Help me win friends and influence people. Oh, and also, not get fired from my awesome job.
May 5, 2011 12:12 PM   Subscribe

I’m an impatient jerk, it seems. I don’t mean to be (who does?) but… that’s what they tell me. How can I learn to be more patient and friendly? Way, way more inside...

I'm quite smart, Ph.D. in CS, classic INTP. I don't meet the diagnostic criteria for full-on ADD, but when I read about the symptoms... yeah, a fair amount of that sounds pretty familiar.

I warm up slowly to new people, although once I get to know someone I can be super friendly. I have a fair number of old friends that I am quite close to, but still make new friends (albeit very slowly) at work and through volunteering.

I am told that I can be – and very often am – quite charming. I display good manners, in the "please pass the salt" sense, and am scrupulous about being publicly grateful for help (i.e., thanking people) at work.

People tell me (and the evidence supports this) that I am very witty. This can manifest in a pleasant, funny way, or in a more sardonic way, depending on the situation and my mood.

Generally I am a very happy person. However, my marriage of 10 years has been kind of rocky lately, and consequently for the past year or so I have been in kind of a funk.

I'm very impatient. Not so much in a "I can't wait for my package to arrive in the mail" way, but rather "That light has been green for 600ms, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?". This impatience manifests in a very problematic way in my interactions with people. I am told I cut people off in the middle of a sentence with some regularity. In my mind it is mostly harmless – "OK, I got it, let's save us both some time and move on to the next point", but I am told it makes me look like a jerk.

I will also occasionally try to wrap things up way quicker than people seem to care for, and honestly, it is entirely "OK, shut the fuck up with your boring story" in my mind. And sometimes it is a little of both – "We were both here for the meeting, no need to go over the whole thing at the end, right?" My wife tells me I "sometimes you act in ways that a normal person wouldn't unless they were really trying to convey anger/disdain" when I am clearly not meaning to send that message.

I have a pretty awesome job with fantastic colleagues – all incredibly smart and experts in our field. And therein lays the problem. Last year between the brewing-potential-divorce induced funk and some other factors, I had an exceptionally bad year at work. Shape up or ship out bad. I was also very introverted, and apparently quite abrasive. In particular, my manager said that my "demeanor and interaction with my colleagues comes across as abrasive and unprofessional" and that I need to "refrain from unprofessional remarks and displays of impatience that set a poor example". The performance issues I can and am addressing, but the personality issues I am wrestling with, as they have been with me my whole life.

So... I would like to change my personality, or if not my personality, at the very least change how I appear to the world. A tall order, I know.

What do you reccomend? In particular, what specific actions can I take to:
- Be more patient in general
- Not cut people off (AND be happy about it)
- Be friendlier toward new people
- And otherwise be less of a jerk

Thanks, MeFi!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Mindfulness meditation has helped me become more patient and cut way down on the amount of stupid shit I impulsively say. My reactions used to seem inevitable, but now I'm aware of them, usually before anyone else is, and thus I have a choice of what to do next..
posted by desjardins at 12:20 PM on May 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

I would like to change my personality, or if not my personality, at the very least change how I appear to the world.

I don't think leaving your personality alone but trying to change how you appear to the world is an option, because it sounds like you're already doing that and it's not working.

it is entirely "OK, shut the fuck up with your boring story" in my mind ... My wife tells me I "sometimes you act in ways that a normal person wouldn't unless they were really trying to convey anger/disdain" when I am clearly not meaning to send that message.

You have contempt in your mind, and while you're not trying to "send" that message, it's coming out clearly anyway.

You need to lose the contempt you have for other people. Do you think you're smarter than others? Quicker than others? A better driver? You "get" things others just don't get, or don't get as quickly/as well as you do. Basically others should just move aside and step out of your way because you are a Ferrari and they are a VW bus.

You can be treated for ADHD all you want but I think if you don't lose the basic contempt underlying everything, nothing will change. You need to stop seeing yourself as superior to others in any way.
posted by Ashley801 at 12:24 PM on May 5, 2011 [11 favorites]

This may be an oversimplification, but do you drink a lot of coffee?
posted by jon1270 at 12:27 PM on May 5, 2011

I'm glad you posted this, because I have the same problem and have been thinking about it a lot lately. I'm also very ADD and extremely impatient with people, mostly wanting them to just get to the point so we can get down to business. When people ramble on and on or give me a lot of irrelevant facts, my mind starts to writhe in boredom and anger. I also cut people off. I've been told, "It seems like you can't be bothered," "You're intimidating," "You're mean," "You've barely even said hello," and just generally that I'm abrupt and given to impatience. It makes me unhappy to be so mean. I wish I could enjoy people and not be horrible sometimes.

