A while back, I was talking with an extraordinarily successful leader about his company.  As often happens with astute leaders, the conversation eventually swung to the quality of his leadership team.  He has been working hard to improve the prospects of his business despite the challenges in his market – and that includes both getting clear on strategy and raising the game for his team members.

At one point, he paused mid-sentence and blurted out something that obviously had been bugging him for a while:

I know how to keep my team moving toward our goals. But how do I handle the irritating things that my team members do on a regular basis?

That got me thinking, because let’s face it, we all get irritated plenty. Sometimes people have little quirks and mannerisms that bother us. Sometimes they hold views that irk us. And I’ll bet people would have the same thing to say about each of us as well. (In fact, this same leader went on to say, “You irritate me sometimes, Ted!” Tell me about it… get in line!)

So here are my thoughts on how to handle irritants so that they don’t get in the way of important strategic work (and anyone who has been with a leadership team when trying to discern strategic direction knows irritants can affect how well those exercises go):

  • Hijack your own brain.  When you find yourself irritated, ask yourself a question that gets you out of knee-jerk response mode.  Something like, “What is important to that person right now?” works sometimes.  Distract yourself with something more productive.  Maybe even ask, “How am I contributing to this person being so irritating right now? What am I doing/not doing to reinforce this situation?”
  • Ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” If you’re getting worked up, just check to be sure it’s worth it – or if you’re engaging in your own irritating habit of making a big deal about little things.  This is also a great question to ask before commenting on the irritating behavior – either to the person directly or behind their backs.
  • The “G” Word – As much as others irritate me (and believe me, they do), I know that I’m that irritating person for somebody too.  (Maybe even two somebody’s!) A little grace – giving people more patience than they deserve – can go a long way when you’re in stressful times.

What do you do to get work done despite the irritants?