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How to deal with people who get on your nerves

Some people just have a natural talent for getting on our nerves. No matter what they say, they really get our hackles up. Others just irritate us occasionally, because of the exasperating patterns they keep repeating.

Illustration of two people talking and disagreeing

So, what can we do about it? A lot, actually. Here are a few tips to deal with irritating people or loved ones that tick us off every now and then.

Understand your irritation

Why are some people so annoying? What some psychologists define as “affective presence” is how one person tends to make others feel during an interaction. They suggest that this is a consistent and measurable part of this person’s personality.

You got it right: this “irritating” person might tick you off not just because of a specific action or behavior, but because of this elusive affective presence. That means it could be their body language or tone of voice that affects your mood.

Ask yourself what bothers you about them. Is it something they said, or the way they said it? Are you interpreting their tone, their look? Knowing what the real problem is can help you get over it more easily.

Check yourself

Carl Jung’s concept of “shadow self” suggests that there is a part of us we’re ashamed of and try to repress. It’s often something we process unconsciously, but surfaces in some of our actions and reactions. Because of this, we tend to blame others for flaws we find in our own character.

Is there a particular thing that you really dislike in the person that gets on your nerves? Now ask yourself if this is something you can find in your own character. Chances are, you’ll feel more tolerant with their annoying habits if you realize you’re guilty of them too.

Practice empathy

Empathy can be a great tool for overcoming these tensions and feeling more at ease around “irritating” people. When we dislike someone, we tend to dehumanize them and consider them as a nuisance rather than a person with thoughts and feelings.

Practice your empathy skills to walk a mile in their shoes. It might help you understand them better and get where they’re coming from. Ask yourself:

  • What is happening to this person right now?

  • What might they be thinking or feeling?

  • What might be important to them?

Your colleague might seek constant validation because they’re getting imposter syndrome and lack self-esteem. Your father might constantly remind you to do admin tasks because he’s worried and wants to express his affection for you by being helpful.

Try to hear what they’re really saying when they’re talking or behaving this way, without judgment. Being a good listener can help you solve potential misunderstandings and see things from a different perspective.

Talk it out

Communication is everything. If this person gets on your nerves, why not have a conversation with them? And no, we don’t mean coming up to them and saying “I find you really annoying.”

Now that you’ve identified which behaviors of theirs tick you off, be prepared to flag them as they’re happening. Use nonviolent communication to express how you feel calmly and diplomatically.

The “when you [...] I feel [...]” to help them, in turn, put themselves in your shoes. For example, “when you keep reminding me of simple admin tasks I’ve been doing for years without your help, it makes me feel like a child” or “when you give me this look, I feel like I’ve done something wrong and it makes me anxious.”

Talking is not a magical solution. It might take a few conversations and reminders to get through ingrained habits and annoying quirks. Even if they don’t completely go away, though, having that conversation can help you better understand their intentions and defuse the tension you usually associate with their actions.

Woman looking away and holding her hand up to signify to a man that the conversation is over

Set boundaries

Sometimes, you have to stick with people who get on your nerves from time to time. And as long as their intentions are good, empathy and communication can help soothe your relationship. Managing your time together and limiting situations that could lead to irritating interactions can also be very helpful.

Other times, though, being around people who constantly exasperate you is just a waste of energy. If you’ve tried everything but you still feel your energy and patience draining at the speed of light in their presence, maybe it’s time to distance yourself from the source of trouble.

It’s ok to outgrow a gossipy friend. It’s alright to stay away from a patronizing family member. Don’t stick with annoying people for the sake of habit. You’re allowed to protect your peace. Simply make sure they understand why you’re keeping your distance and give them a chance to show you they changed.

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