When You Are an Engineer, You Have to Take Work Personally

“Work is the place where I’m going to spend the bulk of my waking hours — indeed, the bulk of my life — and yet I’m not supposed to take it personally?"


“Don’t take things personally!”

That’s a common work advice which usually comes up during feedback, conflict, difficult conversations, losing deals, collaboration, and all sorts of ups and downs in anyone’s career. But really, this is a terrible idea.

Duncan Coombe from Harvard Business Review argues, “Work is the place where I’m going to spend the bulk of my waking hours — indeed, the bulk of my life — and yet I’m not supposed to take it personally? I should accept the idea that the bulk of my life from twentysomething to sixtysomething is somehow not personal?”

He went on to say that by “not taking it personally,” we are better able to protect ourselves in work contexts that can often be challenging, threatening, and relentless. But ultimately, Coombe believes that there are benefits to making our work, leadership, and followership personal.

For one, those who are our inspirations when it comes to career success and well-being are most likely to take work personally, and those who depersonalized their work might not be the fun types or whose careers are going in an unstable trajectory. This link is as crucial as identifying ourselves to those who are successful.


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Moreover, there comes the concept of business results and work ethics.

With the former, the concern is more on the level of engagement if the mentality of “not taking it personally” is upheld. While the latter relates to as a likely cause of scandals and non-accountability. Because when managers say that “it’s not personal, only business,” it sounds as if they have no obligation as catalysts or influencers in the social spectrum, when in reality they have big roles to portray.

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For engineers, this “not taking it personally” attitude could spell a disaster.

The nature of the job of engineers is to develop designs, systems, devices, and products among others which have great impact to the world in many ways. If the concept of “not taking it personally” is in the forefront in this field, engineers have that tendency to take a step or two back in what we do – which can have real costs.

Source: Harvard Business Review

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When You Are an Engineer, You Have to Take Work Personally

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