how can I keep my temper at work?

A reader writes:

I run experiments as a technician and there’s usually a lot going on, a lot to remember, and a lot to write down. Long lists of numbers and such. It’s a really nice place to work and I enjoy it.

I’ve been known to be snappy in the lab. I can’t really excuse it except to say it normally happens when I’m trying to do something and someone tries to get me to do something else. Recently I’ve been working really hard on not being like that and saying “just a moment, let me finish this” or similar. We’ve also tried me taking a time-out when I get stressed out, but sometimes that’s not possible.

Earlier I had a meeting with my supervisor and he pointed out that when an experiment had gone a bit pear-shaped earlier in the week and he’d stepped in to try and help me, I’d been quite short with him. I explained that at the time things had been going pear-shaped but I’d managed to stop it and was trying to write down a long list of figures when he was trying to get me to do something else. He said he can see I’m instantly contrite when these things happen and he understands WHY, but I need to figure out how to stop being short with people when under stress as someone else might not have taken it as well as he did.

I should add that I don’t say anything nasty, it’s more my body language and tone. It’s also not all the time, probably three times since April. My normally placid temper is being so difficult! I suspect that’s what makes it so jarring for people — normally I’m quite laid back and cheery. Can you give me any tips how I can deal with this? I’m still on probation here and don’t want to fail.

The thing about being snappish at work is that it can make people hesitant to approach you in the future, and it can give people the impression that you can’t handle the normal stresses of the job. It’s a big enough deal that just doing it once is alarming, and doing it twice is enough to make it seem like a real problem.

First though: I’m assuming that you see what your manager is talking about and agree it’s a problem. Sometimes people get feedback on their tone and demeanor when it’s really more about them not performing their gender or their race in a way people around them would be more comfortable with. That would be a different issue, but it sounds like you agree the feedback is legitimate so I’m proceeding on that assumption.

Some things that could help, in no particular order:

* Remember that part of what you’re being paid for at work is being reasonably pleasant to work with. If you’re so laser focused on finishing task X that you’re rude when someone interrupts you, you might write it off to just being really invested in trying to do your job — but only if you’re overlooking that part of your job is not snapping at people.

* It might help to assume from the get-go that part of the job is also dealing with interruptions and rolling with the punches when imperfect conditions occur, so that you’re not so thrown off when that happens.

* However, if there’s an ongoing issue with you being interrupted at particularly bad moments, that’s something you can address! How to do that depends on the specifics of your work but, for example, can you schedule particularly high-focus work for quieter times of the day, or ask colleagues not to interrupt you when they see you doing X, or even put up a sign that says “deep focus needed — please come back at 4:30”? If none of those ideas work, you could try brainstorming it with your boss.

* Have a few standard lines ready to go so that you’re not coming up with a response on the fly. “Give me a minute to finish this up” is a good one.

* If you do slip up again, make sure to apologize. Because it’s the right thing to do, of course, but also because sometimes making yourself apologize every time makes your brain less likely to do the thing again. (Not always! But sometimes.)

* Realize that it sucks for other people to work in an environment where they might be snapped at. Maybe you’re someone who wouldn’t be bothered by it, but a lot of people are … and even those who aren’t will still generally find it pretty unpleasant. I say that not to berate you, but because that might be useful to keep in the forefront of your mind.

One last thing: How do you do with stress in general? Is the problem confined to this one type of circumstance, or have you noticed you get snappish pretty easily when you’re under pressure outside of work too? If so, that’s a bigger thing to tackle, potentially with a therapist if you feel like it’s getting in the way of you moving through life in the way you’d like to, and especially if you come from a family that didn’t model stress well (many of us did not!).

Read an update to this letter

{ 389 comments… read them below }

  1. Soft-tempered*

    Just want to give this Letter Writer a high five for recognizing their behaviour could improve. I’ve worked with so many unapologetic snappy faces, and it really takes a lot of emotional labour to be around them.

    1. Say Sorry*

      Yes! It’s the unapologetic attitude, facial expression, etc. that I just can’t stand! Apologies go along way! I have one employee that never, ever feels that her attitude is an issue and that ALL things are everyone else’s fault. I guess she missed that lesson in kindergarten. The fact that you are being self-aware is a great start!

      1. Queen Ruby*

        I snapped at someone once in my 20 year career. A very nice coworker asked me a question he totally should’ve known the answer to, and that’s pretty much what I told him in a snotty tone of voice. As soon as it came out of my mouth, I was horrified and apologized. He actually laughed because it was so out of character for me, and all was forgiven. In hindsight, he was still pretty new and dealt more with my counterparts than with me. They were all very vocally impatient people who had been there forever. So I learned self-awareness goes a loooooong way and creates some good will, which comes in handy when you’re in a mood.

    2. 1-800-BrownCow*

      Yes to this. I had the same thought while reading and I’m also impressed they’ve recognized how their behavior could use improvement. A few years back I had a direct report that would often snap at people when they interrupted him. I had a few discussions with them about it, but they always blamed everyone else for not recognizing they were working hard at the moment. I tried to explain how their response was perceived by others, but again, they would say other people need to adjust their perception. I like Alison’s suggestions above too and will file this away to use in the future, if needed.

    3. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      Yeah, I have a parent who is frequently snippy and has zero interest in changing that (or even apologizing for it), so yeah, I appreciate LW’s effort here.

  2. Wisteria*

    it normally happens when I’m trying to do something and someone tries to get me to do something else.

    You have all my sympathy. I am neurologically bad at switching attention, and it’s not going to change. One strategy I have developed is to be ok with everything going South when someone interrupts me and to let go of my frustration when I have to take extra time to restart what I was doing. Sure, it would be better if people didn’t interrupt me in the first place, but I can only change myself.

    1. Mountain101*

      I am also really bad at attention switching and can get snappy when interrupted. It’s much better now that I’m working from home and have more control over interruptions (not possible for OP in a lab, of course).

      One thing I’ve noticed for myself is that it usually happens when I’ve been focusing on tasks intensely, for a long time, without breaks. I call it “tunnel focus”, where I feel productive and focused so I want to keep knocking things out before I stop — that “tunnel” feeling seems like a positive flow state, but is almost always a sign that I need to take 5 to reset and come back with a “lighter” emotional state.

      1. DarthVada*

        I have ADHD and we call this hyper focus. I’m also usually snappy when someone interrupts me while I’m in this state, and I also usually haven’t moved in 6 hours.

  3. Thistle Pie*

    This issue seems like preventing the situations from happening in the first place would work best, and that LW’s boss should help them figure out how to do that. Maybe it’s a “give me a minute to wrap this up” hand signal so they don’t even need to use words, or a lights that’s on at the workstation where OP is that signals to folks not to interrupt unless it’s an emergency, or something else entirely. While it’s rude to snap at people, it’s also rude to interrupt someone clearly deep in thought and focusing on a task that is time sensitive.

    1. Gnome*

      I was going to comment on using the “just minute” hand gesture. when I’m dealing with numbers and have to use words, it’s just like stopping entirely and having to start over. the goal is to acknowledge and get to a better place to stop… or flag for people that it’s going to be a bit.

      I really like that Alison said to tell people about times they can’t be interrupted easily!

        1. GrooveBat*

          The reason I like this approach is that it’s firm and clear but also incorporates humor.

          I’m not ordinarily someone who believes in meaningless apologies, but I also find that when I’m stressed a pre-emptive “I’m sorry” can defuse any inadvertent rudeness on my part. So, “I’m sorry…mathing” or “I’m sorry…just need to fix this” can go a long way.

        2. Not Australian*

          “Sorry, I’m an ocean liner, I need a bit more time to course-correct…” That’s my usual go-to explanation.

      1. Marna Nightingale*

        I was also going to mention this!

        I learned fairly early in my professional life that for anything that requires serious concentration, my brain is prepared to provide:

        A) input from eyes and output from hands
        B) input from ears and output from hands
        C) input from eyes and output from mouth
        D) input from ears and output from mouth

        but it resents being asked to swop around quickly. Like, you can walk past me naked and on fire when I’m on the phone taking information, I won’t see you, intensive video editing makes me mildly aphasic for half an hour, and if I’m wiring something I don’t so much hear you talking to me as scan for keywords (fire, ground, oops) and nod a lot.

        And there’s only so much changing my attitude can do because if you have to drag me out of it I’m not actually annoyed, as such, I’m some weird combination of sensorily overwhelmed, inarticulate, “oh god it must be an emergency”, and startled.

        So putting a hand up is MUCH easier than trying to calmly say basically anything would be in OP’s situation. As long as your coworkers understand that you mean “just a minute” not “talk to the hand”, but they also work in a lab; they likely will.

      2. Ness*

        I really dislike the hand gesture (when not accompanied by words) because I’m never sure if I should stand there until they’re done, or go away and come back later. And if I pick wait, but they don’t turn their attention to me soon, I feel more and more awkward as I decide whether to continue waiting.

        So if you go with a hand gesture, please add something like “one moment, please” or “five minutes, please.”

        1. Marna Nightingale*

          That’s a great point! As I say, I find it hard in tue moment to get that information out in a calm way — but I’ve certainly had ongoing agreements with coworkers that a wave-off means “I’ll come find you in a bit, ok?”

    2. Hannah Lee*

      If I were LW’s boss, I’d be taking a step back to observe work flow, dynamics in that work group overall.

      Because while LW’s reaction may not be good, it’s worth noticing whether there is a culture of workers interrupting each other mid-task for things that could wait. Or even just one or two people who pop up whenever they have a need, question and expect other people to respond right that second, instead of waiting for the other person to be available.

      If you happen to a) be tasked with work that requires extended focus and attention to step by step detail and b) are a frequent target of other people’s inability hold their questions until you’re not in the middle of something, even the most even tempered person could get snappish.

      If that’s the case, there might be process changes or training needed or even just awareness that when someone’s at the work bench or a particular piece of equipment, you wait until they are done before trying to talk to them. Or having OP carve out “this is when I’m open for questions” and “this is when I need to focus” time in a way that makes sense.

      In parallel with that, OP can work on strategies to not be snappish and view interruptions as a normal part of the job. But it might be less of an issue if the frequency of interruptions goes down.

      (Also, IME as a introvert who performs complex, focused tasks at work, if I’m not getting enough introvert-replenishing downtime in my life overall, or am overtired, stressed, my patience for ANY interruption goes way down. And my snappish quotient goes way up. So OP may want to take stock of their bigger picture outside of work.)

      1. SpringIsForPlanting!*

        Yeah. I commented above about my own experience with ADD stuff, but regardless of whether that’s at play here: don’t interrupt people who are adding stuff! Don’t interrupt people who are staring intently at a thing!

        All of the process / organization suggestions on this thread are great.

      2. Splendid Colors*

        Good point. I remember part of “shop safety etiquette” at makerspaces is “Do not interrupt people using power tools unless the shop is on fire.” Startling someone using a bandsaw could cost them some fingers, so wait till they’re done with that cut to ask how much longer they’re going to be using the saw, or whatever non-urgent question you’re thinking of.

    3. Mockingjay*

      This. Technical data is a pain to record correctly and requires intense focus. In the moment it may not seem like a big deal to interrupt the OP, but when later that data needs to be validated or shown to be in compliance, then mistakes due to disruption will be a problem. Without valid data, an experiment is worthless.

      OP mentioned that these interruptions are to ask them to do other tasks. So there’s another issue besides temper; how are work tasks distributed and tracked? Boss should figure out a mechanism that doesn’t interfere with experiments or data collection. While there’s no completely interruption-free workplace, Boss can certainly minimize instances.

      1. EngineeringFun*

        As a former test engineer, don’t bother me while testing. There are so many steps and check lists. LW can you automate any of these figures you need to write down using a DAQ or other software? I wonder if the test plan could be changed to to simplify your need to hyper focus. As an engineer, I tell people to come back later all the time. And people tell me that too. I’m wondering how bad your tone is or is it your overall level of stress?

        1. NotNormallyGrumpy*

          I wish we could automate it.

          I think it’s the contrast which is the jarring thing for folks. Normally I’m quite chilled and cheery.
          We’ve implimented some checklists though so hopefully that’ll help. Assuming I’m allowed to print them rather than use the shared tablet to try and tick tiny boxes *laugh *

    4. Aerin*

      I’ve been spending a lot more time in our basement where Spouse works (thanks, long covid). After I realized they were getting irritated with me for being chatty when they were trying to focus, I asked them to change the color of the light over their desk or otherwise put up some kind of “Do Not Interrupt” signal so I don’t have to guess.

      1. TinySoprano*

        I was just thinking some kind of Do Not Disturb sign to hang on the back of their labcoat or something while data are being processed.

      2. Captain Swan*

        My husband has been teleworking in our dining room (during COVID) which is basically the center of our house. He has a set of colored flags that he puts up if he needs us to not interrupt. And one pirate flag which means unless we need to evacuate the house immediately, do not acknowledge his existence in any way.

    5. Frances*

      Just want to second this! Most interruptions can wait. If someone is in the middle of a test, that change in focus can be jarring. I’d like to see the supervisor doing something more proactive to help LW.

  4. animaniactoo*

    “Hold on, please” with a hand up is a lot shorter and less disruptive than the sentence that LW proposes. Shorter is better as it helps indicate the need to concentrate/finish.

    Practice saying it pleasantly, cheerfully, and it is much more likely to come out of your mouth that way. More words are not necessarily needed for polite/pleasant.

    1. Voodoo Priestess*

      Agree! I used to struggle with this.

      OP, if you start with “Hold on” or something similar, but then follow up with a warm “OK! Now I can give you my full attention” people usually respond well. And yes, if you do snap, make sure to apologize.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        I really like the idea of making sure to follow up warmly. That may be a good first step for OP as they work on controlling their initial kneejerk reaction, which will take time.

        1. Dasein9*

          Seems like a great time to use “thank you” as opposed to “I’m sorry.” “Thank you for waiting while I finished that!” gives the message that this will probably happen again and should be expected, and that patience is appreciated.

      2. Office Lobster DJ*

        I really like the idea of making sure to have a warm follow up comment. This may even be a great area for LW to focus first, as they work on changing their initial reaction, which is harder and will take time.

        (Sorry if this is a repeat, not sure my original went through!)

      3. Somehow_I_Manage*

        OP’s example suggests a loss of perspective. Their boss stepped in to help them in an emergency. This is the exact kind of situation where teams are built and lessons are learned. OP not only rebuffed their assistance as unwelcome, but was unable to recognize that their manager could probably be very useful and guide them out of the situation. Imagine your house is flames, and you tell the firefighters to quit bugging you because you’re busy with your bucket!

        It comes down to this. OP would benefit from training to help them stay calm under pressure. OP could also use feedback from their manager to help them with their perspective. Was this really an emergency? What would have happened if things had failed completely? What would the right strategy with the benefit of hindsight?

        And finally, yes…if your experiment is going to go down in flames, might as well not be a jerk on top of it! Being nice takes effort, but is worth it.

        1. My+Useless+2+Cents*

          Somehow I picture more of a scenario where a toddler starts “helping” mommy fix dinner. Sometimes helping isn’t helpful (even if it is the boss).

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Oh yeah! I had a colleague who would be all chatty, being in sales, while I had to concentrate. I told him I was too busy, had a deadline that was worryingly close and he was all “tell me what I can do to help”. What you can do to help is what I already asked you to do: leave me alone. You’re not qualified to do my job, so please just let me get it done.

        2. Properlike*

          But if the firefighters show up and their hoses are getting unrolled and they want you to step out of the way when you’ve already got the fire almost put out and stepping away will cause it to flare up… and you can’t verbalize that because putting out the fire involves a complicated set of numbers…

          Does that make sense? It’s not a matter of “a loss of perspective” and very little to do with training. In this case, OPs cognitive load was entirely focused on fixing the emergency (successfully) and interrupting themselves to explain that to the boss in the moment was impossible.

          But referencing the other incidents… yes, in those cases, there’s a trend. And the behavior indicates a need that’s not being met.

          1. Somehow_I_Manage*

            To both of you….yep. It’s totally possible I’m off the mark. I think generally with these letters I’m lithe to trust OP to really characterize the situation objectively. In this case, the fact that this has been brought up multiple times, the fact that OP is on probation, and the fact that OP does not suggest that their boss is being unfair or known for bad judgement suggest to me that there’s a bit more to it that OP has really realized.

            /But it’s really just a guess.

    2. Smithy*

      I just want to add that when you know that tone and body language are coming off unpleasantly – words like “please” and “sorry” can do a lot to soften the overall message. So editing the above phrase to “Sorry, hold on, please” – grammatically may not even make sense. But when you know you’re trying to soften your messaging (particularly because of past behavior) it can be helpful.

      I work with a number of colleagues where English isn’t their first language, and they were some of the first colleagues I saw using emojis in their work emails. Mostly smiley faces or thumbs up next to short messages, and again, as a way to signaling “I mean this to be friendly and brief and not curt and snide.”

    3. dashitall*

      Nearly exactly this is my approach. “A moment, please” with or without a hand, depending on if I can spare it, follow by an upbeat/warm “Thanks for giving me time to get to a stopping place! How can I help/Here’s what I think/Yes, I can do that/I need to concentrate on X right now, is this something we can revisit this afternoon/etc”.

      There are also times it’s just the hand gesture without the words, if my concentration is so deep I still think there’s risk my tone will be snappish before I get to that stopping place, but I really pour on the warmth in the follow up in those cases and clearly say I needed to finish a thought before it was gone (or whatever).

    4. The OG Sleepless*

      I do this; I don’t look away from what I’m doing, and hold a finger up and say “hold on.” I say it as pleasantly as I reasonably can, but it does get frustrating when I’m clearly in the middle on concentrating on something. (I’m also currently having a real issue with a similar situation to the “Google it” LW yesterday. I have two peer coworkers who have somehow decided that I am some sort of font of knowledge, and constantly barrage me with questions to things they either should know, or could research, but they would rather ask me. And everybody wonders why I go home completely exhausted every day and have made a couple of mistakes recently.)

