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Misunderstood: What's Your Greatest Pet Peeve? (Part 1 of 2)

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

What's Your Greatest Pet Peeve?

This question was posed by a friend of mine on social media last week.

Following are a handful of the responses to the post:

  • Not being on time

  • Not saying, 'Yes sir', 'Yes ma'am', 'No sir', and 'No ma'am."

  • Rudeness in any form

  • Having to repeat myself

  • People who don't use turn signals

A pet peeve is defined as something a particular person finds annoying. I decided to research the 10 most common pet peeves. Here they are, consolidated by Google from sources across the web:

  • Being late

  • Leaving the toilet seat up

  • Slow drivers

  • Being told to 'calm down'

  • Clipping your nails in public (I was today years old when I found out this is a thing)

  • Cracking knuckles

  • Not taking responsibility

  • Staring

  • Staring at someone's phone screen

  • Tapping noises

Do you relate to any of the top ten peeves?

Two common reasons we're easily annoyed by the things other people do are The Fundamental Attribution Error and expecting people to behave like us - placing higher value on our strengths, abilities, traits, and interpreting the world through the lens of our own experiences.

The Fundamental Attribution Error

The fundamental attribution error refers to the tendency to attribute other people's behavior or actions to their character or personality, while attributing our own behavior to situational factors outside of our control. In other words, you tend to cut yourself a break while holding others accountable for 100 percent of their actions.

For example, when a driver in traffic neglects to use the turn signal, our interpretation is the person is rude, entitled, or a bad driver. When we fail to use our signal, it's because the turn signal bulb recently blew and we're just now discovering it isn't working! Or we're driving a rental car and pulled down the windshield wiper instead of the turn signal since they're reversed in our car (whoops!). We certainly aren't rude - it was an honest mistake.

We tend to attribute our mistakes to situations or events outside of our control, while attributing others' mistakes to character, or personality, flaws.

Image credit: Dan Burton

About 20 years ago I was in a Walmart at 10:30 at night. A young man and woman were shopping with their three young children - all of whom were tired and grumpy. As I stood behind them in line I remember being annoyed these poor kids were out so late when they should be asleep in their beds.

Fast-forward about five years. I'm listening to the audiobook, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey. In the book, Covey tells the well-known story of a man he encounters on a subway. The encounter has put my fundamental attribution error in check to a large extent.

The story goes as follows:

“I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene.

Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that, instantly, the whole climate changed.

The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.

It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. 

So finally, with what I felt like was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”

The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”

It felt like a boulder dropped in my stomach. Covey's story instantly transported me back to Walmart. The family could have been passing through late at night due to an out-of-town emergency. I immediately realized my judgment was fraught with assumptions.

Covey's words described the man as, "taking no responsibility at all." That is one of the ten most common pet peeves, as you might recall. While it's technically true - he wasn't taking responsibility for his children in that moment - it wasn't due to an inherent flaw in the man. There was a situation or factor outside of his control.

We can control our responses and reduce feelings of annoyance when we choose not to succumb to the Fundamental Attribution Error.

We can cut people a break.

In part two of this two-part blog, I'll cover the second aspect of why we're annoyed by others: expecting people to behave like us.

What are your thoughts? Share in the comments!


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Blog cover image credit: Adrian Swancar

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Recently I was at a coffeeshop and as I was leaving, I heard a woman ask loudly, "What's wrong?" Everyone in her group turned to stare at the woman she was speaking to, who turned bright red and said, "Nothing.." but the first woman insisted, "Yes, there is! You've been crying!" The woman she was talking to hurried away to the restroom.. As I left, I could still hear the woman wondering, "What do you think is wrong? Her eyes were all red!"

If someone is upset, calling attention to them is a cruel thing to do though I doubt that was this woman's intent. It's why she did it that is my pet peeve. And I'm not sure what…

Kristin A. Sherry
Kristin A. Sherry

Oh, yikes! I can't imagine *anyone* would appreciate being made the center of attention in public when they're upset. It seems to me she's lacking in self-awareness. I wonder if she knew the person, or if she approached a stranger?

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