How to Not Be Annoying

If you feel you annoy people a lot of the time, this guide is for you. Perhaps you don’t know what it is you do that bothers people so much. Or maybe you do but aren’t sure how to change.

It’s not always your fault

There are times when you might think, “I annoy people,” but you aren’t to blame. We all take things personally sometimes, so if someone seems annoyed, we might jump to the wrong conclusion and assume it’s our fault.

It may help to challenge your negative, self-critical thoughts. When you worry that you’ve annoyed someone, think of alternative explanations.

For example, let’s say you have the thought, “I annoyed my partner when we were making dinner.” You may challenge this with, “She had a long day and was feeling irritable.”

Why am I annoying?

“But I do know that it’s my fault at times. Why am I annoying to people?”

People are usually seen as annoying if they’ve violated one or more social norms.

These are a set of agreed-upon behaviors that are normative in our society, like shaking hands when you meet someone.

Here are some behaviors which violate social norms and that most people consider to be annoying. You can use this as a checklist, marking off the things you think you do to annoy people:

  • Interrupting people when they’re talking
  • Being bossy or controlling
  • Talking too much
  • Bragging about your accomplishments
  • Being constantly negative and/or complaining
  • Passive-aggressive behavior
  • Needing to be right all the time
  • Being late
  • Not paying attention when someone is speaking to you
  • Being boring
  • Talking too loudly
  • Being aggressive
  • Bullying others
  • Not remembering things people have told you
  • Making insulting comments
  • Being unreliable
  • Gossiping or sharing sensitive information without permission

How to stop being annoying

You can unlearn annoying behaviors. Here are some techniques you can use:

Ask yourself who finds you annoying

Do you annoy friends, family, people you find attractive, or just people you haven’t met before? If it’s only around people you don’t know or someone you like, your behavior could stem from social anxiety. The stress of meeting people may cause you to get nervous and behave in a way that you normally wouldn’t. Read more on overcoming social anxiety in our guide on how to stop being nervous around people.

Practice picking up on social cues

Another reason you may be perceived as annoying is that you are not picking up on the social cues of those around you. Social cues include body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. They are the ways others let us know how they feel.

Reasons why people might not be sensitive to social cues include:

  • Social anxiety
  • Depression
  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Personality disorders
  • A lack of positive social role models when growing up

Here’s a list of social cues. To improve your ability to read them, it’s important that you practice social interactions as often as possible. Picking up on social cues is like any other skill: the more you practice, the better you’ll get.

Ask your loved ones for their opinions

Even if you don’t annoy your friends or family, they may have noticed that some of your behaviors are irritating to other people. Tell them that you want to improve your social skills and that you’re worried about coming off as annoying. Ask them to give you honest feedback on where you’re going wrong. It’s best to ask two or three people because each person may have noticed different behaviors.

Consider what you find annoying

Make a list of all the things that you personally find annoying. Keep that list in mind what you’re interacting with other people. You may find it easier to pick out when you are doing one of those things after making yourself more aware of them. If you find a specific behavior annoying, there’s a good chance other people feel the same way.

Explore the underlying reasons for your behaviors

If you’ve identified the behaviors you are doing which are annoying, ask yourself why you do them. For example, if you brag about yourself, why is it that you feel like you have to prop yourself up all the time? Perhaps you don’t feel you get enough recognition for your accomplishments, or you feel like you haven’t done enough with your life. Identifying the reasons for a behavior can be the first step to changing it.

Practice active listening

Active listening means engaging with what another person is saying and responding in an appropriate way rather than just waiting for your turn to speak. Good listeners do not interrupt people, monopolize the conversation, or bring every conversation back to themselves.

Here are a few simple rules to follow:

  • Always let someone reach the end of their sentences. Do not interrupt.
  • Check that your body language is open and encouraging; lean forward slightly, maintain eye contact, and nod when they make a point.
  • If you need to clarify what the other person is saying, ask, “Can I just make sure I’m clear on that? So what you’re saying is [summarize their point in your own words], is that right?” This gives them a chance to correct you.
  • Try to focus on what they are saying in the present moment rather than planning your reply.
  • Make short sounds like “Mm-hm,” “OK,” “Yeah,” “I see,” and “Go on” to show that you are listening and want them to continue talking.

Be mindful of your behavior and others’ reactions

To be mindful is to be aware of the present moment without making judgments or overanalyzing it. When you are around other people, step outside yourself and observe the situation for a while. Pretend you are someone else who is watching and listening to the conversation. This exercise can help you to become more self-aware. If other people appear annoyed with you, can you identify why that might be?

If you’ve identified the behaviors you want to stop, remember there’s a beat of time before you are about to open your mouth where you can make a different decision. It will take several attempts before you are able to stop yourself in time, but it gets easier with practice.

Identify your trigger thoughts

Strong emotional reactions can trigger annoying behaviors. For example, being reminded of a traumatic memory or something you are struggling with in another area of your life may cause you to become angry and lash out at others. Try to identify the trigger thoughts that lead to your annoying behavior. Being mindful can help you with this.