  5. Beth*

    This is extrapolating from personal experience, but the only job I’ve had in my life where I ended up snapping at people was the one where I was constantly being handed more and more work with less and less time or resources to do it. I’m usually a warm, cheerful, empathetic, smiley person–it was extremely out of character for me to get snappy! I did take steps to curb the behavior in the moment, of course, but at its root, it was a symptom of moderate burnout. What ultimately made it go away was getting out of that constant-high-stress environment. I didn’t just need to find ways to treat others better when I was upset–I needed to find ways to treat MYSELF better, so I wasn’t feeling so high-strung in the first place.

    It sounds from your description like you’re also normally a cheerful and warm person who is showing signs of unusual snappishness in stressful moments. In addition to taking Alison’s advice (because it’s not right to take out our stress on others regardless of its cause), I think it’s worth examining whether there might be a bigger issue behind it. Are these high-stress moments occasional issues, or do they make up most of your work most days? You say it’s not always possible for you to take a time-out; is that because you sometimes have to wait until it’s the right time for a break, or is it because your workload usually doesn’t allow you to take breaks at all? Do you have relaxing, easy parts of your job as well as stressful parts? It’s possible that this temperament change is is a sign that your work is taking a higher toll on you than you realize.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah, I think there’s something to this. I am ashamed to admit that I found myself getting quite snippy at one point in a previous job. I was surprised myself because I had never had that issue before, and was literally confused as to why I was suddenly reacting this way. Like OP, it’s such a departure from my usual work behavior that it made it extra shocking for other people when it happened – and I didn’t say anything particularly rude, but my body and tone were both curt. I felt very overburdened and like everybody had it in for me at that job. I ended up leaving it shortly after I realized I couldn’t get this behavior under control. I was immediately a lot better (although to be honest, I have to watch myself carefully now and make sure it hasn’t become a habit).

      1. My+Useless+2+Cents*

        “I didn’t say anything particularly rude, but my body and tone were both curt.”
        I think this is my biggest problem with a lot of the responses. I am not a dancing dog in a dress. I should not have to perform for you. I will be civil. Interrupter can manage their own emotions.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Eh, I was over the line. It was noticeable. My boss raised it and it could have become a performance issue. It wasn’t how I wanted to treat people. YMMV of course.

        2. Beth*

          Part of being civil is body language as well as words. We are all performing to some extent when we’re around other people. That’s not unique to work. It’s just how communication works–you have to both speak and behave in accordance with the message you want to send to the people around you. If people are routinely upset with you because of how you act towards them, there’s a good chance the problem isn’t their failure to manage their emotions, but your failure to manage your own.

        3. Loulou*

          this is honestly a pretty crappy attitude. if you equate trying to be pleasant to other people with “being a dancing dog in a dress,” it’s likely that others find you difficult to work with, fwiw! I’m sure you’re well-intentioned toward your coworkers, but civil is really well below the bare minimum at most workplaces I’ve been in.

          1. Splendid Colors*

            There are still double standards for what tone is interpreted as “civil”, based on gender and race. People who would think it’s fine for a (white) man to hold up a finger and say “Just a minute” may think it’s the height of disrespect for a woman or a racialized man to do the same thing. Either they’d expect an instant response or they’d expect a lot of “sugar” poured on top of “just a minute.”

        4. Chilipepper Attitude*

          But body language and tone are part of being civil! No one expects a dancing dog in a dress (I’m not even sure what than analogy means in this situation) but I do expect you to manage your own emotions. If your body language and tone are saying f-off, you are not managing your emotions and are not being civil.

          1. Esmeralda*

            Right. “How can I help you?” is polite, written like that.

            But if you’re sighing before you say it, then saying it thru gritted teeth and rolling your eyes — it’s not polite at all.

          2. Maglev to Crazytown*

            I was a woman in a workplace that did expect women to be “dancing dogs in dresses.” It was considered completely normal accepted behavior for men in the workplace to openly scream at others and be verbally abusive, but if a woman even used stern voice or wrong tone, it was viewed as “hostile.”

            Absolutely was a hostile toxic work environment, but I can see easily how other women cringe at being perceived to need to act as a “dancing dog in a dress.”

        5. Sylvan*

          Getting along with your coworkers is part of most jobs, and you benefit from it when you need to collaborate with them or get help from them later.

          1. tessa*

            True, but there’s also room here for workplaces to explore why employees sometimes bristle. If some interrupt or go to their co-workers over things that are researchable, it can get exhausting for the go-to to be a shortcut. I’m often struck by how a problem, like over-reliance on co-workers, gets a pass, while the reactions to it are seen as the problem.

            I’m not saying that’s the case here, but the LW’s situation does call to mind the need to sometimes go below the surface of employee interaction. Certain reactions might not be ideal, but that doesn’t make them invalid.

            1. Zweisatz*

              Not disagreeing with you.
              On a personal level, if people feel themselves getting short regularly, I would recommend seeing that as the healthy anger signal it is.
              Anger signals to us that there’s an issue we need to solve. It might mean adressing the over-reliance of coworkers on our expertise or the burnout caused by a bad job/bad fit but it is certainly a call to do SOMETHING. Just expecting yourself to squash the anger means trying to suppress the symptom instead of working on a solution.

              In that framework OP did very well in identifying there’s an issue and venturing out to find a solution to it.

  6. Alexandra Dean*

    This also happens to me because of my ADHD! Task shifting, abrupt transitions, and emotional regulation are all really challenging for me, so when you put all 3 together (an interruption to shift tasks while under stress), there’s a hard limit to how much I can control my external response. It can show in my body language, vocal intonation, and even typing style during remote work.

    Whether or not neurodivergence is a factor for LW, I usually deal with this in the moment by qualifying the response. “Sorry, it’s not you – just focused on this!” “Sorry, not annoyed with you – just need to finish this!” I know people can see the reaction and I can’t always adjust it for them, but I can let them know that it’s not them I’m reacting to. I’m also very open about my ADHD with anyone I work with regularly, so most of them know that my reactions won’t always line up with their expectations of behaviour.

    1. Mim*

      I was thinking the same thing. My daughter and I both have ADHD, but hers is “stronger”, and she’s also a kid and thus has less maturity and experience in managing emotions and tone. This is a super common issue for us — where an interruption causes her to seem to “snap” at us, because her brain is full of whatever other information she is processing, and she is left with no capacity to monitor or adjust her tone. It’s basically a panic response — she is overloaded and trying to convey that. She has no awareness of what her tone sounds like in the moment, and while she is working on it, it is a really difficult thing to improve upon. Progress is slow, and visible over months and years, but not days or even weeks.

      What works best for *me* when I’m in a similar situation is a physical gesture to convey that my brain is not available for more input right now. I like a single finger held up in a “wait a moment” gesture. I find it less cognitively taxing than saying words, and it means I’m not going to accidentally snap at someone. I understand that that could come off as rude or dismissive, but it doesn’t need to. Especially if you communicate, before starting to use a gesture like that, what it means. And then follow through with a pleasant, professional interaction about whatever the co-worker was interrupting you with when you are ready and able.

      No idea if the OP has ADHD, but it really does feel like what they are experience has the same route cause (brain full, no capacity for modulating words/tone), so the labels don’t matter. But I think the strategies could be similar.

      1. Mim*

        *root cause, not route cause. haha.

        I also want to acknowledge that I know what it’s like to be on the other side of stuff like this, and that it absolutely sucks and is not fair to be on the receiving end of snapping (or worse), regardless of the cause. I grew up with an emotionally abusive, extremely volatile parent who, in retrospect, almost certainly also had ADHD. (It is very heritable, so of course that helps explain my and my kid’s diagnosis, too.) But his was unmodulated, without self reflection, therapy, medication, and/or emotional intelligence/introspection. It is so easy for this kind of thing to just run out of control into all-around volatility, unpredictability, and abuse. So kudos to the OP (and everyone else) who recognizes that there is something they need to work on, and for pursuing advice and strategies for this stuff. It is really exhausting, difficult work, but makes us better people, and makes us better parents, spouses, co-workers, bosses, etc. (And for folks who see themselves in these descriptions of what is happening when you “snap”, etc, I definitely recommend reading up about ADHD and pursuing a diagnosis *if* you feel that it might be accurate. The paradigm shift of having a diagnosis has been immense. Reframing things with new understandings of how and why my brain works the way it does has allowed for so much personal growth and acceptance. 100%, five stars, totally recommend.)

  7. Lab Boss*

    I struggle with the same thing, and the main realization I had about myself is that the reaction to snap comes from the feeling that the person is somehow demanding my time or insisting upon my attention when there was something more important I was working on- and that if I wasn’t making that clear to them, it wasn’t fair to be upset they were violating my boundaries.

    My fix was to train myself to lay out my need to maintain focus with something short and polite. “Give me 5 minutes” or “I need to wrap up here” or literally anything that signals to them that you have HEARD them but you can’t RESPOND to them immediately, so they will stop talking at you long enough for you to shift your focus.

    1. Chairman of the Bored*

      I find it helps to remember that my boss literally pays me in exchange for them being able to demand my time or decide which of my tasks is most important.

      If they want to grab me off Project X and have me do Project Y instead they’re welcome to, as long as they keep paying me the agreed-upon rate of $Z per hour while they do it.

      1. Lab Boss*

        That can lead to a problem where your boss assigns you to Project X, then interrupts that to pull you to Project Y, then wonders why you didn’t meet the original target date for Project X. That’s when it’s useful to remember another piece of advice I’ve seen here a lot, framing it to your boss as “of course I can take on Project Y, but that’s going to push Project X back by this much- that’s OK, right?”

        1. Chairman of the Bored*

          I also recommend “I can work on anything you want, but I can’t work on everything you want”.

      2. Hydrangea*

        As I see it, my company pays me to be available to people, which means my company has accepted those things that slip when I am interrupted. Have to re-add a column of numbers bc Betsy can’t Google something herself? Okey dokey, pokey! I get paid the same whether I finish the first time or the 10th time!

    2. Jenna Webster*

      I so agree with this – I used to get very irritated when interrupted until someone finally said directly “working well and having good relationships with your coworkers is the most important part of your job, because everything else falls apart if that isn’t there.” That made more sense to me, and I could prioritize differently even if it meant I had to start my previous task over completely.

  8. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

    Had a coworker who trained her self to automatically smile before picking up the phone or when someone else walked into her office. It helped her be more patient and friendly with coworkers and customers, even those who were interrupting something. She had got the idea from something in a seminar for call center workers. Something along the line of “let them hear the smile in your voice”

    1. ferrina*

      I was coming here to say something similar.

      You can retrain habits. It takes quite a bit of practice, but I’ve found that roleplaying scenarios – or redoing scenarios that have happened – help me know how I want to respond next time and develop those mental habits.

    2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      I freaking LOVE this idea because it absolutely can work. I do this when leaving voice mails, when answering the phone, even when replying to a Teams chat from someone I may not like all that much. It’s super cheesy to say, but really can hear a smile.

  9. Pink Marbles*

    I wish more people had this self awareness! :) Once, during a particular project, I realized I was getting annoyed when someone interrupted me on a very focus-heavy task. I started drawing out my words if I was interrupted while typing/writing: “juuuuust a few minutessss…” which signaled to the person that I needed all of my mental energy at that moment, without being snappy or cold. Usually, they would say they’d stop by later. And then I would make a point of finding the person and saying something like “Hi Barb, I was laser-focused on counting llama stripes earlier when you came by. What can I help you with?” It seemed to work very well to default to a slower “hold on onnnee second…” rather than a quick reply.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I think I’m going to try this! Also, since it’s probably frustrating to the listener, it might scratch the itch I’m having in that moment where I’m irked that they’re interrupting me (which is almost always the cause of these incidents in my case).

    2. ferrina*

      I’ve devolved into odd syntax like this. “Hold….minute needed…..sixty-four by eighteen….uh, later okay?”

      Love your follow up. I have colleagues that do the same thing, and they are always lovely when they circle back.

    3. Just Here for the Free Lunch*

      When I was in-office that’s exactly what I did as well. “Juuuuuussssstttt a seconnnnnddd…”. Or if it was going to be longer than a few seconds, I’d say something like “I just need to finish this thought. Give me just a minute.” And then I’d invite them to sit down if they wanted to. If it was going to be several minutes, then I’d tell them they could have a seat or is it ok if I come find them in a little bit. That combination of reactions seemed to work well.

    4. Ann Ominous*

      I slowly pronounced all those phrases in my head the way you wrote them, and they were the exact right tone. Now I’m laughing at myself for having done that.

    5. Anonym*

      I do this too, and it seems to work! It feels natural, and nobody seems to think I’m irritated with them, and I get an extra few beats (or minutes) to finish my immediate thought.

    6. JB (not in Houston)*

      Yep, this is what I do–“hang on juuuuuuuuust a second” said in a cheerful tone can do wonders.

  10. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP, you mentioned “long string of numbers” more than once. Are there some workflow or technology changes you could take so that you can reduce the number of times when an interruption might send you into snippy mode? Freeze & recall mode on your sensor gear, talk into a voice recorder as you go instead of remembering and scurrying to write down, etc?

    It’s easier to manage your emotions when you significantly reduce the number of times that you need to be aware of them.

    1. ferrina*

      Or post-its you can stick on the monitor that point to the spot on a spreadsheet you need. That’s been my low-tech ADHD solution in certain jobs.

      1. Ally McBeal*

        I usually highlight the cell or row I need to come back to – like literally color it yellow. Also a huge post-it fan for things like “cell B87 needs to be reworked.”

    2. Lady_Lessa*

      I noticed that the LW is a lab tech, so I wonder if they are dealing with batch numbers. I handle incoming raw material C of A’s and I often pity the folks who have to type the numbers more than once. Example UV789L267. And I am looking at the number while I type it.

    3. Kuddel Daddeldu*

      I had a lab job as a student where interrupting me at the wrong moment could lose the whole (expensive) experiment, as steps had to be taken at precise moments. Chemical or biological processes can’t just be put on hold once started.
      Effectively I was paid to be a part of an elaborate machine, being a pleasant human being came a distant second.
      I had a sign on my lab door that I could turn around – “open” or “do not disturb”, the latter understood to mean “do not enter except in a life-or-death emergency”. The sign was already there when I was hired; I’m sure there was a story behind it but never asked.

  11. Brain the Brian*

    I have nothing to add except commiseration. I work in a position where my colleagues ask me to do lots of things that need formal approval from my manager before I can proceed. And when my manager takes two or three weeks to respond with a one-word “approved,” people understandable get testy with me — and vice-versa — about everything from late reports to unpaid bills to un-invoiced clients and so on. Not a lot I can do, of course; the one time I deigned to mention this to my manager (in this case after four months of polite reminders), she told me to stop “chiding” her. So… *shrug* …I guess I will just continue to be in a constant bad mood at work. Oh well.

    1. Lab Boss*

      That’s so aggravating! It’s bad enough to have to beg people for simple replies, but to then be chastised because your begging is annoying? My total sympathies.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        As I write this, she is 15 minutes late to our weekly check-in, which she said yesterday that we needed to have despite the fact that she’s on vacation because she had several updates that need to be shared verbally rather than in writing. One of those updates impacts a client submission that’s now weeks late and will impact whether our funding continues in two days. Again… *shrug*

    2. hot buttered anon*

      Same with the bad mood. As long as part of my job involves being a punching bag for my ‘customer base’, I’m going to be a bit snappy when they all punch me at once, and get mad when I don’t stand still. In addition to my direct coworkers’ interruptions.

  12. Richard Hershberger*

    I sometimes draft moderately complex pleadings, where there are multiple moving parts. I have on occasion been approached by my boss with something else while I was in the middle of the pleading, and preempted him with “I’m in the zone.” He totally gets it, and will make a decision on priorities. It helps, of course, that he had assigned me that pleading to draft in the first place.

    1. Another JD*

      I feel this one. Trying to draft pleadings while working from home with my toddler during early covid was the worst. One day I wrote a 26-page single spaced pleading (on the due date, thanks clients) by putting her in front of the TV and hiding.

    2. ferrina*

      I love this response. I’ve been shooed away with “In the zone”, and I totally respect that. And the people who do this are consistently the people who do follow up when they are available. It’s the folks who respect their time and mine.

      1. Pennyworth*

        I’d be tempted to get a Zone hat as a light hearted way of forestalling interruptions. Even having to break off to say ”I’m in the Zone” can break your focus on a task.

    3. Sal*

      heh, I have a series of post-its I stick on my office door and one of them is “In [substantive work area] Zone, email me?” I find I can check email on my schedule, not someone else’s, so I don’t find it to be an interruption.

      Side effect: someone photoshopped me as Rod Serling in “[Substantive Work Area] Zone” and made a print out and stuck it on my office door. :)

  13. Essentially Cheesy*

    I can understand the OP’s point of view. In this day and age of emails and instant messages, I wonder why people insist on barging in and sort of interrupting a person’s workflow when they are obviously in the middle of something that can be intense and takes concentration.

    I totally understand needing to be polite and professional so I’m not arguing that.

    I just can’t tell you how many times I’m (proverbially) banging away at some task at my desk and people just barge in and start talking/requesting/demanding .. as if I wasn’t actively working on something? Like .. can I have a moment to finish the sentence I was typing or complete my thought?

    1. Allison*

      For reals, it’s easy to ping someone on Slack and say “hey so-and-so, do you have a moment? I’d like to stop by and discuss ____, would now be a good time?”

