Let’s face it: we deal with a lot of stress every day. Whether at work or in our personal lives, or whether we are in a leadership position or are a rank-and-file employee, stress is ever-present.

Interestingly, though, our roles, responsibilities, rank, position, and status only marginally contribute to our stress. More often, it boils down to the fact that we are all unique individuals – some people rub us the right way, and some don’t.

Here’s a simple example. If I enjoy keeping documents organized and filed in categories, and along comes a colleague who volunteers to help me file a stack of documents and inadvertently does them in a way that is different from what I am used to, that might irritate me and lead to stress, even though the colleague is trying to be helpful! Someone else looking in might tell me, “That’s a small matter, why are you getting so worked up?” But the fact is that I am different, and while my coworker didn’t mean to mess up my filing, it still irks me.

One way to manage these triggers is through personal mastery, which begins with self-awareness. The idea is that if we are consciously aware of what makes us frustrated, then perhaps we will be able to also understand how to avoid such situations or re-look and re-frame them so that they look different.

Let’s approach this from a thinking and behavioral perspective.

  • If I prefer to think analytically, I might find it frustrating to deal with people who do not think deeply and rationally. I might often find myself thinking, “What he/she is doing just doesn’t make sense!” If this is you, what you could do is to consider that there might be other reasons for their actions.
  • If I prefer to think in a structured, step-by-step way and focus on getting things done, I can be frustrated by those who drag their feet and deliberate too much and too deeply on issues. If this is you, take steps to make contingency plans, see the larger picture before requesting the step-by-step plan.
  • If I prefer to think in a social or relational way, I may get irritated by those who seemingly do not care for the well-being of others or make decisions without others in mind. If this is you, what you could do is to consider the perspective of the person who is irritating you and understand his or her point of view.
  • If I prefer to think in a conceptual, fresh way and am easily bored by routine, I might be motivated by change and be frustrated by those who often just want to keep to the tried-and-true. If this is you, choose to look at the current situation and solution in a new way, rather than to seek out a new way to approach the situation.

Some of us may also be frustrated by others’ behavior, not just the way they think.

  • If we prefer to be quiet, we may be irked by those who prefer to talk and vice-versa.
  • If we prefer to maintain peace and harmony, we may be irked by those who prefer to drive and push their opinions.
  • If we prefer to be accommodating, we may be irked by those who prefer to stand their ground.

In any case, the fact is that these interpersonal challenges are a result of each one of us being different. What we can do is to ensure that we are aware of what triggers us and ensure that we are able to flex and accept others’ different behaviors.

Sound difficult? Well, here’s the good news. While we may not be able to easily control our natural emotional reactions, we can definitely control how long we stay angry or frustrated.

“It takes less than ninety seconds for lymbic system programs to be triggered, surge throughout the body, and then be completely flushed out of our systems. If you stay angry after ninety seconds, it’s because you’ve chosen to stay angry.”

Jill Bolte Taylor, Neuro-anatomist & Author, My Stroke of Insight

It’s science. Now go put it to the test.