This article was originally published on Forbes.com
Imagine this scenario: You go to a professional networking event and start chatting with a group of people you've just met. You notice that one of them speaks respectfully to the others but interrupts you every time you start to say something — and when they speak to you directly, it's with condescension and impatience. You're not sure why this person is behaving this way toward you, but when you leave the group, one of their colleagues comes up to you and says, "Listen, I'm sorry you were subjected to that, but they just really can't stand people wearing blue."
How do you react? Do you take it personally? Do you feel bad about yourself because you're wearing blue? Do you feel that in some way you're not worthy because of your clothing choice? Probably not. It's likely obvious that whatever problem exists, it lies with the other person and not with you.
Now imagine the same scenario, except you sense (or know) that the other person doesn't like people they perceive as junior, or not smart enough, or of the "wrong" age, ethnicity or gender. Whatever the bias, if any of the characteristics resonate with you, you might find yourself taking it personally and feeling bad about yourself.
The reality is that the problem still belongs to the other person. But when their prejudices touch an insecurity within us, we can be thrown off balance.
I'll always remember my own worst experience with this: A potential business partner came to meet with me and my team. He introduced himself and shook hands with my colleagues (all men) and then turned to me and asked me for a cup of coffee.
I was stunned, a little humiliated and completely thrown off balance.
In moments like these, I've found that it's important to stay grounded and confident and not get pulled into viewing yourself through other people's eyes. So what are some approaches for handling a situation like this?
Start by having a healthy view of yourself and knowing your value. This requires that you appreciate that you belong there — whatever the context for the interaction (a professional event, client meeting or team interaction). Period. Do you wish you could be better at some aspect of your role or wish you were more senior or have some other insecurity? Great. We all have stuff to work on. But that doesn't mean we should allow others to define us based on their own issues.
Developing a mantra that connects you with your confidence can be a useful tool for getting into the right mindset. For example, you can grasp your wrist as if you're putting on a bracelet while saying "I am awesome and I belong here." I like to visualize myself putting on superhero-like power armor. My armor makes me strong, renders me impervious to any barbs thrown my way and allows me to visualize literally rising above a situation. Your own mantra can be any combination of words, images and actions — as long as it resonates with you and reminds you of your value.
In my case with the potential business partner, I took a minute, reminded myself that I had helped build the company, that I had critical information needed for the discussion and that, despite the other person's thoughts on the matter, I would be part of the conversation. It was up to me — not him — to define myself at that moment. (I also reminded myself that getting visitors a beverage was something I would normally do and that this was not a learning moment for him.) So I calmed down, got into a positive frame of mind, brought our guest his cup of coffee and took the meeting. (Unsurprisingly, it wasn't a fit, and we didn't pursue the relationship.)
So remember: Before you walk into an interaction where you may encounter someone who will throw you off balance, start by taking a moment to remind yourself that you have a reason and a right to be there. Stopping to pause and tune your mindset can help keep you centered during even the most challenging interactions.
And be polite to people who don't like blue clothing; they likely have their own issues to work through.
© 2019 Jennine Heller and J Heller Coaching. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jennine Heller and J Heller Coaching with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.