    2. Random Bystander*

      Completely agree. At least in my job, it was considered perfectly normal to (without looking away from what you were doing) respond “just a minute, I need to finish this note”.

      Worst offender was one co-worker who, back when we were in the office, insisted on showing up in my cubicle instead of using IM like everyone else did, and every question was prefaced with and followed by a long stream of waffle about why she needed to ask the question even if she thought she knew the answer. I mean, a simple question/answer exchange could take 10 minutes, of which 30-45 seconds involved my speaking and the rest of that was taken up by her. At least when we started WFH, I “trained” her to use IM (or maybe she just bothered other people) by bouncing the calls to vm and she no longer could just show up six inches away from me in the cube.

    3. ferrina*

      I’m the person that loves doing in-person drop bys. I’m ADHD, so moving around is really, really helpful for me. I also tend to work on complex stuff that requires a bit of conversation and/or understanding needs and emotions, so chatting can really help.

      BUT- if someone says they’re in the middle of something, I’m gone. If you say “I need to focus- can we chat in an hour?” I’ll happily walk away and wait until you find me (or follow up the next day). Exception being if it’s truly on a tight deadline (no fake urgency from me). And if someone tells me that they want me to IM before visiting their desk, I’ll try to remember to do that (I’m not 100%, but I’m in the high 90%).

    4. LittleMarshmallow*

      At least once a week or so I’ll acquire a line at my desk. Haha! Come on people. Space your needs out! And they’ll all stand there and wait their turn instead of emailing or coming back later. The environment I work in is more physical than virtual so it makes sense in my context and I’m quite accustomed to it and if I’m on a call or doing something uninterruptible, I’ll happily send them all away and let them know when my next available slot is for a desk line. Haha!

    5. Ari*

      Thank you for saying this! While I try to be pleasant no matter what, there are multiple articles showing it takes a person 20-30 minutes on average to get back on task if they’re interrupted. It’s so frustrating when people insist on interrupting when you are clearly busy doing something, barring an emergency which in my field is rare.

  14. J*

    The last paragraph of Allison’s response really resonated with me. I think Allison gave some really strong advice on how to rehab your work image but I think any long-term solution needs some level of understanding of your why. You seem to describe it as a shift. I can think of a few situations where I felt uncomfortable with how my behavior had declined.

    1) I was not given the resources to do my job successfully. My reactions weren’t great but they weren’t surprising given the circumstances. I was able to manage better when deadlines were clear and reasonable in response to limitations or we hired another person. Think about if the strain you are feeling is external.

    2) I felt an internal pressure to perform that was not necessarily that of the organization. I’d be praised for my responsiveness so I felt I needed to have a solution nearly immediately. I also had a need for control. I felt like it was an external pressure but it was all internal. Speaking with bosses and project leaders helped me to build in more flexibility.

    3) I had serious burn out and didn’t realize it. Part of it was the combination of 1 and 2, part of it was some serious events in my life that I was trying to work through and pretend everything was okay. This was the hardest to fix and required time off and ultimately leaving a job because of factors where the external pressures at work and home weren’t going to change soon and I clearly couldn’t handle it, to the point that I recognized I wasn’t snapping just due to stress but rather a level of anxiety and depression I couldn’t handle on my own anymore.

    1. Hannah Lee*

      I’ll add a #4) The addition of a new person or dynamic that increases the # of interruptions. Whether because they are new and need guidance, don’t yet recognize the signs of when someone’s in the zone (eg We never interrupt people doing admixtures unless THEY are on fire. If you are on fire, flag someone else or deal with it yourself) , or don’t yet have an appreciation of the required flow, concentration, juggling of multiple “feeds” needed for critical tasks.

      X2 if that person is … as I affectionately describe a friend like this … a gumball head. Meaning if a thought, question, need pops into their head, they immediately have to share it, as though they were a gumball machine someone just put a quarter in.

      1. J*

        Oh how right you are! I was very lucky in my last role to have a predictable time for 80% of newbies but I basically wrote off 2 months of the year for efficiency reasons…and I scheduled my vacation after the onboarding period was over. I’m realizing I haven’t figured out the rhythm at my new job and we’re hiring fast so that’s probably what’s upsetting my boss who I joined from our last employer with those predictable trends.

    2. Casual Fribsday*

      Oh dear. There is a come-to-jesus moment somewhere between this comment and myself, and I am not ready to have it yet. Thank you for this starkly clear framing, as well as for the phrase, “I felt uncomfortable with how my behavior had declined.” It perfectly captures my current position—there’s no way my boss would write to Alison about me (yet), but I know that an attitude change is in order.

    3. allathian*

      Great post. Your second and third posts resonate with me very strongly. I ended up with a moderate burnout, and finally got help after I not only snapped, but yelled at my then-manager who tried to manage my workload by taking something off my plate. I wasn’t ready for that because I had such a strong need for controlling the work output. I felt that someone else’s poorer quality work would reflect badly on me and wasn’t willing to let it go until I absolutely had to.

      I got put on a PIP with an order through our early intervention program to contact our EAP. I was on sick leave, followed by my annual vacation, for 6 weeks, and when I got back, everyone had more or less moved on. My relationship with my then-manager never recovered, though. Sometimes in my dark moments I still feel guilty about being the straw that broke the camel’s back when she decided to get out of people management, but the two managers I’ve had since then have been great, and I’ve never questioned their managerial authority. To be fair, they’ve never tried to be friends with me, either, unlike the ex-manager I yelled at…

  15. worst boss*

    But how do you handle it if the boss says that you should not, ever, ask anyone to wait while you finish anything?
    Because I’ve been talked to about that and been told that if I ask anyone to wait, or take more then 3 seconds to turn around and smile at the interrupter (not not TOO smiley, that comes off as fake…) I’ll be written up.
    (Yes, I’m looking for a new job)

    1. Ally McBeal*

      You answered your own question! How to handle unreasonable directives… look for a new job :) Best of luck, your manager sounds awful.

    2. LizB*

      I think you’re handling it the only way possible, by job searching. Best of luck, that sounds truly nightmarish.

    3. Mad Harry Crewe*

      Also, while you are still searching – whatever the consequences, they are not on you. Forget a number and have to repeat a bunch of work? That is a problem created by your manager/management. Get sent on a new task in the middle of what you were doing, and it never gets finished? Also a problem created by your management. Don’t let it eat you.

  16. asdf*

    I can be irritable, especially when stressed, and medication has helped me be less so. The letter writer might check with a doctor.

    1. Hannah Lee*

      IDK, if this is a new problem at work and not in the rest of their life, it might make sense to explore changes to their work environment, process, priorities (or job if needed) before seeking to medicate to make them less reactive to irritating things.

      1. yala*

        I mean, a good doctor would ask questions to see if medication is really warranted. Going to a therapist/counselor might be a better first step to see if they can parse exactly where the issue is. It could be environmental, it could be burnout. tbh, while I’ve always been reactive, I didn’t really clock myself as “snappish” until my current job (and I made suitable changes)

        1. Splendid Colors*

          And what if they get a mediocre doctor? One who sees all people as having something that needs medication?

    2. Lime green Pacer*

      For me, being irritable to the point of snapping at folks was a sign of fatigue. The fatigue was caused by my allergy meds wearing off, so I became more careful about the timing of those medications.

  17. 3lla*

    I’m very cheery and laid back, but I did have a workplace where I snapped at others. In retrospect, that workplace was downright abusive. I was called out for rudeness repeatedly (I have screenshots/recordings) for saying things like “The record you sent me is not complete, I need [x documentation] to complete that for you.” or “I apologize, but I still need [x information] in order to do my job.” It might be worth considering whether the environments you’re spending your time in are supporting your usual kind self.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      But I can see why those statements, on their own and with no context, do appear blunt and like they are CYA statements that put some kind of blame on others. I’m saying that bc I’ve been told I’m too “strong” but no one could give me examples and it was so frustrating!

      Maybe those are not the actual statements but if they are, here is how I would rework those messages:
      “The record you sent me is not complete, I need [x documentation] to complete that for you.”

      I’d turn that into: Thanks for getting back to me. It looks like the record is not complete. I need parts x and y to complete that for you. Please let me know if it is there and I missed it or if you can send it again?

      Instead of “I apologize, but I still need [x information] in order to do my job.”

      I apologize but I still need [x information]. I cannot move forward on y project without it. Please let me know if you have an eta for sending it.

      I solved my problem of being too “strong” by getting a new and not toxic job. Miraculously I’m not too strong now. Maybe a different office culture would appreciate direct statements like your originals but until then, I hope this is feedback you can use!

      1. Lizzo*

        Just curious…in giving this advice, are you assuming that @3lla identifies as female? And would you give this same “softening” advice to someone who is not female-identifying?

        1. amoeba*

          I’m female – but if I got the above messages from a male colleague or boss, I’d definitely think they were angry at me in some way. Not the usual style of communication in my company, no matter the gender (though I doubt anybody would be reprimanded for it here).

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Since there are no gender markers whatsoever in Chili’s message, I think we can assume that they are writing it for whoever might need it.

  18. Sorry I’m Not Perfect*

    I dunno; I feel like snapping occasionally is human and there should be more grace for that in the workplace. I mean, you spend 1500+ hours at work in the course of a year; someone snaps TWICE during 1500 hours and it’s a major problem?? Give me a break. I’m sorry I’m not perfect, I guess.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I guess this is how I felt when I was doing this, but to be honest, I was wrong – my coworkers didn’t deserve to be snapped at, ever, and nothing we were doing was really that urgent that it required it.

    2. Just Another Zebra*

      I feel this. If it’s a habitual problem, that needs addressing. But if someone tries to talk to me when I’m on the phone, or clearly focused on a complicated task… just wait? Unless something is literally on fire? Of course apologize – snapping is unkind, and it isn’t respectful, and people don’t deserve to be snapped at. But people get short with each other! It happens!

      1. Hannah Lee*

        Also, that scenario reminds me of one where someone asks a question, won’t take no for an answer and keeps asking until the other person finally snaps with “I already told you! No!”
        And then gets called out for being mean, rude, etc.

        Yeah, being snappish wasn’t a great response, and wouldn’t be okay at work, but the original person was being rude, pushy, etc. If there’s some scenario that the snappish person can apologize, own their reaction but that the interrupting person recognizes their behavior as rude as well, and in a work environment, expectations, processes are changed to prevent the interruptions, – even if it’s something simple like “Fergus, going forward, I need you to hold your questions and comments until after I’m off the phone. Are you able to do that?” that would be ideal.

      2. Erie*

        I’m sympathetic to this perspective. To some extent Alison is coming at this from the manager’s perspective – people are usually pretty careful not to snap at their bosses, so when a boss witnesses snapping it can feel like a big deal. And arguably the manager’s perspective is a good one for LW to inhabit in this case because her manager has noticed and asked her to stop, so we’re now at the point where it’s a problem.

    3. ThatGirl*

      I don’t know that anyone expects perfection, but you sound very defensive. The LW says it’s happened 3 times or so since April, which means a span of 6 months or so – enough that it’s memorable, and may be affecting how people (especially their manager!!) see them.

      What I would recommend is, if you catch yourself in the moment being snappy, take a deep breath and start over – “sorry, you caught me off guard, what I should have said was…” and then next time that new script is hopefully more at front-of-brain.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I have said, “I am so sorry for snapping at you, it was totally uncalled for. I was wrapped up in doing $Thing and trying to hold more numbers in my head than I should”

        1. ThatGirl*

          Yes, same idea – apologize and say it the “right” way. Heck, I do that with my husband when I find myself snapping needlessly. Helps me retrain my brain.

      2. Oui oui oui all the way home*

        It’s shocking to me to be snapped at even once. If someone did it more than once per decade, it would be a problem.

    4. Slang*

      Yes, this is really hard for me…I’m on the autism spectrum and need to limit work hours because it takes so much time to recharge at home alone after being with people…when I fill in past the amount that I’m like spoiled milk, just bad.

      Before I over do it, I seem pretty good and competent.

      It really really sucks and makes me despair about whether I’m even cut out for working at all.

      1. Slang*

        And yes been to therapy (and continue to go to therapy which helped me figure out what was going on), my disposition isn’t going to change. Being on the spectrum, every day life (especially school) is an expectation of behavior modification to fit in and that hasn’t worked yet.

        What helps is getting very clear about what’s overwhelming sensorily…too many people/sounds/lights/uncomfortable textures/quick transitions and being very clear about my capabilities and limits. It’s always going to be difficult for me because my responses don’t fit into something that’s normal and people have to go out of their way to accomodate me.

        Right now, I’ve had this job for about half a year and I picked it for the number of hours, meaningfulness, autonomy, and built in down time when things are slower (thank you Ask a Manager for the tips about looking for a job that fits us as much as fitting the employers needs). I’m at more than one setting so interpersonal stuff is less complicated and ingrained. There’s also demand for this job right now so people are more accomodating.

        Will celebrate if I make it to one year and hopefully five years while doing an okay job.

      2. CPegasus*

        I feel for you. I’m on the spectrum too, just diagnosed recently, and I left the office environment to freelance because I couldn’t keep my emotional control. I’ve never been disciplined at work for my actual work, only ever because of meltdowns or other outbursts that were outside of my control. I can’t handle a fast-paced office environment, and I react to stress with facial expressions and some vocal expressions that other people will notice. With other people to work with, I would be snappy. It’s. why I can’t work with other people. And that’s a really awful place to be.

        1. Slang*

          It’s nice to hear other people have this too. I hope I can continue where I’m at just having a few weeks in a row where people needed me and I still feel bad saying no and then it’s just really hard.

    5. OyHiOh*

      A colleague snapped at me via text yesterday. This morning, within fifteen minutes of our official start time, we were informed this colleague was no longer with the organization.

      There were many issues with this person’s performance over the past few weeks. The snap yesterday was not the explicit reason for their sudden departure, but was certainly symptomatic of the larger problems.

      Snappishness is an indication of something else going on whether behavioral or environmental.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        yeah and if they snap at you on Monday, what are they going to be like by Thursday when the deadline is looming?

    6. LittleMarshmallow*

      I’m mostly with you on this. It’s hard to work 40-60 hours a week and come in all cheery every second of that. I think the frequency and the severity has to factor in though. If someone has a little tone and body language once every couple months I don’t think that would even blip my radar as an issue even if it was directed at me. If it’s happening weekly or more… that’s more of an issue that probably needs addressing. Same with severity. If someone is taking an impatient tone or doing a little eye roll when they get frustrated (still occasionally), that’s different than hauling off and screaming at or cursing out a coworker or slamming things around which is basically never ok (and I have slammed the occasional lab drawer – I also am not perfect but i really shouldn’t do that). Context is also important. If someone interrupts you because they see you doing something unsafely and need you to quickly adjust that’s different than someone coming by while you’re prepping a reaction and asking if you’ll come help them make photocopies or something.

    7. coffee*

      Feeling aggravated is human. Snapping at another person is a behaviour you can control. I would absolutely judge my coworkers for snapping at me or at another person; there are other ways you can express frustration without taking it out on another person (who may just be the messenger!).

    8. Allonge*

      Let’s say you are on the other side of this: how many times do you think you should get / watch your colleagues snapped at before your manager addresses it? Three is more than enough.

  19. Hawk*

    I’ve learned for the situations like described in the letter that I have to say “I’m working on X right now and have to finish before my brain loses track” because I have ADHD and multiple bids for my time means *nothing* gets done because I lose track of what I was doing with the first thing and get so stalled I can’t move onto the next. My mom was notorious for asking me to do something in the middle of a task, then reprimanding me for not finishing the first task. So I have been very defensive over the years as well. I learned how to tell my mom I needed to finish the first thing first and over time things improved, but I held onto that defensiveness (and the strategy!) for years. LW, great job in recognizing that you need to find a new path.

  20. RJ*

    I’m a person who was diagnosed with PTSD several years ago and I personally have triggers that make me combative as well. Interruptions are a PITA, but you have to deal with them appropriately. It’s not an easy thing to acknowledge, OP, but doing so forms part of the solution. Alison’s advice upthread is excellent.

  21. Linda1234*

    I struggle with generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD. Irritability is a symptom of both, and I found it so hard to keep a handle on it at my last job. I snapped at people so many times and felt horrible about it. The best way I found to deal with it was meditation, therapy, and changing jobs (used to work fast-paced food service, now I work at a church which is much more chill).

    1. CharlieBrown*

      When I was fresh out of college, I had a job working at our Catholic diocese. It was very chill, and gosh, do I miss those days. If they had offered health benefits and an actual living wage, I would probably still be there, despite being an atheist.

  22. DrSalty*

    I received this feedback in the past at work and it sucks to hear. I feel you, LW! In my case, therapy was the solution because my anger was the expression of some other internal problems. I actually sought therapy for a separate reason (anxiety), but it ended up really helping all aspects of my life. Anyway, I assured my manager I was taking that feedback seriously and working to improve without ever mentioning therapy, and the improvement was definitely noticed at my next review. Good luck!

    1. Sloanicota*

      Therapy is definitely my next step if I have this problem again at my next job. I haven’t had to confront it since I left the job that made me snippy I’ve been working from home alone, but I fear if I go back into the office the old instincts will be there.

      1. NotNormallyGrumpy*

        I’m trying but there’s a long wait for appointments here and I can’t afford to go private. Meanwhile I’m just trying to be more… I don’t know self aware and calm. It didn’t go so well last week but this week is going better.

  23. My+Useless+2+Cents*

    As everyone piles on LW, I’d like to point out the people interrupting need to also recognize that they are most likely being rude as well. Something that is often overlooked and people need to address in themselves too.

