Let’s face it, the main reason we are annoyed or angry at other people is that they don’t behave how we want them to. Looking back at what annoyed me this past week, I see this reason was at play for me, too. I was annoyed:
– At my boss, because she wasn’t paying me as much as I wanted.
– At my tour guide, because he was walking too quickly for me.
– At my coworker, because her emails were not as detailed as I wanted them to be.
– At my partner in improv class, who chose to be an old man when I wanted her to be a young girl.
Yes, don’t we all just wish that the world would follow OUR personal code of conduct sometimes? Wouldn’t that make life so much easier?
And yet it would be exceedingly boring to live in a world like that. There would be no surprises, no mysteries, no quirky adventures. The fabric of humanity is woven from a full spectrum of threads to make a colorful tapestry that is our privilege to experience. If everyone were like us, that tapestry would be just a boring, monotone color. So as much as some of those ”threads” might irk us sometimes, they sure do make life interesting and we would likely miss them if they were gone.
What this means is that it’s our job to truly appreciate the uniqueness of the people around us instead of being annoyed by that uniqueness. A client of mine, whom I will call Jenna, recently proved that this can be done and yield fabulous results. Jenna works with a man, whom I will call Mike. When Jenna first started speaking about Mike with me, she was exceedingly annoyed by him. She found him to be an arrogant know-it-all who wasn’t nearly as talented as he bragged he was. He would try to boss Jenna around by assigning her tasks from his projects, even though she does not report to him. He would jump into conversations that she was having with other colleagues, and steer the conversations in directions that he wanted to go, leaving the original conversation unresolved. To top it all off, he was a gossip and a terrible dresser. I could go on, but you probably can imagine someone in your life who is a bit like Mike.
Some of Jenna’s grumbles needed conversations with Mike to design ground rules of their relationship, but many of them were annoyances about who he was as a person. So I first coached Jenna to just see Mike for who he was, and to appreciate his unique brand of Mike-ness. Sure, she may not ever want to invite that Mike-ness over for a dinner party. But could she see him as an interesting person who brought his own unique flavor to the group instead of lamenting that he wasn’t more “normal?” Jenna thought about it, and it suddenly struck her that Mike was like a stereotypical pirate. Aggressive and self-assured, looking for plunder and power, and his clothes even looked a bit pirate-y. From that day on, Jenna thought about Mike as a pirate. When he would enter a room, she would imagine a patch over his eye and a parrot on his shoulder, and smile. Soon, she started enjoying meetings with him, because she could watch him in pursuit of his latest chest of gold. She started appreciating Pirate Mike for his pirate-ness, and her annoyances with him dwindled. Mike even noticed a change in her, and started being friendlier with her. The last I checked, they had just become Facebook friends.
In any relationship, there are issues that need to be addressed, and so of course Jenna and Mike also needed to have some good discussions about their working relationship. But first, it was important for her to appreciate him for the unique character that he was. She needed to stop trying to convert him from piracy to her way of being, and instead work WITH Pirate Mike to do great work.
I am not saying that you should stereotype people or interact with caricatures of them. I am saying that you have the power to change your perception of another human being from paralyzing judgment into playful discovery. Celebrating diversity isn’t just a cliché, but a real benefit to your life.
Who in your life annoys you, and how can you appreciate them for who they are? What character will help you appreciate their uniqueness? The mafia boss? The Betty Boop? Start to play with it, and write me a note!
Dr. Samantha Sutton is a Senior Coach and Vice President and Director of Courses and Seminars at The Handel Group®. Samantha designs and leads the Handel Group’s® flagship workshop, the Life Coaching Crash Course. Samantha additionally coaches at universities such as Stanford and MIT. Prior to becoming a coach, Samantha received a Ph.D. in Biological Engineering from MIT.