There is an e-mail from the Daily Stoic I go back to read frequently. I try to go back to it every time someone irritates me - so quite frequently. In that mail there is a quote from Anthony de Mello: “The question to ask is not, ‘What’s wrong with this person?’ but ‘What does this irritation tell me about myself?’”
The idea behind is one of the essential elements of Stoicism. All our feelings are coming from the inside. If you see a nice painting, that niceness is not the characteristic of the painting. It’s just something you and probably others find nice. But what you find nice is decided by you - even if not consciously.
The same goes of course with negative feelings. If you have to deal with an irritating person, stop for a second and think about it again. Why do you find him irritating and what does it tell about yourself?
I come quite early to the office in order to avoid traffic. Recently someone joined the team who when he arrived went through the whole department shaking everyone’s hands. Every morning. I’m not a jerk if someone arrives and I see him/her, I nod and I say hello. But that’s it. I’m not sitting in front of my screens daydreaming about fluffy unicorns, I’m working on something unless I’m fantasizing about unicorns… Most probably I’m in the middle of a pomodoro. The last thing I want is someone to come by to shake my hands and asking me how am I doing when he is not even interested in the answer.
Beware, if you ask this question from someone from Central or Eastern Europe you might get a really long answer including stories of family members who passed away decades ago.
Was this guy irritating? This behaviour of his, yes it was - for me, maybe for some others too. Does it mean that he’s an irritating person? Not at all.
On the other hand, it tells me a lot about myself. It shows how much I respect my own time, my boundaries and the authority on my time. Stepping back and recognizing these motivations might help to handle the situation better.
There might be cases, behaviours that will irritate you a lot. And you will be convinced that it’s just simply irritating and it’s really not about you. I could also list a couple of things like that, even from the office.
- Knowingly checking in bad code
- Not respecting meeting rules
- Leaving the toilet in a bad shape
But even in those situations, it’s worth to think through what you find irritating and why. You might find knowing yourself better in the end and that’ll help you a lot in the long run. Not just in your career, but in your personal life too.