    If someone walks up to my desk, while I have ear phones in, an open screen in front of me (and/or my mouse is clicking away), and I do not look at or immediately respond to your presence, then it is NOT a good time. It is an interruption and causes problems just to stop long enough to tell you to “please hold on and let me finish this real quick”. So the next time someone “snaps” at you, take a pause and really think about what was so important it couldn’t have waited that you couldn’t have gone back to your desk and sent a quick message to “let me know when you have a second”.

    As for LW, a conversation with their manager about when and how to step in if an experiment is going pear-shaped sounds like it would be beneficial. I can imagine LW was trying to keep track of 5 or 6 details and had a plan of attack for making sure something wasn’t going to be missed when manager decided to be “helpful” and just caused distraction and confusion which would be very frustrating.

    1. Sloanicota*

      That’s funny, I don’t feel like there’s any comments piling onto LW really. But in this case, since the person interrupting them was their own boss, it’s not really LW’s call whether the interruption is warranted.

      1. Nesprin*

        I completely disagree: if LW was in the middle of an experiment, her boss interrupting her could be really really disruptive.

        This may be my experience as a bench scientist- there’s a HUGE difference between “boss” and “PI”. Both sign your time cards, but boss assigns work and PI guides work. I would 100% snap at my boss who interrupted me in the middle of a complex or dangerous experiment and be in the right to do so.

        1. Mill Miker*

          Part of the problem (that I’ve seen anyway) is that in a crisis bosses can feel a bit useless and try to help by managing more.

          I’ve definitely been at the point where the problem is solved, aside from 1 20-minute long process that requires my full attention to time things right. If I mess up I have to clean up the process and start over.

          And then the boss comes by asking for an update every 15 minutes, and when you say you just need 20 minutes uninterrupted they try to figure out who they can loop in to help you do it faster, or whatever resources you need, because 20 minutes is too long. Eventually you have to tell the boss their interruptions are the problem, and for some bosses there is no way of delivering that message that doesn’t come off as snappy.

      2. jkj9s*

        Oh, there are plenty of bosses out there who like to step in during a crisis to put their fingerprints all over the solution, despite contributing nothing, causing a distraction, and delaying the resolution. If you are a valuable individual contributor, and are genuinely heads down in resolving a crisis, slapping back can stop that behavior by reducing the rewards they get for it. I like to do it in writing, that way it is right in the middle of their performative management paper trail. Granted, this is a sign of a dysfunctional organization, but isn’t a lot of this about navigating dysfunction?

    2. Just Another Zebra*

      I’m glad to see someone else think this. I had a coworker approach my desk today. I was on the phone, in the middle of a sentence and he whispered “When you get a moment, my chips are stuck in the vending machine”. I definitely snapped at him (“Really? I’m on the phone!”) and I would do it again. But then interrupting is probably the #1 way to piss me off.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I do think there’s a range of snapping … if someone asks a truly moronic question like that, oblivious to the fact that someone is busy on the phone, I agree that some eye-raising pushback is probably for the best but “do you MIND, I’m on the PHONE” isn’t as bad as what I was picturing, I guess. Other people are suggesting a dangerous lab experiment may warrant some snippyness.

      2. Loulou*

        okay but it’s pretty universally considered rude to interrupt someone who’s actively talking on the phone. approaching someone who appears to be working on the computer is not universally considered rude — at many workplaces this would mean nobody could ever talk to anyone without an appointment, which may be the case some places, but is again not universal

    3. Jennifer Strange*

      As everyone piles on LW…

      Who is piling on? If anything I’ve seen a lot of kind and helpful comments. Acknowledging that the behavior is an issue (which the OP also does!) isn’t piling on.

    4. Suz*

      Excellent point. Especially since the LW says they’re doing lab work. When I was in the lab, a lot of tests had strict timing. An interruption meant I’d have to do the entire thing over again.

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        But boss “interrupted” OP and presumably the boss would know not to interrupt an actual experiment.

        1. Nesprin*

          I highly doubt that- if it was OP’s experiment, there’s a decent chance the boss didn’t design the experiment, or didn’t set up the time steps.

          1. Splendid Colors*

            I agree with @Nesprin. How would the boss (who may not be the same person as the PI) know *where* OP is in the experiment protocol when they walk in?

            When I was doing research, I had very strict time constraints and stopping at certain times would’ve set me several days behind schedule. If one of the undergrad researchers wanted to know where some supply was, they just had to wait until I wasn’t in the middle of those times.

    5. MF*

      I don’t see any piling on here, but otherwise, I agree.

      It takes two to tango: while it’s important that the LW deals with interruptions in a polite way, it’s equally important that her colleagues are considerate about when and how often they interrupt her.

  24. Nesprin*

    For lab interruptions: Can I suggest visible headphones?
    If you’re trying to do complex, technical work, distractions are challenging to come back from, and in a shared lab environment, interruptions are guaranteed. Having the visual indicator of “trying to focus” can help get a buffer from interruptions.

    For scientific work, disagreements are guaranteed, but arguments are not. A good scientific group encourages debate, disagreement and discussions, but working with jerks it’s really easy to lose this.

    There’s also an element of ego- you should be proud of your work and able to defend it- there’s a reason they call it a PhD defense. It may be worth considering what sorts of criticism get your hackles up: having an experiment go sideways raises stress, and having someone criticize you for an experiment failing is hard for me to deal with and I’ve been doing this for a long time. You may also find that certain styles of criticism, or certain people delivering said criticism, or certain subjects that are harder to cope with than others.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          There are labs at my office (my job doesn’t involve working in the labs) and the rule is that you can only listen to audio with one ear bud in, just in case any alarms go off.

    1. blood orange*

      I know nothing about labs, and it sounds from other comments as though the safety guidelines may differ depending on OP’s precise circumstances. However, I was going to make the same suggestion about headphones. Not even to listen to something (I personally can’t listen to music, podcasts, etc. for most tasks) but just as the visual indicator that you are trying to focus. If headphones are prohibited, I wonder if you could request an accommodation. If you can swing it, big over-ear headphones with or without some noise reduction might help a lot.

      For what it’s worth, I’m also someone who can be snippy if someone breaks my focus. I also naturally focus really hard to the point where I’m really easily startled if someone makes a noise like knocking on my door or saying “hello”. I’d also describe my personality similarly to OP – generally pretty cheery so it’s jarring when I’m suddenly stern. Alison’s suggestions are exactly the advice that worked well for me. I still get the occasional “uhm, are you ok?” comment, but for the most part I’ve been able to soften my response when I’m interrupted.

    2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

      A coworker used industrial strength, bright yellow ear muffs (aka heaing protection) for focus time. Nobody could mistake those for “just listening to music”; they were both insulating him from any office background noise as well as sending a strong “I’m in the zone, coding” signal.

    3. Maza*

      I was thinking of something more like a small whiteboard in a visible location, where LW could write “Recording X data 9:30-10:00, please do not disturb. Leave a note and I’ll get back to you after 10.” (With the approval of their boss, of course.) People who do not know about X don’t know how long data collection takes, so a time is useful if possible. I assume most people at their workplace do not regularly interrupt meetings, classes, or telephone calls, so getting permission to treat experiments in the same way might alleviate stress from interruptions.

  25. I get it*

    Maybe think of giving your coworkers a visual cue so they can know when you’re in “deep thought” mode and need to come back when you don’t need as much concentration. It can almost feel painful to get pulled out of that mode. It’s not painful, but the biological response for me is the same or closely similar as if it is pain. I’m thinking you could put something on your desk or even a hat you can wear, a script or practiced scenario. Maybe even set up a few test trials with a friend, where you put yourself in a situation where they interrupt you and you have to practice not only not snapping, but reducing that feeling through repeated exposure, so it doesn’t catch you off guard as often.

  26. Office Lobster DJ*

    OP, is any chance you could make something lighthearted out of it? Not as an excuse not to change the behavior, but it may help people take it less personally. In my office, it revolves around me being crabby before my coffee kicks in. Something of a running joke with my co-workers. They laugh, I laugh, they know not to bug me, I get to have my coffee in peace.

    1. Gerry Keay*

      Not to be harsh but I don’t know if this is actually good/applicable advice! It sounds like you’ve got lovely and generous coworkers who are willing to work around your emotional states — which probably has more to do with their dispositions than your ability to turn your bad moods into a punchline.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        That’s certainly one way to extrapolate my comment, I guess. In fact, I do have lovely and generous co-workers…who receive just as much grace in return.

    2. Loulou*

      I’m crabby before my coffee kicks in too, which is why I would not come to work without drinking and digesting a cup of coffee! are people who can’t function without coffee really going to work and interacting with other people without having had coffee?

    3. Office Lobster DJ*

      OP, just to emphasize my advice so it doesn’t get lost in debating a joke about coffee (apparently more controversial than I thought): If you can acknowledge and poke fun at your own foibles, take some good-natured ribbing in return, and apologize when necessary, people are more likely to extend some extra patience and understanding your way. It’s not an excuse not to change problematic behaviors, but it can help keep up goodwill as you work on them.

        1. Office Lobster DJ*

          Definitely. If someone is being short with you, it can take up a lot of headspace wondering whether you’ve done something to offend them or if they just don’t like you.

      1. LittleMarshmallow*

        To jump onto the joking aspect… sometimes if I get interrupted in the lab, before I interact with whoever interrupted me, I’ll tell the piece of equipment I’m working with that I’ll be right back with them and it will be ok while I’m gone usually accompanied by gently patting the equipment. It theoretically puts you in a gentler mindset before you address your interrupter.

    4. Liz*

      I’ve had a couple of “crabby before coffee” coworkers and it was not at all amusing to be snapped at. Not having coffee is no excuse to be rude to others.

  27. HugeTractsofLand*

    I empathize with OP- I also get laser focused on my work to the point where being “roused” out of it can make me noticeably irritable. If I catch myself doing it in the moment, I try to apologize and/or briefly explain what’s going on: “Sorry, something just went wrong. I need a minute.” or “Can I find you in a minute? I need to sort this out.” If I realize in retrospect that I was short with someone, I find them and name it briefly along the lines of “Ugh, issue X has been such a pain. Sorry if I seemed annoyed earlier, it was with X, not you.” I also try to take walks to burn off the bad energy if something’s annoyed me. It sounds like OP is already trying those methods, though. I recommend compensating for your snappishness by being as friendly as possible (within reason!) when you’re NOT annoyed. That will help people realize that you’re having a sour moment, not actually a sour person.

  28. Sloanicota*

    Let me just say as someone who has struggled with this / still struggles except I work from home now … that this is one of those issues that, like swearing, is the hardest kind to control IMO because – you don’t mean to get irritated the way you do in that exact second! You can be projecting love and peace all day long but then lose it when you get triggered in the moment. And once you have a reputation as a person who snaps, it’s really hard to lose the rep, because nobody notices all the times you *don’t* snap at them (nobody thinks their own interruptions are annoying even if they acknowledge that other people’s are). You can go six months without snapping but when you’re even slightly frosty again, there it is, reinforcing the reputation. But, it’s absolutely worth working on OP. Are there other situations in your life where have trouble controlling your temper or with your inhibitions? That therapist thing might be a good suggestion.

  29. AcademiaCat*

    Oof, this one is always hard. I would sometimes get told I was snapping at people while at an old job. What was actually happening was that people would approach me urgently while I was balanced on a ladder or carrying something heavy, and it’s *really hard* to lilt my low-for-a-woman voice the way they wanted it when my core is engaged like that.

    My solution was to find a new job where they didn’t need such gender-coded behavior from me in the first place. (aka, I left retail)

      1. LittleMarshmallow*

        I had someone get all defensive with me today because I brought up concerns with a potential project (the whole time being very careful to indicate that I wasn’t saying no, just that there were some additional impacts to consider). I asked my boss after since he was there if I had spoken out of turn or too snippy and he said I hadn’t but when you’re a female in a male dominated field there seems to be no amount of tone adjustment and soft phrasing that will keep a dude from getting defensive if you bring up something he hasn’t considered yet. This is an almost daily struggle for me. I’ve shared my “dumb girl gentle” voice with my dad before and he’s appalled that I have to use that voice at all at work and really I have to use it daily depending on which male colleague I’m talking to.

  30. Funny enough*

    As a manager I was actually going to ask this same question but in reverse. How can I make sure employees take proper breaks so they don’t get snippy with fellow employees when they offer to help. I have worked with people like this. And I’m sorry. You are not pleasant to work with. Learn to take breaks. Step away from the problem. You are not doing yourself or your work space any favors by ‘trying to get something done before you finally take that break.

    1. Wisteria*

      That’s not the same question in reverse. That’s a different question entirely.

      To look at the question in reverse, you could ask the question, “how do I build awareness in my employees that interrupting at an inopportune moment is really disruptive and minimize unnecessary interruptions in the workplace?”

      Hannah Lee up above had some great thoughts on what a boss can think about in terms of work flows and interruptions.

    2. JBI*

      It often isn’t a matter of being tired. One might simply be involved in a task that takes uninterrupted thought, is hard to reset one’s mind back to it if one’s thought process is interrupted (it can take minutes), and one can find the interruption is not an offer to help (sometimes the best help is being left alone), or it is something that they could have done themselves, they had already been told or could have waited.

    3. Mill Miker*

      Sometimes the reason someone like this isn’t taking breaks is that they’ve been repeating a single long step over and over and having to restart post-interruption.

    4. Mill Miker*

      I know I’ve come off as snappy before when I’m trying to transcribe some long bit of data, and I’m repeating it my head as fast as I can so I don’t forget it before I write it down.

      And then someone tries to interrupt and I say “just a second”, but my tone is flatter than usual, and it comes out as a quick “jz’sec” because my internal monologue is going that fast, and now I’m “being snappy and rude” when I just wasn’t actively being as charming as I normally am.

      No amount of rests or breaks solves that.

    5. Lenora Rose*

      This assumes several things, not one of which is a given. It assumes:
      – the worker who is snippy hasn’t taken appropriate breaks (if the time between breaks is 2 hours, you can be an hour into deep focus and an hour away from an appropriate break time when interrupted)
      – no work requires sustained focus of a sort harmed by interruptions (Not all work is lightweight)
      – the interrupter is not in fact doing anything wrong (there are plenty of examples, within this comment section alone, of interruptions which really aren’t suitable)
      – the interrupter is trying to be of assistance (rather than trying to forward a totally different agenda)

      Yes, if a person is snippy when all the above are true (The work is trivial, they refuse to take breaks, the interrupter was totally appropriate in how and why they approached), then there’s advice to be sought.

    6. Loulou*

      this is pretty harsh on OP and also may not be helpful or realistic, depending on the nature of the work. it’s great and important to take breaks throughout the day, but taking a break immediately after an experiment has gone south when you’re trying to record data is probably not possible.

  31. Consul, the Almost Human*

    I empathize with the employee. Doing technical work in a lab is hard. Dong it well and conscientiously – taking notes, solving inevitable problems, and taking notes while solving inevitable problems is something very few people can handle and that even fewer understand. This is when organizations have to be flexible and not bow down to the happy-peppy flair police a la Chotchkies.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      I really disagree with this. There are *many* jobs which require locked-in thinking at least part of the time, and/or handling inputs and outputs simultaneously. Lots of people handle these things just fine; lab work can be specialized, but the thinking skills required are not unique to that field.

      And being moderately pleasant to coworkers is not expecting 37 pieces of flair.

      1. Consul, the Almost Human*

        Lab work can go south very quickly and when that happens equipment and people can be at risk. The OP said “I’m trying to do something and someone tries to get me to do something else” which indicates the interrupter isn’t aware of (or cares) about what it takes to be successful in such hands-on work. Disturbing an electrician, carpenter, teacher, or musician for that matter in the middle of a task can seriously disrupt focus that is hard to get back and can justifiably cause the affected person to be annoyed or angry.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I completely agree that interruptions can be a problem at many jobs.

          I’m pushing back against your original statement that, “taking notes, solving inevitable problems, and taking notes while solving inevitable problems is something very few people can handle and that even fewer understand.”

          Many people can understand and handle such work very well. Not all of them work in labs.

  32. PsychNurse*

    I LOVE this:
    remember that part of what you’re being paid for at work is being reasonably pleasant to work with.

    So many people think to themselves, “I just want to do my job, which is XYZ, and not have to deal with all these interruptions/my coworkers/ our clients.” But it really is part of the job!

  33. Frustrated Front Desk*

    Unfortunately, the answer to, “How do I not snap at people?” is just, “By not snapping at people.” When you’re in court, do you snap at the judge? Do you snap at a cop who pulls you over for a broken tail light? No, you resist the urge. If you can control yourself in those situations, you can control yourself at work. I’m not saying the feeling of irritation isn’t valid, but you control how you act on the feeling, or if you act on the feeling at all.

    1. Yikes on Bikes*

      This an overly simplistic, and frankly ableist, understanding of emotional regulation and behavior.

    2. Lenora Rose*

      Are you saying nobody ever snaps at a judge or officer ever? Because I’m pretty sure those both happen, and not exclusively with “bad people”.

      Also, do judges and police officers cut in with work questions while you’re adding up columns of numbers?

    3. Generic Name*

      Ah, it’s the Dr. Phil method of self-help: “Is it werkin’ fur ya? No? Then quit doin’ it!”.

  34. Lyon*

    Not diagnosing, but just fwiw, for me, getting irritable when “I’m doing something and someone tries to get me to do something else” is an ADHD symptom.

    1. Hen in a Windstorm*

      Yeah, my husband has ADD and this is something he hates. He’s worried he’ll forget what he was trying to write down and is trying to retain it while also paying attention to the interrupter. *However*, I do not have ADD, and sometimes am a bit snappish under extreme stress (like 3 things going in the kitchen at once and I burn myself and my husband tries to talk to me at the same time).

      So, either way, a helpful technique my husband has used is remembering the scenario, then replaying it in his head with the response he wishes he had given. Sort of like role-playing, but inside his head. It has worked really well for him, like his brain already has the script ready to go next time without having to think about it.

