We all have those people who get on our nerves. The coworker who complains, the person who cuts us off in traffic, the family member who’s always caught up in drama. If we’re honest, sometimes we’re the people who are getting on others’ nerves. It’s part of being human. So how do you show kindness to people who get on your nerves? Here are a few helpful things I’m learning.
Kindness Is a Choice
In Galatians, Paul gives a list of characteristics we refer to as the “fruit of the Spirit.”
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Galatians 5:22-23 NLT
This list of good spiritual fruit includes kindness, but when we think about the people who get on our nerves, it can be tempting to come up with reasons why they don’t deserve our kindness.
Maybe it’s because we feel annoyed or offended at something specific they did. Perhaps it’s just that we’re irritated and impatient with them in general. While these feelings are valid and unique to each situation, we’re still given the choice in how we respond.
And while it’s tempting to respond with frustration, when we respond with kindness instead, we’re able to reflect God’s character to a hurting world around us.
4 Ways to Avoid Negative Reactions and Show Kindness Instead
If kindness is a choice, then the opposite is also true: We have the choice to respond negatively. And while it’s a tempting choice in the moment, it often leads to regret later. So how do we avoid these negative reactions? Here are a few ideas:
1. Separate the offense from the offender.
When I feel frustrated, impatient, or angry, kindness is the last thing on my mind. Instead, I’m ready to roll my eyes, and I have to fight the temptation to say something unkind. What I’m learning is that it’s rare that someone actually intended to annoy me. So let’s do our best to separate the offense—the hurt—from the offender. When I choose to see the other individual as a person who is flawed and falls short, just like me, it helps me to calm down and show kindness.
2. Replace assumptions with curiosity.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of making assumptions about others without really knowing their story. But if we take the time to ask questions and learn more about them, we may just find that our assumptions were way off base. So the next time someone gets on your nerves, try to put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself why they might be acting the way they are and what they may be going through. This kind of curiosity can foster deeper connections and understanding. When you replace your assumptions with curiosity, you might be surprised at how much it can change your perspective.
3. Choose how you’ll respond in advance.
Everyone has at least one person in their life who just gets on their nerves. And most of the time, it’s someone you see on a regular basis. If you’re picturing someone right now, go ahead and choose how you’ll show them kindness the next time you interact. Ask God to help you respond in a compassionate way. This concept of pre-deciding helps your brain have a game plan for how you’ll respond when they do or say something that creates the temptation for a negative reaction.
4. Follow Jesus’ example.
When you read the account of Jesus’ life in the Bible, you see story after story of Him interacting with people who probably got on His nerves. Whether it was His disciples challenging Him and asking Him a million questions or a spiritual leader who said something hurtful, Jesus had reasons to choose anything but kindness. However, that’s not what He did. He answered questions with patience. He showed love to the frustrating people around Him. He listened with compassion. Jesus made intentional choices to show kindness to others. If that’s how He lived, that’s how we should try to live too.
Practical Ways to Show Kindness
If you struggle to show kindness to people who get on your nerves, practice! Start small. It might sound silly or too simple, but really the best and only way we get better at anything is through practice.
Here are a few simple ways you might show small acts of kindness to others:
- Show curiosity.
- Smile at strangers (and the people you already know, too).
- When you think something nice, say it.
- Listen with empathy.
- Practice random acts of kindness.
- Be patient.
There’s no perfect formula for showing kindness to others, but you’ll know when you’re doing it by the responses of others. You’ll see shoulders relax and arms uncross, and you’ll hear a sigh of relief when someone feels seen, heard, and valued.
We don’t need to be best friends with everyone we meet. But everyone deserves to be treated with compassion and respect. It’s not always easy to show kindness, but it can be a life-giving act of worship that helps us to live and love more like Jesus.