Why do I annoy people?
August 8, 2008 8:45 AM   Subscribe

I seem to annoy a lot of people. I don't mean to, it just happens. What can I do to become less annoying?

I try to be a nice guy. I go out of my way to be nice to folks, but I inevitably annoy people.

For example, at work, I asked a girl if she was on a certain project and she just blew up at me. I tried to apologize, but she said I'm not sorry because I always do what I did to annoy her.

I can think of a couple of things that may be causing this:
1. I have an immature sense of humor: I try to keep this to myself and to a few firends, but it ends up slipping out here and there.

2. I try to please most people: I think this is a good thing, but perhaps people find this annoying.

I know some people here might need more explanation from me, so I set up a throwaway e-mail: annoyingtheworld@gmail.com

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
posted by spicynuts at 8:47 AM on August 8, 2008 [5 favorites]

You should pose this question to someone who knows you in person.
posted by salvia at 8:51 AM on August 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

For example, at work, I asked a girl if she was on a certain project and she just blew up at me. I tried to apologize, but she said I'm not sorry because I always do what I did to annoy her.

You need to understand why this annoyed her. I'm sure there is something missing in your description that would illustrate why. If you don't understand, you should ask a friend.
posted by grouse at 8:52 AM on August 8, 2008

See if you can record yourself over some portion of the day, then try to watch what you're doing in the third person. Maybe you can pick up on whatever it is that's rubbing people the wrong way.
posted by Citrus at 8:57 AM on August 8, 2008

Just from the little information I can glean from your situation, I wonder if you're having trouble reading non-verbal signs from people. Is it possible that, while your question was innocent, the woman was stressed or distracted or upset and you didn't pick up on that? I know several people who are fundamentally good and nice, but just have trouble reading people and knowing the appropriate time/way to approach them.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 9:01 AM on August 8, 2008

Less attempts at humor.

Less talking, more listening.

Don't try to amuse/entertain anyone, just focus on not being abrasive.
posted by aleahey at 9:09 AM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

> I try to be a nice guy. I go out of my way to be nice to folks, but I inevitably annoy people.
> 2. I try to please most people: I think this is a good thing, but perhaps people find this annoying.

Maybe you're trying too hard to be nice? I know it's weird, but such a thing is possible. Sometimes a person's aura of earnestness of so bright that their presence chafes me.
posted by universal_qlc at 9:11 AM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Listen to this episode of This American Life, and pay close attention to the guy who decides to write down all the jokes he normally would have said out loud(second act, MIT Puzzlers). I don't know if this would help you. I think i have the same problem sometimes...i just can't stop making the jokes.
posted by schyler523 at 9:13 AM on August 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

Maybe you were standing too close to her. That annoys me. A lot.
posted by clh at 9:17 AM on August 8, 2008

Communicate by writing instead of speaking when possible (emails, rather than person to person). I find when I can double check what I say, I can choose a better tone. A natural, non-unctuous smile goes a long way. Double check body language. Don't just listen, demonstrate you are listening (looking without staring, nodding, asking a smart question).
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:30 AM on August 8, 2008

People are annoyed by different things. I am someone who is easily annoyed by a wide gamut of human behavior, so maybe my reply can help you, or maybe it will make you paranoid.

You mention that you annoyed a woman by asking her a question. I am often annoyed by people asking me questions that I can tell they are only asking to get some sort of response from me , i.e., forcing me to interact. Only ask questions that have answers that you either need or sincerely want to know. Questions for the sake of sparking conversation drive me nuts. I'm not sure if they drive other people nuts, but I can only speak for myself.

"Try[ing] to be a nice guy" can absolutely translate into "is an annoying guy." Don't try to be anything.

A few oddly-broken-up paragraphs of incohesive snippets of advice on how not to be annoying, in general:
I find that the least annoying people I know are also the quietest. They know the most, and say the least. Don't give your opinion unless you're sure it's wanted, and don't participate in social situations unless you're sure you're wanted (that sounds harsh, but some people are annoying just because they show up everywhere and tag along uninvited). Keep to yourself and be mysterious, but not so mysterious that it becomes a schtick. Sincerity goes a long way. Don't try to be funny. Funny people do not try. Not everyone should be funny. The sitcom has made the entire world think that they can and should be funny and sarcastic all the time. This is not the case.

Don't advertise yourself as a "nice guy." That, in itself, is annoying. Saying it and going too far to act the part: both annoying. Do you talk to women differently than you talk to men? Annoying. Do you always seek others out and never wait for them to seek you out? Annoying.