One thing that recently helped me is learning that a lot of people are like this. It's actually a personality "style." At a company retreat, I had to take a personality test. Which of course I was angry and impatient with, thinking it was cheesy and boring. But it did lump me into a group called the “driver,” which is apparently the impatient asshole type of person. So, I knew then that I wasn’t just some sort of freak that couldn’t relate to anyone. There are lots of people like this. It helps to know you aren’t alone.
Coping strategies I use are trying to be empathetic. When someone treats me the way I treat people, it hurts! I’ve noticed that. Especially if I like the person and they cut me off/get impatient with me. I pay attention to my own pain in these situations and then use it as a perspective when I want to get impatient with someone. I also breathe deeply. Lots of deep breaths to calm myself while someone I find irritating is rambling on about whatever. It’s also easier to cope when I’ve been exercising or doing yoga. Generally cultivating fitness and calmness in your mind helps.

If you find anything better, let me know, because I’d sure like to hear it, too.
posted by amodelcitizen at 12:27 PM on May 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

Pay mindful attention to listening. Don't wait for the next break in conversation, give yourself a few seconds (full seconds) to digest what someone has told you. When you think you're ready to jump in, wait another two to three seconds.

Practice the art of not saying anything to push your own agenda, but rather ask follow-up questions to what someone else is saying. Make a game of it, if that helps.

You can have contempt or evil or boredom in your heart and mind, but if you outwardly show interest, that's generally enough for people to feel comfortable.
posted by xingcat at 12:28 PM on May 5, 2011

1. Therapy, as we say here. It would be good to have a non-friend adult around to unpack specific interactions and brainstorm strategies.

2. Sometimes I come up with specific listening strategies - ie, "I am going to let this person talk until they stop before I say anything at all" or "I am only going to ask elicitive questions rather than make statements" or "I am going to ask two questions before I give any opinions".

3. Try to understand why people have the processes that they have. There are a lot of things I've been very impatient with at work (I'm pretty clever myself) and with time it's sunk in that those processes serve real purposes. Doing the "take away"/ "check-out" piece at meetings really does help clarify things for many people, for example--even for me, although I tend to assume that I know enough not to need it. Ask yourself "why does this person want to use this process?"

4. Resolve that when you have an angry, impatient thought you will consciously interrogate it. "Why in god's name can't she get off the damn bike path to make her phone call?....Well, maybe she's not familiar with the campus. Maybe she misread the bike path sign, which is confusing. Maybe she's in a big hurry. Why does it bug me to lengthen my bike ride by two seconds to go around her?"

5. Consciously try to make work friends. It's a lot harder to be abrasive to people who are real human beings to you. Learn some things about them - who has a daughter in college, who is traveling to France, etc - and then remember to ask about these things, even if you don't really care. Once you start to know these details, you'll find them mildly interesting purely from proximity. And people will like you more, thus be more inclined to forgive occasional lapses into abrasiveness.

6. If you snap at someone or make a fuss, apologize. I have to do this from time to time.
posted by Frowner at 12:28 PM on May 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

You're on to something when you say you've been in a funk - these emotions and bad behavior stem from your own frustrations and self-image. I know it's something of a askmefi joke, but what helped me, personally, was therapy. Once I liked myself a whole lot more I stopped thinking quite so grumpily about the rest of the world, too.

I make a joke of "being a buddha behind the wheel". But try to let go of these annoyances and look inward to see what's Really bugging you. Most of the time it will be mostly things other than those other annoying drivers.
posted by ldthomps at 12:29 PM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your post reads to me like you are a very transactional person; you think in terms of getting things done, and interacting with people in the day-to-day is simply a means to that end. When they don't respond as quickly as you would like, or try to undertake the niceties of social interaction you get impatient, because they are preventing you from getting whatever it is done, right?

The only thing I can suggest is that you need to re-frame your thought processes regarding other people, so that you see them as people and not as resources. They have things they want to achieve and do too, and who's to say you're not causing an obstruction to them? The old saw about walking a mile in another's shoes comes to mind here. You've been given a lot of good advice upthread regarding this.

Failing that, if you really have difficulties with thinking about the people around you as anything other than resources, then you need to think about the long game. Your meeting with co-worker Bob is about getting something done, yes, but it's also about building working relationships that will facilitate getting things done in the longer term. If Bob likes you, he's likely to be more helpful next time, right? This may mean "investing" in some interactions and behaviours that you think of as a waste of time, but are super-important to the other person, in order to smooth future interactions with them. Think the long game.
posted by LN at 12:30 PM on May 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

I am told I cut people off in the middle of a sentence with some regularity. In my mind it is mostly harmless – "OK, I got it, let's save us both some time and move on to the next point", but I am told it makes me look like a jerk.

