Some Fundamental Concepts Of Irritating People
It’s nothing personal. That’s all they know how to do in the moment. There is still hope.
Long ago, I happened upon The Far Side in the newspaper. In this comic, we see God in His kitchen, preparing Earth. He’s almost done with it, having added the oceans, the continents, plants, and animals. “And just to make it interesting…”, he adds a sprinkling of jerks to Earth.
We have all encountered irritating people in our lives. Some of us still take umbrage at irritating people. Some of us walk away in a huff. Some of us spar with them thinking that we might actually get what we want from them. Some of us laugh it off and hope that they’re not really serious. But a few of us know that they’re suffering and that we don’t have to add to their suffering. I don’t even call them jerks, because that makes it personal.
When I encounter an irritating person, I don’t take it personally. I don’t assume that they’re out to get me. I don’t assume that it’s a bad day because I encountered an irritating person. I know they’re out there, but I don’t imagine that they’re looking for me. Nobody is looking for me. I’m boring.
I’ve met some people in my life who can’t seem to find happiness. I don’t know them anymore, and I wish them well, but I just never forgot how hard it was for them to find a reason to be happy. They were irritating when I knew them. They tried hard to get a rise out of other people for entertainment, as a distraction from themselves. Irritating people wouldn’t know happiness if it came up and kissed them on the nose. Happiness is unfamiliar to them.
Irritating people thrive on irritation. If you irritate them back, that just makes them excited. I’ve seen people in social media who exude a sense of pride about being irritated. They advertise their bad mood, poor disposition, their tendency to rile up over the slightest provocation. They give us advance notice that they’re itching for some more irritation. They get all excited when we engage them in what passes for them as intimacy.
Irritating people have been my best teachers. They have taught me, “Not my circus, not my monkeys”. They have taught me not to feed the trolls. They have taught me that nothing they do is about me. People whom I find irritating are already having a bad day. They don’t need any help from me to enjoy their irritation, either. Irritating people are martyrs, and we can tell because they’re always looking for an audience. We don’t want to be their audience.
Being irritating requires skill. All skills are learned. That means that people who are irritating learned how to irritate other people from someone else. Irritating people have seen other people be irritating and imitated them, and then practice that behavior. Maybe they watched 3 And A Half Men, or maybe they saw Paul Lynde on the Gong Show, or maybe they saw President Trump at a rally. There are celebrities who model irritating behavior. There are tabloids chock full of irritating behavior. Enter a few keywords into YouTube and you can watch all the irritation you want, all day long. There are plenty of ways to learn to be irritating. Pop culture has proven to be an abundant source of irritating behavior.
I’ve encountered enough irritating people to know that I don’t need to change them, I only need to change me. When I am in the presence of an irritating person, I remind myself that they’re not always irritating, that this too shall pass. Being irritating requires enormous sums of energy and doing so taxes the body. Irritating people can only be irritating for so long and then they have to stop and do something else. I am mindful that they’re the ones having a bad day, not me. So I just assume that my present sense of irritation in their presence has nothing to do with me. I don’t buy into their dream.
I am mindful of what I say around someone who is irritated. I am mindful that what I say could give them my power, so I’m careful to take responsibility for my part. Before I say anything to an irritated person, I ask myself if what I’m about to say would relinquish any power to the other person. I ask myself if what I’m about to say is a request for the other person to change. If so, then I think it over until I can come up with something to say that doesn’t require the other person to change. Usually, that means de-escalation.
People who are irritated need no help from me, for they’re already irritated. So if I have anything to say to them, it’s about bringing the temperature down, calming things down, seeking resolution. I don't take note of their faults. I avoid implicating myself in their irritation. I have found that if I keep talking while remaining calm, I am modeling calm, and when I model calm, it’s hard for irritated people not to imitate me. Someone really, really famous once said, “Follow me.” Irritated people are just looking for something better to do than to feel flustered all day, and they need someone to show them the way or they wouldn’t stay in the same room with me.
Notice how I changed the frame of reference. I went from talking about irritating people to talking about people who are irritated. I moved from objectification to empathy. It’s hard to have empathy for others when we objectify them. We objectify people so that we don’t have to have empathy for them. It’s sometimes scary to be intimate with people who are irritated.
The moment we have empathy for another person, even an irritated person, we begin to consider ways we can help the other person. Remaining calm is a big one. Keeping the peace is another one. Demonstrating empathy is another. All of these actions are cumulative and self-reinforcing. I’m sure there is more, but this article is just about the basics of irritated people and how to help them.
One thing that I have done to help ease the irritation in other people is to just do one nice thing for them. I offer kind words. I gently refute their negative statements with something positive. I try to give them something that they can use, a phrase, a word, or an idea that is easy to remember. I suggest reasons for gratitude when I’m confronted with people who are irritated. Or I collaborate with them to solve a problem that irritates them.
I don’t think we’ll ever run out of irritated people, and therefore, we will never run out of ideas of how to help them with their irritation. People are the greatest imitators in the world. Our genes are hardcoded for imitation. I have found that the easiest way to help irritated people is to be the person we want them to be, at peace, at one, with them.