10 Tips for Dealing with Annoying People

Jean Paul Sartre once said that hell is other people. I agree with Jean Paul. Other people can, at times, be hell. But I like to think the “hell” we encounter  when someone “pushes our buttons” plays an absolutely critical role on the road to happy.

Byron Katie in Loving What Is explains: “Our parents, our children, our spouses, and our friends will continue to press every button we have, until we realize what it is that we don’t want to know about ourselves yet. They will point us to our freedom every time.”

(I also happen to think it can be the guy next in line at Starbucks or the woman scanning luggage at the airport but hey maybe I’m just easily annoyed.)

Debbie Ford in The Dark Side of the Light Chasers says we have to be on the lookout for those traits that most bother us about other people. The things about other people that annoy us, she argues, are the precise things within ourselves that we aren’t willing to accept.  Other people who annoy us hold up a mirror to ourselves showing us the parts that we keep hidden away. Whatever we don’t own about ourselves, she says, we project onto other people.

The problem, Ford says, is that “when you are internally driven by not wanting to be something, you often become the opposite. This robs you of your right to chose what you really want to do with your life.”

In my case, I spent most of my life trying to prove to the world that I was NOT stupid. I learned to speak a foreign language, got a masters degree, worked as a policy analyst, a computer programmer, etc. etc. But all that effort trying to prove to the world my competence, robbed me of the opportunity to find out what I really loved to do.

This is why I believe the people who push our buttons are truly our teachers. I’ve put together a list of ten things you can try when you encounter someone who annoys you. I’m pretty confident that trying one or two of them will help you be a happier, more compassionate person. So if you’re up to the challenge, go find yourself an annoying person and try one or two of these tips on for size.

  1. Remember You Are Not a Mind-Reader. I’m a huge fan of Allison Dubois and the TV show Medium, but let’s face it, most of us have no clue what other people are thinking. When someone annoys you, how often do you create your own story about what motivated this person? Remember, you are not omniscient. No matter how true you think your story is, it’s just a story. When I’m not reading into everything people say and do, I find I’m much less sensitive and hence, less annoyed.
  2. Stop and Breathe. Have you ever noticed yourself immediately reacting whenever you come across someone who annoys you? In the book Frequency, Penny Pierce says “we are just like tuning forks, copying the resonances we ‘touch’ energetically.” So when someone shoots angry at us, we sense it and instinctively throw it back at them. When this happens, we “hook” into their energy. Try to give yourself some space before reacting to someone else’s behavior. Most of the time your negative emotion will pass and you’ll be able to deal with the situation with much more composure and grace.
  3. Ask Yourself “How is This Person Reflecting my Shadow?” As I mentioned, Debbie Ford points out that people who get on our nerves are often simply reflecting a part of ourselves we don’t want to see. If someone annoys you, ask yourself: Have I ever demonstrated this annoying quality in the past? Do I demonstrate this quality in my life now? Am I capable of demonstrating this quality under different circumstances in the future? Chances are the answer is yes. If you can find a way to accept the annoying quality in yourself, you are much more likely to accept it in others.
  4. Take Your Own Advice! Byron Katie likes to say, whenever you feel the need to give someone else advice, keep your trap shut and give it to yourself instead (okay not in these exact words). Try it. Think of someone who currently bugs you. What is it they should be doing differently in your opinion? Now take whatever advice you came up with for them and turn it around on yourself. When you consider the turn-around, can you see where it might be true for you in your own life?  Sorry to burst your bubble but most of the time what you are telling others is what you most need to hear yourself.
  5. Stop Writing a Script for Other People. I learned this one from Byron Katie too. Many times I notice I get annoyed with other people when they don’t do what I expect. How often do you make your happiness dependent on the actions of others? It’s like you’re writing them a script and if they don’t follow it to the letter, you can’t be happy: my husband should remember to take out the trash every week; my kids should appreciate all that I do for them; my mother should call me more often. Stop giving your happiness away and just be happy.
  6. Realize When You’re Annoyed You’re Annoying. I have my very own husband to thank for this gem. I called him the other day to vent about someone who annoyed me. After my rant, he had the nerve to say to me, “Gee, you sound pretty annoying yourself.” When I stopped to consider my own behavior, I had to admit I could totally see how annoying I was acting. It wasn’t the person I wanted to be. Try “watching yourself” when you’re annoyed. How do you act? How are you annoying? Is this who you want to be? Probably not.
  7. Ask Yourself, “How do I Benefit by Continuing to be so Annoyed?” Isn’t it funny despite how bad it feels emotionally to be angry, mad, or annoyed, we often cling to the emotion? We hold grudges, become passive aggressive, get into arguments, or ruminate about a person for days in our own minds. For what? Eckhart Tolle in A New Earth, points out the ego just LOVES to be right. Ask yourself, “What do I gain by being right?” In the words of Byron Katie, “would your rather be right or would you rather be free?”
  8. Find Your Tribe – As my mother used to say, “Amy, no matter what you do there will always be people out there who won’t like you.” Are you spinning your wheels trying to “win over” the Entire Known Universe? If you find yourself hanging around with people who annoy you, maybe you need to invest more energy finding your tribe. Check out my youtube video for more on this.
  9.  Say No When You Mean No – How often do you say yes when you really would rather have said no? When I commit to things I never really wanted to do in the first place, I find all kinds of reasons to be annoyed with other people, especially with the ones I said yes to. It’s ironic because I often say yes in order to avoid disappointing someone or to get approval from someone, but I only end up conducting myself like a tired, grumpy slog. Trust me, you’re much better off just saying no in the first place.
  10. Remember, Other People Cannot Read YOUR Mind. We have come full circle– you are not a mind reader nor can other people read your mind. If you find yourself getting annoyed when other people aren’t meeting your needs, let them off the hook and ask for what you want instead of resenting what you didn’t get because you didn’t ask.

Well there you have it. Did you ever guess annoying people could be so darn helpful?! When you come across that inevitable person who rubs you the wrong way, coach yourself! And be sure to let me know how it goes!

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2 Responses

  1. Michelle says:

    This was 100% helpful! Thank you (:

  2. Shawn Ellis says:

    Thanks for this, Amy. I’m especially a fan of #2 – “Stop and breathe… Try to give yourself some space before reacting to someone else’s behavior.” It’s easy to get sucked right into “the moment” and let our thoughts and emotions run away with us. If I may add an 11th tip, it’s to “Focus on what’s right about the person” (instead of just what’s wrong/annoying). I recently wrote about that here: http://bit.ly/1gCYVXd. It’s easier said than done, of course — it’s much easier if you can stop and breathe first! :-)

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