The One Thing You Want to Avoid Saying When Implementing Change


In this episode of Top Secrets Revealed on Leadership we’re going to look at the one thing you should never say when implementing change.

“Don’t take it personally.”

This is something you should not only never say when making a change. This is something you should never say to anyone…period.

Why It Backfires

You know the old trick. “Don’t think of an elephant.” And what’s the first thing you think of? [Screech!] Exactly. There it is. The big grey thing. In the room. That no one will talk about.

We often say things to people to avoid upsetting them. And it’s understandable to not want to hurt somebody’s feelings. But implying that somebody’s reaction to something is wrong by flat-out telling them not to take it personally is a big no-no.

It’s like starting a sentence with, “No offense, but.” When you hear that, you just know that everything after that is going to be something that will provoke you. And people still say “No offense” as if that’s supposed to soften the blow that’s about to hit you.

“Mr. Bond. It’s good to see you again.”

Well the same principle applies. Think about the message you’re sending. When you say “Don’t take it personally,” is it possible the person might get the opposite message?

“Yes…I got the message.”

Sending A Message

When you tell somebody don’t take it personally, you’re just reinforcing that it is personal. And it does have to do with them…even if you don’t mean it that way. Without realizing it, the message you’re conveying is, “I feel bad or I feel guilty about this situation, so you need to change your reaction so I’ll feel better.” Again, think about the message you’re sending.

“Do you want a clean kill, or do you want to send a message?”

Remember the movie the Godfather? One of the more famous motifs from that movie series was this:

“It’s not personal Sonny. It’s strictly business.”

Thank you, that was my young Al Pacino impression.

And the irony is: it was always personal! It was never business with those guys. It was always some act of revenge which they would rationalize as being “business.” Now, obviously, you don’t work for that kind of organization. Or if you do, and you’re watching this, don’t come after me. Please.

Personal is Natural

With any kind of organizational change, somebody somewhere is going to take something personally. Why? Because, human beings are emotional. We emotionalize things, even things that might not affect us directly.

It’s like this: think of the last time you heard something on the news that made you angry or upset. Even if you weren’t involved. You weren’t even there for whatever happened. And you still got upset. That’s you taking it personally.

A better way to handle potential upset or hurt feelings is to acknowledge them, not avoid them. For tips on this, see my episode on “Leading Organizational Change.”

(By the way, you don’t actually have to be a leader to learn from these, they apply to everybody. A little secret.)

So when implementing change, avoid saying, “Don’t take it personally,” because you’re just reinforcing the opposite. And leaders, remember: you’re working with human beings. Human beings are emotional. And when emotions are involved, it’s always personal.

I’m Tim O’Shea, The Agent of Change. Thanks for watching Top Secrets Revealed.