Cranberry juice for the soul; or, how to deal with people who annoy you.

I take it for granted that I have a relatively outgoing personality. I don’t really stop and consider that through a fortunate combination of DNA and upbringing, it doesn’t faze me to stand in front of people and talk. My grandparents and parents did a good job of holding me accountable for making eye contact, speaking at a volume that could be heard, enunciating, and giving firm handshakes.

My first instinct when I encounter people who are sheepish, meek, or odd is honestly to exaggerate my aforementioned traits to help them understand that they should use their big boy voices when they’re in the main chamber.

Just being real here: it drives me nuts when people mumble. It pisses me off when people don’t look up when they’re speaking or being spoken to. It bothers me when people respond to questions with “huh?” (to quote my grandfather, “I can kick a dog and get more out of him than that.”). It gets to me when they don’t extend the generally accepted niceties of interaction (“please,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” etc.).

Now, to be fair, I don’t have the best hearing. I rely on context and lip reading more than I care to admit. Background noise blurs everything together for me.

When people look away from me while they’re talking to me, I simply can’t hear them. When people mumble, I can’t tell if they said “I want to vacuum,” or something much less safe for work. So yeah, some of it is idiosyncratic to me and the physical damage listening to heavy metal, Josh‘s drumming, and standing in front of people like Danny, Assan, Wil, Jeff and the rest of the trombones and tubas did to me.

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1994.  L-R:  Danny Auble, Jeff Flukinger, me, Josh Pinter.  If you guys could start a fundraiser for my hearing aid purchases, that would be great.

Lumping the characteristics of mumbling, not making eye contact, failing to say thanks and please and such, and responding to questions with “huh?” might make the rest of this easier. I’m going to just call these people the Unfriendly, Timid Inaudibles, or UTI’s…not to be confused with urinary tract infections, though similarly annoying.

So in the hospitality business, I get the opportunity to interact with UTI’s on a regular basis. With no disrespect intended toward government workers (the bulk of my clientele in NW DC), I was not aware that so many of your staplers had been moved without your consent.

But lately, I’ve started to have a different, more empathetic view on these encounters. Could be all of the cranberry juice I’ve been drinking.

Or it could be that little by little, I’m recognizing that the world isn’t an extension of me, and that each person is the way they are because of the experiences they’ve had and the DNA they possess. Their normal way of being isn’t intended as an affront to me, it’s just how they exist. There’s more than one way to be, and any way that doesn’t negatively impact the rest of us is totally acceptable. It takes more than brass to make this band sound good…even if brass players tend to think otherwise.

Okay, so now I kind of feel bad about giving these people an acronym to share with a pain in the bladder. I’ll change it. I’ll call them Unintentionally Taxing Introverts…or UTI’s. Dammit, wait, that won’t work.

How about Shysters? Hmmm…that sounds bad too. And they’re not all shy, to be fair.

Okay, I’m going to go with Quiet People. QP’s. Done.

So I get now that QP’s aren’t being QP’s to piss me off. They just are who they are, and it’s not fair of me to get annoyed that they aren’t me. They aren’t trying to be me, and they’re making it just fine being mumbly, soft-spoken, eye-contact-averse people. My ire isn’t changing them, it’s just festering in me as they go on about their QP lives.

When I hold others to an expectation that they act a certain way, and on top of that, I am not in a position to share that expectation with them, what’s the best possible outcome?

Honestly, we both leave the interaction, they don’t even know that they annoyed me, and I’m nonetheless annoyed. Who got off better? I’m the one suffering, but it’s not because of how they are. It’s because of how I am.

My goal for February was to get through the month without complaining.   I am happy to say that not only did I basically succeed; I learned some valuable lessons about vulnerability, transparency, and the like along the way. In that spirit, this isn’t a complaint – it’s being transparent and vulnerable to you, the reader, and sharing how I intend to make the recognized problem better.

So if my silly expectation that everyone act like me is officially bullshit, and I recognize that holding such an expectation is unfair both to the QP’s and to me, how do I condition myself not to have that expectation at all?

Here’s my plan. Among my other daily rituals, I am going to add one more. Each day, before I get in the car to encounter bad drivers, before I arrive at work to deal with employees, customers, and QP’s, I’m going to remind myself of this truth:

Having expectations for others’ behavior is unfair to them and to me.

That, and I’m going to drink more cranberry juice.

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