Well, do you notice yourself doing this? That might be the first step, because you probably need to stop doing this entirely. Cutting someone off, even if you are certain about what they are going to say, is basically never polite. And besides, how can you be so sure that you really know what they are going to say, especially the nuances? This is part of why it sends the message that it does, that you aren't really interested in what they have to say except in some very broad way. Or, that you aren't really thinking of these people as anything besides providers of the occasional bullet point.
posted by advil at 12:31 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you in marriage counseling or individual counseling? I think people underestimate how stressful something like loss in a relationship affects every part of their demeanor. I haven't experienced that directly but dealing with my father's ill health and eventual death made me pretty weird and short with people in a way that was pretty well out of my control. It's like I really only had half a brain to devote to what was in front of me and I varied between completely distracted to impatient. It also strained my interactions with my mother because she was experiencing this about ten times (if not a thousand times) worse than I.

But, when I find myself being short with people in the moment, what I try to do is tell myself, "Listen to what they are saying. Listen. Listen. Listen." It seems to work as a mantra and also improves what I take away from the conversation even if initially I didn't think I cared to spend any time on this person.

And a side note, try to remember that your job is just a job. You do important and good work, no doubt, but it's the people relationships that matter the most. I recently heard this explained to me from someone working in a tech field, "It doesn't matter to me whether this is the best work I could have produced or whether it's the coolest thing we've ever done or whether we win an award, it matters that I have good working relationships so that when I move on from this job, people are fond of me and will recommend me so I can get paid more." Maybe something to think about.
posted by amanda at 12:31 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the best thing you can do is apologize immediately when you have done something rude, such as interrupting or finishing sentences. Apologizing goes a long way in preserving relationships. "Oh, I'm sorry. I interrupted you. Please continue."

This could be your mantra: Preserve the Relationship. Or maybe, What Would a Polite Person Do? Each time you interact with a person ask yourself, are my behaviors deteriorating or strengthening the relationship? Am I being polite and respectful of others even if I'm bored or impatient? Practice makes perfect. Keep working at being polite and demonstrating behaviors that strengthen the relationship.
posted by Fairchild at 12:40 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had lots of problems with this as well. Here's how I work to overcome it:

I find that if I am getting really annoyed that someone is just taking forever, I know that usually my annoyance has nothing to do with them and instead has to do with other things in my life that are not going the way I would like. I can usually link it to either a) I'm hungry b) I'm tired or c) I haven't had enough me time.

Once I've recognized why I'm so cranky - again knowing that it really has nothing to do with the person in front of me - I can take a step back and know what needs to be done to get me feeling better.

I agree with the recommendation for counseling because chances are there are other issues at work here that you aren't seeing.
posted by Leezie at 12:41 PM on May 5, 2011

I wonder if at least some of this is a difference in communication styles. Are you originally from the northeast or a large city and living in a different place? I ask because I sometimes have the same interrupting problem, and it was tremendously helpful for me to read the work of linguistics professor Deborah Tannen, in particular her article "New York Jewish Conversational Style" (seriously).

She studies conversation patterns and has found that for some people, interrupting is a standard conversation tool, used to move the conversation forward. It indicates interest in the subject. But this can be very jarring for people who don't have this conversational style. People often associate this conversational style with Jewish folks in New York City.

Here's an interview with her about this very subject.

I'm not from New York City, and I'm not Jewish, but this is definitely my natural conversational style (and Tannen says you don't literally have to be either a New Yorker or Jew for this to be the case).

So I wonder if you might just be out-of-sync conversationally with other folks. It's a lot easier for me to deal with this trait in myself when I think of it as being about conversational style and not about me being a total asshole. Because often when I interrupt, it's because I really am interested in the conversation--it's just that my communication style can communicate the opposite.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:48 PM on May 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

Others have kind of been saying this but here it is laid out: There will never be any substitute for doing the work of re-training yourself to shut up and let the other person talk.

At first you won't realize you've done it until after. If you interrupted somebody yesterday, call them now and apologize for being impatient. At some point you will start to catch yourself a minute later. Then while you're doing. Then as the thought occurs to you, then... finally, you just won't do it anymore.

Everything else is just motivation for doing the work and that is something only you can generate. Not a therapist, not a comment in AskMe, not a wife, just you.

Unfortunately, you probably have some positive reinforcement to keep being impatient because a certain kind of impatience has helped with with CS stuff which can dampen your motivation. You must figure out, for yourself, that you don't want to be seen as The Impatient Guy in interpersonal relationships and start doing the work.

If you need some motivational hints:

- Impatience, ironically enough, is a very inefficient way to make your point heard in a conversation.

- Even worse, impatience can get in the way of you hearing a better idea from the other person. Hint 2b: if you don't wait until they are finished, you don't actually know what they going going to say.

- Impatience is just a way of saying "You are wrong" and if you are average (or on par with the other persona) then 50% of time YOU are the one who is wrong.

