How Not to be Annoying

Recall the opening scene in The Social Network, when Mark Zuckerberg corrects his girlfriend “final clubs, not finals clubs,” and leaves the audience wondering what could have possibly driven him to say that. Or the last talk you went to in which an audience member made a big point of disagreeing with a little point from the presentation. Or someone who spent a full minute apologizing for not remembering your name when you didn’t expect him to anyway.

On the path toward becoming an outstandingly composed, well-socialized person, one of the first things you should do (even before hitting the gym), is double-check that you aren’t annoying. It’s best to verify this with a trusted third party as well.

Annoying behavior comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s a physical tick: stop playing with the drawstrings of your hoodie. Other times it’s a an involuntary action: spend less time glancing around the room and more time focusing on the person in front of you. But most often, it stems from some deeper insecurity and is harder to fix. Here are some tips to try anyway.

Don’t be so quick to correct people. I say this not because the people you’re trying to correct may be right. In fact, they’re probably wrong. But does it really matter? Before you correct your aunt, who just pronounced the word “chutzpah” the way it looks, or the stranger a couple of conversations over, who mistakenly attributed a Thatcher quote to Churchill, recognize that the accuracy of their statements is of no consequence. Shining a light on their slip-ups serves only to make them uncomfortable. One of the biggest illusions under which many smart people suffer is the notion that people will appreciate being called out on their ignorance or that doing this is a good way to impress people. In fact, people prefer to have their ignorance left well alone.

Similarly, don’t be contrary just to be contrary. Starting arguments to demonstrate wit and clarity of thought is an unfortunate habit I often witness in intelligent people. But rather than proving the strength of your reasoning, the only thing you manage to prove is that you have something to prove. Frustrating others with technicalities won’t win you any friends or admirers.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, don’t be overly self-deprecatory or overly apologetic. Self-deprecation is best reserved for humor. It should never be used in earnest. Prefacing your section questions with “I should probably already know this” or “I might be completely wrong” not only misses the point of section, but also waste everyone’s time.

Saying sorry runs along the same lines. You shouldn’t apologize too much. In fact, barring polite niceties, you shouldn’t apologize at all. Don’t apologize for being drunk. Don’t apologize for hitting on a girl who isn’t interested. And certainly don’t apologize for “being awkward that one time.” Because the thing about apologizing is that the offense is often imagined, and people generally don’t know what you’re apologizing for.

These are some of the most obvious, annoying ways in which insecurity manifests itself. There is always the danger that patching up some holes will only reveal others; however, the hope is that acting confident outwardly will help you build confidence inwardly. If you stop trying to prove or qualify yourself, you may learn that you don’t need to, and in the meantime, others will find you much more pleasant.

-Ren and Robert