Don’t be defensive

If you’re around people you trust, you may consider laughing at yourself and your faults a little. You can say something like, “I just noticed myself talking too much. I know that can be annoying.” Being easy-going about something you dislike about yourself makes it easier to cope with, and perhaps easier to change it. Your loved ones may then also feel more comfortable pointing out when you are doing something bothersome.

Use direct communication instead of passive aggression.

Here’s what passive-aggressive behavior can look like:

  • Sighing or eye-rolling and hoping that people will guess how you feel or what you’re thinking.
  • Saying “Fine” when someone asks if you’re OK, even when it’s clear you are upset.
  • Behaving in a silent or cool manner for no apparent reason. This is sometimes called the silent treatment.

If you’re angry or unhappy about something someone else has done, learn to express yourself directly. Instead of hoping that everyone else will figure out what you want or need, tell them.

You can use this formula:

When you do X, I feel Y. In the future, would you be able to do Z instead?”

For example:

“When you keep showing up late and I have to wait around, I feel anxious and as though you aren’t respecting my time. In the future, would you please call me if you’re running late?”

You can adjust the language to suit your personal style, but the idea is to explain how you feel and politely ask someone if they could behave differently next time.

Do not one-up people

There are two kinds of one-upping, and both are annoying.

Positive one-upping is a form of bragging (e.g., “Oh, so you have a motorbike? I have two!”). Negative one-upping is about proving that whatever someone else has experienced, you have dealt with something worse. It’s an annoying habit because it steers the conversation away from the other person and back to you.

It’s natural to share relatable stories, but there’s a difference between showing empathy and one-upping.

For example:

Them: “When we were on vacation, my husband broke his ankle. We spent hours at the hospital! It was awful.”

A one-upping response: “Oh yeah, that sounds bad. When I was abroad last year, I got food poisoning so bad that I passed out from dehydration. When the ambulance came, the medics said I was lucky to be alive…”

An empathic response: “Oh no! I once got sick and had to go to a hospital during a trip too. How is your husband doing now?”

If the other person wants to know more about your experience, they can ask you to tell them the whole story.

Avoid cheesy jokes, one-liners, or quotes

Canned humor and generic jokes aren’t usually funny, and most people find them annoying. Quoting TV shows or movies can liven up a conversation, but there’s a chance that the other person won’t understand what you’re talking about.

Practical jokes and pranks can be funny in the right situation, but they can be annoying or even upsetting for some people. It’s best to avoid them unless you are hanging out with close friends who you know enjoy that kind of humor.

See this guide on how to be funny in a conversation.

Put your phone away when you’re having a conversation

It’s difficult to give someone your full attention when you are using your phone, and it can make you appear rude and annoying to friends. Keep your phone in your pocket or in your bag at social events. Turn off your notifications. If you have to answer an urgent call or message, apologize and excuse yourself from the conversation until you’ve dealt with it.

Don’t keep asking for favors without offering anything in return

Most people want to have balanced friendships. This means that both people help each other out in times of need, and both put a similar amount of effort into the relationship. This concept is called the “equality matching framework.”[1]

If you repeatedly ask for favors — even if they are small — your friends will start to resent you. As a general rule, aim to give the same amount of help you’d like to get in return. If someone tells you that they can’t help, don’t push them.

Don’t be pedantic

Most people don’t like to be corrected when they make a minor mistake. Try not to say things like:

  • “Well, technically speaking, that’s not right because…”
  • “Actually, that’s not quite right. I think you’ll find…”
  • “That’s not exactly what that word means…”

If you aren’t sure what someone is trying to say, it’s fine to ask a few clarifying questions. But if you understand the overall point they are making, nitpicking will only annoy them. When you catch yourself being pedantic, apologize. Say, “Sorry, I was being pedantic. I’m trying to break the habit!”

Understand that “No” is a complete answer

Pushy people are annoying. Trust that other people can make their own decisions.

For example, if you are passing around cookies and someone declines because they are trying to lose weight, respect their choice and move on instead of arguing that “just one won’t hurt.”

Remember basic manners

Make sure you aren’t breaking simple social rules. For example, avoid talking with your mouth full, slurping your coffee, whistling or singing loudly, or borrowing something without permission.

Don’t give unsolicited advice

When someone tells you about a problem or difficult situation they are facing, think carefully before jumping in to tell them what you’d do in their position.

Even if a friend talks about the same thing over and over again or keeps making the same mistakes, they might not want your opinion. Some people prefer to vent and want empathy rather than advice.

If someone asks what you think they should do, check that you’ve understood the issue before responding. For example:

“So basically, your sister has been starting a lot of arguments with you lately, and you’re not sure how to react when she’s being rude?”

This gives the other person a chance to clarify the problem and add more details if necessary.

When you tell a story, keep it short and engaging

“I want to know how to not be annoying or boring when telling a story. I feel like people switch off when I start talking about my experiences.”

