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Feeling offended... and other such workplace traps

It's so easy to feel offended at how a colleague handles a situation or addresses us. Whether we are working in a small local business, or within an agile global team spread across various timezones... whether we are a seasoned professional or just starting our careers.... feeling offended or taking offense can often seem very real, as if someone has done something wrong to us. And therefore, there must be something that must be done about it.

I used to take these feelings seriously. If I felt that a colleague didn't like me or said something that felt offensive to me, I used to think it's a real thing. I used to respect these feelings so much that I would spend countless hours reflecting on them. If a colleague said something unkind to me, then it meant something about me or the other person. I either took their comments to heart and thought it was a real statement about my performance or even who I was as a person... OR... I would secretly put their name on my sh*t list and vow to never trust them ever again.

I would spend countless hours sharing the episode with close friends, plan a strategy to one-up that colleague, or spend a lot of time with a coach trying to "heal" or "reframe" the negative thoughts that made me get offended in the first place.

All of this took so much time. So much energy.

All of this seemed real. Me taking offense seemed like a real thing. My approach to "fixing" the situation seemed pretty reasonable and even noble at times - especially if I decided to "take the high road," work my process and "forgive" the other person.

But in reality, all of this is wasted energy. Why? Because the cycle continues. If it's not this colleague, it'll be another one. If it's not this team, it'll be on another team and on another project. No matter how much we try to unpack and understand and "heal" our feelings of "being offended," it never really goes away. And we are stuck with ourselves over and over again.

The way out of this cycle is understanding the simplicity of how we experience our moment to moment reality. When we "feel offended" at something that someone said or did, the ONLY THING that's caused us to feel that way is our THOUGHTS about the situation. Someone says/does something, and we create a concept or a thought about what they did. And then we feel that thought.


It's pretty basic. Psych 101. We always only experience our thoughts in the moment. But the clincher is that we take these thoughts so darn seriously !! We forget that thoughts are transient in nature... and that on a daily basis we have thousands of thoughts floating through us !! So why should we hold on so tight to these few reactive thoughts that say what the other person did is worthy of us taking offense and feeling offended??

The answer is: we're human and it's a human thing. Our brains help us survive. When someone says or does something that we think is offensive, we immediately latch on to that thought and gear up for battle. It seems so real to us -- and we feel threatened. We get so hooked so rapidly that we forget that this reactive thought is just one of thousands of thoughts we could have about the situation.

And when we're hooked on our reactive thoughts, we step into a fantasy that we've literally created about that situation. Instead of being fully present and available to address the situation with executive poise, with clarity and creativity... we're literally hijacked into a very limited reality with few options! We project our feelings of discomfort and hurt onto the other person, as if they have some magical power to make us feel good.

It's a victimized and controlling way of handling our workplace situations -- as if others are responsible for our state of mind -- as if others MUST act a certain way in order for us to feel at peace and comfortable.

This innocent misunderstanding is so rampant in our places of work, and on a daily basis eats away at our individual and team's potential to be collaborative, creative, powerful, inspired and innovative.

Choosing to live in the limited reality of our reactive thoughts doesn't serve anyone.

Strengthening our psychological agility to be aware of this understanding, allows us to loosen our grip on the truth-value and accuracy of our reactive thoughts. By allowing the reactive thoughts to settle, we can actually be present to effectively address the situation. The less we are gripped by our reactive thoughts, the more we can actually experience our authentic sense of well-being, clarity, and confidence in the present moment.

This understanding has shifted everything in my personal and professional life. It's given me so much energy and ability to collaborate and communicate with diverse team members with a full array of personalities and cultural perspectives. Without the need to take my reactive thoughts seriously, I literally opened myself up to the richness of the people and situations in my life. The authentic creativity and power that's present is truly remarkable! I will share more in my future writings.


Dr. Noushin Bayat is a coach and organization development executive with expertise in operations, change management, and leadership development. She supports executives/teams to engage clear thinking, psychological agility and presence to collaborate effectively and deliver emergent innovative solutions within complex agile environments. Dr. Bayat has worked on change initiatives requiring the design of training and leadership development programs, scaling and operationalizing coaching deployment and developing agile solutions within agile product development environments. She has a BS in computer science and communications, masters in public health and spiritual psychology, and doctorate in organizational leadership, with advanced training in coaching, yoga and meditation.