Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could feel deeply connected to and get along with every person in our lives?
Yeah….I also want a unicorn.
You can’t avoid annoying people. Someone will always rub you the wrong way.
You’re stuck in the office with them. You sit next to them at an event. You painfully chat with them on the sidelines of your kid’s soccer practice.
Annoying people are everywhere.
So, having a game plan for how to deal with them will save you from unnecessary emotional turmoil – and possibly even create enjoyable interactions with them!
How can you change an annoying dynamic? How can you influence somebody you don’t get along with?
Let’s start here…
What do you have control over?
Influential people are very clear about what is within their control and what is not.
For example, other people’s thoughts and actions are not within your control.
Instead, what you can do is set up scenarios that make guide someone to do, say, and think things you would like them to. That’s the essence of influence – manipulating what you do have control over in hopes of influencing someone else.
So, to not be annoyed by annoying people, you must go to the source of what you have control over: yourself. You can control your state of mind, your reactions, your intentions, your approach, and your choice of words.
Think about a person that annoys you, right now. Really conjure a clear picture. See their smug face. Hear their cringe-y voice.
Now, notice. How do you feel? What expressions surface on your face? When you think about them, does it look like you smelled something bad?
Does your body create feelings and expressions of contempt when you think about this person? This is the first place we can start.
After decades of research in marriage and relationships, psychological researcher Dr. John Gottman earned his claim to fame by being able to predict with 94% accuracy if a couple will last or not.
His most effective measurement? Contempt.
If he sees signs of contempt in one or both partners, it’s a pretty good indicator that they will be lawyering-up one day.
Contempt can be in ANY relationship.
Stop contempt before it festers.
Ask yourself these questions:
- How do I react to this person?
- What thoughts (re: judgments) do I automatically think?
- What physical reactions do I experience (tension, change in breath, a shift in posture, change in vocal tone or cadence)?
- Do any not-so-hidden sighs-of-annoyance slip through my lips?
This is what you’re putting into the relationship. You’re responsible for your side of the relationship.
Your Physical Response
In general, when you don’t get along with someone, you get a spike in cortisol or adrenaline.
Your muscles tense up – you’ll feel a tightness in your chest, your shoulders lift towards your ears, or you might just hold your pen a little tighter in your hand. Maybe your brow furrows or you tilt your head down while your eyes look up at the annoying person (a primitive body language posture that signals bubbling aggression.)
Your disapproval towards that person can be heard as well as seen. You might talk painstakingly slower or agitatedly faster.
Not only does the annoying offender pick up on these cloaked signals, but these physical reactions also amplify your internal negative emotions. Now you’re in a feedback loop of annoyance.
The real danger is when your reactions become automatic and you’re not aware of them.
Mitigate your annoyance level by taking consciously taking control of your reactions. Relax the tension in your body. Breathe at a comfortable (not annoyed) pace.
Your goal is to find neutral – physically, emotionally, and mentally – so that you can approach annoying people differently.
Your Automatic Thoughts
Next, do a thought audit.
What beliefs have you created about this person?
Some examples could include:
- She never listens.
- He is always seeking attention.
- They are so egocentric.
- They don’t follow through on anything.
Once you have awareness of those thoughts, question them. Are they true?
You can quickly identify false beliefs whenever you use the words always or never. It’s unlikely that one person could always do anything or never do another. You can find circumstances in which they have done the opposite of your always/never belief.
Change your (judgemental) beliefs by swapping out the words always/never to sometimes.
A Different Perspective
Now that you’ve captured your automatic thoughts playing on a loop, it’s time to find a more helpful thought to replace it with.
Is there an alternate truth you could use instead?
I’m not talking about “fake news” here. It is a fact that human beings are complex, layered creatures. Very rarely – if ever – does one blanket statement fully encompass another person’s experience and/or existence. No person can be defined in “black and white” terms. We are all gray.
Remember this: We only see a fraction of what other people are experiencing in their life.
Keep questioning your assumptions so that you can operate from compassion and make stronger connections.
So, what nuance can you add to your thoughts and beliefs about this person that would enhance your relationship with them, rather than build more barriers between you?
For example, a client of mine dislikes his boss. (Anyone relate?)
He feels like his boss is always seeking approval from everyone. (Did you catch that “always?”) And because his boss wants approval more than anything else, his boss doesn’t like to ruffle any feathers and, therefore, lets other employees get away with bad behavior. Super annoying, right?
I asked my client, “How would your boss describe himself? He likely wouldn’t say ‘I always seek everyone’s approval.’ So, how would he say it?”
After thinking about it a bit, my client said, “Well, he’d probably say that he just wants everyone to be happy.”
“Yes!” I said. “And now imagine how difficult his job is every day. He’s the boss. And there’s no way to be the boss and keep everyone happy all the time. You have to disappoint people, which sounds like his biggest fear. Every day presents him with a challenge–a chance for him to be disliked. And you (my client) also seem like the type of person who isn’t easily impressed. So, maybe now we can see where the clash is occurring.”
“Holy cow! That’s SO BIG! I never thought of it that way!”
After shifting the belief from “he always seeks everyone’s approval” to “he’s really afraid of letting people down,” we figured out ways we could repair and improve their working relationship.
I coached my client to sandwich his criticisms and differing opinions between validating statements. Such as, “I like where we’re headed with this. We could improve the process if we integrated this other system. I think you’ve laid out a great framework for us to work with here.”
By questioning the belief, we were able to find things within his control that improve the relationship.
Shift to curiosity by questioning your judgments.
And that shift creates change in the relationship because judgments closes the door to change. Curiosity opens it.