You consider yourself to be a pretty level-headed person. After all, it's not like everyone annoys you. In fact, most people are perfectly lovely! But there is that one person, the individual who makes your skin crawl whenever you hear his or her voice. Maybe it's a roommate who eats your food and doesn't replace it, or a parent on the PTA who passive-aggressively suggests some people haven't pulled their weight in the bake sale efforts. Between you and me, maybe it's even a friend or spouse who's driving you so crazy you wish you could just make it STOP.
Well, I have good news for you ... you can.
I've learned over and over again (and most definitely not for the last time) how to stop someone (a co-worker, for example) from ruining my experience. It's not rocket science, and I promise you can do it too. I start by asking myself these seven questions:
1. How much am I thinking about how much this person bothers me?
Do I replay frustrating encounters in my head? Do I imagine future negative interactions? Am I encouraging my annoyance by giving it time and attention?
I used to believe action was more important than thought because thoughts are automatic and out of my control. Then I realized thinking is an action, and to stop thinking about something is an action. And I have a choice over my actions, so I have control over the stories I play in my head.
My initial thought might be automatic, but the second time I think about something and the tenth and the 200th time ... that’s on me. When I catch myself replaying or preplaying (anticipating) a negative scenario, I can stop thinking about it and redirect my attention if I want to (those last three words being the most important).
2. How often am I talking about this?
Every time I talk about something, I give it power. Every time I talk about how much my co-worker annoys me, I make that story a little more true. Every time someone else believes my story (telling me that I’m right and that my co-worker is annoying), my ego is fed. Every time my ego is fed, I feel more justified in creating my story about my annoying co-worker.
3. Am I loving to hate on this person?
During a frustrating encounter with this co-worker, do I immediately think to myself, I can’t wait to share this story with (insert name of friend who listens to my gossip here)? Is there some part of me who wants this frustrating co-worker to be frustrating so that I have an entertaining story to share? Is there some part of me that enjoys being frustrated because I enjoy being frustrated?
4. Have I talked to the right people about this?
There’s only one right person to talk to about the co-worker who warms up his fish in the office microwave and that’s the co-worker who warms up his fish in the office microwave. If a specific behavior is bothering me, it’s only fair to share my annoyance with the owner of that behavior.
Something dangerous happens when I start to commiserate with others about our annoying co-coworker. What starts as a “need” to share frustrations with people who can relate becomes an opportunity to climb one another’s shoulders to scale a mountain that was just a molehill when I was scaling it alone.
5. Can I change the annoying behavior of the other person? No.
OK. I know I can’t “change someone else’s behavior,” but you just said I should talk to ...
No. The answer to this question in every situation forever and ever is no. I cannot change other people. I can talk to them, but I can’t change them.
6. So I can’t change the annoying behavior?
I can change the annoying behavior ... by choosing to stop being annoyed by it. I know it's easier said than done, but what's the alternative?
7. What is it about me that makes me annoyed by this person?
People annoy me for all kinds of reasons that have very little to do with them and a lot to do with me. I’m annoyed he doesn’t do things the way I do them. I’m annoyed her actions are selfish and she’s not thinking about how they affect me (which, of course, is selfish on my part). I’m annoyed she’s repeating the same destructive pattern I’ve pointed out to her time and again (so I’m repeatedly annoyed by someone repeatedly not listening to me).
People annoy me because I can’t control them. People frustrate me because they won’t change and I don’t want to accept them the way they are. People drive me crazy because I choose to be driven crazy by them.
What's the definition of insanity? Watching someone do the same thing over and over and still letting yourself get annoyed by it.
So how do you stop your annoying co-worker, spouse, friend, parent? You accept them.
Not only does accepting them release you from the burden of being frustrated by them, your acceptance releases them from the burden of being your source of frustration. And that’s where the magic can happen.