Whether you’re at a party or hanging out with long-time friends, one of the questions we always ask ourselves is, “Am I annoying everyone? Do people not like me now?” Most of the time, you’re not annoying, but there are key ways to tell when you’re annoying others — and key strategies to avoid being annoying.
What is Annoyance?
According to the dictionary, an annoyance is anything that disturbs or bothers someone in a way that troubles, displeases, or irritates slightly.
But you know when you’re annoyed. Perhaps you have a high or low tolerance for annoyance, or you find your annoyance meter plummets when you’re hungry. Either way, you can feel annoyance manifest in your brain and body.
When you’re annoyed, you’re also distracted. You can only focus on the thing that’s annoying you. Perhaps it’s the person in the movie theater who keeps checking their phone. Or maybe it’s the guy at the restaurant whose laugh is high-pitched and jarring.
Otherwise, it’s hard to define what exactly is annoying, as people have different standards and tolerances for irritations. However, since annoyance is a slight form of irritation, and irritation is a form of anger, we can track what annoyance does to the body.
Research states that annoyances have physiological impacts. When you encounter something that annoys you, the amygdala — the part of the brain responsible for memory and emotional learning — fills with blood. The frontal cortex, which controls rational thought and behavior, gets impaired a little.
When you’re annoyed, you can’t perform well on tasks or think clearly about the situation at hand. Your brain focuses on the thing that annoys you, so it’s the most courteous thing to do to check your behavior and make sure you’re not annoying other people.
Again, what can be considered annoying depends on the person. The best way to check if you’re being annoying is to follow what other people have said is annoying in the past, such as the following.
Top Annoying Behaviors
Making Loud, Repetitive Noises
Clicking your pen. Chewing your gum with your mouth open. Tapping your foot. All these behaviors are distracting to people who are trying to focus on their work or pay attention during a meeting.
You might not realize that your behavior is distracting to those around you. Perhaps you’re engrossed in your reading and fidgeting helps you pay attention. But you should be mindful of the sound you produce — especially if you’re in a space that’s expected to be quiet.
It would be one thing if you’re in a public park and clicking your pen aloud while you work on a newspaper crossword puzzle. But if you’re in a lecture hall, meeting room, or movie theater, you’re quickly going to annoy the folks around you.
If you can help it, stop fidgeting altogether. If you can’t help but move, try tapping the pads of your fingers against your legs. It will satisfy the need to move but make a lot less noise than a harder object.
Not Standing to the Side of an Escalator
It seems like common courtesy. If you’re only going to stand there, make space for people who need to move past you. If you’re standing in the middle of the escalator, or you haul your suitcase up so that it stands next to you, you’re taking up more space than necessary.
You don’t need to take up that much space. If you lack spatial awareness and don’t pay attention to things like this, you’re bound to annoy lots of people on the escalators.
It’s understandable if you’re preoccupied with a serious matter or you had an urgent message to send, but be preoccupied on the right side of the escalator (or left if it pertains to your country).
What would be an extra level of annoying, though, would be if you stand in the middle of the escalator and still refuse to move. Let’s say you have your headphones on and don’t hear when someone’s saying “Excuse me!” behind you. Someone has to resort to physically tapping you on the shoulder to get you to move over.
Now that’s annoying. If you’re going to take up more space than necessary and block people’s ways, you might as well be cognizant enough to hear when they need you to move.
When you’re in a tight space that people would need to move through quickly, such as in an airport or train station, do everyone a favor and keep to the side.
Walking Slowly on the Sidewalk
This would be especially applicable if you live in a busy city like New York City, London, or Tokyo. If you live in a less densely populated city, you might be able to get away with this.
But as with the escalator, be mindful of the space you take up. If the sidewalk is short and there’s not much room on it already, don’t inconvenience people by moseying along. You’ll make people conform to your speed, which would be detrimental if the people behind you are in a rush.
If your ability to walk is impaired, people will understand and not be annoyed. But if you’re slowly walking because you’re on your cell phone or chatting away with a friend, there’s no reason why you can’t do those activities at a livelier speed.