You didn't say you did this, but lots of annoying people do, so I'll advise against it: don't give monologues. Don't lecture. Don't advise. Don't make obscure references. Don't use office jargon. Don't use cute idioms. Don't talk about how excited you are for the weekend or about how tired you are or about how much you drank at a party. Don't corner people into boring small talk conversations. Or any conversations. Sneak and slink and listen a lot more than you talk. Quiet behavior makes people wonder, and when people wonder about you, they will seek YOU out, and they will start conversations with you, and they will ask what certain project YOU are on, and then you can be annoyed by them instead.

I am breaking many of my own rules with this very comment.
posted by millipede at 9:34 AM on August 8, 2008 [22 favorites]

Is it possible that you're not especially annoying, but are especially sensitive to people reacting negatively to you?

In the incident you mentioned, it's conceivable that the woman was already exasperated about something unrelated, and you caught her at a bad moment.
posted by adamrice at 9:42 AM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think I know what is wrong. People wwould NEVER blow up at me, because they know I will immediately get pissed off and scold them. You are probably the type of person they are sure will never scold them. I.e, you are too nice. That does not work. You cannot be nice, you cannot laugh too much, you cannot smile. You need to take shit serious and just be generally angry about things. Be emotional - angry about things, then switch to lighthearted fun, and people will respect you. If you are nice and smiling, people will not respect you.

It's that dogged busy concentrated person that people are usually nice to. Not the layabout smiling chap.
posted by ChabonJabon at 9:52 AM on August 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

People choose how they're going to react. Most of the time, it has nothing to do with you, your personality, your jokes, etc...

It's hard to remember that, though, when you feel that negativity. For example, in the interaction with the girl you mentioned, I would be a bit put off by the "You always do x." OK, so what's X? If she can't or won't explain, just keep your interactions with her strictly professional.
posted by Liosliath at 9:54 AM on August 8, 2008

You cannot be nice, you cannot laugh too much, you cannot smile. You need to take shit serious and just be generally angry about things. Be emotional - angry about things, then switch to lighthearted fun, and people will respect you.

I think you're kidding, but it's disconcerting that I can't actually tell for sure.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:31 AM on August 8, 2008

Maybe I'm just a hammer always looking at nails, but whenever I hear "I annoy people and I don't know why" I always, always think ADHD. Have you looked into that? Of course, I experienced this as a result of my ADHD; it's possible that other learning disabilities exhibit similar patterns. The truth is, while everyone sometimes has problems with this, having these problems consistently suggests that you didn't learn the same set of social skills as everyone else, which is basically a social learning disability. You might want to consider a therapist who specializes in people with social skills issues.

Also, and I learned this the hard way, people don't care if you're sorry. Even if you're really, really sorry. If you keep exhibiting behaviors that upset or annoy you, your expression of regret over their reaction to whatever you did will always be perceived as less meangingful than the behavior itself, even if you don't mean to annoy them and you really do feel sorry.

You're going to have to do a lot of work on this, sorry to say. The good news is that you care about changing.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:40 AM on August 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

Salvia is right, you should ask someone you know and trust whether you've just developed habits that most people find annoying. If you've been seriously influenced by this one incident, though, I'd point out that the statement that "she said I'm not sorry because I always do what I did to annoy her" sends up some red flags regarding her motivations for blowing up at you. There are certainly people who annoy me, but I wouldn't say that their behavior is designed to do so. The fact that she seems to think you're annoying her intentionally is either a sign that you've got more going on than you've let on, or that she's got some issues that probably have very little to do with you.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:43 AM on August 8, 2008

It could be you, it could be them. However, the fact that your example includes absolutely no specifics of anything you did that was annoying is a red flag to me that it's probably *you.* I say this because it sounds like you lack insight into your own behavior and see no reason how you could have contributed to her reaction (other than your general innocent-sounding enumerated issues).

I'm intrigued, however, at your stated intention to start being less annoying--an admirable goal, and certainly worthy, if you're willing to take a hard, honest look at your own behavior. In general, I think annoying people are annoying because they are trying really hard to *be* a certain type of person, and try to force everyone to acknowledge the fact that they are cheerful! or funny! or kooky! So, focusing more on others and toning down the need to get recognition for being a certain way might help (as others have suggested).
posted by dreamphone at 11:46 AM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

One more thought: If it is indeed you, rather than them, be sure to try out your new non-annoying personality out on newer acquaintences in order to gauge progress. Unfortunately, I think the "annoying" label tends to stick; because people who know you don't cut you a lot of slack, it would otherwise be hard to get a sense of when you're headed in the right direction. Best of luck!
posted by dreamphone at 11:52 AM on August 8, 2008

Don't be nice or helpful, be you.

