How to Deal With People Who Irritate You

There’s a guy at my gym who gets on my nerves. We’ll call him Keith.

Keith isn’t a bad guy. He hasn’t hurt me or wronged me in any way.

For reasons I’ll get to in a second, I just don’t really like him all that much.

And I see him every single day.

Every single day we’re in each other’s space. Every single day we circle each other as we use the same equipment. Every single day…he’s there.

Every single day I feel irritated.

We all have people like Keith in our lives.

  • People we work with who grate on our nerves
  • People in our social circle who make our evenings a little less perfect
  • People in our family who take away our energy, perhaps sour it a bit

That’s life. People are different. There’s nothing we can do about that part of it.

Good leaders know this. They also know that the choices we make when responding is what makes the difference.

They define how we feel, how we look to others, and the person we eventually become.

The good news? There are a few steps we can take that make things easier to bear.

I present them to you now.

#1: Figure out why

I’ve given this Keith issue some thought, and figured out the truth.

What’s really behind my irritation has a lot more to do with me than it does with him.

My gym time is my time to focus on me…to hang with the two women in my group, to have a good workout.

It’s how I set up the day. Quietly. Intently. With a few laughs, a few lifts, a lot of sweat.


Every morning – just as we’re getting started – Keith bounds over.

Every morning he gives us a hug. He talks about himself. He talks about his evening. He talks about what he had for dinner.

He tells silly jokes and laughs loudly at them. He goes on and on as precious minutes tick by.

Really, he has every right. And there are plenty of people just like him.

So why does it bug me so much?

When it comes down to it, it isn’t just about who he is or the fact that we’re not compatible.

It’s because of me, and what I need from my morning. Which is the exact opposite of what he brings.

Knowing what’s behind it puts it in perspective.

Truth is, no matter how I feel, he’s not a bad guy.

#2 Figure out if you can talk it out

Sometimes the irritation is about something more specific than just incompatible personalities, something that can be talked through.

I actually did this with Keith a few months ago on my birthday.

I’m one of those people who prefers to lay low on the big day. But when Keith saw the balloons my friends had brought in for the occasion he couldn’t help himself.

“Happy Birthday!” he said enthusiastically. “How old are you?”

I smiled but shrugged. “You know, I really don’t like to talk about my birthday. Let’s just let it go.”

He didn’t. He asked me over and over again, saying what he thought were the right things… that I look younger than I am… that I look good for my age…blah blah blah.

I finally got away from him…until the next day.

“Hey,” he asked jokingly. “How old are you again?”

I said to him as nicely as I could. “I really need you to hear me on this. I don’t like talking about my birthday. So please let it go.”

And he did. It was one of those specific things I could address, where I could be explicit.

I knew if I didn’t say it the joke would last for weeks. And my irritation would, too.

We still weren’t compatible after that, but at least that particular irritation was over.

#3 Figure out if you have a choice

We got into this in my blog the simple truth that might freak you out.

Sometimes you’ve got more power than you think you do.

Sometimes you can get away – perhaps altogether – from the person who irritates you.

  • You can end a monthly lunch date if a friendship changes over time.
  • You can avoid going by a person’s desk on the way to the break room.
  • You can change up the crowd you hang with.

These choices might involve sacrifices, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make them.

You aren’t a victim in this.

Even when it comes to Keith, if I’m walking through the gym and see him in a certain area, I just take a different route to get to where I need to go.

It’s just easier that way.

#4 Figure out that things don’t change

Keith is Keith and I am me. He’s not going to show up one day and not laugh loudly at his own jokes. I’m not all of a sudden going to find them hysterical.

People are different. They need different things and act different ways.

If there is a person who is just inherently incompatible with you, chances are that’s not going to change. Nor should it. Everybody has a right to be who they are.

I figured out that the best way to feel less irritated by Keith is to accept who he is.

I expect it and so I’m ready for it. And I implement the next step.

#5: Figure out how to be authentic…with class

Keith has caught on to me by now.

While we smile at each other and say good-morning at the start of the day, I am no longer the recipient of his hugs.

It took a while. I stopped engaging in prolonged conversations with him. I politely answered his questions and then moved on to my next exercise. Eventually he got it.

As a result, he clearly likes the others in my group a whole lot more than me. But in this case that’s okay.

By engaging less I feel less irritated. Which means I can be authentic without being rude.

And that’s the key.

If I’m really going to be true to myself that also means having some class about it.

  • No passive aggressive comments
  • No talking about him behind his back
  • No sarcastic faces when he engages with others

I’d be lying if I said I’m perfect at this…

…but at least I’m trying.

Chances are you will come across someone this week who irritates you.

When you do, check yourself on the choices you make to handle it.

After all, in the end it isn’t about them at all.

It’s about you and the person you want to be.

Now, go do good…and do it well.




4 responses to “How to Deal With People Who Irritate You”

  1. Jessica Ann Doerfler Avatar

    When I was living at home with Mom, Jesse, Ashley and Thomas the person I still do not like, he would make me snap at him when he told me things I already knew.

  2. Vaisu Avatar

    I like ur article. I am facing problems with my sub- tenant. Both our families are living in same house. She is very lazy and I can’t do all works for her. I can’t tolerate her. Finding ways to avoid, ignore and forget

  3. Terrence Avatar

    How would you say to use this advice for an irritating supervisor or irritating parent or pastor even?

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      Thanks for your question Terrence. I think when it comes to these people – the ones who are very permanent in our lives – we really need to change our expectations and know they won’t change, accept it as we can, but also draw our own boundaries. We don’t have to see our parents or our pastor all the time, and we can pull away with authenticity and class a little at a time if we need to. We could engage one less day or one less time during the day. We can have other meetings scheduled when we know we’ll see them so we keep it short. We can be kind when we are together, but keep things briefer. Supervisors are of course very tough because they have a lot of power in our lives. The more you can accept that they will not change and might not give you what you need, the more you can work to find the support you need from others. You can also engage with your supervisor as necessary, but again have meetings or other projects planned when you know you will see him/her so that you have a good reason to keep your meetings brief. At the same time, having a relationship with your boss and managing up is just part of the job. In the end it might be for you to recognize that you have a choice as to whether or not the situation is workable for you into the future.