      1. Kiki is the Most*

        I’m adding to your ‘role-playing’ note which doesn’t necessarily have to be with another person. I, too, have had a ‘TONE’, and it’s noticeable due to how I normally interact with colleagues. After getting some phrases to rehearse (as have been provided by AAM), I started going through them in my head while getting ready for work every morning.
        It helped! Highly recommend practice so it will make it all the more easier to NOT have the tone in the future. Good luck!

    2. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      I resemble this. Also anxiety (worrying about getting the info down) can be expressed as anger. Not a nice reaction but not an uncommon one either. Heard that once in a TED Talk and had an ah moment.

    3. anon24*

      I’m not diagnosed ADHD, but very strongly suspect I have it. I used to get snappish like this, but I’ve learned as soon as someone starts to interrupt me to put a hand up and go “can you hold on for just long enough for me to write this down, or else I’ll forget it forever.” Sometimes people are taken aback, but as long as I am able to quickly (less than a minute) finish my task or write a note that will jog my brain back into that spot when I return, being super warm and friendly with them smoothes it over.

      1. Jane*

        I really like that. It makes it seem as if you’re taking the interrupting person seriously and you genuinely want to hear what they have to say. It’s a very considerate way to handle interruptions, while still ensuring that you get the moment you need to step back and reframe.

    4. Deeder*

      I’m diagnosed ADHD and this is a huge problem for me. At my current place of work, my job involves concentration, but I get interrupted a lot and it’s killing me. I’m becoming more and more snappy, but I’ve been making mistakes, BIG mistakes, in my own work and I’m so burnt out right now I don’t know what to do.
      And the stuff I’m being interrupted in is not part of my job, like at all. I’m planning on quitting first chance I get, but I don’t know when that will be. I’m tired of being nice to be honest.

      1. yala*

        I don’t know if this would work for your job, but something that really helped me make fewer careless mistakes in my own work (and I hear you about the burnout. Hoo boy) was creating checklists and my work in small sets.

        So, like. Say I have 100 teapots that need to be painted. I’ll paint ten of them, and then I’ll take out the checklist, and instead of going over each teapot one-by-one, I go through each checklist item one-by-one.

        So if each teapot needed to have three blue flowers with five petals and three red flowers with six petals, I’d go through all ten to double check that they all had three blue flowers, checking off each item. Then I’d go through all ten again, and check for the red flowers. Whups, this red flower only has five petals. Dunno where my brain was when I painted it, but now I can fix that.

        Sometimes I can sort of group items together (check all the flowers in one go, check all the handles the next go), but it really depends on how complicated the items are.

        Doing it like that (and medication) has REALLY helped me to slow down and catch my own mistakes before submitting my work. If I try and look at the whole item at once, there’s a good chance I’ll miss a typo or something similar. But if I go through a set only looking at one specific element, then it’s easier to zero in on errors in that element.

        And while I say it helps me slow down, it’s not that my work is slower overall. I think I’m probably working at a better clip than I used to (and breaking large projects into smaller chunks also helps me to not feel overwhelmed). It just helps to slow down my brain, that always just wants to slap the paint on in the general shape of a flower and move on.

        1. yala*

          And slightly more relevant to the topic, when I get pulled away, either by an interruption or because my brain goes down a rabbit hole, I’ve got a nice physical, visual reminder of What I Was Doing and Where I Was to help me get back in more easily.

          Anyway, super long-winded, but I hope that maybe it might help you?

      2. hot buttered anon*

        I’m right here with you. A few times a year my workload increases to the point where I could work 24/7 for a few weeks straight, then dips back down to laid back, but everyone wants to be hand held and not read any documentation. During busy times even stopping to redirect or give a short answer means the people I am currently helping get short shrift.
        Not to mention my attention is disrupted and I make mistakes in extremely detailed procedures.
        I’m in pain from non-stop computer work, and this is while switching hands and using a normally great ergo set up. I’ve been under non-stop non-work related stress on top of the pandemic for a couple of years due to serial emergencies, and when a coworker interrupts me for the zillionth time for some minor thing they could do themselves – I’m done.
        I’d love to quit, but being a woman in my 50s with a steady paycheck and benefits means I’m stuck.

    5. Allison*

      That makes a lot of sense. I have ADHD as well, and I can definitely get snippy if I’m, like you said, focused on one thing and someone tries to redirect me, OR I feel like I’m being pulled in multiple directions at once, or I’m physically in a room where 2-3 people are trying to talk to me about different things, and their needs are valid, but I can only manage one request at a time.

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        The multiple people talking to me at once thing is big for me. Like you said, their needs are valid, but I am physically incapable of listening to all of you at once. Give me a minute, then one at a time. PLEASE.

      2. ferrina*

        My ADHD has Multitask Mode and Hyperfocus Mode, and it is hard to shift gears between these. When I’m in Multitask Mode, I can field multiple conversations at once, track a lot of simultaneous activity, and my peripheral vision abilities are superhuman (like subconsciously monitoring reflective surfaces so I can see what’s behind me)–but I can’t do intense detailed work for more than 5 minutes. When I’m in Hyperfocus Mode, I have tunnel vision (completely unaware of what’s around me) and am deep diving into particular details. I’m prone to muttering to myself and if you try to talk to me, it’s like waking up….I’m a little confused where I am and why you’re there. I usually need at least 20 minutes to shift between modes, sometimes as much as a day.

        1. MaxFloof*

          I feel like you just described my brain and 15 years of work experience. This is amazing and so very helpful for framing future interactions. I work remote now and its been a godsend for interacting with people in controlled times, but the staying focused has been much harder to do at times.

        2. tired*

          and colleagues tend to take it personally when they find you in a different mode on a different day… it’s nothing to do with you, I only come with three settings (multitask, hyperfocus, zonked) and none of them is Perfect Adult Professional, and I don’t have access to the switch which determines which setting is on.

          The pandamnit has been bad for me because I got to Not Mask as much for over two years WFH which let me cope with a ridiculous work load. Now we’re Returning, I am really, really unhappy and stressed trying to remember how to fake being normal…. and the work load is crippling because so much of my energy is being taken up dealing with commuting, noise, different places, people without masks everywhere, faking it. Grrr.

      3. Queen Ruby*

        I have ADHD, too. Adderall has changed my life, but one thing I still cannot handle is several people talking at once, like you described. That’s pretty much the only time I will remove myself from the conversation (physically or mentally) or just flat-out tell them “one at a time!”. There’s only so much my brain can hear and actually process! It all blends together and sounds like a bunch of incoherent mumblings, and sends me into a rage – which I can 99% control, thankfully. But even when I can follow along, it’s like, did you people not learn in kindergarten not to interrupt or talk over others?

        1. Properlike*

          Teaching is where I discovered that ADHD is probably the reason I couldn’t do an “open classroom” where everyone’s calling for my attention at once.

    6. My+Useless+2+Cents*

      I don’t think it as anything to do with ADD or ADHD. It’s just a natural response to frustration.

      1. suomynona*

        I agree. I don’t have ADHD but I have a similar response. I think it is just a natural stress response for lots of people when you are trying to concentrate and someone interrupts you.

        1. Loulou*

          yes, I can definitely see why someone with ADHD would have this response, but people without ADHD also get irritable when they’re interrupted in a high-pressure situation like a lab experiment going wrong. this doesn’t seem like such a distinctive reaction that it’s obviously a symptom of anything

          1. one L lana*

            The thing about ADHD is that its symptoms are things that everyone struggles with from time to time — people with ADHD just struggle with them more often, across more domains, and more severely. It’s really not possible to diagnose someone based on a handful of incidents at work.

            For many of us with ADHD, a diagnosis was life-changing, so I understand the evangelism. But it also likely doesn’t change much about how OP should react in this particular situation; they need to find a strategy to control their reaction. Since this is something people with ADHD struggle with, tips for people with ADHD might help, but it’s not like those tips only work if you have the diagnosis. (Lots of advice for neurotypical people doesn’t work for people with ADHD, but there’s no reason it should be the other way around.)

      2. just another queer reader*

        I think “not liking being interrupted” is true of everyone, but may be particularly salient for many people with ADHD.

        1. Chilipepper Attitude*

          I don’t think everyone defines “interrupted” the same way though! I seem to think the way Alison said, I’m being paid to be at work and for people to talk to me. I never have the feeling I’m even being interrupted. But when I am at home and am enjoying something I’m doing or am very focused, I don’t like my husband asking me things or trying to talk to me.

          1. Jam Today*

            I am paid to perform job tasks, and I am paid for people to talk to me. But, I cannot perform certain job tasks if people are talking to me at the same time. I have to pick one. If I pick talking to people, then depending on the thing I was doing, and how cognitively-dense it is, I may have to start from the beginning.

      3. Smithy*

        Given that the question is around “how to keep one’s temper” – identifying whether something is tied to ADD/ADHD or anxiety as opposed to something else is really helpful in how to go forward.

        There are things like being messy, procrastinating, being snapped at while concentrating that if you happen to have ADHD – you can treat more collectively. But it doesn’t mean that everyone procrastinating, messy, snippy person has ADHD.

        1. Willow Pillow*

          This. It may be a natural response, but how to address it needs to take neurodivergency into effect if that’s part of the circumstances. I’m Autistic with an ADHD partner… both of us have trouble with interruptions and task switching/focus is definitely an issue with both conditions. For me, I try to be mindful of that fact that my train of thought is a few stops ahead of theirs, and to ask if I can discuss a certain topic.

      4. Lenora Rose*

        Like a lot of symptoms, though, it’s a matter of degrees; taking a normal “oh, nobody could be bothered by that!” thing like someone who was passing by saying “Good morning!” and finding it totally snaps your tiny and hard-won concentration (or if in hyperfocus, being perceived as rude because you never reply when literally you are unaware it even happened or that there’s a world around you.) Versus being annoyed because you’re deep into spreadsheet design and someone shoves a TPS report at you while loudly exclaiming “I need your signature now!”, which would irritate anyone.

      5. Mill Miker*

        Sure it’s a natural response to frustration, but as with most ADHD things, you have to ask yourself “How many times an hour do I deal with this during the average workday”

        And if you’re thinking “Oh, if it’s consistently happening twice in the same week something is wrong with you.” Then yes, your right. That something is the ADHD (for a certain definition of “wrong”).

        1. hot buttered anon*

          At first I thought you meant how many times do ridiculous interruptions happen during a workday, because the more there are, the more upset I’m going to be and that has nothing to do with ADHD, more to do with unrealistic expectations of someone doing high-focus work.

      6. Rara Avis*

        I do not have ADD, but a large part of my job involves interactions that feel like being pecked by 20 baby chicks (or clawed by 20 kittens), and the “one at a time” rule is so important. And so hard!

      7. ADHSquirrelWhat*

        As another person with ADHD – shocking, given my username, I know! There’s a difference.

        YES, being interrupted is frustrating regardless. But for the neurodivergent, particularly along attention lines, tone becomes /one more thing to monitor/. If I’m paying attention to what I’m doing and trying to finish X before I lose it, I CANNOT monitor tone as well. I just don’t have the bandwidth available. As I understand it, for neurotypical people that is not an issue.

        So it’s not even necessarily BEING frustrated – it’s about too many things. If the problem is actually frustration or anger, that’s definitely worth doing something about. But if the problem is /snapping/ when focused – it might be worth asking oneself if the problem is actually frustration. If the issue is /must finish without forgetting/, policing one’s own tone can be REALLY hard.

      8. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        Maybe people with ADHD understand their ADHD better than you do. It’s hard for people with ADHD to have a conversation like this without a NT person coming in and invalidating us.

      9. Octopus*

        Yes, this. This is a response to people interrupting at a bad time and then being mad their disrespect was noted.

      10. New Jack Karyn*

        Happening once or twice? Sure. Doing it several times, including to your boss, when you *know* it’s a problem that you want to fix? It certainly could be ADHD.

        And it’s awfully dismissive of you to say it isn’t. Several people above have already commented on why.

    7. SpringIsForPlanting!*

      It me :(

      If this happens when I’m not taking meds that day, my brain goes into fight/flight/freeze. It’s like someone’s whacking me on the side of the head and then is surprised when I stop functioning and get upset.

      If it’s a meds day, I’m… fine? I’m new to having my ADD diagnosed/treated and the difference is frankly a little unnerving.

      1. Queen Ruby*

        I found it unnerving, too, but in a good way. Like, so THIS is what people have been telling me I’m capable of doing, but I was just too lazy to reach my potential, a chronic underachiever!
        But on days I don’t take it, I will literally go upstairs to get something (this happens often on laundry day lol) and by the time I get there, I will have been distracted by 5 things and do everything but what I set out to do in the first place.

    8. Katrina S.*

      Same here. My go-to phrase is when someone interrupts me during a hyperfocus moment is, “I’m in the zone.”

      Most people can understand that mental state, even if it’s a little weird that I can get “into the zone” pretty frequently for relatively minor tasks.

    9. yala*

      I was about to say. A thing with ADHD is that emotions come one QUICK and INTENSE, especially, say, frustration.

      I had a problem with that for a long while. Getting on Wellbutrin definitely helped even me out significantly. I’m not going to say that I’m totally all better and chill now, but I’ve definitely gotten a bit more of a handle–it’s not even really a conscious thing, its just that intense rush of UGH tends to not catch me by surprise the way it used to.

    10. Liz*

      Yup. When I’m focused on something and I get yanked out, it’s both disorienting, and it kills my concentration—I often “lose” whatever I’m working on.
      And it’s almost impossible to get back to it.

      1. Properlike*

        This is the key part, which I explained to my non-ADHD husband: It’s so hard for ADHD me to get into the zone, and my relationship with time is slippery at best where I’m hanging on by my fingernails, so that when I get interrupted it’s Herculean to get back on task… if I even can. Sometimes I can’t. Often, I can’t. And this is for most of the tasks throughout my day.

        That helped for him, because as a non-ADHDer, he doesn’t like being interrupted when he’s concentrating, and it’s annoying to get back into focus, but he can reliably get back into focus every time.

        Isn’t there a study that said task-switching required 8 minutes on average for a person to get back into the mode? Twice that for ADHD. Or triple, or quadruple, or never…

    11. RagingADHD*

      Oh, can we please for the love of all noodles, stop doing this?

      On the one hand, ADHD — or any other neurodivergence or MH issue — is not ever, ever, ever an excuse to behave badly, at work or anywhere else. Yes, people with ADHD *can* control our irritability or impulsive reactions. We can. We do. It may take extra effort and awareness, but it is entirely possible, and entirely reasonable to expect them (us) to behave appropriately and considerately at work. And that effort or awareness does not require a mental health professional or a diagnosis. Being told “this needs to change” is plenty, along with the very normal and useful tips Alison outlines: empathy, reframing, changed expectations, structural buffers, scripts, etc.

      On the other hand, this kind of casual / thoughtless pathologizing of typical behavior creates huge stigma for us. Having a short fuse is absolutely not a hallmark or a clear sign of ADHD, any more than any other one typical human behavior would be. Because ADHD is a *cluster* or pattern of many different behaviors that appear in many different situations, across the lifespan.

      Being crabby and snappish is a symptom of being snappish. That’s it. Could be a bad night’s sleep. Could be hangry. Could be hormones, or anxiety, or stress of a deadline, or emotional background noise from a personal/relational conflict. Could be ASD. Could be depression. Could be hypoglycemia. Could be an absolutely typical, average, unremarkable person who is (quite normally and understandably) annoyed by being interrupted.

      Every human being on the planet is crabby or snappish sometimes, somewhere.

      1. one L lana*

        THIS!!!! As someone who has ADHD, I am deeply suspicious of the ADHDification of everything (and the insistence that all ADHD symptoms need to be accommodated unquestioningly and indefinitely). Diagnosis and self-knowledge can be very important; they were life-changing for me. But they should ultimately be a means to an end, not a personality or an excuse.

        To analogize, I am a terrible interrupter. If I’m not interrupting you, it means I’m likely bored out of my mind in the conversation. I am also aware that this is rude, it probably drives people crazy, and especially at work, I have really got to get a handle on it. Knowing that this is a symptom of ADHD helps me recognize that there is a reason why this is a struggle and it’s always going to be a struggle. But it doesn’t make not struggling with it OK. I still have to stop talking over my direct reports!

        1. Queen Ruby*

          Totally agree! Like I can control myself perfectly fine, despite having ADHD, even if I don’t take my meds. I don’t think of a bad day as anything other than a bad day. We all have them, no big deal.
          I tend to get frustrated SUPER easily, likely because of ADHD and feeling like I can’t focus enough to get things done and right, and will spiral down when it gets too serious. But being very well aware of this, I can anticipate it and get a handle on it so I don’t act in some regrettable way.

        2. yala*

          But no one implied that having ADHD would excuse OP from needing to curb this behavior? I think that’s why folks are pointing it out–not to give OP an excuse, but a potential solution.

          1. Properlike*

            Exactly. When you have the benefit of the diagnosis, you have the benefit of knowing how to work around the disconnect in the system. For example, knowing that your fuse is shorter than most people’s, so you have to put in EXTRA work at times to make sure it doesn’t happen.

            It’s more demoralizing when you *don’t* know you have ADHD and all the strategies don’t work for you and you feel like a crap human because “why can everyone else do this but me?”

          2. Liz*

            Knowing that certain things are hard, and knowing that you need a plan for handling things is important.
            And knowing how your brain works can help with both treatment AND figuring out how to deal.
            It’s not an excuse for bad behavior.
            I think many people with ADHD feel a lot of shame and upset when they feel or react differently than a neurotypical (or need different strategies) and desperately try to hide or mask it. They aren’t looking for excuses.
            I spent most of my life beating myself up.
            But once I understood why my brain works the way it does, I was able to get some medication (which isn’t a silver bullet for sure) AND learn effective ways to manage things.
            It’s even more important on the job because, at least I’m my case, I don’t feel that I can disclose, so I have to do what I can, on my own, to manage.

