Not trying to be in control for the actions of others is frequent and good advice. How do you put that into practice? Where do you draw the line?
October 4, 2012 7:00 PM   Subscribe

Not trying to be in control for the actions of others is frequent and good advice. How do you put that into practice? Where do you draw the line?

Frequently when people complain here of another person or people doing something annoying, bothersome, stupid, or otherwise what-I'd-rather-you/they-not-do, they hear a commonsense piece of advice. They're told to realize they don't get to control how others act; they're reminded that they'll be happier if they let other people make their own choices and worry about themselves. This is said in a few ways (and I've love to hear other phrasings), and it sounds like really good advice.

So, how do you go about doing that? What do you think, or tell yourself, in that moment when someone is doing something really annoying or bothersome or stupid?

I'm a pretty laid-back guy, but I get annoyed when people spell my name wrong (especially in e-mail since my name is myname@whatever) which is almost always, I get annoyed at rude or inconsiderate drivers (as a driver and cyclist), I get annoyed at thoughtless or oblivious people in the grocery, or co-workers who don't realize that there are other people with their own job to do.

Now despite what the above might sound like, I'm not annoyed all the time. Far from it. I rarely if ever seethe or comment on this stuff or feel like I have to respond. But if coming to the realization that these are other peoples' choices and not my responsibility will make me even less annoyed, I like that idea.

Also, clearly there are times when you should speak up. So, how do you draw the line and decide to leave something alone, or to speak up?

Thanks in advance for your advice. I know this isn't saving the world kind of stuff, but one less (on occasion) annoyed person is probably good news for us all.
posted by iftheaccidentwill to Human Relations (13 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
The line is drawn where you have to speak up; where you have information that could save someone else's life/career/relationship. If they're just being a momentary irritant, ignore them. You have much better things to do with your time; we all do. Don't let them win by getting more of your attention than they deserve.
posted by RainyJay at 7:06 PM on October 4, 2012

Best answer: I'm irritable. This is a personality problem that I have. At the same time, sometimes people do things that are somewhat irksome and that I could possibly correct. So, it's annoying when people spell your name wrong, but you can address that. It's annoying when people drive inconsiderately, but it's mostly a concern when it's dangerous to you. It's annoying when people are weird in the supermarket, but that's the trade off for living in a civil society and not having to kill your own wildlife for meat.

So, I am in agreement with RainyJay, don't let people colonize your mind. Find happy place activities that you can do in your head if you're temporarily trapped in an annoying situation (have you worn an ipod in the supermarket? AMAZING!). Realize that you may be annoyed for real reasons (I am unsafe. I am not getting my email.) or for sort of made up reasons (I do not like it when people are not like me because it's inefficient and I value efficiency and these people are wasting my time and I can feel my life slowly trickling away and I haven't been to Paris yet....). And practicing mindfulness, being aware of your thoughts but not controlled by them, has been helpful for me. "Oh look that is me getting annoyed by things I can't control because my brain is sometimes stupid and thinks there is some purpose to this... let's let that thought fade away and not cause me to be snappish to someone who has nothing to do with why I have not gone to Paris yet..."

Sometimes just acknowledging your feeling, not trying to stifle it and then letting it go instead of for whatever reason hanging on to it, can help me get through a day. Also minimizing caffeine and other stressors [eating enough healthy food, not enough sleep, whatever] was more helpful than I thought it was going to be.
posted by jessamyn at 7:16 PM on October 4, 2012 [13 favorites]

Best answer: What I always think to myself is I can't change (annoying) person, but I can change my reaction to (annoying) person. So then I quickly go through some questions in my head:

How much is annoying behavior bothering me?
Am I hungry, tired, cranky and is that why I'm finding this behavior annoying?
Will speaking up be more of a hassle than living with it?
Am I being too demanding of others?
Can I change my behavior so that this annoying thing will stop annoying me?

And then depending on the answers to these questions I decide whether to speak up or to let it go. If I decide to let it go, I take a deep breath and then really let it go. I make a conscious decision to no longer be annoyed with "thing" and if I find myself being annoyed again I remind myself that I've let this go.

