Today I was chatting with someone about behaviour that really turns us off at work. You know the kind of thing, when you’re feeling good and things are going well and then there’s that one interaction that spoils the day. She had just had one of those moments and was off-loading about it. Venting her irritation and her desire to do physical harm to someone. (Just letting off steam, as you do).

It made me think about how these things used to spoil the day for me too. And why they don’t so much now.

The things that used to bother me, in no particular order, were: patronising behaviour – people who say something insincerely complementary in one breath then in the next breath there’s a veiled put down; people who always have to have the last (argumentative) word; people who cleverly undermine in situations where you can’t reasonably respond (this latter was the one that had pressed my colleague’s buttons). There was a time when I would have fumed away, carrying the anger and the upset out of the situation and into the next few hours, going over the conversations, thinking up clever responses etc, and generally wasting an awful lot of time and emotional energy.

How did that change for me? Probably the biggest factor is….I got older. You do learn to roll with the punches more. But, if you can’t wait for middle age, what can you do?

1. Stop expecting them to behave differently. The person who is annoying you is not going to stop just because you don’t like it – especially if they can see they’re getting to you and rather enjoy it, or if they completely lack insight and have no idea that their behaviour is having a negative effect. Chances are that they will have learned that this sort of  behaviour gets results for them, in the same way that you will have learned to respond by keeping quiet, or inwardly fuming because you don’t want to make it worse. It’s a neat little reinforcement cycle.

2. Change your own behaviour. Work on not getting wound up.  It may feel impossible when you are an angry, frustrated little ball of exasperation, but in reality your own behaviour is the one thing you have control over. Imagine their words just rolling over you and smile – and don’t respond. The first time you do this and it works you will feel amazingly proud of yourself. The second time it will be easier and before you know it, you will have broken the cycle.

3. Play back your changed response to yourself, in the same way that you used to fester and fume. Replay the outward serenity, the coolness. Savour your success, smile at it, congratulate yourself. Tell the person you would normally rant to how you coped this time. Celebrate together!

There’s always one person who pushes your buttons – but there doesn’t have to be!

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