not to get offended.

How NOT to get offended

Everyone gets offended. How you deal with offense will determine if you live a life of stress or a life of freedom.
1. Identify your triggers.
Why does this topic or issue offend you? What core values or belief are being threatened? Could it be it has nothing to do with the other party but your own insecurities? Take time to address these issues. If you spend your time denying your triggers exists, you will continue to be in bondage. You can’t overcome what you don’t deal with.
2. Try to seek perspective.
The key word here is try. Are they intentionally trying to offend? Or are they simply as passionate as you are? Gain perspective. Seek a trusted source, a coach, or mentor for perspective. From whom you get perspective is extremely important. Go to people who won’t tell you what you want to hear, but have been trusted to be honest with you.
3. Resist impulsive reactions.
You get into a lot of trouble when you don’t fully think about what you say. If you are quick with a retort, here is where you need to exercise a little self control. Resist the snarky retort. Resist the auto-apology; meaning you apologize out of habit not genuine remorse.
4. Choose.
As Eleanor Roosevelt said,
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. <<tweet that
Offense will come like an uninvited guest to your house, you need to decide if you will let it come in, put its muddy boots on your furniture, and stress you out.
5. Address it or let it go.
After you identify your part in taking offense, some situations need to be addressed. Others don’t. Decide. Is this an appropriate setting for this discussion? How can I best discuss this situation so that I am respecting myself and the offender? If it does, practice what you are going to say before addressing the offender. If it doesn’t need to be addressed, purposely let it go.
It would wonderful if no one ever said a stupid, selfish,  or insensitive thing ! But that is not the world we live in. We live in a world where people are free to say what they want. By practicing these 5 steps you find you take offense less and less often. Good communicators recognize that everyone will not always agree and have a plan in place to deal with the high probability of getting offended.
How do you handle being offended?

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