Buttons? What buttons?
Working at a college or university means working with thousands of other people and it is almost guaranteed that a few of them will have workstyles or habits so different from yours that they will unintentionally irritate you.
There is Angela who has a special talent to always find something to complain about, Barbara who spends half her day telling everyone how busy she is, Chris who expects an immediate reply to every email or phone call, Daniel who keeps making promises about deadlines he never meets, Emily who has to double and triple check everything you say or do, even though you’ve never given her any reason not to trust your word, Frederic who is unresponsive and hard to pin down, George who dominates every meeting even when he doesn’t have much to contribute, Heather who makes so many mistakes that you wonder if she is doing it to annoy you, and the list goes on and on.
The behaviors affecting you aren’t outrageous but the repetition has made you hyper-sensitive. Each occurrence seems to reactivate the unpleasant emotions created by past incidents. So now, when you see the person’s name in an e-mail or you walk into a room and see them there, you start feeling uneasy, even though nothing has happened today.
Just like Pavlov’s Dog, you have been conditioned and the person you find irritating triggers an exaggerated emotional response in you, even when they don’t do anything wrong. The good news is there are dozens of ways to stop people from pushing your buttons.
How to Respond rather than React
Rather than reacting mindlessly, you can be mindful and choose how you want to respond to the situation. Being aware of the conditioning and choosing to put an end to it is essential. But you don’t have to over-think it. You can choose a different response that involves thinking or doesn’t involve thinking at all.
The best way to be more in control of your emotions is to practice mindfulness, meditate, and think less. The more you practice quieting your mind and feeling serene and grounded, the less you will be affected by little annoying things other people do.
I can’t emphasize enough how your life will transform when you develop a mindfulness practice. Having an overstimulated nervous system leads to anxiety, feeling unsafe, and having all sorts of unjustified fears and unpleasant emotions.
On the other hand, inner peace will make most of your problems disappear because you will stop worrying about the future and all of the hypothetical problems you anticipate even though they don’t exist and probably won’t ever exist.
If you’re not quite ready to commit to a personal transformation to liberate you from stress and anxiety and you just want some tips on how to de-activate triggers, here are some examples.
Responding without thoughts
Next time you feel triggered, choose one of the following tips to interrupt your old pattern of reacting negatively. Give them all a try at different times and find what works best for you. You don’t have to master them all; having just one you like will give you back your personal power.
1. Focus on your breath. Take deep breaths. Feel your chest expanding. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, and keep your attention on your breath without thinking about anything else. It will calm down your nervous system and make you feel better right away.
2. If possible, move your body. Stretch, shake off the feeling, take a walk, move your body in any way that is appropriate in your situation, but move it!
3. If you can’t move because you are not alone, focus your attention on your body. Feel how the chair is supporting your back, feel your feet on the ground, notice how relaxed or tense your shoulders are, or relax your jaw. Smile if you can. Essentially, the point is to stop being in your head and be in your body.
4. If there is a word or sentence that always make you laugh, say it to yourself. It is not really a thought but a phrase that triggers a pleasurable response. You can eliminate one trigger by choosing another one that pleases you.
5. Instead of thinking about yourself, go do something nice for someone else. It is guaranteed to make you feel better. Thinking about yourself less and thinking of ways to contribute to others will give you a break from your habitual thoughts and add purpose and meaning to your day.
Responding with new thoughts
If you much prefer to think through everything and rationalize how to stop being irritated by someone, you can do that too. It will take more work but sometimes it is necessary to give your mind closure before you can temporarily turn it off.
1. Focus on appreciation and gratitude. Instead of putting your attention on what bothers you, put in on what pleases you. You can have as many thoughts as you want but choose thoughts that feel good.
2. Question your judgement. What if you were wrong? What if something good was supposed to come from the situation? Stop seeing the behavior as bad because perhaps it serves a purpose and you just don’t know the bigger picture. Be less critical and you’ll feel much better.
3. Put things in perspective. In this very moment, there are people being told they have a serious illness and others grieving the loss of a loved one. OK, I know, I am being dramatic here, but is what is happening really worth getting upset? How bad is it, really? Are you giving your power away to something insignificant?
4. Have compassion for the other person. Think about what could have happened to them to create the behavior they exhibit. Imagine being in their shoes, but not as yourself, imagine being them. Drop your judgement and open your heart. Once you feel a true connection with someone, their behavior won’t upset you anymore.
5. If you can’t stand the behavior, you can day dream about how nice your life will be when you are no longer exposed to it. You can create a vision of what you want in the workplace and turn your dream into a goal and commit to making it happen.
You now have ten different ways to handle situations that used to trigger a negative response in you. There are many more of course, but start practicing some of these and find out what works best for you. You deserve to free yourself from frustration and irritation.
If you are dealing with more than mild irritations at work and you want to discover new approaches to handle the situation you are facing, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. Click here to schedule a confidential and complimentary strategy session. We will discuss your situation and outline a plan to solve the problems you’re facing. There is no better time to improve your situation than right now. I look forward to connecting with you.
About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits. Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.