When someone says something insensitive, use this simple three-word phrase to stay productive and move on.
Picture this – “Still working?”
It was an innocent question, but it triggered me. I just smiled uncomfortably and walked away, silently seething.
Why, you ask?
In the moment, with no control over the rush of thoughts going through my head, here’s how I interpreted the question:
- “Why do you work so much?”
- “You work for yourself. Why don’t you call it a day already?”
- “Why don’t you spend more time with your kids?”
- “What’s wrong with you?”
Of course, I doubt Dad was thinking those last two questions (although I’m sure he was thinking the first two).
You want to be the bigger person and just let it go, but you’re not sure how.
Well, I’ve discovered a simple, three-word phrase that helps me deal with comments like these.
That phrase is: They don’t know.
Why is this phrase so effective? The reason has to do with the meaning behind the phrase, and its foundation in emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage emotions. (If you find value in this lesson, you might be interested in my free course, which teaches you how to build emotional intelligence in yourself and your team.)
How to move on
“They don’t know” is shorthand for one or more of the following:
The goal of “They don’t know” isn’t for you to look down on the other person, or to demean them. It’s simply recognizing that there’s no possible way they could know what it’s like to walk in your shoes.
Acknowledging this fact frees you from attaching too much emotional significance to what they’ve said.
It changes your feelings from: “I can’t believe they said that” to “Oh, yeah. They don’t know. All good.”
Like, my father-in-law has never owned a business, so he doesn’t know what it’s like. He also only sees a small snapshot of my life.
- They don’t know what it’s like to work for yourself.
- They don’t know what it’s like to have four kids.
- They don’t know that I didn’t start work until 11 a.m. today … because I was cleaning up and running errands.
- They don’t know that every day, I eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with my family.
- They don’t know that I drop work when my wife or kids need me.
- They don’t know that, even though life’s not perfect, I actually prefer it this way.
“They don’t know” can also help you.
Think about the client or vendor that misunderstands you: They don’t know.
The friend that makes clueless comments: They don’t know.
The member of your volunteer group, or your kid’s teacher … who just doesn’t get it: They don’t know.
Use three little words and remind yourself: They’re not mean or horrible or bad.
They just don’t know.