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How to Deal with Annoying People

Craig Van Slyke,  Franke College DeanCraig Van Slyke
Craig Van Slyke,  Franke College DeanDealing with annoying people is a sad fact of everyday life. Sometimes, there is just no way to avoid annoying, irritating people. While you may not be able to avoid these folks, there are ways you can reduce the annoyance factor. Consider this. For someone to annoy you, two things must exist. First, there has to be some behavior (defining behavior broadly). Second, you have to find the behavior annoying. There may not be much you can do about the behavior, but it is within your power to reduce the annoyance you feel. Put simply, something is only annoying if you allow yourself to be annoyed. If you can keep yourself from becoming annoyed, guess what happens – that annoying person becomes just a person. But how can you keep annoyance at bay? As long-time readers might have guessed, my favorite philosophers, the Stoics, have some thoughts that may help.

It’s important to keep in mind the idea that some things are in our control and some aren’t. While you may not be able to control another person’s behavior, your opinion of that behavior is under your control. (Really, it is.) One-time slave and Stoic philosopher Epictitus tells us, “Men are disturbed not by the things which happen, but by the opinions about the things.” Among those opinions that may upset us are insults, irritations and annoyances (we’ll lump these together for now). Epictitus goes on to state, “When then a man irritates you, you must know that it is your own opinion which has irritated you.” In other words, an insult, irritation or annoyance is only upsetting if you let it be. I find this insight especially useful when someone insults or slights me in some way. Being less noble than the ancient Stoics, I remind myself that if an insult upsets me, the other party wins. Refusing to be upset robs both the insult and the insulter of their power. If you get upset, you’ve given someone power over you. Refuse to be bothered and you maintain power over yourself, and that’s a pretty good feeling.

It’s useful to have a toolkit of responses to annoyances. For me, the best way to deal with an annoying person or situation is to ask myself two questions. First, in the overall cosmic scheme of things, is this person or situation really worth becoming annoyed? Few things are really worth becoming upset over. Looking at the big picture helps you understand this. Second, I ask myself if anything can be gained by becoming upset. In other words, is there any profit in putting my attention and energy into being upset? The answer is almost always a resounding no. (There are times when a little judicious outrage can be effective, but such times are few.) I also try to remind myself of the downward spiral that often accompanies becoming annoyed. Become annoyed over one thing, and it’s easier to become annoyed at the next irritant, and so on. Another famous Stoic, Roman Emperor Marchs Aurelius, gives us a useful way to put annoying people in perspective: think about your own shortcomings. Let’s face it, there are probably people who find you annoying at times. Wouldn’t you like them to cut you some slack?

These little techniques may seem simple, but they work. Not long ago I asked my wife, Tracy, if my temper seemed under better control lately. (Unfortunately, I had the tendency to get annoyed or angry over pretty trivial things.) Tracy remarked that my temper and annoyance were notably under better control than they were a year ago. This increased control is a direct result of applying the above techniques. They work for me; just ask Tracy. They will work for you, too; it just takes a little awareness and practice.

Contrary to my opening sentence, we are not doomed to suffer annoying people. For each of us, it is within our power to eliminate (or at least reduce) the number of annoying people we encounter. You may not be able to avoid the person, but you can avoid the annoyance. Wouldn’t that be nice? FBN

By Craig Van Slyke

The W.A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University is home to over 3,000 undergraduate and Master’s students. The College’s faculty and staff are dedicated to the success of its students and the economic development of the region. For more information on The W.A. Franke College of Business, please see: I welcome comments and feedback on these columns. Email your comments to:, or follow me on Twitter @cvanslyke.


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