Stopping Where You Are While Walking
Walking slowly is annoying yet bearable. What’s instantly enraging is if you walk continuous, then stop wherever you are for whatever reason. It could be because you want to take a selfie with a friend or check your phone for directions.
If there’s someone behind you, there’s a 95% chance they’re going to be incredibly annoyed with you. Your quick halt disrupts the flow of their walk. The person behind you now has to dodge you quickly to avoid a collision. If they’re holding a cup of liquid in their hand, like tea or coffee, they could risk spilling it on themselves, you, or the ground.
How annoying would it be if people someone dropped what they were holding because you didn’t have the decency to step to the side before stopping? If that happened to you, you’d be quite annoyed. Extend the same generosity you’d have for yourself to other people.
Putting Back Items in the Grocery Store on the Wrong Shelf
You’ve decided you don’t want the canned chicken risotto after all. There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind. But it is wrong to place the thing you don’t want on whatever hard surface is closest to you.
You’ve seen other rude people do the same — leave a head of lettuce in the milk section or a box of cookies in the oil section. If you can’t be bothered to take a minute to walk the item back to the respectful aisle, you’re going to inconvenience the grocery store workers to compensate for your laziness.
Make the final sweep before you check out to return what you don’t want and be considerate to your fellow grocery store shoppers.
Sometimes you enter the rainy season of your life, and everything seems not to go your way. It’s understandable. Perhaps you’re having trouble with your partner while simultaneously having a tough time at work. Financial troubles mixed with relationship woes make for a lot of fodder to complain about.
Your friends might like to have a session where you all vent and express what’s bothering you. Wine and whine sound the same for a reason.
But if you’re inundating your friends with everything that’s going wrong with your life every time you see them, it’s like you’re not allowing them to breathe. You’re suffocating them with your negativity, and it can feel draining to your listener.
This is especially true if you’re also the type of person to pivot conversations towards yourself. It’s an annoying trait to have regardless, but when you veer that funny Thanksgiving anecdote your friend was telling to complain about your current issues, you’ve derailed the conversation and lead it straight to Negativity City.
It’s nice to complain sometimes. Evidence shows that it’s good for you. But don’t introduce a complaint into every conversation you have. It brings the negativity down, and it’s not fun for the interlocutor who, frankly, doesn’t care. It’s annoying for them to feel like you’re wasting their time with issues neither you or they can fix, so don’t set up that situation.
Talking Loudly at the Theater
The hero finally caught the bad guy As the hero leans in to deliver the pithy statement to provide the final cathartic climax, some guy in the audience blurts out, “Hah? Who’s he again?”
It might be funny the first time. But funny quickly turns to annoying the more you speak loudly in a movie theater.
If it were you and your friends watching Netflix at home or enjoying a movie on the projector in your backyard, that’s fine. It’s in a space in the privacy of your own home. But everyone in the theater paid for to enjoy a cinematic experience — one that does not involve your inability to pay attention throughout a movie.
No one wants to hear you and your friend talk or ask questions for an hour and a half. If you really aren’t understanding what’s going on, Google the synopsis when the movie’s over. But don’t take everyone else out of their viewing experience because you can’t whisper.
This goes for movies and plays as well. It’s even worse during a play because your loud voice could disturb the actors on stage, which could ruin the flow of the performance. Then everyone would get annoyed with you, so avoid that scenario at all costs by whispering.
Using Your Phone at the Movies
It’s a silent act that’s also one of the most instantly infuriating things you can do in a theater — besides talking to someone on the other end on your phone. You go from being annoying to a straight-up jerk.
But the thing that makes using your phone during the movies is that everyone tells you not to do it. The beginning of the movie will tell you directly to put your phones away and make sure they’re off, or at the very least on silent.
If you pull out your phone and check your messages, you’ve not only blatantly violated a social rule but doing it with blatant disregard for the people around you. They don’t want to get distracted with your phone light. Even if you put it on the lowest setting, the aura of light is still going to surround you like a halo of shame.
