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The small stuff that kills the vibe!

Not washing up your cup and putting it away after a cuppa at work sounds like the smallest of things. However, you would not believe how much slightly irritating behaviour affects your relationships in the workplace. If you have ever shared a house you will remember how easy it is for the slightly irritating things to build up into a fully blown issue. Little things like being untidy, using the last of the milk and leaving the empty in the fridge, someone not doing the small chore they promised they would…

Little things like:

  • the person in front of you in the queue who takes ages to get the money out to pay when you are in a rush. 

  • someone  who lets the door shut in your face instead of holding it for a second.

The list goes on and on! Sometimes these little things set the tone for our mood and how we feel all day. In general, people  say the big stuff can be discussed and the air cleared pretty quickly. But, the slightly irritating things seem to accumulate and are much harder to resolve.

Too harsh to mention

Often, slightly irritating stuff is so insignificant you think it would be too harsh to mention it. Something so small and inconsequential – too small to make an issue over. Over time small irritations can become real niggles, and much larger irritations.  When that happens you change your feelings about people and companies. And not for the better. Often the change is we retaliate and become ‘slightly irritating’ ourselves, using little tit-for-tat activities. You can see how ‘slightly irritating’ – if left – can lead to a pretty toxic environment. So, how do we stop it getting to the stage of an issue that makes us feel angry, upset or disheartened?

Well, we use a bit of ‘nip it in the bud’ logic. It’s not as easy, but in work it’s important we manage our approach to situations and people really well.

We have a few tried and tested options you can try out – and see which works best for you.


The first step is to get our own head in the right place about the ‘slightly irritating’ thing you are dealing with. Take a deep breath and put the moment into perspective, consider how you can release any negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. 

A simple way to do this isto visualise it, to be able to move forward. As you breathe in, visualise positive feeling on the in breath, then when you breathe out, visualise the negative feelings being released in the out breath.  Do this a few times until you feel calm and relaxed enough to resolve the slightly irritating issue.

Work out if you can use humour, charm or polite formality to resolve the slightly irritating issue. 

Getting your point across

How you get your point across will depend to some extent on your personal preferences in how you operate with others. The first time you encounter a ‘slightly irritating’ event, use the feedback formula of:

  • this is what happened

  • this is what I thought or felt

  • this is what I’d like to be different, is that OK?

For example, I saw your cup in the sink and thought you must have forgotten it so I washed it and put it away for you this time. Maybe you could do the same for me if I forget mine. Is that OK?

Another option is to sort the issue and say:

“Hope you don’t mind, I’ve washed your cup up, set the copier to x, emptied the fridge, as those little things really get to me. I’m sure you think I’m a bit obsessive, but if we can keep it in order I’d really appreciate it.”

You might just say: “Can I talk about something that’s ‘ slightly irritating’ so I can get it out there and we can sort it?” Asking permission is a good way of getting people to commit to listening to your point. It is OK to say this is so small I feel a bit awkward even mentioning it, but I want to make sure it’s sorted before it becomes a bigger thing.

The point here is to sort it before it becomes the thing that plays on your mind, the thing that makes you over analyse the motivation of others, the thing that makes you feel resentful and grumpy or worse, the thing that eats away at your motivation and self-esteem.

Grab the bull by the horns, take a deep breath, and make sure your point comes from a place of ‘sort it while it it’s slightly irritating’ before it becomes a ‘ big issue’.


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