      2. FromasmalltowninCanada*

        I get where you’re coming from and you are not wrong in many ways; however, I have found some of these comments really helpful. My child has ADHD (diagnosed) and I suspect, but do not know I have it – and while I have done some reading on it these comments are for me, connecting the dots in a way I have not until now. I think for me because emotional regulation was such a struggle when I was a kid and then I got it under control and felt like I had it under control for years – but that control is really slipping right now, I actually appreciate this perspective. I’m not OP, but its making me realize I really need to look into this before I fall apart at work – right now I’m just falling apart at home (and yes, that is a significant problem all on its own).

        1. Properlike*

          So many parents get a diagnosis only after their kids got theirs! And emotional dysregulation is THE main symptom of ADHD for most, but not recognized in the US (a huge barrier to diagnosis.) I believe Russell Barkley is the expert who points this out. It was certainly my main issue from childhood on, and, with meds, one of the few ADD symptoms that responded almost 100%.

      3. yala*

        “Yes, people with ADHD *can* control our irritability or impulsive reactions. We can. We do. It may take extra effort and awareness, but it is entirely possible”

        Imma be honest. Prior to getting on medication, being told that I needed to control my temper/tone when I was irritated felt like being told to fly. I knew in theory it was possible. I read and tried to implement all of the Awareness stuff, taking a step back, etc. But in the actual moment, it just…didn’t exist for me. It came on quicker than I could process.

        Trying harder wasn’t the answer. Medication was. I haven’t really had the “Hallelujah I can focus!” moment, but my medication *drastically* improved my ability to control my kneejerk reactions to things.

        I don’t think anyone is saying that having ADHD excuses behaving badly. But OP’s story sounds familiar to a lot of us, and *if* the cause is ADHD, then diagnosis and medication could be a crucial element in solving this problem.

        There’s just as much a chance that it isn’t that, or that OP can learn to manage this without outside intervention. But it’s important that OP be aware that it might also be this.

        I think it’s kinda …not great?… to refer to folks sharing their own experiences as ” thoughtless pathologizing of typical behavior.”

        1. RagingADHD*

          It’s not this one comment. It’s a long-term trend. Which is, itself “kinda…not great…”

          Any hiring manager who read this blog regularly would walk away with the impression that ADHD always = problem employee, because practically every problem someone has with delivering value or behaving appropriately gets chalked up to it, and in such a way that gives the impression that all ADHD’ers are barely functional and toxic to the team, all the time.

          And that does nobody any favors.

          1. yala*

            I mean, I don’t think not mentioning “Oh, yeah, that sounds like a problem I had before I got treatment for my ADHD” when someone brings up a problem that sounds familiar isn’t doing anyone any favors.

            ADHD *does* maker it harder to keep jobs for a lot of people. That’s a fact. A lot of folks who made it to adulthood without a diagnoses do have problems that affect their work. So, yeah, it makes sense that in a blog all about problems at work…some of them may well be ADHD-related.

            If a hiring manager’s take-away is “ADHD folks are all Trouble” well…that’s a problem. Especially when folks in the comments are also discussing solutions that worked for them. But I don’t think the answer is to just act like it’s not possible.

            OP’s letter was *shockingly* like issues I was having prior to diagnosis and treatment. To me, it seems relevant to bring that up, because if I hadn’t gotten diagnosed, and gotten on appropriate medication, things could’ve ended very badly for me. The comment section should be about helping OP first.

      4. Willow Pillow*

        Hard disagree. Being crabby or snappish is a symptom that I need to adjust my medication. Everyone has the capacity to be irritable, sure, but it’s also an important sign of mental health conditions that often accompany under-supported neurodivergence. All these people are saying that it’s connected to *their* neurodivergence. Dismissing it as just behaving badly, without trying to understand what that behaviour communicates, is more stigmatizing in my opinion.

        (Autistic, frequently clinically depressed, with an ADHD partner)

      5. ADHSquirrelWhat*

        See, when I see someone going “I need help I keep doing X” and I think “dang, that looks familiar” I think it’s worth pointing out that, hey, it might be part of a greater /thing/. Not as “hey, you’re ADHD, so run wild!” but as a different way to find coping mechanisms.

        I try neurotypical coping mechanisms for things, I get worse. Or I hyperfocus on tone and lose all ability to actually do the job at hand. I absolutely have to work from the framework of attention difference if I want to actually succeed at things.

        Sure, it could be something else entirely. But otherwise out of character snapping when in the middle of a hyperfocus-style task? Looks pretty darn familiar.

      6. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        I don’t think that’s what people have been saying. I think people who have ADHD have been saying they have difficulty switching gears as a result.

      7. Stuff*

        As someone else with ADHD, these kind of comments can actually be very hurtful and unhelpful. Your experience with ADHD is not universal. Not only is ADHD a spectrum, it isn’t a linear spectrum. Just because you have found it controllable does not mean other people with the same condition don’t legitimately struggle to control the same things. Your response is highly invalidating to these people, and is essentially saying that their struggles and symptoms don’t exist. And when you say that from your own lived experience of ADHD, you are sending everyone else around who doesn’t have ADHD the message that these symptoms are not legitimate and do not need help or accommodation. That directly harms others in our community.

      8. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

        YES, thank you, Raging ADHD.

        Reflexively attributing undesirable behaviors (that everyone shares!) to one minority group contributes to stereotypes and stigma about that group, and undermines the human individuality and self-determination of people in the group.

        AND blurring the line between common human problems and problems specific to an identity, group, or dx, makes it harder for disproportionately affected people to actually obtain specific support, accommodation or redress if they do need it.

        Even if casual attribution didn’t contribute to those harms, it’s just plain inaccurate. For any single behavior or characteristic that *could* be associated with ADHD (or whatever) there are typically NUMEROUS possible causes. Speculating based on an out-of-context anecdote from a stranger on the internet is wildly spurious.

        If you wouldn’t casually ascribe a behavior or characteristic to one protected-group status (say, race or gender) because you know that would come across prejudiced, it’s probably not useful to ascribe to a a different group status (say neurodivergence), either.

        1. yala*

          Except that this is a COMMON problem for folks with ADHD, especially undiagnosed ADHD. Pretending that it’s not doesn’t help anyone. No one is saying “Oh, dang, you’ve got ADHD, we’re all like that!”

          Folks are literally sharing their *own* experiences, not saying a generalized “ADHD people get snappish, and NT people don’t.”

          OP’s experience sounds familiar to some of us. It *could* be related ADHD. It could be any number of things that aren’t ADHD. Only OP can find out, but either way, figuring out *why* this is happening can be a key factor in solving the problem.

          “AND blurring the line between common human problems and problems specific to an identity”

          That…just kind of comes with the whole ADHD thing. Most ADHD problems read as “common human problems”–what usually stands out is the frequency and severity of the problems. “Oh, everyone gets distracted/loses their keys/forgets things/gets irritable sometimes.” Yes, but is it happening at a frequency/severity that is actively disrupting your life?

      9. Mill Miker*

        I think it falls a bit into talking about accommodations though. For example:

        I can absolutely 100% make sure that every time someone interrupts me I respond in a cheerful, helpful, and/or deferential matter as required. No problem. Easy. Done.

        I can for sure, no problem, solve that big huge problem that’s stumped everyone. Cross-reference a dozen things, and pull off a solution that seems damn-near miraculous. Why not. I know our tools and processes and software inside-and-out. I’ll be the pinch hitter and make sure we never actually fail to deliver when the sales team over-promises.

        I 100% for sure, no word-of-a-lie can guarantee you, with plenty of heads up, and all the leeway needed for planning, that under no circumstances I can achieve both of the above simultaneously. If you want rush-order miracles you’re getting brush-offs that aren’t snappy, but sound snappy compared to my usual answers. If you want the charmer, then I’m dropping the ball on some tasks.

        If you, as the boss, are staking the success of the project on something I’ve been very clear is outside of my capabilities, am I really the one being difficult?

      10. CharlieBrown*

        I get where you are coming from, but I don’t think Lyon was saying “yes, this is definitely what it is.” They were just pointing out what the issue is for them.

        As someone with multiple MH issues (ADHD, PTSD, et bloody cetera) I sometimes find it helpful when someone points out (i.e., asks) “is this because of your ADHD, or because of your PTSD?” Because different causes often have different solutions.

        FWIW, I am also hypoglycemic, and I have given all of my coworkers permission to ask me if I get snappy or crabby, “Wow, Charlie, do you need to have a snack?” because usually it’s low blood sugar that makes me act this way. But I also know that it’s not always low blood sugar. Sometimes it’s other MH issues.

        Google the “did you have a nap today” video for what this feels like from both sides.

    12. KGD*

      Ha, I came to the comment to say this exact thing! This doesn’t happen to me often at work, but it definitely happens at home. I actually sought out diagnosis and treatment for ADHD specifically because I was losing my cool with my kids when they were chatting/grabbing at me while I tried to make supper. I’ve also always really loved to read but had basically stopped because it made me feel so enraged to be interrupted. Since I started meds 6 months ago I haven’t had that feeling once and can actually ask my kids about their day while deciding how much spaghetti we need and not burning the sauce :)

    13. tiny moon*

      Came here to say this. Getting an ADHD diagnosis helped me contextualize my snappishness about being interrupted in a task or train of thought. I also discovered that I have auditory processing issues that often go along with ADHD, and the reason I get wildly irritable when dealing with multiple streams of sound is that my brain can’t handle them.

      ADHD isn’t an excuse for me to be unpleasant, but identifying it opened the door to tools to handle my irritation gracefully. If LW’s stress comes up only in specific circumstances, it could be useful to investigate whether there’s something specific going on that could be addressed.

    14. Heffalump*

      For me, “I’m doing something and someone tries to get me to do something else” comes down to information overload. The faster you expect me to shift gears, the more likely I am to get impatient.

    15. Wombats and Tequila*

      For people with ADHD, or who are functioning like that for whatever reason, part of the stress comes from having less working memory. As an analogy, imagine a computer that doesn’t have quite enough RAM.

      OP, if part of the stress comes from the strain of holding too much in your head at once, try writing more things down, even if it’s not super necessary. This would include writing down the steps of what you are planning to do for whatever task so that you don’t lose track of where you are in the procedure.

      You can even do this in outline form in Word. You can make the outline bulleted with various kinds of hollow squares and circles so you can check them off. You can start off very general and drill down to be as specific as necessary.

      Even though making a detailed plan will take extra time, it may reveal parts of the plan that may be problematic.

      Think of it as being like an airplane pilot who has to complete a checklist. Someone who has completed thousands of hours of flight time may not *need* a checklist in that the preflight procedure has become very routine; nonetheless, it is necessary to bring the probability of failure close to zero.

      In your case, the point would be to preplan each specific step so that you can concentrate on doing each step properly, as opposed to doing each step properly + conjuring up where you are in the process over and over again. I think this would reduce your stress at any given moment sothat you would have some mental energy reserve for social niceties.

      It would also be good to be able to go to your boss and say, “I came up with this plan for fixing the problem of interruption related crankiness.”

      If there are certain times when you really, really don’t want to be interrupted, say, because you’re handling the Radioactive Ebolasarsmonkeypox, see if your boss would accept you putting up a sign requesting no interruptions for the next X minutes or until Y time.

      I think your boss would appreciate you taking a proactive approach. Personally, I have learned not to trust my own good intentions and promises to self and others to “pay more attention” or “do better” or “stop being like my usual self.”

    16. Starbuck*

      Same. I NEED people who are interrupting me to make a bid for my attention, then WAIT until they actually have it before they start asking a question or giving me directions! I can change my flow, just give me a second to do it. I really don’t make people wait long, I’ll do something like LW mentions and say ‘ok, let me finish rinsing off this test tube / typing this email / listening to this message and then I’ll be right over’. Like 1-5 minutes.

    17. Ask a Manager* Post author

      A reminder that is is fine to say “this sounds like me, I have condition X, and what has worked for me is….” but please do not armchair diagnose (“it sounds like you have condition X”).

  35. Camellia*

    Any chance you could address this with all your coworkers at once, by telling them you are so sorry when it happens, but that if you are doing this/this/or this, please don’t interrupt but find me later? Kind of a “read the room” thing and DON’T interrupt at that exact moment? Or send me a message or email or whatever alternate method your team uses to communicate, and you will get back to them as soon as you can.

    No one likes to be snapped at, but at the same time, people need to be respectful and not always interrupt unless on a whim.

  36. Anonymous Koala*

    I think the fact that you’re a lab tech has a lot to do with this – in many labs, lab techs are expected to produce a large amount of very precise results in a very short time span. And at least in academic labs, a lot of lab techs are new to the field and really aren’t used to the rigorous pace they’re being asked to maintain. It’s a recipe for snippiness and stress.

    OP, I would advise you to take a step back and not get personally invested in your experimental results. Remember that your job is just a job. It can be really hard to not take failure or mistakes personally in high pressure environments, but at the end of the day you’re there to do a job to the best of your ability and if you make a mistake, it’s okay. I think giving yourself some grace will go a long way towards maintaining your pleasant composure in the lab.

    1. Louise B*

      Is it really more important to be placid and easy going than to get an experiment correct? I would argue that in a highly precise environment, getting snapped at for interrupting should indicate something to the interrupter, not the interrupted.

      1. LittleMarshmallow*

        I agree that in a lab environment this advice is risky. Making mistakes can be high risk to self and others. It is important to watch your pace because rushing will get you in trouble pretty easily, but in a lab, just being easy going will not ensure you keep your job if your results are unreliable.

        1. Anonymous Koala*

          The OP is definitely not going to be able to keep their job if their results are unreliable, but there’s a big space between “so laid back I don’t care if I get unreliable results” and “so afraid of messing up that I’m loosing my temper”. In my experience, it’s very easy to feel really high strung as a new lab tech, but that anxiety doesn’t actually help most people get better results, it just stresses them out. With time and preparation, things will get easier and the OP will genuinely feel more relaxed. Until then, I think a “fake it ‘til you make it” strategy is worth considering.
          Also in many lab tech positions getting interrupted regularly is normal and expected, so it may not be feasible for the OP to retrain their colleagues to not interrupt them frequently.

  37. Cheezmouser*

    Taking Alison’s advice on having a few standard lines ready to go one step further: Are there certain people you interact with more regularly who might benefit from a heads up? If so, it may help to explain the situation to them in advance: “Just so you know, if you come to me in the middle of a task, I may sometimes ask you to give me a minute, because I’m trying to do something that requires deep focus/I’m trying to hold a lot of numbers in my head/etc. I wanted to let you know ahead of time so you’re not taken aback if I ask for a minute. It’s not because I don’t want to talk to you, it’s just that it’s important for me to finish what I’m doing first before I shift focus, or else I may have to start over. I hope you understand.” And then start deploying the “Give me a minute to finish this up” standard reply after that.

  38. Maggie*

    Don’t just have some responses for when you’re interrupted, film yourself saying them. No one else has to see them, but it might help you spot hostile-looking expressions. I realized that I look upwards when thinking of an answer, which can make it look like I’m rolling my eyes.
    I’ve found it’s helpful to add “If I don’t write this down now, I’ll forget it.” when I ask to finish my current task. It’s true, and also emphasizes that it’s a me problem, not a you problem.

    1. KGD*

      This is such a good point! The upward-looking thing was a huge deal in my marriage before I figured it out! We’d be having a discussion about something and my husband would ask why I rolled my eyes at him. And I’d say I didn’t and he’d say yes I did and I always roll my eyes at him and he finds it really hurtful and by then we’d be fighting about eye-rolling and have totally forgotten the original topic. It was brutal.

      And then I realized that I look upwards when I’m searching for a word or idea and now we both know what it is and don’t have to argue about it ever again. :)

      1. CommanderBanana*

        My mom does this! I’ve always found it endearing, like she’s consulting the mental file cabinet.

  39. Rachel*

    Alison’s advice is spot on, as always. As someone who has struggled with snapping at work, I’ve also benefitted from EFT/tapping techniques. Basically, you breathe and tap different parts of your body until you feel that your distress has been lowered. You can find videos on YouTube or a licensed therapist can walk you through the basics. It definitely helps lower my anger and frustration to a lower, more workable level without adversely impacting my work relationships.

  40. Michelle Smith*

    Practice. Practice. Practice.

    When you’re not stressed out, practice. Like lines in a play, so that when the triggering situation happens you’re ready.

    Look up ways to soften your language and use those words. For me it’s sorry. “I’m so sorry, I just need one minute and I’ll be right with you.” “I’m so sorry, just one sec.” “I’m so sorry, I will be right with you. “I’m so sorry I have to write this down before I forget.” “I’m sorry, I just need a sec and I’ll swing by your office in 5 minutes.” Etc.

    Repeat them over and over in the mirror until they are second nature.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      I know you aren’t *saying* mean things, but it’s hard for me to say sorry in a snappy way. Just practice whatever phrases you pick, tone and all, literally like “corporate tech person” is your role in a production that you’ve been cast in.

      1. Esmeralda*

        LOL, “sorry in a snappy way” — made me think of that Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence schtick.


  41. elemen*

    I find it useful to make a distinction between times when I’m snappish because I’m irritable, and times when I’m snappish because I’ve momentarily run short of resources to construct a reasonable human response That might sound like the same thing, and the effect on other people is similar either way, but inwardly they feel very different, and in my experience, they need different fixes.

