“You don’t have to take it so personally.” “I didn't mean it like that.” “Take what I say with a grain of salt.” If you’re an administrative professional, chances are good you've heard at least one of these in the work environment. This sort of emotional gaslighting in the workplace is, and will continue to be, a hot button issue for the foreseeable future.

There are many outlets that tell you what you should do or should not do in these types of situations, but many of them get it wrong. For example, Forbes contributor Frances Bridges offers a few options for how to not take things personally, including “let things go” and “fill your calendar.” (To be fair, she also says to take her advice “at your own risk.”) While she makes many valid points, we have to ask the question: do we ever really let things go?


Some of us are auditory learners, while others are visual, literary or kinesthetic learners, but ultimately, we all learn from experience. According to Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, this concept is called “domesticated.” In his book, he asserts that “all the rules and values of our family and society are imposed on us through a system of punishment and reward.” This is as true in the work environment as it is everywhere else. From day one, we learn what is acceptable or unacceptable from our peers’ (re)actions.

Company culture is learned, but that also means it can be unlearned. Forgetting what you know, however, is easier said than done. If your office frequently says things that someone could easily take personally, it will take work to undo that culture. One way to “unlearn” it is to get to know each person individually so you always know the tone of the person who’s speaking. This also helps you learn the situations that will trigger an emotionally gaslighting response.

Experienced APs are not only assistants; they’re high-level, well-prepared thought partners who are also agents of company culture. As an AP, you often set the tone for peer interaction. Be sure to get to know as many of your peers as you can, clearly communicate what is acceptable and what’s not, and model the culture you want to see in the company.

Be Okay With You

“What people say to you is a reflection of them, not of you.” This is great advice. In a way this is true; people take their frustration out when things aren’t going right in their environment—at home or at work— and in a perfect (un-domesticated) world, everyone would have the opportunity to deal with those situations from a 30,000 foot view and focus on how to overcome those feelings. The truth is, you are allowed to take things personally especially if there is just cause for it. And we all need to remember that.

Know the Value You Give

There have been times when the easiest decision would be to jump to conclusions but in the end that only solidifies what both parties were thinking, “that was awkward.” A lot of this comes from the dreaded Imposter Syndrome. Instead, take some advice from an actual AP, “I focus on what I can control and work hard. I can’t take anything personally when I know I’ve given 100% of my effort.” This is great advice when trying to navigate the current job market. Especially now that “The Great Resignation” is the topic of discussion among small, medium and large scale businesses alike. Remember: you still know what you’re doing, you’re just doing it in a different context. Stay in the present and focus on the resources that have been provided. Ask questions, give feedback, and most of all, make sure that you understand exactly what the job requires.

Final thoughts

Listen, no one gets it right but trying makes all the difference. It means you are on the way to unlearning and relearning new agreements inwardly and outwardly. You don’t have to take it personally but you can take the initiative to let people know where you stand and how they should address you. One thing for sure, we teach people how to treat us and if there is any doubt, it will show. Make no assumptions, in everything do your best and be exemplary in your speech. These guidelines will help keep the harmony between yourself and your peers. For more insight, check out the Resources page.