You don't want to be that guy - so stop it. Get to work.
posted by victors at 12:52 PM on May 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

I'm similar to you. You're getting lots of good advice here, so I'll just add 2 things that helped me.

1. Interpersonal skills are just that - skills. They can be learned, and it's pretty much a "fake it till you make it" situation. You have to just start using those skills in order to develop them, even if you're not any good at the start. I used to have a tough time carrying a conversation with someone new, but now people tell me I'm good at first impressions because I'm a good question-asker and listener. Those things didn't happen because I suddenly got good at them, they happened because I consciously started doing them. It was mentally draining and awkward at first, but just by focusing on listening more, listening has become natural to me. So in your case, you need to consciously make an effort only to speak up when the other person is done, and to let people meander a little instead of cutting to the chase. At first it will be aggravating to you, but that's okay and you should expect that it will irritate you and drain you - just keep reminding yourself that you're doing it for a reason. Sooner or later it'll become more natural and you'll appreciate this new skill you have.

2. Someone in this thread suggested that you are very "transactional," and that sounds right - like me, you want to just get the discussion over with so you can get back to what you were doing or move on to more interesting topics. I still struggle with this - I can still be an abrupt person. But something that has helped is treating each interaction as a chance to make a positive transaction with someone else - a chance to convince them that I'm a nice, attentive person who cares what they have to say. I believe Rodger Horchow frames this as a chance to make a deposit in the bank with that person - every time you are nice, you build rapport with them and increase your 'balance.' When you are abrupt, you make a withdrawal. So, my goal is not just to get the job done, but to get it done and make people want to see me again after - have a 'high balance' in the bank with that person. So maybe you can add "be friendly, be empathetic, and let people have their say so they'll like me" to your to-do list every day. It won't happen overnight, but I bet that if you treat building rapport with others as a task, you'll attack it as well as any other task - and I'm guessing you're good at getting tasks done. So reframe interpersonal interactions in your mind as something important that you need to do as part of your work.
posted by Tehhund at 12:53 PM on May 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

In brief (so you don't cut me off), empathy. Other people are more than obstacles in your way and can't read your mind to know you already considered (and probably rejected) what they have to say.

Imagine the (unlikely) case where there's someone quicker and smarter than you asking you something. How do you feel?
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:53 PM on May 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

A phrase I like when I realize I am feeling impatient, irritated by other people's slowness, or smarter than other people in the room.

"It's okay, I'm not in any hurry."

The light is green. Go! Go! GO, ARE YOU BLIND THE LIGHT IS- it's okay. I'm not in any hurry.

Yes, yes, we get it, from now on we foo the bars instead booing the bars, it's very important to the client's- it's okay. I'm not in any hurry.

The key is to draw on it even when you ARE in a hurry. You say it to yourself over and over and over until it becomes a reflex. Then, when you think it in those horrible too-slow moments, you interrogate it. Here's what I found: I usually wasn't in a hurry. I was just going about my day. No big rush.

And when I WAS in a hurry? Whatever thing I wanted to superspeed wasn't actually costing me that much time. Light change? Most light cycles are less than a minute. End of meeting wrap-up? Five minutes, tops. I spend that much time in the bathroom most days.

Here are some phrases to use when you aren't sure if you are being impatient with others at work:

"I'm sorry, I can be so impatient! Were you finished speaking?"
"I'm not upset with you; I just feel a little frustrated right now."

You can employ these at any time in the office- during an interaction and even after it has ended.

Maybe you could set a time at the end of each day or week to review your interactions with colleagues, see how you acted, and then send a few emails along the line of, "Hortense, I'm worried I was a little short with you when we spoke on Thursday. I can be so abrupt sometimes! Sorry about that- did you tell me everything you needed to about barring the foos?"

I know a couple people like this, and while it doesn't totally mitigate when they are rude to me, it helps to know that they are aware of it and working on it. I can more easily brush it off if I get an apology once in a while. A little humility goes a LONG way.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:56 PM on May 5, 2011 [21 favorites]

I think the mindset you need is that you have all the time in the world. Listen to people as they talk, and even if they're going down the wrong line of thought, just wait for a pause or opportunity and try not to cut them short of finishing an idea. Be respectful and use body language to express that you need to interject (eg. raise your pointing finger about mid level and pretend your tapping on an invisible sheet of glass...this often is the universal sign language that you have a point to make)

It's not so much what you're saying is the problem I'd think, rather how you're saying it. Again, try to convince yourself that you have all the time in the world, and I think you'll relax your hurry to get through conversations. With body language you can cue them that you have something to say, while still being respectful enough to let them finish their sentence.