The lines separating creepy/nice/annoying are thinner than the slashes I jsut used. Be genuine and you won't have to wory about it. That doesn't mean you won't be nice, it means that you will be honestly nice rather than annoyingly condescending and fake.

And as spicynuts yelled up above, practice your listening. Ask questions, and listen to the answers. Don't give opinions. It's hard to be annoying if you listen intently.
posted by Ookseer at 12:08 PM on August 8, 2008

You need to take shit serious and just be generally angry about things. Be emotional - angry about things, then switch to lighthearted fun, and people will respect you. If you are nice and smiling, people will not respect you.

Moody people who act like this are annoying to me.

OP, perhaps the woman felt like you interrupted her while she was concentrating on something? Since you didn't discuss a lot of details in your post, perhaps making a list of all the things that you consciously do to try to be nice would help in identifying any "annoying" behaviors. Most behaviors taken to the extremes can be irritating to a lot of people.
posted by extramundane at 12:10 PM on August 8, 2008

As a critical overtalker myself I find that striving for silence and being a bit more opaque helps. I always try and be polite, and try and be understated.
posted by Ponderance at 12:14 PM on August 8, 2008

You didn't provide enough information for a true identification in my opinion. You gave a single example and not a lot of details...which is annoying (KIDDING!!!)

But let me tell you about an annoying guy I worked with, the guy who EVERYONE found annoying. To the point that his last name became a secret adjective for annoying.

The man lacked self-awareness. He did things and constantly was unaware of them, such as picking his nose or adjusting his undershorts. So that made him gross... and when managers actually talked to him, he truly believed they were lying and he didn't do those things.

So that is the first thing is to develop self-awareness. Reflect. Replay conversations and actions in your mind. The nose-picker would reach into communal candy dishes with his hands where people had specifically put signs saying "Use spoon to get candy" (the sign was there because of him). People stopped being polite, one person said "Just take all the candy now...I'm pitching it if you don't since you reached in there." I mean, that's not subtle...that's "Here is your action, here's why it angered me, here's what you need to do." However the guy was so lacking in self-awareness that he couldn't put it together...he was specifically told "use the spoon" but didn't and couldn't understand why people were mad at him.

Is that you?

If not, here's more about the same guy:

He was overly friendly. He thought of himself as a real mover and shaker in the company (though he had never been promoted and with his reputation never will be). He thought the key to promotions was to be liked by everyone so he was always perpetually friendly and happy. It came off as creepy.

More, it came off as, well, annoying. He would stop by certain people's desks, people he considered "work friends", on a daily basis and chat. But he would not understand if you were busy, he at least would not get non-verbal signals about that. And when he'd chat, he'd stay too long. 10-15 minutes, instead of the 2 or 3 it should have been. I mean he was usually cordial and asked questions like "how was your project" etc. but when someone is busy at their desk and is interrupted by the same person repeatedly (even if not on the same day)...that truly is annoying.

Is that you?

If not, here's more about that guy:

He didn't make a lot of money and had 2 kids. As such he had no life other than the kids. So in those long conversations the ONLY thing he had to talk about was his kids. One was sick. Daycare costs too much. One is soooo smart. One learned to walk. Kid stories are fine in moderation, but it was all he had. To attempt a conversation of any other topic would inevitably lead back to his kids. And it came off as bragging about his "little genius children".

Is any of that you? Do you specialize or enjoy talking about a specific topic and find it's in your conversation a lot? Do you find yourself proud of your own achievements and telling others about them (which can come off as bragging)?

If not, here's ONE LAST THING about that person...

He was somewhat condescending and moody, but he didn't mean to be. As mentioned above, 2 kids, no money. So when you'd talk to him about anything else, he'd about 30% of the time route the conversation to how hard it is to have 2 kids and no money. Thus making him a downer to talk to. I think he thought he was confiding and being a "pal" and forming bonds through shared hardship, but it came off as griping and being unrelatable.

Do you find yourself complaining often (especially about the same thing)?

If NONE of this is you, well MeFi mail me...we'll figure out who you are.
posted by arniec at 12:32 PM on August 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

It's great fun to be sarcastic and always look for the chance to give a little dig, but that, more than anything else, is what puts people off.

