Three Mental Tricks to Deal with People Who Annoy You

I came across these three little tricks on Life Hacker this morning and thought they were worth sharing.

1) ‘Get Big’ – in other words, recognise your irritation for what it is – an irritation. It’s only a little thing in the big scheme of things. Change your perspective by growing taller and looking down on the problem

2) Float down the stream. imagine yourself somewhere calm and beautiful, floating weightlessly down a stream. The irritation is gently slowly soothed away…

3) Give them a mental hug. Not sure I can go this far, but the principle is that you empathise with the person who’s annoying you.
What mental tricks or tools do you use to smooth your path through the working day?

Three Mental Tricks to Deal with People Who Annoy You –

Power, presence and perceptions

A bit of pondering on an autumn afternoon off…
As we move up the ladder at work, whether we become lecturers or administrators or managers or other holders of senior positions, we change and grow and our knowledge increases and our experience broadens. Our skills and abilities stretch and our opinions become more robust. Our viewpoints change as we see the bigger picture. Maybe we have to become more focussed on strategy, perhaps appearing less caring about the smaller things – and I’d say that’s natural and is probably the only way those responsible for large organisations can function effectively. We may also dress differently – more formally perhaps – which changes the physical perception of our presence. Power always adds presence (I think because of the obligations that come with it), whether we recognise it or not.

But I’m willing to bet that inside, we feel the same as we always did. I was speaking to an elderly gentleman the other day and asked him if he felt any different having reached his eighty-fifth year. His response confirmed my own experience: he felt exactly the same as he had in his twenties – it was merely that his image reflected in the mirror in a morning was different.

The perceptions bit of this ramble though, is about how others perceive us. When you were promoted to a position of leadership amongst your colleagues, how did your attitude towards them change? And more to the point, how did their attitude to you alter? Like it or not, someone appointed to lead suddenly becomes ‘them’… ‘Management (TM)’. Suddenly we are no longer ‘us’ but have become ‘them’. No doubt you spent some time thinking about how you managed the transition and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Of one thing I’m certain – the effect we, in our new positions, have on those with whom we were once ‘us’ is something we need to consider and take very seriously. We appear different and have a different ‘presence’ whether we know it or not. I’ll give you an illustration…
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Productivity Tricks from George Washington

George Washington was known as a very methodical man who lived his life in an orderly fashion and apparently, as a schoolboy,  copied out The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation (recently re-published) by which to live his own life.

Some of these may be outdated now, but a few, especially when you read them with 2013’s technology and the way we live our lives today in mind, still seem very relevant!

4. In the presence of others, sing not to yourself with a humming voice, or drum with your fingers or feet. (Please can we add “nor click your biro”?)

14. Turn not your back to others, especially in speaking; jog not the table or desk on which another reads or writes; lean not upon anyone.

18. Read no letter, books, or papers (I would add in “or electronic device”!) in company, but when there is a necessity for the doing of it, you must ask leave; come not near the books or writings of another so as to read them unless desired, or give your opinion of them unasked. Also look not nigh when another is writing a letter.

20. The gestures of the body must be suited to the discourse you are upon.

35. Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.

73. Think before you speak, pronounce not imperfectly, nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.

How many times this week have you behaved in a way Washington wouldn’t have?

You can read a lot more about Washington and the way re lived and regulated his days productively in this article: Productivity Tricks from George Washington –

Deconstructing executive presence

How you present yourself, consciously or unconsciously, can make all the difference to how seriously your point of view is considered at work. More to the point, the impact of the image you project can determine how your career progresses and how your are seen and respected as a leader. Although this HBR article is about business, there are many similarities in modern higher education.

Deconstructing Executive Presence –

A slightly different angle on delegation

In this Harvard Business Review article Stephen Bungay describes the tendency of managers to do their staff’s jobs for them, a practice which can be very tempting and which is often dressed up as being helpful, or getting someone started. But think before you interfere – by doing so you risk your employee’s growth through solving their own problems and by concentrating too much on details where others have experience and expertise, you risk impairing your own top level thinking.


Memo to the Boss: Don’t Do My Job For Me!
by Stephen Bungay  |   1:00 PM February 18, 2013

In August 1942, General Montgomery arrived in North Africa to take command of the British 8th Army. Within a few days he began replacing the senior officers. One of his new corps commanders was Brian Horrocks, who had last seen action in France in 1940 as commander of an infantry battalion, after which he had been promoted quickly to leadership of a Division.

Montgomery put Horrocks in charge of stopping Rommel’s last offensive in what has become known as the Battle of Alam Halfa. The British defenses held and Rommel was forced to withdraw. Horrocks was understandably pleased with himself until a liaison officer from 8th Army headquarters brought a letter from Montgomery. It began:

“Well done — but you must remember that you are now a corps commander and not a divisional commander…”

It went on to list four or five mistakes Horrocks had made, mainly around interfering with the tasks of his subordinates. As Horrocks thought about it, he realized that Montgomery was right. So he rang him up and said, “Thank you very much.” Horrocks went on to become one of the most successful generals of the war.

Fast forward to 2012.