I think the fact that you have to mention that you're smart at the beginning of your post suggests that you may also feel that you might have a slight edge over people that don't see things as clearly as you do. Being an IT professional, I understand this disposition fairly well, even if its just on learned computer knowledge. You still have to respect your fellow human being as a peer first however, even though you may already have an answer. I've personally sat and listened to an explanation of a problem that took upwards of 10-15mins, when I knew what to do from minute 3. I just had to put my impatience aside, think about what I wanted to do the rest of the day, make a mental note of what groceries I'll need, etc...."Oh, right...let's see..well let me take a look and.... Ah! There it is, all fixed! Well gotta get going, take care!"
posted by samsara at 1:42 PM on May 5, 2011

Some more tips for being more pleasant to work with:
- Never ambush people with questions, work items, suggestions etc while they are just passing by (on way out/in, way to kitchen/bathroom/lunch etc). Instead send email or email/IM asking if you can stop by.
- Pleasantly greet people who are passing by instead - say just "Morning", "Hey", "How are you?" or something else short and small. Do not try to engage moving people in a long conversation.
- In a social situation where nobody is moving, you can make light conversation about pleasant inoffensive topics like the weather, recent movies, local sports, local events etc.
- Always step aside to use your phone and iPad, never make use of one when in a social situation (unless they asked you to show them something cool on it)
- In meetings let the person who invited everyone drive the meeting, it is perfectly fine to say nothing all meeting and just nod or agree if that is all that is needed.
- If you arranged the meeting then make sure you let everyone have their say, and if someone is taking way too long (look at rest of room to gauge - are people leaning back, rolling eyes, snoring?) then ask if you can meet with them after the meeting to (or other time) to discuss the issue.
- Don't fidget in meetings, instead take detailed notes and you should only doodle if nobody can see your paper.
- For one on one interactions, keep still and pay attention and take notes. Look at the spot between their eyebrows in you have trouble keeping eye contact.
- In general, don't charge off dramatically when given a task. Thoughtfully jot down the steps, requirements, expected outcome then start working at it methodically. Try to seem calm and collected even if your mind is racing, think something like "nobody must know I'm the million-thought-a-minute man!"
- Smile more, practice smiling so it looks more happy than vicious. Thinking happy or funny thoughts can help make a smile more genuine, like imagining ghost lolcats all over the office.
posted by meepmeow at 1:44 PM on May 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I say Ashley801 is dead on target.
Contempt is a big issue, IMO. Underlying is also an ego problem.

I studied CS as well, and you may or may not have noticed, but generally speaking
when you go to university, the vibe is very competitive. This increases when
entering a Masters program, even more when entering a PhD program.
Reflect on it for a while. Think about how this was played out with professors,
assistants, students, etc....

Do you find that the same, implicit, mindset rules your workplace?
Just something to ponder about...

Marshall Goldsmith describes this in his book "Mojo". He has a full chapter devoted to reputation. And in summary, it all boils down to: "We confuse our need to consider ourselves to be smart with our need to be considered efective by the world"
We want our bosses and collegues and everyone around us to admire our brainpower. But the need to be "the smartest person in the room" causes some very stupid or "jerk" type behaviour.
So he presents with a very simple question that you need to as yourself all the time:
"Will it make me look smarter or make me become more effective?"
(just think about it. You are smart. You already have the job. No need to continue
proving you are smart, is there?)
posted by theKik at 1:50 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Even before the jump I was like "oh this is easy, ADHD"

Then you said you didn't meet the diagnostic criteria, which, okay. It depends what parts you don't meet. They're revising it for the DSM-V to make it less restrictive, specifically to catch more people who are inattentive (vs hyperactive) and to raise the age of first symptoms to 13 or so.

I guess my thought would be to re-think the whole ADHD thing because it seems to be really affecting your life and maybe some stimulant meds could help save your marriage. I know they had a huge positive impact on my intimate relationships.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:06 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

One more thought here. There are different types of intelligence. You see yourself as "quite smart", but that might just be your "logical-analytical-mathematical" intelligence.

So what about your interpersonal intelligence? or your intra-personal?

If you take a honest, humble look at yourself, and see that you are highly gifted in
a particular area (math, logic, analysis), but probably not as gifted in other areas (i.e. emotional intelligence) then you can start viewing other people with less contempt. Impatience and jerkness will gradually disapear.

BTW, it is great that you actually want to solve this issue. It's a great first step towards solving your issues! The "jerk" component in your personality is starting to dissolve!
posted by theKik at 2:07 PM on May 5, 2011

I feel your pain, anon. I'm much the same way: we have a lot of work to do, so let's communicate what we need from each other and then go get things done! Whereas most of the people I work with seem to have no problem shooting the breeze for 15 minutes before getting to the point. I too am trying to work at better accommodating these kinds of folks, because there seems to be way more of them than of me.

