Five Upsides of Conversations With Really Annoying People

How to find a silver lining in frustrating interactions.

Posted Jan 17, 2018

Source: pathdoc/Shutterstock

We all sometimes have interactions that feel extremely frustrating, such as when the person we're dealing with seems to have questionable thinking processes or ethics. When you've had one of these interactions, coming up with a silver lining for the encounter can help you feel better. Here are five potential benefits you can derive from even the most irritating conversations:

1. You can learn to judge yourself less harshly.

Let's say you tend to be hard on yourself for being, say, self-absorbed, disorganized, or slow to learn some things, etc. Then you meet someone who is 10 times worse than you in the area in which you're self-critical. This can help you judge yourself less harshly. For example, you might think, "Hey, I'm not as narcissistic as I thought. Sure, I can be self-absorbed, but not to that extent."

If I strike up a chat with someone who is very incompetent in their work role, I might think "Wow, I can be hard on myself for not being perfect, but at least I always try hard to be accurate and helpful."

2. Your negative reaction can help clarify your values.

If I find myself being judgmental about other people's choices, approaches, or thoughts on a subject, it can help clarify my self-identity. Hearing the way that someone else thinks about an issue (e.g., a political topic) can prompt me to reflect on what values and priorities underlie my way of thinking versus the values and priorities that seem to underlie the other person's.

Another example: I still nurse my almost two-year-old. If someone makes a judgmental comment about that, the strength of my reaction clarifies that I have a strong belief that the decision to continue nursing is up to the mother and child, and whether it's still something they both want to do.

3. Dealing with other people's anger can help you gain confidence in your own emotion skills.

Being on the other end of someone's anger is hurtful (and often anxiety-provoking), but it can help you gain confidence in your capacity to process this type of behavior and emotionally bounce back.

Any amount of criticism tends to trigger self-doubt and rumination for me. However, since I have the ability to regulate my emotions, I'm able to bounce back fairly quickly. Although it hurts, sometimes it's nice to get a reminder that I have those skills.

4. Criticism or thinking that's mostly off-base often contains a nugget of truth or some value.

When you get unfair criticism (e.g., someone misinterprets something you've said and reads meaning into it that wasn't there), there can still be a few valid points buried among what the person has to say.

Even if there's nothing you agree with, you might think about how you could've framed what you said slightly differently to help make sure there was no room for misunderstanding, or for people jumping to conclusions that weren't what you intended. (You don't want to go overboard with this; you also need to recognize that your control over other people's thoughts and reactions is limited.)

5. Dealing with annoying people can help you appreciate people who aren't annoying.

Whenever I encounter someone who is incompetent in their work role, whether due to lack of training or poor attitude, it makes me deeply value people who are competent. Instead of taking it for granted, I appreciate the many people who are professional, caring, and careful in their work roles.

* A note on the title: Of course it's really the behavior/thinking that's annoying, rather than people being annoying or not annoying in an all or nothing sense.  

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