I was running a workshop with the executive team running the R&D function of a highly successful Danish company. They were talented and doing well, but wanted to raise their game.

We devoted one session to what they called ‘innovation briefs’. These documents define what R&D projects they want to carry out, assign responsibility for them, and give direction to the next level down: the project managers. The team had brought along a couple of real ones so that we could improve them.

The briefs had a lot of good features. They gave full reasons for embarking on the project, the user need, the value created, the fit with the portfolio, and a technical specification of the product, all on one page. The first thing that struck me though, was that the typeface was very small and there was a lot of technical detail about the end product, as if the product already existed in these executives’ minds and the job of the project team was simply to build it, rather than use their creativity to come up with an innovative design.

I kept those thoughts to myself. Instead, I kicked off by reminding everyone of Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke’s definition of a good directive: it should tell people only what they need to know in order to fulfill the intention. ‘Suppose you were the project manager,’ I said. ‘Which elements of this document would be the most and which the least helpful in allowing you to do a great job?’

Before long there was a consensus that a lot of the detail was not very helpful. It obscured what was really important and limited creativity. There were technical problems to be solved, but the brief specified a set of solutions. What if the project team were to come up with alternatives? Were they to be rejected?

I threw in another question from the project manager’s point of view. ‘What choices do you think you will face during the project?’ I made up an example: ‘According to this, the new product has to create superior user value and be ready in 18 months. Suppose the project team were to come to you in 15 months’ time and say that they could enhance the value by a further 20%, but it would take another 6 months. What would you want them to do: create a better product or hit the deadline?’

At first they were split down the middle. After 15 minutes of arguing, the matter was resolved: they would go for hitting the deadline. The timing was critical. Someone commented that they had not been clear about that themselves before having the discussion.

It was time for a break before dinner. I promised to continue this session the following morning. When we met at the bar an hour later, three of the group were missing. They were already working on a new version. They turned up for dessert with an air of exultation.

The following morning we compared their effort with the original. The new one was a fraction of the length. Everyone preferred it, but there were some questions about the content. So we set to work. An hour or so later, it had changed again and everyone was happy with it. Someone said it was the best one they had ever produced.

It was good for two reasons: it no longer specified details that the project team could decide on for themselves during the project; and it added some additional information on issues that had needed, but not hitherto received, resolution by the executives. Like Brian Horrocks 70 years before, they had been so busy doing their subordinates’ jobs that they had not properly done their own.

It’s a mistake that’s all too common. In some companies everyone is doing the jobs of the level below. As a result no-one actually does the top job. Once you see what’s going on, fixing the problem is not difficult, though it can take some work — work well worth doing.

Managing difficult conversations

I’m frequently asked how best to deal with the hard conversations needed to address issues such as poor performance and unacceptable or thoughtless behavior.

One of the best frameworks I’ve come across is this one from Susan Scott’s book, “Fierce Conversations”. Details are in the Useful reading section.

She suggests the following as the components of your opening statement, a statement you should be able to make clearly and lucidly in under a minute.

1 Name the issue

2 Select a specific example (with day and time if possible) that illustrates the behaviour you want to change.

3 Describe your feelings about this issue – if it has disappointed you or made you angry, say so.

4 Clarify what is at stake. The words ‘ at stake’ are very powerful.

5 Acknowledge your personal contribution to this issue. Have you ignored it or let it pass without challenge in the past?

6 Indicate your wish to resolve the issue

Note that there is no preliminary sweetener in here, no “Thanks for this, but…”.  Practice what you are going to say and practice it out loud. Doing it in your head isn’t good enough. It’s a bit like trying on a new jacket – you have to feel comfortable with it.

7 Ask the other person to respond.

Keep quiet, listen carefully and absorb what they say. Something along the lines of a question Susan Scott suggests, “I want to understand what’s happening from your perspective” should elicit a positive response, but keep them to the behaviour and don’t let them deflect you with excuses or get into personalities.

This should give you a basis on which to proceed to a point where you can agree actions to change. Once you have identified the necessary actions, be sure to agree them and put a time frame on them. Decide when you will follow up with the person, agree a date and time and stick to it.

Good luck!

How you feel is up to you.

During the course of the next few days, take particular notice of how you respond to the interactions you have. By that I mean interactions with people, obviously, but less obviously, your interactions with animate and inanimate objects, the weather, everything around you.

When you accidentally drop something on your foot, what’s your reaction? Swearing and cursing? Or an acceptance that it was accidental, and accidents happen. When the car won’t start in the morning, are you frustrated or furious? Or do you patiently try again several times and work patiently through the possible causes? When your partner accuses you of failing to put out the rubbish, do you retort defensively? Or do you accept responsibility for your lapse and apologise?

You’re probably saying “It depends on the situation.” And yes, to a degree, it does. Being in a tearing hurry would make the milder response to any of these situations the unlikely one. And off you rush, out into your day in a vile mood.

How much better to take a deep breath, remember that how you feel is entirely you own choice, consciously choose a more calm and pleasant response and then head out in a good mood to meet your day, or your week for that matter!