What's working so far re: interruptions (because I do it for the same reason you do!) apologizing as soon as I realize I did and making an extra special effort to not do it to that person again for the rest of the conversation. Which is hard, because it means I'm shifting a lot of my attention to monitoring the rhythm of the conversation instead of the content, but I guess that's what it takes to reprogram myself.

For the people I work with the most (and therefore interrupt the most), I've been upfront: I'm sorry, I've noticed I have a horrible habit of interrupting people. I'm actively working on trying to stop this. I apologize, and will continue to apologize when I notice myself doing this to you.

And folks have been pretty cool about it. Good luck, and know that you're not the only one dealing with these sorts of things.
posted by smirkette at 2:25 PM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm gonna tackle the part about being frustrated with strangers since everyone here is doing great with the coworker stuff. I've had similar problems in the past. In the car I was VERY road-ragey and you should have seen me rolling my eyes and huffing and puffing my disdain for the idiots in the grocery store.

Then one day I was at the grocery store and huffed and puffed at some woman that was in my way and she noticed. And she said "EXCUSE ME for being in your way" in a kind of sarcastic tone - but I could immediately tell she was hurt that I displayed such contempt for her.

And wow, that was like a slap in the face. How could I treat someone I don't even know like that? And then I started thinking how ungenerous I was being. Part of it is just the nature of living in society - you encounter so many people in the day that even if only a small percentage of them are having a bad/distracted/inconsiderate day (or even are actually assholes), you'll probably have several annoying interactions per day. To you it feels like you are SURROUNDED BY IDIOTS/ASSHOLES but in fact you are not. Most of those people are probably just having a bad day or moment.

And then I got to thinking about how I've done the very thing that was so annoying to me. I've run into a friend at the store and looked up from our chat to realize my cart was blocking the aisle. I've had to drive somewhat slowly looking for streetside parking. I think of myself as a considerate and thoughtful person that is "good at" living in a city and not annoying people, but in truth I'm sure I have annoyed people with my behavior.

Which is a very tl;dr way to say it's about empathy. I think I've heard it here on metafilter that "you don't know the burdens that others are carrying," and I try to repeat that mantra whenever I get annoyed by daily interactions with strangers. It's not perfect but it helps a lot to picture that woman blocking the aisle with her cart while she reads labels is trying to find the most nutritious food so she can lose weight, or feed her kids on a budget, or whatever. That person driving frustratingly slowly is an out-of-towner that is lost and nervous enough about city driving without me breathing down his neck and honking my horn.

My final comment is that letting things go is self-reinforcing over time, because as I've become more forgiving about things, I don't get as stressed in my day-to-day life. That's super rewarding so it becomes easier and easier once you see how relaxing life can be when you just let people be people.
posted by misskaz at 2:38 PM on May 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

****I don't meet the diagnostic criteria for full-on ADD, but when I read about the symptoms... yeah, a fair amount of that sounds pretty familiar.

Okay, do yourself and EVERYONE AROUND YOU a favor and go see a psychiatrist about this.

I have some very acute experience dealing with my husband in a situation very similar to yours. He is brilliant, charasmatic, went to elite schools, rubs elbows with dipolmats, etc. Highly capable, but for as many strengths as he has, he also had some issues that were costing him dearly.

People with ADD/ADHD are some of the most fiercely intelligent, creative people that you will ever meet. After my sister and her son were diagnosed with ADD and ADHD (respectively), a year and a half ago, I did a bit of research and figured out that my husband had ADHD, but he resisted it at every turn. Next week, we will have been married five years and until I put 2 and 2 together, I considered divorce countless times. The big goof is lucky that I love him so damn much. (And luckily, he acknowledges this now...)

Exactly one week ago today he saw a psychiatrist in the Menninger family (may the heavens bless this doc's soul), diagnosed with *moderate* ADHD, started taking a low dose of a med used to treat ADHD and it's as if he is a different person. Gentle, stress-free, low sense of frustration, very little anger, etc. His voice is even different. We have talked and connected more in the past week than we have in almost the past three years. The difference is stunning.

You are worried about losing your job. My husband is 47 and he feels like he has lost a lot of his entire life. He can identify the signs clear back to his childhood - He never knew that he could see the world so clearly and how much his actions affected those around him. And he really is grieving now for all that this cost him along the way.

So, I would urge you to not wait, and at least investigate this possibility with a professional. I can't say for sure that you have ADHD, like my husband does. But please, if nothing else, go to rule it out - With the funk that you describe, you may just be dealing with something like depression.

