Annoyance - Do This, Not That


Perception is a funny thing. Look at something one way and you feel threatened. Turn your head and suddenly the same thing seems familiar. The mystery novel version of this phenomenon is the main character walking down a dark hallway and seeing a monster at the top of the stairs. He shines his flashlight at the monster and he suddenly realizes that it is just his own reflection in the mirror.

Annoyance is a dark hallway type of feeling to shine some light on. Often the characteristics we find annoying in others we consider virtues in ourselves. For example, when I encounter someone who insists they are always right, I find it annoying. Yet when I take a stand on something and refuse to move from my point of view, I see it as being principled and courageous in my convictions.

Want another example? When somebody asks a lot of questions you may think, "why does she ask so many questions all the time?" That may be exactly the same thing you do, but you may consider your behavior as doing due diligence and just getting all the facts.

We all experience annoyance every day and generally assume that it is coming from an external source. While that is true, it is also not the whole truth; the feeling of annoyance is coming from within. So when dealing with other people's annoying traits, one strategy is to think about them as a mirror that allows you to see traits that you may want to examine in yourself. Given the significant role annoyance plays in our lives, it is important to understand its impact and recognize how we contribute to our own reactions.


In fact, some people enjoy being annoyed, relish the feeling of demonizing others and sanctifying their own perceptions. It confirms a particular belief they have about a person or circumstance. However, it is important to build a greater tolerance for annoying behavior (ours and others) to accomplish our goals and objectives.

Other people try to dismiss annoyance altogether by ignoring the feeling, or accepting it as something that they just can't do anything about. "Oh that person is always annoying. Think about when you are thirsty. You can sit there and be thirsty, or you can do something about it and get yourself something to drink. You may find yourself attending meetings where they never provide water and you find that annoying. However, rather than just being annoyed each time, you can simply bring your own bottle of water.

When someone is asking, what on the surface seems like irrelevant, time-consuming questions, you need to be more of a detective and figure out what you are missing that the other person is seeing. It may be that the person needs the information rolled out in more detail or needs to explore scenarios of unintended consequences. You don't want to cut to the chase at the expense of losing what could be a valuable contribution to the decision making process. It's in your best interest to find out. You may still reject the other person’s perspective, but at least you were able to weigh its merit rather than it being a blind spot.

Sincerely wanting to learn more will set the right tone and help the other person from taking your question personally. Often it is not the question but the annoyed tone that triggers confrontation. Imagine you are in a meeting where your colleagues appear to be making little progress resolving a problem. They continually discuss what you consider low priority, insignificant details for 30-45 minutes. Once you hear those insignificant details being discussed, skip annoyance and try being curious instead. What are all the details being brought up really pointing out? Try being curious and genuinely ask what the other person’s concerns are; what are they worried about? When you ask a direct question you'll feel more engaged, they'll feel heard, and the work will benefit from your curiosity.

You stay annoyed instead of curious at your own peril. The person asking the annoying question is like the canary in the mine and is simply sensing something is wrong. The person’s questions may feel ill timed and not particularly helpful, but in fact they could be surfacing something that needs further exploration and will lead to a more satisfying and successful outcome.