Annoying people are a fact of life. But learning how to deal with annoying people is more than a survival skill. It’s a spiritual discipline.
Annoying people are everywhere
People can be annoying. From the guy who stinks up your subway car with kimchi to the office coworker who drones on and on about her cats, irritating people are all around you. It’s impossible to escape them.
Since you can’t avoid them, learning how to deal with annoying people is part of what it means to be a functioning and rational human being.
Is it easy? Of course not. Does getting along with the workplace pariah make you feel warm fuzzies inside? Not at all.
But if you can’t figure out how to deal with annoying people, you’re going to waste a lot of time and energy trying to change things that are beyond your control.
Learning how to deal with annoying people is a spiritual exercise
I’m not a naturally patient person. When someone irritates me, I react in a visceral way. I’m not nasty to them. I don’t make a scene. But if I can’t walk away, I mentally recite a list of reasons why they are wrong and why I’m justified for feeling put off.
And my list of reasons usually includes the argument that I just don’t have time to deal with annoying people. Of course, that’s not true.
We make time for things that matter to us.
The gospels are a litany of Jesus’ interactions with annoying people. People grabbing his robes. People clammering for his attention. People breaking up his dinner parties. At times, the disciples were some of the most irritating people in Jesus’ world.
But Jesus made time for annoying people. Not because they were annoying, but because they were people. And people matter to Jesus.
So, if we’re serious about learning how to deal with annoying people, then that means people need to matter more to us than the inconvenience we feel when we’re annoyed.
There’s a simple three-step process for dealing with people who irritate you
When we begin to view annoying people as people instead of problems or obstacles, we take an important step toward a more spiritual way of being. But it’s only the beginning of the process. To make real progress, you’ll need to add a few more moves to your repertoire:
1. Lose your ego.
Ever wonder why some people annoy you so much? Don’t blame them, blame your ego. Your ego is your self-image. We all have one. But when your ego causes you to become critical or judgmental or self-absorbed, it needs to be reined in. Often, a slight pause to examine your motives and a few deep breaths is all it takes to right-size your ego when you feel annoyed.
2. Practice understanding.
Maybe the people who annoy you just need to be understood. What if the guy on the subway works three jobs and the subway ride is his only opportunity to eat dinner? Or what if your coworkers talks about her cats because she’s lonely and her cats are the only family she has? When you practice understanding, it’s almost impossible to feel annoyed.
3. Remember grace.
Sometimes annoying people have no excuse. They’re just annoying. Grace is kindness undeserved and it’s the most spiritual response you can have when people annoy you. Why? Because it’s God’s response to all of the petty (and not so petty) things you do to annoy him.
The principles are the same for peacemaking
Think knowing how to deal with annoying people is all about you? It’s not. The same three principles work for individuals, groups of people and even nations. The only difference is that we call it peacemaking.
For millennia, wars have been fought and blood has been shed because one group of people annoyed another group of people. In some cases, the annoyances have been serious issues; in others, not so much.
But by checking our egos (i.e., self-image), practicing understanding and leaving room for grace, we create the space it takes to work out our differences in peaceful and redemptive ways — the kind of outcomes that learning how to deal with annoying people is really about.