I get so impatient I'm going to explode!

People meander, they chitchat, they drift, they ruminate ... and I contemplate mayhem

Published August 28, 2009 10:05AM (EDT)

Dear Cary

I have an issue with controlling my impatience. The issue is that I can't seem to control it. I get impatient all the time with other people, particularly at work. This generally arises in three ways:

  1. I am at meetings where people repeat themselves or say what I perceive to be obvious comments and everybody else appears not to mind. I often tell them to please let's get moving, but I am told I should be patient and let everyone have their say even if their say is what everyone else has said already.
  2. When in discussions at work over an issue, if somebody wants to discuss a point, but I have already identified the issue without having to hear a long, drawn-out explanation, I get very irritable when they make me listen to it when I just want to get to the solution.
  3. When colleagues go on and on about their children or dogs or similar items that do not interest me, I find myself frustrated that we cannot discuss something more interesting or that they choose to have these one-sided conversations with me.

I don't seem to have this problem with friends outside of work — although I do admit to a short attention span generally.

I realize that my colleagues are really nice people, and if I had a situation where I wanted to discuss something, none of them would behave as badly as me, and they would listen politely to what I have to say. So it's clear that the problem lies with my lack of patience. I get bored very easily, and apparently I don't know how to deal with this. I have tried doing other work during meetings but I think that also appears rude — not to pay attention to what they have to say — and it's a solution that can't work for scenarios 2 and 3.

How do I control an overwhelming urge to scream when I get irritable?

All I need is a little patience.

Dear Impatient,

I can't believe I had to slog through this whole long recitation of the problem when the solution is so obvious! All you need to do is have more patience. Sheesh!

Ha ha. Just kidding. Those of us who grasp solutions quickly can often feel that others are holding us up. Some of us see the big picture instantly, with clarity and intuitive confidence, while others see the details and examine them one by one. This can be excruciating. While we are waiting, it sometimes appears that the detail-oriented person has lapsed into a coma.

But not to worry. Things are just being worked out, one by one, in that little trudging noggin.

Since the unfortunate problem you describe happens mostly at work, let me suggest some work-type solutions. Of course, all of the following suggestions assume that you are working either in an egalitarian setting with fairly rational people, or that you have the authority to do more than just show up at meetings and suffer in silence. Otherwise, you may be seen as uppity, or out of order, and will be taken out back and shot.

If you are having scheduled meetings with people, and you find that information that should be obvious to all is being gone over in unnecessary detail, then prior to the meeting, send an e-mail outlining your understanding of the basic situation. Ask if everyone has this same basic understanding of the situation. Depending on your place in the hierarchy, they will politely agree, or politely tell you to go fuck yourself.

The point is that some people might have a totally different idea of what's going on. You might be able to clear that up before the meeting.

Create an agenda for the meeting. Agendas are great. A good agenda can reduce a potentially hourlong time sink into a 10-minute meeting. Make sure the agenda has a stated purpose. You might call this the desired outcome. Be sure it is a concrete thing. "Discussing the issue" is not a desired outcome. "Deciding between the two alternatives" is. Make it concrete: "The desired outcome is a decision whether to paint the building blue or red" or "to decide whether to require that all interns wear blue ties, so they can be distinguished from staff." Whatever. If the agenda has a stated purpose and stated time periods for each item, then when people start talking about ice cream and terriers, you can politely state that ice cream and terriers are not on the agenda for this meeting, and then suggest putting them on the agenda for the next meeting, which you can then find some excuse not to attend. You can refer to some mysterious outcropping. A freeway plumbing disorder. Some unspecified domestic occurrence.

If you do not have power, and you want to keep your job for the time being, then you have to find ways to either avoid meetings, leave meetings before their conclusion, or occupy yourself in an amusing way while in meetings. Do you have a cellphone capable of sending and receiving text messages? Does it have games? Can you operate it silently? Need I say more?

Imagine having the courage to say, "You know what, this meeting is boring the piss out of me. I'll see you idiots later." That would feel pretty good. You might try it. The only thing you have to lose is your job. Sometimes such boldness pays off. Take a careful look around you. Who's getting promoted? The dutiful, hardworking pros who turn out their work on time and never complain? Or those who somehow seem to float above the actual work and concentrate mainly on maintaining their place at the table?

It's important to understand, also, that some people like meetings. They like meetings because that's where the people are. Plus, some meetings have sandwiches, and people like sandwiches. So while you are feeling your life energy drain away into a sucking whirlpool underneath the conference phone at the exact geometric center of the conference table, others are relishing this rare opportunity for contact with perfumes and fabrics not their own, and novel luncheon meats. Pity them, marvel at them, even admire them: They are real, and they are your co-workers.

Other ways you can handle this: Go to the meeting but have someone call you after five minutes, the way Ari does on "Entourage." Announce that something urgent has come up and leave the meeting; ask someone to "update you" on what happened! Be very apologetic. You really want to be at the meeting. Unfortunately you just can't. Try total bullshit. It might work.

This impatience you describe, is it sometimes a physical symptom, a feeling that you literally want to jump out of your skin? Breathing can sometimes help with this symptom, as can lifting a heavy object. If you can inconspicuously begin lifting the corner of your desk, or try to levitate to the ceiling, or curl your toes, or try to push your feet through the floor, this may occupy you. But do not actually overturn your desk. That would be seen as a sign of unacceptable impatience.

Write Your Truth.

What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

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