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Tue, November 1, 2011
People Annoying You? What You Can Learn!
The sporadic whir of the espresso machine, the chatter of cheery baristas behind the counter, the aroma of slightly burnt coffee, the flicker of a nearby pendant light and the murmur of a man in the corner booth as he reads aloud to himself. Ahhh, the annoyances a writer can find while working in the local coffee shop. But wait, you say that these everyday sounds and smells aren’t annoying to you? Perhaps you find coffee shops to be pleasant, productive places to work or read. Well, what does that say about me?

Common annoyances are part of our everyday lives. And no matter how easy-going you are, there are probably certain events and environmental variables that rub you the wrong way. Some irks are more universal, like an overly perfumed passenger on a crowded city bus, or a nearby diner in a restaurant talking loudly on his cell phone, while others are particularly personal. It is normal to be annoyed by the behavior of others, especially when you work or live in close proximity day in and day out. But, if it seems that people are getting on your nerves more often than not and if their harmless habits are horning in on your happiness, it may be time to start examining the reasons why.

In understanding why we become irked, it is important to realize that people are not annoying in and of themselves (though it may seem this way at times!). Imagine that the pungent smell of perfume or the volume of a booming, violently loud voice occurred without anyone else around. You’d likely still find those things obnoxious, right? But, when a particular person is paired with an annoying scent, sound or visual stimulus, that person tends to take on those annoying properties as well.

Let’s look at an example… My husband enjoys background noise. Whether it is the television in the living room, the radio in the car or a fan on the nightstand, he doesn’t mind a constant stream of auditory input at all times. I don’t happen to be so keen on excess chatter. I mute the commercial breaks, drive in silence once in a while and turn every ticking, clicking, humming off before we go to bed. I find it SO annoying when my husband leaves the commercials blaring while he leaves to make a snack. And I’m sure he doesn’t appreciate my habit of interrupting his TV shows and tunes by pressing the ‘off’ switch. After a while, instead of the noise (or lack thereof) being the focus of our annoyance, we begin to associate that environmental variable with another person’s behavior. Acting on our feelings of annoyance toward the person and not the situation often leads to arguments and resentment.

So, if you feel like you’re always harping on others for their annoying habits, how do you separate the person from the perturbing situation? It helps to take a good, hard look at what types of events and settings set you off.
  1. Track Your Triggers - Keep a daily log of the times, settings and situations when you were annoyed throughout the day. This will help you to identify your most frequent triggers.
  2. Make Annoyances Anonymous - In your log, try not to mention the person who was there. Remember that, in your quest to find out what bothers you, the people nearby are just innocent bystanders.
  3. Notice What Irritates Your Neighbors – Watch and listed to others closely and see if you can track what bothers them as well. Taking someone else’s perspective can help you to empathize with others and perhaps see that what annoys you does not bother others.
  4. Reinforce Restraint – Give yourself a pat on the back (and a gold star in your log) whenever you are faced with an annoying situation and are able to practice tolerance and withstand sighs, snide comments and eye-rolling. Reinforcing your own positive behavior in the face of annoying circumstances will help you to be more accepting in the future.
Realizing what annoys you most can lead to identification of deeper issues. When you keep a log of the situations that you find bothersome, you can then explore why those things are your triggers. Though we have a biological aversion to some smells and tastes, most environmental variables that are annoying to us now were paired at sometime in our lives with other aversive events. For example, if you had acquired food poisoning shortly after Thanksgiving dinner several years ago, you still may not enjoy the scent of pumpkin pie. With close examination of your daily annoyances, you may be able to determine when and why they first became bothersome and then be less likely to blame others for their current offenses.

Sights, smells and sounds can also seem more annoying depending on our own recent events or circumstances. Take for instance, the sound of a crying baby on an airplane. If you’re a seasoned mother with a load other things on your mind, you may hardly register a child’s high-pitched wail. However, if you’re a sleepy, stressed out passenger on a long cross-country flight, even your noise-cancelling headphones may not drown out the cries. Taking stock of what irritates you and those around you may help you to decide whether a situation is universally annoying or whether you’re simply too tuned-in to it at that moment.

The important thing to remember in dealing with any annoying situation is that you have choices. You can choose to blame the person. Or, you can step back and take notice of the real problem. You can choose to be bogged down by what’s bothering you. Or, you can focus in, decide that it isn’t worth raising your blood pressure over and choose to let it go.

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