(On preview, I'm also irritable and this is one way I've tried to change my behavior so I am less cranky with people. It has helped!)
posted by ephemerista at 7:21 PM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sometimes people are annoying you, sometimes you are the annoying one. That's what I go by. I hate when people are late for the theater, suddenly it's me that one time, and I have a crinkly bag!! But I'm not like that! But sometimes it is you scrounging for change in the grocery line, fishing for your bus pass, doing all the annoying things that are so annoying!!! Give the other people a break this time, it might be you next time. Or think angry thoughts and let them go almost immediately. Oh and of course on preview, Jessamyn is correct, fix what can be corrected and make sure you are not in danger if it is preventable.
posted by bquarters at 7:26 PM on October 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

You may not be annoyed all the time but you are clearly annoyed for more of the time than you need to be. Of your examples, I think the coworkers are the only people you might have a legitimate issue with, that should be dealt with.

At a certain point you just sort of decide that you don't want to always be reacting to other people's stuff, because it gets in the way of your own stuff. Have you ever been a passenger having a conversation with a driver who stops to rant at every little vehicular affront they see? Doesn't it feel like such a waste of time? Yeah, sometimes something major will happen and you have to say "WTF, that guy nearly killed us, OMG!!!" but most of the time it's just so much better to be able to ignore annoyances and concentrate on better things.

There's the other, related half of that coin too, which is you don't want to be that annoyed guy. If I got annoyed whenever someone spelled my name wrong I'd be annoyed all the damn time. That would be very unpleasant for me, but it's also not the way I want people to see me. And I'm not even particularly laid-back. I just wouldn't want to be thought of as petty and constantly irritated.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:30 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm just going to offer one thing - try to empathize and remember your own flaws. We're all thoughtless sometimes, and some people have more to be preoccupied with than others. Maybe that person who keeps zoning out or acting inefficiently is busy thinking about family trouble, or maybe she just hasn't been getting enough sleep lately - due to a new baby or due to illness or due to stress. No way you'd want to make that worse by getting pissed at her! Or maybe it's something good - maybe she's all happy and day-dreamy. Isn't that nice, though, someone being happy? You don't want her to have a bad day just so the line moves a little faster.

And when someone is driving really fast, get out of their way. Maybe they really are in a rush for a good reason - and either way it's safer for you if they aren't stuck behind you trying dangerous stunts to get around.

It also helps to remember, if someone is just having an annoying habit or tic, that you're a guest in their space as much as they're a guest in yours. Part of being in a public space is that they're shared spaces - we all have a right to them.
posted by Lady Li at 7:45 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I try and practice avoiding the second arrow.
posted by backwards guitar at 7:53 PM on October 4, 2012 [7 favorites]

It's been helpful to me to separate things that annoy me into the action, the person's intention, and their attention. During the whirlwind of thoughts I'm having as I witness and/or experience the results of the actions, this helps me comparmentalize.

Today I had a driver wander over in front of me on the road. I was able to observe the action of a human being controlling a vehicle in that particular way. I considered his intention - was he trying to hit me or piss me off? Or was it due to lack of attention i.e. carelessness. Turns out it was an older driver instead of someone trying to text, eat and drive at the same time. I'd get annoyed at the latter (a little) but cut the former some slack.

I find that in almost every situation, the actions that annoy me are from the person's lack of attention, not an intention. That helps me realize it's accidental in most cases. Sometimes I point it out, sometimes I don't. But either way, I don't take it personally.
posted by punocchio at 9:51 PM on October 4, 2012

Best answer: "Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?" -- George Carlin

I get more annoyed by other drivers than everyone else in the world combined, and that includes people who have actually shot at me. So every now and then, I just remind myself of the estimable Mr. Carlin's apt observation. And then I remember that the number of unsafe assholes out there is actually very low, and the vast majority of things that annoy me are simply people not doing what I want them to do. That is not really their fault.

Also, as one of my friends put it long ago, "They're not NPCs, dude." Everyone is the hero of their own story. No one wakes up in the morning, waxes his mustache and sneers into the bathroom mirror, "Oh, wow, am I ever going to be an inconsiderate bastard today." For the most part, they think they're the reasonable parties.

