Remodeling is a stressful business, and I don't believe stress can be eliminated altogether. Though, wouldn't it be great if we had a way to help control it? One answer lies in distinguishing between your job and your identity. Who you are as a person and what you do for a living are not the same thing. How's that for a revelation?

I've learned from experience that until owners, managers, and employees can separate their identities from their roles, they may be personally affected by the comments, attitudes, and expectations of their clients and co-workers.

Preserving one's sanity is reason enough to seek a solution, not to mention helping the performance of the business. If you can differentiate between roles and identities, you are on the road to recovery, and your work, as well as your life, will be better for it.

Under The Titles To clear up any identity confusion, try to describe yourself without reference to any of the roles you play at work or in your personal life. It's difficult at first, but the more you actually think about it, the easier it will become.

Your true identity is who you would be if all of your roles were stripped away. Just like an actor is a person outside of the role he or she plays in a movie, you have an identity beyond your roles at work or at home.

By contrast, your roles are the responsibilities and activities you assume in the course of life, whether by choice or otherwise. And no matter what roles you serve in life, they are not who you really are.

So, how does all of this apply to being an effective remodeler?

Don't Take It Personally The next time you find yourself discussing a problem or concern with someone, try to do so in terms of roles. Leave out the personal references. Address the real issues without questioning the self-worth of the individual. On the other hand, when answering or redirecting others who want to make things personal, try to understand the real reason they are acting out, and then use your role to help resolve the situation.

Of course, you may encounter an “identity basher” along the way who wants to bring things down to his level. This kind of person usually has low self-esteem and, instead of raising his own self-worth and performance, tries to lower someone else's to feel better. Watch out for these people. Arguing with them typically only advances their agenda. A good way to defuse these situations is to listen to what they are saying, make no comments or interruptions, and then simply ask them why they are saying it. Most times they will stumble on the question and realize a dead end.

As a final suggestion, to help you facilitate this change in attitude and behavior, try this: Next time you're finished dealing with an identity basher, take the time to think about what happened and what was said. What was the real reason they did it? Were they upset with your identity, or with your role? Or, were they really upset with themselves but needed to distribute or place blame elsewhere so they would feel better? If you look at it with roles and identities in mind, would you want to have their identity?

As with any new behavior, learning to separate your roles from your identity will take time and practice. And you'll need to make an extra effort to get comfortable with the new way of thinking. When it becomes second nature, your ability to keep your identity and roles separate will help you keep a cool head in otherwise stressful situations, and will serve as an example to everyone with whom you interact.

—Shawn McCadden recently sold his Arlington, Mass.–based employee-managed design/build remodeling business. In his second career, he is director of education for DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen by Worldwide. [email protected].