Emotionally Ignoring is a good skill to know.
When you emotionally ignore someone or something, you don’t totally ignore the person or situation; you just don’t take it personally or allow yourself to needlessly get upset.
There are three types of situations where emotionally ignoring is particularly useful: when trying to create a behavior change in others; when dealing with irrational demands from a supervisor or situation where you have very little control; and when you are being unfairly criticized by someone you don’t respect.
Learning theory teaches us that if you want to help a child to change behavior in a more productive direction, it is best to follow a specific principle: recognize moves in the right direction and emotionally ignore moves in the wrong direction. Praising a child for a job well done or for performing a socially acceptable behavior increases the possibility of continuing the appropriate behavior in the future.
But criticism and lecturing might also be perceived as rewarding because the child gets your attention. It is far better to unemotionally withhold the reward until the job gets done or to put the child in a time out situation without any extensive lecture. That is a form of emotionally ignoring.
If your spouse or friend has a behavior that drives you up a wall, try emotionally ignoring it rather than getting involved in a major discussion or cleaning up the mess that s/he made or doing the other person’s job because it’s easier than getting aggravated. Don’t get aggravated; emotionally ignore instead while maintaining the expectation that the other person will act appropriately. It may require some patience because – just like a child – your spouse or friend may test you a few times before s/he believes you.
Another situation where you can use emotionally ignoring is when you are on a job or in a classroom or belong to an organization where the leaders build in seemingly unnecessary busy work. I always believe that it is best to start dealing with the situation by being proactive and point out that the activities aren’t necessary for the achievement of the institution’s goals. That doesn’t mean that the leaders will listen to you – and they don’t really have to do so.
Under those circumstances, if the situation is tolerable but annoying, then deal with it – and emotionally ignore. If it’s really intolerable but your rights are not being violated, emotionally ignore, but make plans to move on when you have the opportunity to do so.
It should be noted in fairness, that seemingly irrational demands sometimes have a legitimate motive such as building in discipline or promoting fitness – e.g., soldiers are made to drill not because they are expected to engage an enemy in a drill competition; and structured stretching exercises aren’t as much fun as playing a game but they prevent injuries.
Finally, I’ve seen too many people get upset by negative evaluations from other people – even individuals whom they don’t respect and who really have no power over them. Bullies of that type will use words to take power. But just like the confident individual can laugh off the hollow threats of a schoolyard bully, the person who is capable of emotionally ignoring is able to avoid reacting to the type of insecure person who is oriented toward criticizing others.
Don’t play in that person’s ballpark. Don’t get drawn into an argument with someone who lives for the opportunity to put others down. Learn to laugh and to offer comeback lines that don’t perpetuate the negativism.
In other words, learn how to emotionally ignore.