When You Are Under Attack…

Sometimes, people really are trying to make things personal. In my book The Elegant Pivot, An Inspired Move for Navigating Corporate Politics, the most challenging character I describe is Fighting Francis. As much as we wish it weren’t so, the FF’s in the world really are out to get us.

There may be no better gift to our personal growth and self-awareness than a Fighting Francis.

Yes, I just called someone who is attacking you a gift.

While it’s perfectly normal to wish the attackers would go away, back down or maybe fall down a flight of stairs, we have the option to choose to see them differently. In fact, our attackers can benefit us in several ways.

There’s a huge difference between truly BEING attacked and FEELING attacked. When we get that first signal that something is off, our survival mode dictates that we assume the worst. It’s natural to assume that someone might be trying to undermine us, make us look bad to the boss or take the credit for our work.

Learning to quickly pivot from assuming the worst to checking things out offers the first gift of an attack. It’s an opportunity to practice. Every time I pivot, I get a little better at seeing things more clearly. I’m less defensive and less apt to take actions I will later regret.

Perhaps the most “fun” gift of an attack is the window it offers us into the attacker’s world. Just like seeing into a house where everyone is going about their business, unaware that they are being watched, our attackers offer us some valuable information about how they think, feel and act. If they really do mean us harm, they will escalate every time we fail to rise to the bait. Once we pivot away from survival mode, we can recognize their attack says more about them than us – as long as we don’t unconsciously agree with them.

And therein lies the best gift of all. Our attackers provide a mirror into our own self-awareness. When they are able to get under our skin, we can thank them for helping us find those soft, squishy spots inside that we still need to strengthen. In fact, their attack is like a heat seeking missile, programmed to find the exact spot that will do the most damage.

One night, I was coming in on a late flight and hopped on a bus to the hotel. As we were pulling away, a man flagged down our bus and the driver stopped and opened the door. The man was not trying to go to the same hotel as all of us on the bus were. Didn’t matter to this guy. He held the door opened and cajoled the driver to take him somewhere else. I sat there fuming. By now, this guy had gotten under my skin in a big way. How dare him make me even later to arrive at my hotel!

He would not let it go. He kept demanding that the bus driver take care of him. I finally had enough. This interloper was keeping me and everybody else from getting to our nice, cozy beds. I can’t remember exactly what I said – but it was loud and definitely escalated the situation. Whatever I said certainly did not make us arrive at the hotel any faster.

The next day, I told a colleague all about the incident. I was still angry and expected my colleague to join me in spewing venom about the belligerent traveler. Instead, he was amused. Amused? That struck me as weird. Until that moment, I felt like my response was completely justified. I couldn’t imagine laughing it off. Later, when I reflected on it, I saw so many holes in my logic. I was the one making it personal. I made up all kinds of stories about why this guy was being the way he was and got super offended at being inconvenienced. As I kept reflecting, I came to recognize the gold nugget in the whole incident. What he did was something I would have done if the shoes were reversed. In fact, I had probably done such things at different times.

The things I didn’t like in his actions were a reflection of what I didn’t like in myself.

As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve learned that if someone is getting under my skin, it’s time for me to go on a treasure hunt. They are showing me something about myself that I have not been willing to look at yet.

What if we start seeing attacks as multilayered gifts? What if we welcomed antagonists that look like they’re a “bad” thing as an opportunity to learn? What if we used the things we take personally as a roadmap for self-awareness?

Doing so might just strip the power away from Fighting Francis.

As always, please share this with anyone you think would find it useful. And let me know how you are using what you learn!