By Andrea Redmond and Patricia Crisafulli
happen, vulnerability often follows. Feeling unprotected and
exposed, we don’t want people to know what we’re facing, whether
it’s a professional upset such as the loss of a job, loss of a great
sales account, or being passed over for promotion, or something more
personal. The more upsetting the circumstances, the more we may fear
what other people think and say about us. Not only are we concerned
about the opinions of our friends and work associates, we can become
preoccupied with what “they” think—the people beyond our scope of
For people who tend
to be more relationship-oriented by nature, the effects may be even
more difficult to deal with. Suddenly, despite your accomplishments
and professional standing, everyone’s opinion matters. We become so
preoccupied by other people that we invest too much precious time
and energy trying to manage opinions and perceptions and not
focusing on how we can effectively deal with the problem at hand.
What “They” Think: Our concerns over what other people are saying and thinking can take
away from our own ability to cope with what is happening in the
moment. With all our focus “out there,” we may rob ourselves of the
physical and emotional energy we need to support ourselves and move
on from the setback. We may even be so focused on people outside our
circle of intimates that we pay too little attention to the help
being offered by those who are closest to us. The tape that plays in
our head, our self-talk, can drown out the little voice in the
background that may be saying, “Take care of yourself right now; be
kind to yourself.” In other words, we have to decide who really
When facing an
upheaval in any area of your life, a good way to move above, beyond,
and through it is by drawing a “line in the sand.” The people you
know and care about are on one side; they are the ones whose
opinions really matter to you. It is their support that you rely on
to endure the difficulties and begin a comeback. On the other side
of the line are those whom you do not know or who don’t know the
real you, and whose opinions, therefore, do not matter. Trying to
influence them or manage their perceptions is futile.
Drawing A Line in the Sand: This is brought home in the story of highly successful
leader Patricia Dunn, who had been CEO of Barclays Global Investors,
one of the leading investment firms in the world, and a member of
the board of directors of computer giant Hewlett-Packard. In the
midst of a management transition at Hewlett-Packard, Dunn was asked
to become chairman of the board of directors.
When an internal
investigation at HP into leaks of confidential information went
awry, Dunn suddenly came under fire. Although she was not in charge
of the investigation, she was among those indicted on four felony
counts related to alleged corporate espionage. At the same time,
Dunn was also dealing with ovarian cancer, undergoing surgery and
treatment. But she cared about her reputation and her legacy.
Although the double
threat that confronted her might seem beyond any one person’s
capability, Dunn approached these challenges with her typical grace,
intelligence, and self-awareness. “I really had only so many
first-place enemies to be fighting,” she says. Choosing her battles
literally, Dunn made her priority cancer treatment to achieve a
state of remission.
In the meantime, to
deal with a barrage of assaults on her character and reputation,
particularly in the press, Dunn had to find a way to deal with the
emotional pain and duress. For her, the key was separating in her
mind those who were among her supporters and whose opinions matter
the most and those who were outside that circle. As she explains, “I
had to make a cosmic distinction between those I knew and didn’t
know, and those whose opinions matter to me and those I could never
know and therefore what they thought was less important.” By making
that separation in her mind, Dunn was able to remain grounded
through incredibly difficult times.
In the end, Dunn
was completely exonerated when charges against her were dropped. In
September 2006, she was inducted into the Bay Area Council’s
prestigious Hall of Fame, a high honor and a rare achievement for a
woman at the time. Today, she is provides energy and leadership to a
variety of philanthropic endeavors.
provides lessons that can help guide us when we, too, face upsets
and upheavals. Instead of worrying what everyone is thinking or
saying, we stay in the realm of what is real and relevant to our
Staying Real and Relevant: As you face your own upheavals and setbacks in the workplace
or outside of work, consider these tips:
on what “they” think.
time worrying about people whom you don’t know wastes your
energy. The only ones who matter are those with whom you have a
connection or relationship. Their opinions are the only ones
that really count.
yourself with allies.
Friends, family members, and other positive supporters are
crucial when you face an upset. Allow them to help you with
encouragement, suggestions, or other assistance.
You will get through this difficulty. Reach out to others whom
you know who may have had similar experiences for advice on how
they made it through the tough times. Listen to the little voice
in your head that is nurturing and supporting, not doubting and
critical. Realistically, a good life is not the same thing as an
easy life, so be grateful to those who are there for you.
Having gone through a setback will make you more empathic and
supportive of others. When someone in your circle faces an
upset, be a positive support for that person. Get the focus,
attention, and intensity off your own problems and move forward,
on to helping others.
Enduring a setback
in your personal or professional life can be overwhelming. You do
not need to compound the problem by focusing on what “they” think.
The only ones who count are those who are closest to you and whose
opinions matter. Chances are they are already on your side.
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