Please take care of yourself. You may not only save your job, but your marriage, too.
posted by inquisitrix at 2:55 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

As an addition to all of the great advice in here, I have a mantra of sorts that I tell myself when I'm in an "everyone's too slow/stupid/slowing me down/making more work for me" kind of space and working at being the generous awesome person I know I can be when calm, rested and not feeling under pressure. I say, self: everyone is doing the best s/he can.
Then I repeat it. Sometimes out loud. And I know it's not totally true. But, then, even when people are totally sucking, and telling me crap I already know, and keeping me in a loooooong meeting blathering instead of letting me get my work done, or not pressing the accelerator fast enough after the light turns green, or not freaking standing on the right side of the metro escalator (is that really so hard, people? Really?!), they're just doing the best they all can that day/hour/lifetime.
Sure, for some people that "best" is always going to be kind of subpar and frustrating on a variety of levels for you (I'm looking at you departmental Admin), but reminding myself mantra-style that we ALL are just doing the best we can is a really helpful coping mechanism for me and also helps me to feel AND show greater empathy.
posted by atomicstone at 3:17 PM on May 5, 2011

Since you mention work is a big part of your concerns, I'm going to follow others and focus on that focus on that for a second. I have worked with someone who is extremely similar the way you describe yourself, and this person also experienced professional frustrations. You say:

I'm quite smart, Ph.D. in CS, classic INTP. I don't meet the diagnostic criteria for full-on ADD, but when I read about the symptoms... yeah, a fair amount of that sounds pretty familiar.... I have a pretty awesome job with fantastic colleagues – all incredibly smart and experts in our field.

What you do not seem to realize (as theKik mentions above) is that in most jobs, even those that require super smart, CS Ph.D, being 'smart' does not correlate to being effective and professional success. Think about all of the wildly successful people you know that are not as 'smart' as you. I'll bet you know plenty of people who you deem as less 'smart' yet they are still more professionally successful. How smart are you really if you can't cut it in your job?

Last, people mentioned saying "I'm sorry" if you realize that you just cut someone off. If you do say something like "I'm sorry, I can be so impatient! Were you finished speaking?" then make sure you are sincere! Trust me, people can see straight through when you are just saying those words as a reflex.
posted by seesom at 3:27 PM on May 5, 2011

People are being kind of hard on you here (as they stridently lecture you about your lack of empathy...). I'm an INTP too, and I know exactly what you're talking about. I find myself getting frustrated in many of the same ways during everyday conversation - like, why do I need to hear about each and every left turn you took to get here today, or what you had for breakfast, when I just need to know foo? Is there a point to this conversation?

The thing I finally realized is that for INTPs, it's the exchange of salient information that creates and fosters intimacy, so once the important information has been conveyed, we feel that the social bond is secure and we are done here. I have information you need, you have information I need, yay we have a bond. Doubly so if we're both excited and interested in the topic at hand. My few INTP friends and I could go for hours just babbling interesting things at each other, doing no "social/feelings talk," just exchanging cool information we have acquired. "and did you know it does this thing where--?" "yeah i heard that! and it does this other cool thing too!" "wow, did you hear that happens because of this other thing?" That is the form of a satisfying, heartfelt, intimate conversation to me. Disregard social niceties, acquire information! It helps a lot to have a couple of INTP friends that I can blather at and interrupt and they can do the same thing (we're all inveterate interrupters). It is great to get to be authentically "yourself" around people you trust to interpret your intentions correctly.

The flipside to this, though, is that I feel basically worthless when I don't have any salient information to contribute. Do you feel the same way? When I really look honestly at how harshly I judge myself for not having the right information at all times, it becomes clear why I might seem contemptuous of others even if I don't mean to or even consciously feel that way - it's because I would have contempt for myself in that position. It might sound counterintuitive to those who feel you have an ego problem, but it sounds to me like you should learn to forgive yourself more. If you feel worthless because you don't know something or waste someone's time, you will think others are worthless when they don't know something and waste your time.

It has helped me immensely to really come to terms with my INTPness and its rarity in society. This description of the INTP type (wayback machine) helped me a lot, if you haven't already read it (aw look at me, all trying to share information with you - social bond!). I cried hard after I read that for the first time because it described almost all of the traits that cause me to feel really alienated from others. It has also helped me to be more mindful that other people work very differently than me - not that I'm a freak, but that others value different things and find intimacy in other ways.

Anyway, my proposed solution is kind of out of left-field, but if you've never backpacked in the wilderness before, maybe going backpacking with a bunch of people who are really capable and athletic would help. It puts you in this totally alien world where you don't have any of the skills you need to survive, but all these other people are already super-competent and rugged, and you have to trust them, rely on them, and learn from them. Also, you can't turn around and go home, booklearning doesn't really help, and you can't retreat into your computer. It forces you to directly interact with the world and realize how weak your real human skills are - seriously, CS skills are worth nothing if you can't build a fire, find clean water, build a shelter, find food, etc. (disregard if you're already a mountain man, of course, but I'm sure there's something similar you could try). Anyway, that sure helped me a lot, and I find it much easier to be humble about myself and the world now that I know that I would basically die immediately if I were ever truly on my own in the world, no matter how much I might wish it were different some days.
posted by dialetheia at 4:19 PM on May 5, 2011 [8 favorites]

Working too hard does that. Nothing works and you don't know why and then you get blamed for it but you can't lower the pressure you are under. I say you need to examine why you almost got fired. You have a happy marriage. I you didn't have a PhD I would imagine you you were approached to share a nanny and your spouse was embarrassed to turn them down no matter how much you pleaded for frugality.