Similarly, those oblivious people in the grocery store? They don't think, "Okay, here comes my chance to block people." They just noticed something out of the corner of their eye and forgot they were in the middle of the aisle for a second. Take a deep breath, say "Excuse me" a little louder, and remember, "Be kind, for every man is fighting a hard battle."*

The actual quote is "Be pitiful..." in a sense of the word that is not generally used anymore.
posted by Etrigan at 10:30 PM on October 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

I think there's a big difference between an attempt to influence someone's behavior, and a need to control it. My bar for speaking up is pretty low. If I spell my name for someone, "J-O-N" and I watch them write 'John,' I will say, "no H.' If I get cut off in traffic I'll tap the horn or gesture to the other driver in a non-obscene, quizzical or WTF sort of way. At work I'd have no problem asking someone when they'd be done with a resource they're monopolizing. Yeah, sometimes I feel a bit of irritation but in cases like these it's extremely fleeting, largely *because* I speak up. But I'm only speaking up, not controlling. There are very few situations where I don't see an acceptable alternative to the other person's compliance.
posted by jon1270 at 2:03 AM on October 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Often the reason certain things bother you that don't bother other people are things that "push your buttons." We all have different buttons that stand in for our own insecurities, disappointments, emotional wounds and scars.* When someone pushes your buttons who had nothing to do with the buttons actually being there, that's misdirected anger. At some level you're reminded of the origin of the button, and you react in the moment at whoever happens to be there.

So if it really bothers you when people spell your name wrong, think about yourself rather than the other person. Maybe it tweaks an insecurity over being left out/forgotten/ignored when someone gets it wrong. Maybe some idiot in high school used to pretend he didn't know you, or your family dentist called you by a nickname you didn't like. So someone spells your name wrong and it just pokes at that small slight, but the high-school jock isn't there for you to say "dude you were such a jerk" and the dentist isn't there for you to say "you know, my name is Susan not Sue" and so you are left with this little ball of resentment about your name, your identity, that has no place to go but to the email sender because that's who's there, when in fact they're just someone in a hurry or who fat-fingered a few letters or whose cousin prefers Sue to Susan ...

And in the end, getting annoyed at them doesn't fix your problem. You can school them on your name and get a moment's satisfaction over it, but then you've still got that button there, just waiting to be pushed by the next person who innocently gets your name wrong.

So try to figure out in your examples what buttons you have and how they got there. That way when they get pushed you will recognize why that particular thing annoyed you and direct your response accordingly. Even if it's just consciously thinking to yourself "ah, there's old Dr. Smith again, obliviously calling me by a nickname not of my choosing out of a pretense of friendliness...oh well, deep breath and let it go." And the button gets smaller & less sensitive.

*I have more buttons than the average bear and I am a poor follower of my own advice here.
posted by headnsouth at 5:10 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

So, how do you draw the line and decide to leave something alone, or to speak up?

I ask myself if my expectations are reasonable and if this other person's actions are really going to have a measurable impact on my day, other than the whole annoyance-factor. So, say for example, I'm at the theatre sitting behind some chatty people. I am certainly going to ask them politely to be quiet. I've paid to see something, and the expectation in a theatre is that patrons will be quiet so everyone can enjoy the play. Similarly, if I have work to do and am waiting for someone else to get back to me, I will remind them politely that there are deadlines looming and could they please have that document to me asap. Because in a work environment, the expectation is that people will finish their work on time. But I try to be polite, because rudeness and confrontation is not really in my nature. People tend to respond better to polite assertiveness than rude assertiveness too.

But if the irritation is momentary and the impact on my day is not lasting, I let it go. Of course, it's easier said than done, but it's something to work towards, and I do think I am better than this than I used to be.
posted by Ziggy500 at 6:59 AM on October 5, 2012

I go into "Operation: Mood Fix" mode.

Step 1: What can I do right this moment to make myself feel better/more comfortable. It doesn't even have to be directly related (ie: punishment fitting the crime) to what's bothering me, but I can go to the well of things that generally lift my mood.

Step 2: ((If Step 1 doesn't do enough, or if the immediate situation doesn't lend itself to doing something nice for myself)) What can I do in the near future to improve my mood? This can involve detailed plans about how to set Operation: Mood Fix up for success. For example, if something really upsetting happens on my drive, I map out exactly what I'm going to do when I get to work/home to take care of myself. If I'm caught up in errands or whatever, the feel-good plans are scheduled for later on. They may not come to fruition, but sometimes just daydreaming for myself is soothing.

Step 3: What can I do differently next time? Will my life be better in the future if I take a different route? Or stay in a different lane? Or put music on before I start driving? Or put a granola bar in my purse every morning? Or speak up sooner when something bothers me?

Step 4: Redouble my focus on whatever I'm doing, and try to improve my performance at it.

I usually get distracted and move on before I work my way through all 4 parts of this plan.
posted by itesser at 3:24 PM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older What is the best way to keep your web access on a...   |   Help us keep the water in the tub Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.