dealing with frustration

4 Steps to Handling Irritating People

When our kids were young, we did some camping. One of the most irritating things was when a little mosquito found its way into our tent. Those little things can cause big problems. And the same is true in relationships—it’s often the little things that turn into large issues. Minor irritations may become major sources of conflict in part because of how we respond when we are frustrated.

Your son’s left his socks on the floor for the umpteenth time, despite repeated requests to use the hamper. Your teen forgot to get gas after borrowing your car even though topping off the tank after use is part of the deal. One of your neighbors borrowed a drill and has failed to return it to you. No wonder you’re ticked. It feels like nobody pays any attention, that nobody respects you. So it’s only natural that you sigh and say these 5 things.

How many times must I…?

Why do you always….?

You never…

Why can’t you…?

You make me…!

But these frustrated five responses are far more likely to reinforce other people’s irritating behavior. Here’s why.

They are critical.

Swatting people verbally when they bug you doesn’t help the situation. First, these are not really questions; they are statements in disguise that criticize and blame the other person—which leads to the second reason they don’t work.

They are parental.

There is a belittling tone to these kinds of complaints. They make you the adult who knows what’s right and what’s not and the transgressor the child who needs to learn to be more responsible. This is not going to go over well with other adults—and, depending on their age or your attitude, it may not be best with a son or daughter, either. Rather than encourage them toward responsibility, it may drive them to rebellion.

They are confrontational.

These kinds of reactions are looking for a fight, not a resolution. They put the other person on the defensive rather than drawing them out. When we are accused, our natural instinct is often to protect ourselves or fight back, not to seek to understand where we may have gone wrong.

They are judgmental.

By zeroing in on the way others have not done something you wanted them to (or have done something you didn’t want them to), you have already determined that yours is the right way in this situation or circumstance and that their way is wrong. But have you actually ever agreed on the issue concerned, or is it just your preference?

They are arguable.

Even if your child frequently leaves the toothpaste cap off, once in a blue moon, he will remember. So when he is told he never puts it back on, he’s thinking, Oh yes I do. I remember doing it last Tuesday. Now he’s more focused on where you have gone wrong by exaggerating than on where he may have failed. Absolute statements don’t strengthen your case—they weaken it.

While you need to drop the frustrated five, that doesn’t mean you have to simply suck it up and put up with things that drive you up the wall. Instead, look for how you can discuss things in a healthy way. You may want to listen to our podcast about How to Agreeably Disagree with Your Spouse.

Or, try these four steps:

1. Start with “I” or “me” messages.

Explain how the action affects you. When you leave your laundry for me to pick up, I feel like your servant, not your parent.

2. Seek to grasp things from others’ points of view.

Help me understand your thinking when you see the gas gauge is nearly on empty.

Whatever you do, don’t let molehills become mountains.

3. Soften others’ hearts with frequent praise.

That way when you do have a gripe, it’s easier to receive. I’ve written before about How to Increase Your Compliment-to-Criticism Ratio.

4. Suggest solutions or compromises.

Perhaps this is an area where you can adjust your expectations or can let go of the need to have things just as you would like. Maybe you can come to a win-win way of approaching the issue. Or you could take turns “getting your way.” Whatever you do, don’t let molehills become mountains.

Sound off: Do you have any ongoing sources of irritation or frustration? What are they and how do you try to deal with them?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Who is the most frustrating person for you right now and how do you deal with it?”