Remember that stories should:

  • Be relevant to the situation; check that your story matches the tone of the occasion and that it’s suitable for your audience.
  • Include context so that the audience understands where it took place, who was there, and how it relates to the topic you are discussing.
  • Be humble; bragging stories that make you look like a hero will annoy people.
  • End with an amusing or intriguing punchline that makes sense.
  • Take no more than a couple of minutes to tell.

Read this guide that explains how to be good at telling stories.

Keep conversations balanced

If you ask a lot of questions without sharing something about yourself, you might come across as annoying or as an interrogator. Mix questions with self-disclosure. Enjoyable conversations are usually balanced.

For example:

You: What’s it like to be a high school teacher?

Them: I’d say it’s the toughest job I ever had, but I like working with kids.

You: That’s cool. Are there any parts of the job that are really rewarding?

Them: I like knowing that I’m making a real difference to the students’ lives.

You: When I was in school, I had some awesome teachers. If it hadn’t been for my biology teacher, I don’t think I’d have studied science in college.

You can find more tips in this guide on how to have a conversation without asking too many questions.

Avoid oversharing

Research shows that sharing information about yourself can make you more likable, and self-disclosure is an important ingredient for friendship.[2] However, giving too many details about your life, especially if you’re talking about sensitive topics like sexuality or illness, can cross the line into oversharing.

Instead of telling them everything about yourself, aim to listen as much as you talk. If the other person doesn’t share in return, the interaction can become one-sided and awkward. If you’re talking about a sensitive topic and the other person looks uncomfortable, change the subject.

Try not to fish for compliments

If you fish for compliments, it may be because you lack self-confidence and rely on other people for validation. Raising your self-esteem can help. You can do this by:

  • Remind yourself of your achievements and good qualities when you want to put yourself down
  • Mastering a new skill or hobby
  • Taking care of your appearance and health
  • Accepting your flaws and realizing that they make you human and relatable, not inferior to everyone else

Research shows that being compassionate to others also improves self-esteem and happiness.[3] It sounds simple, but taking a few minutes to be helpful and kind to people every day can make a big difference.[3]

Respect other peoples’ personal space

Standing or sitting too close to someone can come off as creepy or annoying. Studies show that most people prefer that others stay roughly 1m away from them in social situations.[4] Do not touch or hug someone unless you know they are comfortable with it.

Know your limits when drinking alcohol

Be honest with yourself about how your behavior changes when you’ve been drinking. If you have a tendency to do or say things that annoy people, start setting yourself some hard limits in social situations.

If you ask for advice, be gracious to people who give it

If someone gives you advice that doesn’t work for you, thank them anyway. Shooting down every suggestion can make you appear rude and ungrateful. Instead of explaining why their advice won’t work, it can be easier to say, “Thanks for listening to me, I really appreciate your opinion. I’ll have to think it over.”

Try not to talk about your partner or children all the time, especially if the other person has never met them

Other people will probably listen politely if you talk at length about your family, but they might think you are annoying or have no identity beyond your role as a parent or partner. It’s fine to talk about your home life and relationships, but like any other topic, it can get boring after a while.

Keep an open mind

People who impose their opinions on everyone else and rudely dismiss everyone else’s views are generally considered annoying. You don’t have to pretend to agree with everything someone says, but try to understand their perspective.

Pretend you are a social scientist or psychologist and let yourself be curious about their thinking process. For example, you could ask, “Why do you think that?” or ,“How did you come to that conclusion?” Do not try to convert everyone to your way of thinking. It’s unlikely to work and can lead to unnecessary arguments.

Take an active role in decision-making

If you are a passive person, other people may resent you because they will have to make every decision when you hang out. When someone asks what you’d like to do, don’t say, “Oh, anything is fine with me” or “I don’t mind.” Be honest and express a preference.

Practice speaking with an even tone of voice

Speaking too quietly, too quickly, or in a high-pitched tone can irritate people. Learn to match your voice to the situation and vary the tone. For specific advice, read this: 16 Ways To Speak Louder. Although it’s mostly about how to adjust your volume, the article also addresses pacing and tone.

Being annoying online

There are many behaviors people find unacceptable on the internet, including:

  • Bragging about your life/accomplishments
  • Flaunting your relationship
  • Posting angry political rants
  • Discrimination or racism
  • Posting too many times a day
  • Sad or angsty posts
  • Bullying other people or showing aggression
  • Arguing with other people
  • Posting too much personal information
  • Tagging someone without their consent
  • Posting too many emojis as a comment
  • Overusing hashtags

Changing your online behavior

Before you post something, think about who will see it and how they might react. If in doubt, don’t post it. It’s also a good idea to avoid posting when you feel very angry or upset. Wait until you have calmed down and can think clearly.

If you find it hard to manage your behavior, consider reducing the time you spend on social media and on the internet in general. Set yourself a realistic limit every day or week. Try using an app like SocialFever or RealizD to monitor your screen time.

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Viktor is a Counselor specialized in interpersonal communication and relationships. He manages SocialSelf’s scientific review board. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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