We get it. Sometimes you have to check your phone to make sure everything is alright. But check your phone quickly and put it away so that you don’t ruin the movie-going experience for everyone around you.
Looking at Your Cell Phone When Someone is Talking to You
Ah, cell phones. They’ve made communication, GPS, and taking photos a breeze, but they’ve highly hindered social etiquette.
We all know someone who’s constantly on their phone, checking Twitter or texting a friend or doing the billions of things a smartphone is good for. But what an Android can’t do is facilitate a polite, in-person conversation with you while you’re making eye-contact with it. Instead, you have to do that with a real-life human.
There’s nothing more annoying than trying to communicate to someone while they’re engrossed with their phone. “Mmhmm,” and “Uh-huh,” are not much fuel for conversation. It’s incredibly annoying to have one party fail to provide the same amount of respect to a conversation that you’re bringing.
Do everyone a favor and put your phone away. Unless it’s a dire emergency, the thing on the other end can wait.
Entering an Elevator Before Everyone Gets Off
Rushing onto an elevator before everyone gets off does nothing for you and slows down the busy people trying to get off. Whether you waited zero seconds or five before everyone leaves, you’re still going to the same place. The same amount of people needing to get on will get on, so what’s the point?
It’s not like you can miss an elevator when it’s stopped right in front of you, so calm down and wait a few seconds for everyone to get off before you get on. You’ll get much fewer death glared on the elevator ride if you do.
Listening to Things in Public Spaces Without Your Headphones
You might think your home-made mixtape is the best thing to happen to this planet since Beyonce’s first solo album, but we can assure you that it’s not. No one wants to listen to what you’re listening to, so invest in a pair of headphones and stop polluting the shared aural space.
Being Loud and Rowdy With Your Friends
The younger you are, the less you’re able to control yourself in public. This is especially true if you’re young and of drinking age.
Being loud and rowdy is related to listening to something in public without headphones on. You and your friends are monopolizing the shared spaces with your noise and perhaps physical spread as well, depending on how many people are in your friend group.
If you’re in the bar-filled area of your city, then people most likely expect people to get loud after dark. But if you’re entering a quiet neighborhood or public transportation while still blasting the volume of your voice on high, you’re sure to get ill wishes from the people around you.
Be respectful and mind your behavior when out in public — especially when intoxicated.
Constantly Running Late
The first time should be a fluke. The second time, uncontrollable. But for the third time and beyond, it’s clear you don’t care about the other person’s time enough to adjust your behavior.
To avoid being late in any situation, you’re going to have to leave earlier. This means getting out of bed sooner or forgoing those enticing episodes of YouTube on your phone. When you run late, you show the other person that your schedule comes first.
Unless you have a darn good excuse, don’t run late. And try extremely hard to nip any tardy habits in the bud. Nothing can ruin a friendship quicker than a constantly late friend.
Being Annoying for the Sake of It
Sure, it was hilarious in middle school (it wasn’t). You thought you were the class clown because you annoyed the teacher for a cheap laugh (the teacher hated you for it).
But even adults find ways to be annoying for the sake of it solely to get a reaction out of the people around them. Perhaps it’s the coworker who eggs on another coworker — the one they don’t particularly like — simply to rile that person up.
Or maybe it’s the comedian who thinks it’s funny to annoy people in the audience because he can’t come up with funnier material. It’s amazing how many early-career comedians fall on that schtick.
You can’t avoid these people. Perhaps they lack self-confidence and need the rise they get out of you for validation. Or maybe they have an immature sense of humor. Whatever the case, your best bet is dodge these people when they come near.
How to Not be Annoying
First and foremost, do the opposite of the list above. But more importantly, learn to spot the signs of when you’re annoying someone and adjust your behavior.
How to Tell If You’re Annoying Other People
Everyone has their own quirks betraying their irritation with people. However, there are certain commonalities among people who are annoyed.