First, don't frustrate expectations. When people ask "How are you?," they want the expected response "Fine, how are you?" You must never give a true or unexpected answer like "Terrible," or even "Not bad for a Monday." It's a "shake hands" ritual, not a real exchange.

If someone tells you something you already know, don't try to "top" them. Pretend you don't know. Don't say you know, or ask something like "When did you find that out" or "I've known that for years -- are you just getting around to it?"

Don't think too deep or too hard. It frightens people. Your goal is not to say something intelligent, but just to keep the conversation going. Then the other person will stop and give you a chance to say your piece.
posted by KRS at 12:41 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

KRS and I completely disagree about what constitutes annoying behavior. The very question "how are you" is annoying to me.

Don't think too deep or too hard. It frightens people. Your goal is not to say something intelligent, but just to keep the conversation going. Then the other person will stop and give you a chance to say your piece.

This especially. That is a recipe for an annoying person--keeping a conversation going without saying anything intelligent.

(I post this comment not to dig at KRS, but to demonstrate that people have vastly different ideas of what is annoying. And that's good! You'll annoy some people and delight others! Nobody has reached that magical balance of offending no one and delighting everyone. My last piece of advice, then, before I vow to stop monopolizing this thread, is to find different people. Unless you are a loudmouthed booger monster who breathes farts and fire, there are people out there who will like you exactly the way you are.)
posted by millipede at 1:08 PM on August 8, 2008

Here are some pretty good and basic tips on how to behave in an appropriate manner.

Beyond this, you could spend the rest of your life trying to fit yourself to be whatever you think others want you to be. But as mentioned above, everybody has different ideas of what character traits they like and you will never be fully successful, which will lead to misery.

I used to think this way about myself. After years and years or agonizing over it, I have come to this conclusion: I annoy some people, but not nearly as many as I think I do. There will always be people you will irritate (this holds true for everyone) and you just need to let go of that. Lots of people mention above to try to be quieter, which I tried many times and which, being a naturally sociable and chatty person, made me miserable. I just had to learn when it was appropriate to be chatty and when to leave people alone. I also had to read and respond to social cues better and recognize when people don't want to talk. But attempting to fundamentally change who you are is not the answer. You have to try your best, be yourself and genuine (as mentioned by Ookseer) and if some people don't like you, hang around with people who do.
posted by triggerfinger at 1:58 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Generally speaking, annoying people are (a) in your face a LOT of the time, (b) DO NOT TAKE HINTS or listen to other people, and (c) don't go away easily or at all. arniec has it down for a lot of how this works. If people ever forcefully run away from you, or you've been in someone's cube yapping for a half hour, or someone tells you they have to go to the bathroom and you STILL keep talking...those are pretty clear signs that you have overstayed your social welcome.

If you want to be less annoying? Stop talking. Stop bugging people. If you must ask a question, ask it and then LEAVE.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:26 PM on August 8, 2008

There's a guy like you in my office. Hell, he might even BE you. And I know how it goes, because I'm also one of these people; people find me generally weird and loud, even when I'm discovering I'm actually an introvert. Go figure.

I do like this guy, but it's frustrating because I feel like I always have to watch myself around him. Here are some of the thought processes that I have as I deal with him.

--Yes, he has an immature sense of humor. But it's not just that. Even when he's just having a regular conversation, he'll go juuuust over the line into something sexual. Anything that could be a pun or that could be a double entendre ALWAYS is. That makes other people uncomfortable; we never know when it'll really be inappropriate, like when it'll be around the boss or it'll be very clearly over the line. Even just going along with the conversation could get us in trouble.

--It's tiring to constantly be on your toes. I'm sure he doesn't care whether I respond or not, but I feel like if I don't, I'll look like a downer/meanie/dullard. And I really don't want to. Moreover, there are some days I'd just like to be anonymous, to go about my day and only answer questions that have to do with what I'm doing. I don't feel like I can be that way when he's around. He just... never... stops.

--I am generally fairly sarcastic and try to be funny, but I have a serious side, and I know that there are times when I really should calm down, give people space, offer a helping hand, etc. I'm sure he would help me if I need it, but unfortunately I can't really see myself trusting him to get serious when needed. Why? Because he's NEVER serious any other time. I know he's perfectly capable of being nice and caring and calm, but I never get a chance to see it.

I think the key in all of these situations is that I feel like he drains the energy from me when I am forced to pay attention, and I would really like to use that energy for my own purposes.

