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Coping with Projection at work

Updated: Apr 6, 2023

Have you ever received feedback or some criticism which really didn’t resonate with you or that was hugely contradictory to what others have said? If so, you might have experienced projection.

Projection is a defence mechanism which some people use subconsciously to cope with their own feelings and emotions. Instead of addressing these feelings and emotions themselves, they project them onto someone else.

A client recently shared a story of how a line manager gave her some feedback about her performance and it didn’t resonate at all. In fact, it was in direct conflict to other feedback she had recently received about doing a really great job. Of course, sometimes we are not always as self-aware as we want to be, so it can help to ask yourself what you would want to do differently if only 1% of what you heard was true.

But when it really jars and stands out as being unusual it is helpful to take a step-back and consider whether what you have been told is about you or is a projection of how that person feels about themselves.

Soliciting feedback from different people is a good way of understanding if it is projection, or if others feel the same. If there are patterns of people saying the same thing, then you might want to take it on-board.

Sometimes it can be us who are the projectors! There is a saying ‘you spot it, you got it’ which basically means whatever we criticise most in others is what we dislike about ourselves. Of course, everyone makes comments about others from time to time but when someone continually talks about a flaw in someone else, that is a classic sign of projection. As Sally Castillo says, ‘We are all mirrors of each other…if you don’t like what you see in me, then make that change that in yourself’.

I am sure there are things you have moaned or complained to your partner about someone else doing or not doing that could reflect yourself. I know I have! Once you recognise this classic hypocrisy in others it is good to check in with yourself and spot yourself doing it. This can also apply to positive traits we might see and be envious of in others, especially when we aren’t acknowledging these things in ourselves.

Once we understand some of this simple human psychology, it is easy to spot it happening and recognise what is play. We might not want to tackle a line manager head-on with it (in fact I really don’t advise this!) but at least we can put some of the feedback or criticism into a wider perspective.

If you've enjoyed this blog and would like to read more from me, grab a copy of my book Don't Dim to Fit In and come and join me over on one of my social channels! I look forward to meeting you there.


Kate x

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