Avoiding Eye Contact
When someone’s irritated, they tend to avoid looking at the person they’re irritated with. You’ve probably done so yourself when you were annoyed. Perhaps someone you met at a get-together was talking too loudly, but you couldn’t get out of the conversation circle. You avoided eye contact, sipped your drink, and avoided giving that person your attention.
We want to pull away from the person or thing that irritates us, so avoiding eye contact — especially when the person maintained excellent eye contact before — is one of the most telling signs they don’t want to talk to you anymore.
They’re friendly and nice one minute, but after a night of conversation, they’ve IRL ghosted you. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why someone would grow cold, but their annoyance with you could be an indicator.
Constantly Leaving the Conversation
You don’t want to be around someone who’s annoying, and the same is true for other people. If someone is annoyed with you, they’re going to leave the conversation you’re in and go somewhere else, whether it’s in a party or a date. They don’t want to give any more of their time, so they’ll try to dip out as soon as possible.
It’s exclusionary body language because this person wants to exclude you from their life. Subconsciously, you’ll get the message that they’re not letting you in and that they don’t want you near.
Again, this person is trying everything in their power not to talk to you so that you get the hint and leave them alone. Short, one syllable replies are a way to maintain some politeness while giving you a hint that the conversation isn’t going to go anywhere, so you should end it and save your breath.
Especially when you speak. Yep, someone is annoyed with you.
Not Hearing You Or Zoning Out When You Talk
This is yet another way someone is blocking you from their time and attention. While you may be in someone’s physical presence, they’re blocking you from annoying their mental spaces as well.
If someone’s continually saying, “Sorry, what?” or apologizing for zoning out, they’re really not sorry. They’re not paying attention to you because you’re not holding their attention. In conjunction with all the other signs that someone is annoyed with you, it’s clear the person you’re talking to isn’t taking your presence kindly.
It would best to politely end the conversation and try to fix your annoying ways. But what’s the best way to stop being annoying?
How to Recover From Being an Annoying Person
Accept the Fact You’re Annoying
You know what they say, “To recover, you first have to realize there’s a problem.”
When you live in denial of your annoyingness, you’ll sidestep any opportunity to reflect on your behavior and see how it could have affected others, which then stunts how you’ll move onto adopting solutions to your annoyingness.
Everyone can be more considerate to those around them — but some more than others. To stop being annoying, you first have to realize that you’re annoying.
Ask Others for Help
Your friends observe your thoughts and behaviors more objectively than you do. Ask them if there’s anything you do that’s annoying and be ready to accept their input thoughtfully. Don’t get defensive with their responses and refuse to listen, because that’s annoying.
Instead, listen thoughtfully, taking mental notes on all the things you do to annoy your friends. If your friends are annoyed, acquaintances and strangers probably get even more annoyed.
Be sure to tell your friends that they can let you know of any future instances in which you’re annoying. It hurts to hear, but it’s better to adjust behaviors during the moment before they become more entrenched.
Take Responsibility for Your Annoyingness
Own up. Stop blaming other people. Don’t distract yourself or others from the necessary work you have to do. Annoyingness isn’t a crime, but it can detriment your job prospects, relationships, and friendships.
You have to take responsibility for the actions that could have bothered folks in the past and vow not to repeat them in the future. If you deflect the blame on others, you’ll never go through the crucial growth needed to stop being annoying.
Start the Path of Habit Change
It’s time for hard work. You’ll have to be mindful of yourself when you’re on the escalator, in public, in the movie theater. You must avoid the urge to check your phone during a play or talk loudly to a friend.
It’s hard to do, but habit change is possible. It’s the necessary work to rid yourself of your annoying behaviors once and for all.
You Can’t Help Irritating Others Sometimes
You’re bound to get into situations where you can’t help but be late three or four times in a row, when you’re unaware of how much space you take up on the escalator, or have to look at your phone when someone’s talking to you.
But the key to avoiding annoying other people is to be considerate and empathetic to what others want and accommodate your behavior to their expectations. With constant mindfulness, you can avoid being annoying, and you’ll find your social, romantic, and professional lives improve because of it.