    When I’m irritated and at risk of taking it out on people, that’s a specific emotion that I can work with in various ways — I can remind myself to have compassion for others, that I won’t like the way I look if I give in to my temper, and so forth. But when I’ve hit a limit with working memory or multitasking ability or some other cognitive resource, that’s not something I can reason with, as much as I might like to. It’s almost more of a tactical problem than an emotional one. So my options are to either a) prevent it before it happens, b) take a minute to let my brain regain equilibrium, or — in the long term, and as other commenters have suggested — c) come up with a response I can give on automatic even when I’m at full capacity.

    This might have nothing to do with LW’s problem, but since they mention being laid back ordinarily and struggling the most when they’re deeply engaged in a task, it might be worth considering!

    1. Wisteria*

      This is a great distinction, and an important note that different coping strategies are necessary. One thing I would add is that when I am generally irritable, I am much more likely to run out of resources in the moment.

      1. elemen*

        Absolutely. Despite my binary phrasing, it really isn’t either/or — sometimes it’s a combination of both, and like you say, they often exacerbate each other as well.

    2. My+Useless+2+Cents*

      I agree. I think there is a difference between snappy because I’m not in a good mood and snappy because “my brain is occupied, come back later”. Truthfully, the latter I don’t think requires an apology.

      There is also a difference between
      A) What the **** do you want now?
      B) Yes? (obviously irritated)
      Both, to me are examples of being snappish. A – I would never do at work, no matter how irritated. B – I actually have no problem with but it appears a lot of people here would because it isn’t said with a smile. Sorry, I’m human, occasionally civil is the best you’re gonna get.

      1. elemen*

        I empathize, because sometimes I really struggle with apologizing when I know I was doing my best under difficult circumstances. The way I try to look at it is, an apology doesn’t always mean that I did something inherently bad. It can also just mean that I know I had a negative effect on another person, and I regret that.

        Sometimes I compare it to apologizing for knocking over someone’s coffee. It’s not a confession that I did it with malice aforethought, it’s just acknowledging the fact that now their coffee is spilled, and I’m the cause, however unintentionally.

      2. Chilipepper Attitude*

        But to me, an obviously irritated “yes,” is not civil at all. It lands almost the same way as “what the f do you want now?” And I’m going to avoid you just as much from one “A” response as I am after just a couple of irritated responses. The result will be you don’t have a good working relationship with coworkers. It’s up to you to decide how much that is a problem for you.

        I have a coworker who never asks, what the f do you want now, but a couple of irritated responses make it clear that is what he is thinking. No one wants to ask him anything and so we all avoid him and as a result, he does not always have the info he needs to fix things sooner in the process.

        And I have used my best ask a manager skills to address it directly, got praise from my boss for my skilled handling of it, and he apologized. He has not changed tho.

        1. My+Useless+2+Cents*

          That sounds like an on going attitude issue. Not an occasional “this isn’t a good time” human moment. That is a BIG difference. I’m actually quite pleasant. People routinely come to me for help and have no issue with coworkers. My point is that there are some days you just need to work quietly and be left alone to do your job. Being visibly irritated is a lot more polite and civil than constantly interrupting people at obviously bad times.

    3. eyes-will-roll*

      yes! this is a really great way of framing what I think some of the other commenters are getting at when they mention being neurodivergent. for us, the threshold for out of resources is different, and understanding that helps a lot with managing it

      1. LittleMarshmallow*

        Unfortunately there are also a lot of people that will take anything short of a smiley and high pitched enthusiasm as being snippy (especially towards women) so as always with humans there’s a lot to consider.

  42. Lifeandlimb*

    Next time you go get coffee or food at someplace busy, observe how people working in the hospitality/industry handle multiple interruptions during stress. Some people do it well, and you can copy them.

    I’ve had a lot of jobs like this and usually say:
    “One sec…” (you have to say one of the two words higher pitched)
    “Be right with you!” (say “right” higher pitched than the rest)
    “Sorry, I gotta finish this” (emphasis on “gotta”)

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      You are so right, I’ve done this! There was a guy at the print center in Office Depot who could lead master classes in juggling multiple requests! There was a time I was there a lot and I studied him; I thought I was good but he amazed me!

      As someone said below, looking at people to make it a personal greeting really helped since he could not use their names.

      1. Properlike*

        This is big. As long as you acknowledge me, make an indication of “I see you”, I will wait a LOT longer for your attention.

        For people concentrating, I ask, “Can I ask a question?” If there’s hesitation or a head shake or a hang-on, I say, “I’ll come back.”

        The more I think of this, I do wonder if the people getting snapped at haven’t put together that a generally cheerful person is getting snappy in very specific circumstances and maybe their behavior also needs to change?

  43. Hermione Danger*

    I haven’t seen this mentioned here yet. When you’re in the middle of things and someone steps in and disrupts your train of thought, it’s REALLY hard to immediately have a “How can I help you?” reaction.

    What has helped me is meditation and a mindfulness practice. I’m not sure how it works, but meditating daily has allowed me to insert a buffer and a breathing space into emotional moments in the rest of my life so I can catch myself before I get snappy.

  44. Cakeroll*

    Hi OP! I’ve been given this exact same feedback at work, in a slightly different environment, and here’s what worked for me. I was using phrases like “hold on, I need to save this” or “just a minute, let me finish this” and using the hand gestures that other commenters are suggesting. But it was actually these phrases and, I was told, ESPECIALLY the hand gestures which were putting my colleagues off.

    I replaced them with a personal acknowledgement, followed by a “wait, please” phrase, and I had nearly-instant success. Examples:
    “Hi Aaron! Just give me a minute please.”
    “Hey Carol, can I come check with you when I finish this?”
    It turned out that the personal acknowledgement made me seem much less abrupt, and much more approachable, even when the outcome (“wait, please”) was the same.

    I stopped holding up a finger or a hand entirely, since the feedback my supervisor was giving me said that people thought that was more curt. (One person told her they felt like they were hand signals you would give to a pet dog! I don’t think that it was a reasonable complaint, but just an example that how you address this will be very personalized and customized to the people you’re working with, and one-size-won’t-fit-all.)

    1. Sloanicota*

      Huh, I don’t think I would assume a raised hand was super condescending as though to a pet, but I suppose everyone’s different. One thing that irks me in human culture is that things are so contextual based on hierarchy, so the same response might not be rude if done to someone who doesn’t expect you to be subordinate. There are roles/situations in which it’s not really acceptable to not jump to attention, or at least that’s what your more-senior-or-higher-status-colleague is expecting of you, which is why some of the suggestions are abject apologies. It sounds like these coworkers weren’t really happy being asked to wait. But I’m glad you found something that worked!

    2. Starbuck*

      I gesture a lot while I’m talking and trained myself to point/wave at what I’m occupied with to show where my attention is, rather than holding up a finger or pause hand to the person who is interrupting me.

  45. Dust Bunny*

    My question would be, are these interruptions theoretically preventable if other circumstances were functioning better, or are they an inherent part of the job?

    If it’s the former, it’s time to figure out where the workflow hiccups are and address them.

    If it’s the latter, it’s maybe time to adjust your expectations and mindset. If you keep feeling that you shouldn’t be interrupted when in fact it’s an unavoidable aspect to the job, you’re going to keep feeling let-down and snappish, but it might come down to changing you if you can’t change the job.

  46. Bench Jockey*

    I can sympathize with the letter writer. There is a huge difference between being interrupted when doing office work vs lab bench work. Typically with office work it’s quite easy to review where you were and pick it back up but in the middle of an experiment you might not be able to as readily assess where you were or accidentally get on the wrong well on a plate and not realize it ever or when weird results happen. Which creates reproducibility problems and can waste huge amounts of money depending on the experiment.

    I can also sympathize with them if the boss is coming around to help. Many times the manager isn’t doing hands on work and can create more problems than if the technician is left to sort it out.

    One thing that might help is working on setting boundaries for concentration even when things aren’t going sideways. That way they are expecting a wait a moment or give me 5 and it doesn’t immediately come across as short and terse.

  47. Mill Miker*

    Is there no acceptable and appropriate way to indicate that, like, this task I’m doing requires enough of my focus that even the quick “just a sec” I’m managing to mutter* is risking a full loss of the last hour of work, that doesn’t come across as snappy?

    I’ve had people respond to the request to wait with an argument that they only need a sec, until we’ve been arguing long enough that they start arguing that if I had just answered I could be back at what I’m doing already. It’s then “snappy” to acknowledge that they’ve successfully derailed you, so go ahead, ask (oddly, this is when they often decide to leave you alone).

    I’ve had the bosses that have recommended I hear the person out (or worse, loop the boss in) so that we can decide if their interruption is important or not. And then if it isn’t I can “go back to what I was doing, having not actually been interrupted.” Pointing out that, at this point, I have actually been interrupted is also being snappy and difficult.

    And, I swear I’ve been called snappy a lot by people who have never, ever, actually seen me snappy. They’ve at most seen me struggling to form a coherent sentence with what little bit of my brainpower isn’t occupied with the task at hand.

    *as either “jz’sec” if I’m transcribing something, or “just…. a… uh… just a… sec…” if I’m monitoring something fast in real-time.

  48. Sylvan*

    I sympathize with you, OP.

    First, literally don’t talk more than you have to when you’re angry. Does it need to be said out loud? No? Then don’t.

    Second, try to consider whether whatever you’re angry about will still matter in an hour, or tomorrow, or this time next year. It probably won’t. Putting the issue into perspective this way can reduce your frustration.

      1. Sylvan*

        I don’t think you should sulk or give anyone the silent treatment — What I mean is that, when you know you’re angry enough to say something you’ll regret, you can prevent it.

        1. NotNormallyGrumpy*

          Ah no, I didn’t mean in a sulky way :) just keeping to myself and keeping my head down kinda thing.

      2. Chilipepper Attitude*

        Be careful! I have a coworker who does this and it makes people think he is MORE grumpy! I think he is doing it to avoid coming across as grumpy bc he knows we read him that way.

        I’d say, talk more when you have the bandwidth for it. Like greet people when you arrive is you can or set a time to go get a coffee or a water and use that time to say hello to everyone. As Alison often advises, give signals that you want to have warm relationships with coworkers.

        Avoid talking in the moment when you are irritable to avoid saying something grumpy. The more you can be warm and friendly when it works for you, the more the rest can overlook any irritability while you are working.

  49. Dr. Rebecca*

    I might put a sticky note in a bright color somewhere visible. I’ve occasionally put one on my forehead; the incongruity is arresting enough that people pause before they interrupt.

  50. NotNormallyGrumpy*

    Thanks all.
    Maybe I should get tested for adhd, there are some other things in my life that make me wonder.
    Since starting in April I’ve probably been snippy four or five times. I think because I’m normally quite chilled out it’s a bit of a shock, even if I apologise afterwards and try to sit down and talk to the person it seems to just get reported in a bad light :(

    Turns out one of the reasons my supervisor /manager spoke to me was because he knew id be working with someone he was concerned about me working with the week he was off. Turns out he was right.

    I am not proud of last week. I made basic mistakes. I did some stupid things (including lying on an official document) and after holding my temper for 9 hours with someone who was honestly doing my nut in I literally was in tears.
    The next day before we started I spoke to her and iterated that I appreciated her correcting me, etc and we had what I thought was a good chat. Only to finish up with her chasing after me and saying she’d obviously still be talking to (supervisor) about my behaviour. Great. Just great. Worked with her the rest of the day, got stuff done. Went home.

    Monday I spoke to my supervisor. Wednesday I came clean about the lying on the form to both my supervisor and the next person up. Aftermath wasn’t pretty, also compounded by the fact person from the week before had sent him a massive list of things I’d done wrong including lying to her (which I hadn’t, but hey I’d already admitted to lying about something that day so it didn’t really go in my favour, a lot of the things really were misunderstandings). Manager finished up by saying that as I’d also lied during my practical assessment during the recruitment process (… I’d guestimated a figure as before I’d been trained in my current role I didn’t realise how important weighing something precisely was… I did not argue with him over the semantics) he hadn’t wanted to hire me in the first place.


    Anyway. Moving forward I am to be supervised doing practical work (fine) and I am TO WATCH MY TEMPER.
    After taking some deep breaths I simply agreed to what he asked and got on with my day. I managed not to cry which is good.

    I have a few weeks until my probation is over and I’ll either have a job or not.

    I have decided to be as quiet as possible and be the best damn lab technician they ever regret losing if they don’t keep me. Will let you know how it goes.

    1. Wisteria*

      lying on an official document

      Wait … you mean, actually lied? Purposely put down something false? That is a very big deal.


      I’d also lied during my practical assessment during the recruitment process (… I’d guestimated a figure as before I’d been trained in my current role I didn’t realise how important weighing something precisely was

      That’s not lying, so I have to go back to your first statement and ask whether you really intentionally put something false on a document. If you did not, then stop describing mistakes as lies. If you did, what was going on there? Was that another case of a brain under pressure making a bad decision?

      id be working with someone he was concerned about me working with the week he was off.

      I need to dig in here, too. Was concerned bc he knew she was difficult and would push your buttons? Or was he concerned bc he thinks she is reasonable (but perhaps challenging) but was seeing some oversensitivity on your part? If the former, then you now know that your boss is not in your corner. If the latter, it sounds like you really have some work on yourself to do.

      Figure out what your situation really is, and go forward with the right strategy for the situation.

    2. Nesprin*

      Woof- this is a lot of different kinds of dysfunction here. I have a lot of sympathy- labs vary from functional and supportive, to absolutely not that.

      Seriously, go find a different lab- this one is clearly not letting you thrive, and leaving without getting fired will be better for you long term.

      1. My+Useless+2+Cents*

        I don’t have a lot experience with labs but this does not sound like a healthy work place. If you can job search, a new lab sounds like the best thing for you.

    3. Esmeralda*

      I’m so sorry. When it all piles up, it’s hard not to snap, which makes more things pile up…that terrible hamster wheel of frustration-anger-mistakes-frustration-anger-mistakes…

      Been there. I hope you can work on calming yourself and that the next couple of weeks go well.

      I see below that you are on a wait list for seeing a therapist. BetterHelp dot com could be a viable stop gap for you. My son used them when he hit the limit for counseling sessions at his college and had not yet found a therapist in the community. He did phone sessions and said they were helpful, got him thru for a month or so. It’s somewhere between $60 and $100 I believe (I paid $75/week for my son).

    4. Lady_Lessa*

      I’m a person who has worked with a number of lab techs, and other than the lying on the official document, you seem alright.

      Not knowing your industry, I can see how doing the weights wrong on your assessment test, might be confusing. Pharmaceutics are less tolerant than plastics.

      I suspect that your boss might be gunning for you, since they didn’t want you in the first place. I am also bothered by your co-worker and not being understanding. (even yesterday, I almost walked out of my job due to stress and spending most of my time doing what I like least). (At least for me, my boss picked up on my tone, and the same day took the responsibility off my shoulders and gave it to folks who do that all the time)

      I am also concerned that people are NOT picking up on your concentration and letting you alone until you have the mental energy to deal with an interruption. It used to bother me a lot when my previous boss would come and start talking to me over the top of my cubical without knowing how much I was concentrating on my computer work.

      One thing that always produces a grin at my job is for someone to call out my name and I answer “I’m not here” You may use it, if desired.

    5. Willow Pillow*

      Oof. That would be a lot for anyone to deal with. Please be compassionate with yourself about the stress you’re dealing with – I’ve been in similar circumstances, and the amount of effort it takes to stay afloat tends to be taken for granted.

    6. Chilipepper Attitude*

      What do others think about OP going back to talk to their supervisor and say that the conversation about lying is very important to OP. OP takes integrity seriously, which is why they told them about the form. And that they were surprised that the boss saw the estimate on the practical assessment as lying and that coworker saw x misunderstanding as lying.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        Not a place where I would want to work, because only the document was a lie, the other two are at best mistakes, and the last NOT on the OP.

      2. NotNormallyGrumpy*

        I’m not sure that would help to be honest. I had already said that I felt so awful about lying on the form that it was unlikely to happen again.

        I think the best thing for me to do at the moment is just to process stuff and keep calm. Just keep breathing through stuff.

        1. Chilipepper Attitude*

          I’m still thinking about what you said. The fact that your boss called your estimate a lie and your coworker jumped right to you lied seem off to me. Either they are quick to see lying and that is weird or there is even more going on here. I’m sorry and wish you the best.

          1. Calliope*

            I mean, not knowing the specific circumstances, lying on an official form is a big deal even once so it’s not terribly surprising they’d be looking at other instances in that light now even if they weren’t before.

        2. Eirene*

          You told them that it was “unlikely” to happen again? If that’s the exact phrasing you used, no wonder your manager is suspicious; he was expecting to hear “It will never happen again.” Saying that it’s “unlikely” that you will lie on an official form in the future does not instill confidence in your integrity, I’m sorry to say.

          1. NotNormallyGrumpy*

            Oh no. I was very specific. I feel like such an idiot this will never happen again kind of specific.

    7. Polly Hedron*

      I have a few weeks until my probation is over and I’ll either have a job or not.

      Oh, OP, this will be a tough few weeks. Please update us in October to let us know what happens!

    8. RagingADHD*

      You should absolutely get assessed comprehensively, but please don’t fixate on ADHD as a “desired” diagnosis, because it may not be the case at all.

      I am glad the you realize the seriousness of lying on an official form, and the importance of precision in your lab work. However, it would not be unreasonable for your employer / supervisor to decide that it is not appropriate for you to continue in this job as a result of those things.

      I am very surprised that anyone would label this workplace as “dysfunctional” for taking such matters seriously.

      1. NotNormallyGrumpy*

        Yes, I know it’s not unreasonable. I messed up and this is the price you pay for making poor decisions.

        As I said, plan at the moment is to just breathe through it and do my best.

