How easily are you hurt or offended by the things others say or do? Some people are quickly affected while some brush it off as if nothing happened. Which among the two are you?
When a major negative event like a failure, breakup, or death occurs, every person feels hurt and that’s natural. But, if you let the little deeds from daily life bother you too much, you must develop a thick skin.
“But I’m thick skinned. I know that” you retort. Most people believe they can listen to criticism or handle a disagreement with an open mind. But, the reality is quite the opposite.
Let’s do a quick test. How do you react when you encounter the following scenarios:
- Someone disagrees with a point you made
- Your boss points out the mistakes you made
- Your partner complains about not taking the relationship seriously
- A friend makes a sarcastic joke about you
- Your neighbor speaks about the large amount of money he’s making
During such circumstances, no doubt you will feel disappointed. But, your response defines how thick skinned you are. If you hit back, argue, or try to prove your point, you are letting your emotions get the better of you.
In this article, we’ll go through the different attributes of having a thick skin, the ways to identify where you stand currently, and methods to change yourself if required.
- What is the definition of having a thick skin?
- Differences between a thick skinned and thin skinned person
- How to become thick skinned?
What is the definition of having a thick skin?
A person is called thick skinned when he/she isn’t offended or hurt by a negative opinion, criticism, disagreement, or a joke. The attribute isn’t only restricted to words but also to deeds.
The term thick skin originates from the figurative sense of being more resistant to damage. A person who is easily influenced by the words or actions of others is called thin skinned and considered more vulnerable to attack.
Having a thick skin is a positive trait because it allows you to deal with the little nuances of life without stressing yourself. It also helps you face the various obstacles in life head-on without letting minor events affect your mental health.
But does that mean a thick skinned person feels nothing when they hear criticism or a negative opinion? Of course not. After all, we’re human beings and our emotions are triggered by the events encountered by our senses. But thick skinned people don’t react instantly. They don’t snap back, argue, or hold a grudge.
Differences between a thick skinned and thin skinned person
Processes & reacts
Maintains a calm demeanor
Is open to opinion
Changes opinion when presented with valid facts
Doesn’t hold a grudge
Reacts on impulse
Gets emotionally worked up
Sticks to own viewpoint
Try to counter-argue or find flaws in the points made by the other person
Hold a grudge for a long time
These two categories of people have completely different responses to different situations.
A thick skinned person is more willing to accept his mistakes while a thin skinned person will come up with an explanation to justify his shortcomings.
A thick skinned person can laugh at a joke made at his expense while a thin skinned person will react with anger or even pick a fight.
A thick skinned person will listen to another person who has a different opinion and process it with an open mind without trying to prove a point. A thin skinned person wants to win every debate and come up with every possible counterargument to do so.
How to become thick skinned?
Being thick skinned is all about changing your mindset, but controlling your brain to behave exactly the way you like is no easy feat. Consider the shift as learning to ride a bicycle. You’ll struggle to make things work for you at first, but once you get a grip, it becomes a part of you and remains with you forever.
Here are a set of tips that can help.
1. Pause before reacting
When you’re in a situation that stirs up your emotions, your body deviates from usual behavior. Your brain is designed to process information, apply thought before deciding your response. At a subconscious level, your mind follows the same approach to you solve problems or understand what another person is saying.
However, the brain takes a shortcut to speed up the decision-making process when you face danger. For example, if you spot a snake next to your feet while walking, you jump immediately. You do not spend 2 seconds thinking, “Oh, I see a snake. It might be poisonous and I will be in danger if it bites me. I need to run.” Instead, you react within the blink of an eye.
This reaction, called the flight or fight response helps us stay alive. You will notice animals, birds, and insects exhibit the same behavior when threatened.
The problem is, your brain can consider any disagreement, conflict, or criticism as a threat too. As a defensive mechanism, your brain releases cortisol and you react on impulse to protect yourself.
Do you remember reacting on impulse and being sorry about it moments later? It is because the chemicals wore off after a while and you returned to your senses.