If you're an expert then you can find others who have other labs. Quit if you must. You are clearly not working in academia. You probably will not unless you now start your own lab and get funding from crowdsourcing or seeking an angel for your work. You may be able to bring some people with you if you go. It's worth a shot, labs are still being funded.
posted by parmanparman at 4:32 PM on May 5, 2011

You need to take your ego down a notch. Seriously. That is a huge part of this problem. I know plenty of impatient people, and it can be annoying, but the problem you are describing at work is more than impatience, it is arrogance. Assuming that you know everything a person is going to say before they say it, assuming that you caught every detail so nothing needs to be rehashed, assuming that you have gotten the point already just move on. I'm impatient, but when I act like that it is not just impatience, it is impatience mixed with arrogance.
Don't just work on being more patient, work on being more humble. You don't know everything. People that are less intelligent still have something they can teach you. Be open to learning from them. Believe me, people will forgive impatience but they will not forgive arrogance.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:28 PM on May 5, 2011

I agree with dialetheia. I really don't think this is arrogance or an ego problem. I behave the same way and I don't feel I am better than anyone. In fact, I often feel that other people are better than me because they can listen with purpose and not lose their tempers constantly.

I think when people are behaving rashly, impatiently, and in an angry way, the crux of the problem is not how great they think they are. It's how lost they feel.
posted by amodelcitizen at 5:49 PM on May 5, 2011

Well, maybe you are faster or smarter or just better than everyone else. So what?

If nobody wants to work with you any more because they perceive—whether rightly or wrongly—that you are an ass and you are difficult to work with… then what good are you, really? How much of an invaluable asset are you to a company when everybody hates your guts? How much can you really get accomplished without the help of your co-workers?

It doesn't matter if you're right or they're right. You need to work with these people.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:57 PM on May 5, 2011

I'm a big interrupter, and while neither Jewish nor a New Yorker, it seems pretty natural to me to have an overlapping communication style. So, I temper it with little interjections "I'm so excited to talk to you--please go on!" "I'm sorry--I just get ahead of myself--please go on" even with those whose conversation doesn't actually whip me into a verbal frenzy. Apologies and soothing of ruffled feathers makes things go a lot easier. Thus far, it seems to work.
I do let myself be impatient at red lights and elevators.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:46 PM on May 5, 2011

The solution is simple -- focus on the other person instead of your own thoughts. Never leave an interaction on a negative note.
posted by blargerz at 7:11 PM on May 5, 2011

Another way to look at this: perhaps everyone knows that you are as smart as you think you are. They feel at the mercy of your wit, your intellect, and your impatience. You are someone people look to for answers -- a leader. With this de facto position comes responsibility -- you are expected to be magnanimous and gracious.
posted by blargerz at 7:29 PM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you have to get some help at least regarding your depression (you have Big Stuff you're dealing with, you're depressed) and then I think the remainder be easier to manage from there. Depression (and irritability) seriously diminishes your capacity to control your own reactions to (perceived or real) annoyances.

How to be more patient - slow yourself down, wait until the other person has finished, if you find yourself getting impatient leave the room/building if possible, walk around, breathe.

If you cut someone off - apologize.

If you meet someone new - ask them questions about themselves, be genuinely interested.

Above all - cut yourself some slack, you're going through some Big Stuff, you're human, you should try to be a decent person but you don't have to be perfect.
posted by mleigh at 12:49 AM on May 6, 2011

Be overtly interested in other people, rather than yourself.
posted by joannemullen at 3:04 AM on May 6, 2011

When I really look honestly at how harshly I judge myself for not having the right information at all times, it becomes clear why I might seem contemptuous of others even if I don't mean to or even consciously feel that way - it's because I would have contempt for myself in that position.

dialethea's comment rings true for what I suspect is going on in the head of one of my good friends that sounds a lot like you. When he talks about his family, the emphasis in his childhood home seems to have been on being shamed for not knowing things, and that you should bluff as if you do know something, even when you're uncertain. So now, even though he is a sweet, dear person most of the time, he often comes across in conversation as not just smart (which he is), but a smug know-it-all who will criticize others harshly for a misstatement.
posted by MsMolly at 9:24 AM on May 6, 2011

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