Yes, listen instead of talk. I have trouble with this myself, so I know it's hard, but here's another thing: have compassion for others. Listen to their stories and when you respond to them, relate to what they've said, not what you've said or want to say. Pay attention to other people; remember details about them and what is important. "How is your mom?" "I remember you had a concert last weekend. Did it go well?" Obviously, don't be creepy about it, but try to get better at reading people and figure out what they need and when they need it. People who are down sometimes don't want or need to be brought up with humor; people craving attention sometimes don't want balloons or a big TA-DAAAAA!

And then... show people a little of yourself that's underneath the shell. Do something that's hard for you. People will appreciate seeing that you're a whole person, not just the clown alllll the time.

I hope this helps.
posted by Madamina at 4:51 PM on August 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Generally speaking, annoying people are (a) in your face a LOT of the time, (b) DO NOT TAKE HINTS or listen to other people, and (c) don't go away easily or at all.

I very much second this. Is it possible that you might not be picking up on these hints, which can often be nonverbal? If you're conversing with someone and they're not making much eye contact, leaning away from you, arms folded, etc.? That sort of body language, combined with the person only barely engaging in the conversation (not speaking save for things like "uh-huh" "mmm") means that you should bow out of the conversation and make your exit. The article triggerfinger linked to above contains a section that has some more examples.
posted by kosher_jenny at 10:49 PM on August 8, 2008

For example, at work, I asked a girl if she was on a certain project and she just blew up at me.

Is it possible that she really didn't want to be on this project but got put on it anyway, (and from her point of view you should have known this), so just asking the question was rubbing her nose in it somehow.

Or perhaps she really wanted to be on the project, but didn't get on it as is very disappointed, so again just asking the question is something she interprets as trying to embarrass her. She assumes everyone knows this and also everyone knows how she feels about it (and it may be true--everyone knows all this but you?).

It's just possible you're thinking you're being friendly by bringing up various current topics of which you are generally and vaguely aware, but somehow you're missing the social nuances of what makes certain topics embarrassing or annoying for your co-workers to discuss.
posted by flug at 11:44 PM on August 8, 2008

Buy a full length mirror, hang it up, and try to start having some conversations everyday with yourself. I think you will be pleasantly horrified at first.

After a few months of practicing this you will be a lot more likable.

Annoying people often don't realize the annoying habits they have when dealing with other people, such as grinning when talking about serious subjects, avoiding eye contact, fidgeting, etc. These turn people off.
posted by Theloupgarou at 1:28 PM on August 9, 2008

I go out of my way to be nice to folks

And the only example you give of this is starting a conversation with someone by asking a question about them. People aren´t always talkative, and aren´t always interested in answering questions about themselves, particularly if they are trying to get work done.

If you happen to be the guy the other day who would just not stop talking, and when I stated that I didn´t really feel like talking eagerly asked me ¨Oh, why not?¨, what you need to do to stop being annoying is shut up already. If someone says they aren´t in a mood to talk, or need to get some work done, they are not introducing a new topic for you to talk at them about.

If there is anything you do that you feel rebuffed for, after which you think anything along the lines of ¨But I was just trying to be nice!¨ -- stop doing it.
posted by yohko at 8:41 AM on August 10, 2008

Do you quote funny lines or catch-phrases from movies, TV shows, or other pop culture?

Don't do that. Ever. For any reason.
posted by greenie2600 at 7:59 PM on August 15, 2008

I was this annoying person due to my anxiety about people liking me and also not making a fool out of myself but the more I tried, the more annoying I became. Now, if people don't like my personaliy, which includes all my happy, mad, sad times, I just don't care if they don't want to know who I am. I am very comfortable in my own skin, though it took some time. I finally forgave and understood all the kids who made fun of me and did not want to really speak to me. I thought they were ignorant idiots but they were just reacting to how I was approaching them. It's all good now. I feel I can actually relate to people instead of willing myself to find something relatable or acting as if I can. In socializing, there is a balance when interacting with others. You can lie a little bit but don't be phony as to who you are as a person. I thought I knew who I was without a doubt because I wanted to please people and strived to become that "celebrity" image that people seemed to adore. Found out it wasn't healty for my mental health and I paid dearly for it, now back on the road to better renewed self-interest about me instead of trying to play someone I am not. I have learned it's not about being nice, but just simply being yourself. Ever wonder why relationships with a guy whos just nice, ever work out? Because there is an element where they are not truly themselves and it not only becomes boring but annoying.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 10:39 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

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