Whenever an incident enrages you, the chemicals in your body diffuse within 5-6 seconds. If you remain calm during those seconds, you win the battle.
When you first try, you may not be able to hold yourself back. But, with practice, you will learn to calm yourself. You have to train your brain to unlearn this habit of reacting by instinct over a course of time.
2. Separate the person from the event
If you dislike specific people, you have a higher tendency to get offended by what they say or do. You assume they’re doing things on purpose because they want to take a dig at you. You might also believe that it is due to their inherent characteristics.
Yes, you’ll find a few people who are waiting for an opportunity to put you down for no fault of yours. But, more often, people reciprocate what they receive. So, your behavior is also the reason for their bitterness.
Whenever you encounter an event that makes your blood boil, separate the person from the incident. Ask yourself, “If it was a different person, would I still want to react the same way?” Make an effort to presume good intent and people will be nice to you over the long run.
No matter how ticked off you’re by a specific person, he/she hates you lesser than you think.
3. Identify takeaways in every criticism
People who criticize you are of two kinds:
- Those who have the habit of being critical of every little thing
- Those who want you to do better next time
No matter which category the criticism came from, you’ll always have pointers to identify for your improvement. Even if your worst enemy points out your mistake, there will be at least a small element of truth to it. Rarely do people make up stories just to criticize you.
If you want to be thick skinned, keep an open mind, hear the person out and identify what you could improve next time to not encounter a similar situation. That said, you don’t have to turn into a doormat for people to trample upon. Feel free to hit back at obnoxious comments, but only after you process why the person said or did so.
4. Assume the other person is not in the right state of mind
We all have our bad days, don’t we? When our mind is not in the right place, we snap at people, argue for little things, or do things that we otherwise wouldn’t. Unfortunately, sometimes we are at the receiving end and that’s the circle of life.
When you hear an unnecessary argument or a spew of words, presume that the person is having a bad day. This works well when you’re interacting with a person you barely know or someone who you know is otherwise well behaved. Such people deserve the benefit of the doubt.
5. Disagreement isn’t personal
When you hear a disagreement or an argument, you feel offended. You assume that the person is challenging you for your belief.
But in reality, most disagreements aren’t personal at all. Their differences in opinion that are strictly directed to the point that you’re making, not at you as a person. The difference is subtle and therefore hard to realize at that instant.
When your ego takes a beating, your natural response is to hit back. But, if you tell yourself that the other person isn’t trying to pick a battle with you, but only challenging your opinion, you’ll prevent your ego from getting hurt.
6. Practice being straight forward
If you dislike what your friend did or your coworker said, cultivate a habit of telling people what you felt.
Don’t be rude, don’t be offensive, don’t make a scene. Speak up, maintain a calm demeanor, and without losing your temper, explain why you disliked such behavior.
Sensible people will respect what you said. The next time they’re in a similar situation, they’ll know not to repeat it again.
7. Cultivate good human traits
People reciprocate the way you behave with them.
Make unnecessary jokes often and one day someone will do the same with you. Criticize often and others will wait for an opportunity to give it back to you. Argue over little matters and people around you will do the same with you.
Similarly, if you are kind-hearted, compassionate, understanding, and calm, others will reciprocate your behavior in their interactions with you. Of course, you’ll meet one jerk or the other who doesn’t understand the concept of give and take, but most of the general population does.
Peek into your own behavior and you’ll know what I mean. If you know from experience that a particular person is always well behaved, you would think twice before you pick an argument with him, wouldn’t you? Therefore, if you put an effort to cultivate good values, people will be warm and cordial with you.
If you work towards becoming a better human being, you’ll have fewer reasons to be thick skinned.
In today’s fast-paced world, you have to master the art of being thick skinned. The more you allow your emotions to get the better of you, the less you’ll achieve. Cultivate an attitude of not letting the smaller things around you take a toll on you.
Today, even if you want to hide in the corner and sulk at every little argument or criticism, you can still change your mindset to develop an aura of invulnerability around you which doesn’t let any negativity get through.
So, will you start working towards being thick skinned or remain thin skinned forever? The choice is yours.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.