    1. NotNormallyGrumpy*

      P. P. S. Yep, on the waiting list for therapy too because I realise that part of the snappy is the spiraling funk it puts me in where the world closes down and I feel like a complete failure and I’m gonna lose my job…… Isn’t really normal (excluding my initial reply which we’ll you can see)

      1. LittleMarshmallow*

        I’m glad you added more context. I’m curious if you’re in a quality lab where you’re testing for product release or if you’re in more of a research environment. My take on your story is different depending on which it is. I’ve done both (currently in research but spent a decade in quality). If you’re in a quality lab and falsified something I’m not at all surprised that the response is what it is. In every quality lab I’ve been in that would be an immediate fireable offense basically no questions asked and no excuses allowed. This response wouldn’t necessarily indicate a toxic work environment to me (I bring this up so you know that just because a lab draws a hard line doesn’t mean they’re wrong – and it’s something you should expect working in any quality lab). If you are releasing product it is critical that you are truthful on your documentation and places really can’t be gentle about it (again it’s also not an unreasonable expectation in a quality lab). In a research environment I wouldn’t expect such a strong response to faking one number. If you were new, I’d have a talk with you and chalk it up to inexperience as long as it wasn’t a pattern. If it was a pattern that’s different. That said, depending on your reaction I might watch you more closely for a while.

        Your comment that you didn’t know how important accurate weighing was tells me you may be in over your head a bit and will need some additional training and supervision so I don’t know that their solution to have you more closely supervised is a bad one. Ask questions, not just how you do something but why (not in a snarky “this seems dumb” way but in a “I genuinely want to understand how my actions affect my results”). Knowing why you do something a certain way helps solidify proper technique.

        I’ve trained a lot of lab techs. I know that lab technique is poorly taught in college so I try to make sure I really work with my newbies on proper technique and why it matters. You should do the stuff in the manner they trained you in, if you want to stray from your trained technique you should verify that the way you plan to do it is ok.

        Oh, I also know what it’s like to be a “reluctant hire”. The job I currently have I was told I was not chosen and then called back a week later after one of their other candidates fell through and asked if I still wanted it. I did for reasons so I took it. One of my advocates loves giving that hiring manager crap about rejecting me because I’m good at my job and worked out despite a rocky start.

        Keep at it and follow the rules of the lab 1) stay safe, 2) learn as much as you can 3) never falsify documents 4) always always always speak calmly and gently to your lab equipment – those fuckers smell fear.

        1. NotNormallyGrumpy*

          Thanks, I can’t really go into it but I already know it was stupid and that they could have fired me. The worst thing is that it was so out of character for me – I have no idea what came over me.

          In regards to the weighing thing. I’d adjusted the pH of a solution during my interview practical assessment and missed the step where it said to weigh the acid as you were adjusting. As I’d used a pipette I guestimate from the amount I’d used from the pipette. What I didn’t know at the time was that this measurement is very important as its R&D so need to be able to know how much added so we could reproduce. The labs I’d worked in previously were more interested in it being the right pH than how I’d gotten to that.

          I’ve never made that mistake since.

          As to your last paragraph this is totally the case :) we have some pieces of equipment that I got working and I pat them and tell them they’re good and then they pretty much work for me.

          1. sdog*

            I don’t see this as lying! Not even close, and if your supervisor does and is saying that he didn’t want to hire you because of it, I’m wondering if you really even want to work for him/at this place? I mean, it’s one thing to say, for example, that the job requires a precision that you didn’t demonstrate during the interview, but lying?????

    2. Morticia(she/her)*

      I am so sorry you are dealing with all this. It sounds like an entirely toxic place to work. Your coworker sounds like a complete snot, and I hope she’s perfect all the time. Sheesh. And the fact that your supervisor doesn’t side-eye someone who can’t deal with an interpersonal conflict on their own is disquieting. I wish I could find an article I read a couple of months back which explains why interruptions can cost hours of dev time, since I suspect similar comparisons can be made to your field. I wish you all the best.

  51. Sciencer*

    I’m struck by this part: “when an experiment had gone a bit pear-shaped earlier in the week and he’d stepped in to try and help me, I’d been quite short with him. I explained that at the time things had been going pear-shaped but I’d managed to stop it and was trying to write down a long list of figures when he was trying to get me to do something else.”

    To me, there is a possibility that the supervisor is partially at fault here. I genuinely wonder if these moments of snapping happened because people were being rude – failing to read the signs of body language that OP might have been engaged in something mentally taxing, and that maybe they should wait for an apparent pause, or signal that they have something to say, before going right in and saying it. Expecting someone to drop what they are doing/thinking to immediately attend to your ideas or needs is impolite, and while it’s not great that OP is responding in a snappish way, there are things others could probably reflect on and work on for themselves as well to reduce this situation.

    1. MF*

      I agree with this. Anyone’s been around toddlers or small children knows that they have a tendency to walk up to you and demand your attention IMMEDIATELY while diving into whatever they want to say. They have to be taught to wait and *ask* for another person’s attention. Unfortunately, I’ve known some adults who never learned this lesson.

    2. Willow Pillow*

      I agree with this. I’m Autistic with an ADHD partner and both of us struggle with task switching/interruption. Behaviour is communication, and while it’s definitely on each of us to own our behaviour, we also deserve an environment that doesn’t exacerbate these issues (within legal limits).

    3. LittleMarshmallow*

      I’m torn on this. As a supervisor of lab techs, if my report was struggling with an experiment there’s a pretty reasonable chance I might intervene. Experiments that aren’t going to plan could become dangerous quickly and tech recording numbers while I’m trying to ensure everything is in a safe state and under control would probably cause me to insist that my tech pause what they are doing to ensure everything is actually under control (especially if it’s a new/inexperienced person).

      In a situation like this, I wouldn’t be surprised if the lab tech got frustrated and snipped. I’d probably have a similar conversation after the fact with them about how to properly prioritize when things don’t go as planned in the lab.

      It just sounds like a different situation to me than random coworkers interrupting while LW is focusing in the lab.

  52. Anonalittle*

    I’ve definitely gotten feedback similar to this in previous positions. Last job was as a 911 dispatcher – lots of multitasking, stress, and interruptions. With time and practice most situations with these elements are easier to manage, but anything out of ordinary and your focus is pulled to that one event. I noticed that its like I have a switch that flips and I’m all business from there until the end. The adrenaline crash is a bitch.

    It took some years of experience and a lot of therapy, but when I was able to take someone pointing this out to me and how my tone less than pleasant, it didn’t stop my reaction at the moment, but it did give me more self awareness to know when I’d stepped over the line. I surprised multiple people when I came up to them after the event to apologize and possibly add context. Whether they needed/wanted the apology or not wasn’t as important as I felt I needed to be responsible for acknowledging it happened. Some co-workers got it and brushed it off, others not so much.

  53. AnonRN*

    The high adrenaline of a stressful situation makes me snappish and it’s a hard reaction to prevent but these are the type of situations where clear, neutral communication is needed. I’m an ICU nurse, so when we call for emergency assistance our adrenaline is already high and then there’s a whole lot of new faces who show up to the bedside and they ask questions that *sound* critical… but are really asking for necessary status updates. They weren’t there 5 minutes ago, so when they say “has the patient received X yet?” they are really asking for a status even though it sounds like a criticism to me who hasn’t gotten X done because Y was a higher priority. And when they ask “why didn’t they get X,” the right and useful answer is for me to say “because we were focused on Y for Z reason,” (where Y and Z are relevant and actionable items) not to get defensive or sidetrack with excuses.

    Also in these same situations sometimes the asker asks what sounds like a dumb question, but the principle of assuming good intent goes a long way. Example: they roll up to a patient who is not breathing and then ask “does the patient have an airway (breathing tube)?” which is something that they can probably see with their eyes is (or is not) in place. But answering genuinely “no, but an oral airway is in place” vs “no, and we couldn’t place an oral airway” vs “yes, we are waiting for xray confirmation”…those are all informative, accurate answers instead of the sarcastic “do you see an airway?!?!” Sarcasm almost always sounds sharper than I intend in these situations, anyway, and just isn’t worth it.

    Granted, this is also the type of workplace situation that everyone else recognizes as an emergency, and no one would blame me if I told someone “you’re going to have to wait” if they came in with an unrelated, non-urgent question. So, OP, in addition to trying to divest yourself of any personal/defensive/irritated reaction to *appropriate* questions, does your workplace need an emergency protocol or signal? Where it would be obvious that now is NOT a good time for trivial questions?

  54. Lilo*

    A lot of people are sayingntheybare sympathetic to the LW and I do not disagree. But I also had a manager who would snap all the time and it was incredibly demoralizing and made her very hard to work for. I ended up transferring jobs just to get away from it.

  55. Lemon It's Wednesday*

    I work in large scale lab environments and if something is critical we will put a sign up or something to keep people from interrupting.
    If you’re in an R+D type lab it’s more like the wild west and more challenging to not be interrupted.
    Are you working on processes like chromatography where you have to focus for a bit and then you get a couple hours of down time? People may not realize you’re in the middle of a step and ask you for help with something assuming you’re in a downtime step.

    Also- what lists of data are you writing down that have to be done so quickly? If you’re recording data points within time frames and that data isn’t stored in the equipment (like a weight readout) then you need to talk to your boss about how to get folks to not interrupt during processing critical steps.
    If it’s just you doing math or recording something, folks may not see an urgency or not realize you are trying to focus.
    I have ADHD and if I’m recording info in a batch record per GMP I’ll likely just say ‘Hang on a second…’ or ‘Wait…’ rather than snapping at them.
    Labs have a strange mix of personalities and a lot of scientists I know literally just are socially unaware and don’t notice context clues. So if you’re snippy it’s jarring and unhelpful.

    1. LittleMarshmallow*

      I work in R&D and agree it’s wild westy but I’m perfectly comfortable in our lab putting up a sign that indicates I can’t be interrupted if I’m doing something particularly dangerous or requiring a lot of analytical technique skill (like accurately weighing stuff out – please done walk really fast past someone using an analytical balance! They’re so touchy!). It’s usually effective.

  56. Canterlot*

    I don’t know – as someone readjusting to an open office where I’m now everyone’s bum-wiping mommy and can’t work for more than three minutes uninterrupted, part of me wants to say “Maybe y’all DESERVE to be snapped at.” I know it’s not appropriate and it’s mean and all – but so is interrupting people with stupid bullshit you could google in the time it takes to walk to their desk….

  57. Chilipepper Attitude*

    Now that OP has commented about other issues happening at work, this is more for all the comments about interrupting at work and less for the OP.

    I want to make a plea for people to let their coworkers know when they are interrupting; just tell me when a recent interaction was not a great time to talk to you and what to do instead.

    I have a very high tolerance for interruptions and multitasking. Especially at work where I feel, as Alison said, I’m being paid to be there and work with my coworkers. And I know that others do not have such a high tolerance. But even knowing that does not mean I get it right all the time. What I see often is people reacting like a low tolerance for interruption is the norm. Or acting like we all share the same definition of interrupting; I think there is a lot of different opinions about what is interrupting in this post today. Or worse, having double standards and talking to me while I’m working but getting irritated that I “interrupt” them. We are all different!

    I have had coworkers who need 10 minutes alone at the start of their day; tell me if that is you! I will give you your time.

    I have had some who think any knock on the cubicle wall and “do you have a minute?” is a gross violation of their space and time. It is ok to tell me, I do better if you email me instead of stopping by. I have other coworkers who have over full email inboxes and they don’t want another email. I’ll probably eventually figure out which type you are, but we will all be so much happier (and faster) if you tell me!

    Of course interrupting people while they are talking to someone else or while they have on a headset is not polite! But if someone does not share that norm, you can just tell them! Just say, “coworker, when I’m talking to someone or have on a headset, please send me an email or slack instead of talking in person.”

    That’s all it takes!

    So that’s my plea to just let people know what works for you. We will probably figure each other out eventually but it would be so helpful and ok to tell people what works for you!

    1. Ginger Pet Lady*

      If they don’t get that message from being snapped at, you think a talk much later will enlighten them?
      Some people just always think THEIR stuff is more important and no matter how you tell them, they won’t stop.

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        I’m suggesting you don’t snap at coworkers but later let them know your preferences. If they still ignore you, Alison has given many many scripts for what to say. It’s not just my job not to interrupt you, it’s also your job to tell me that doing x IS an interruption. Maybe bc we have different tolerance for interruptions or bc I’m being ridiculous; either way, tell me!

        At my workplace, no one can figure out the guy who snaps, so as a result of his snapping, we avoid telling him anything, including things he needs to know, which only makes his work harder. We are not purposefully making his job harder, we are just always walking on eggshells and avoid doing anything that will cause us to interact with him. I’ve even had the hard convo, he still snaps. To me, that makes it his problem.

      2. Willow Pillow*

        Some people retain the memory of the feelings involved more than the message. Some people need more than one reminder to change their habits.

    2. LittleMarshmallow*

      I both agree and disagree with this. Haha! I do think that it works better if people just calmly state their preferences and others generally try to oblige if possible. What I struggle with is that not all preferences are reasonable or appropriate for work. The person that thinks that any interruption for any reason is offensive sounds very out of touch with professional norms where sometimes you need to be a little flexible and able to shift to something else occasionally. People that think they are always entitled to interrupt because they work best when their train of thought is prioritized is also unreasonable. Sometimes you’re gonna have to wait your turn.

      We should communicate but we should also try to be reasonable about our expectations of our preferences being adhered to.

  58. sciencegirl*

    20+ year lab veteran here. OP I know exactly what you’re going through. For me when I’m trying to follow a multi step protocol and/or handling dozens of samples at once, as soon as someone interrupts me it’s really easy to lose my place and get all mixed up in my experiment. A few things I’ve learned over the years: if you’re in the middle of a step and somebody tries to interrupt you, shake your head “no”, keep working, and when you’re at a safe stopping point you can look up. Some don’t always get the hint, so a form but kind “one minute please” might be needed. You could also try wearing large headphones, not earbuds, if your company allows it, some don’t due to safety concerns, this is a visual “do not disturb” to your lab mates. Other things that help: experiment trackers where you can check off each individual step, keeping your samples in the order in which you will process them, using a full box of tips when you start that can help you keep track of your pipetting events, marking each tube with a dot as you go or flipping them the other way as a visual of which ones you’ve already done. Or separating your reagents by step: once you’ve finished one reagent, move it to the other side of the bench or ice bucket so that it doesn’t clutter your workspace and also signals that you’ve done that step. You could also try talking to management about some top-down guidance on being good lab citizens: if somebody is looking down at their bench and clearly concentrating on an experiment, don’t disturb them until they are at a safe stopping point (at a centrifuge step, setting up a PCR machine, during incubations, etc).

  59. Greige*

    When it’s hard for me to be patient with someone, I try to picture someone vulnerable in my life, like a small child or someone older or who has a cognitive disability, and I think about how I’d like people to treat them. Like, imagine if your elderly mother who had dementia told you someone snapped at her when she just asked for help. Or they yelled at your toddler for getting in their way. Somehow it helps me remember to treat everyone like they’re more than an obstacle to whatever I’m doing right now.

  60. PDB*

    I know this sounds flip but it isn’t. Just don’t. I used to make funny comments on everything. But there’s an element of cruelty in humor and I decided not to do it anymore. So when I felt like making a comment, I didn’t. And when in 5 seconds I wanted to make it again, I didn’t. That’s all it takes. Those 5 seconds have morphed into years. And I’m happier. So if you feel like snapping, wait 5 seconds. It worked for me.

    1. Hmm!*

      This. I’ve got ADHD and OCD, and I work with a very vulnerable population (children in foster care). No matter how stressed I am at work (and I am frequently VERY stressed) I do not have the option to lose my temper. I can feel angry, I can feel frustrated, but I cannot lose my temper or snap at anyone.

      When we’re under stress, our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode. You feel a sense of urgency, like you HAVE to respond immediately, but you don’t. Before you respond to anything, you have to slow down, take a deep breath, and give yourself a moment before responding. Remaining calm under fire is a skill that can be developed over time, and step one is being aware in the moment when you feel yourself slipping into flight or flight mode.

  61. Kella*

    My boyfriend and I both work from home and it’s not always externally obvious if we’re working or just scrolling facebook. He has ADHD and absolutely despises being interrupted, while I have brain fog so I find interruptions quite disruptive as well.

    We have an agreement that if we walk into the other person’s space and they look like they are focused on something, to stand and wait until the person concentrating has a moment to stop what they’re doing and look up and *then* we ask our question or whatever we came for. I don’t know if this would be possible for OP because I don’t know how many different people they are interacting with, because if it’s more than a couple, it could be hard to train people to do this. But at least implementing it with your boss and the most frequent offenders might help.

    1. CLC*

      This. I’m also ADHD and if my focus is broken it’s hard to get it back. If I’m hyper focused while doing something like keeping track of numbers and moving parts there’s a reason—I don’t want to make a mistake. Sure, the LW can try to be less snippy, but I don’t like that the boss isn’t looking at their own behavior as well.

  62. Amorette Allison*

    I’ve been married for 44 years to a man who loses his temper in an instant and gets snippy. I know he isn’t mad at me but it is a bear to live with. If there is a solution, let me know.

    1. Hydrangea*

      It doesn’t matter that he’s mad at something else. Even if he *is* mad at you, he shouldn’t treat you like that.

      Train him like a cat. When a cat bites during petting, get up and walk away. The cat soon learns that biting results in being deprived of its beloved owner’s company.

      When your husband snaps at you, walk away or otherwise disengage. With a cat, you just get up and walk away. With a person, you will want to use your words and say, “I don’t like being snapped at. I’m going to do something else.” And hold to it.

      Expect huffing and sulking. After 44 years, he won’t change overnight.

  63. landshark*

    Just adding kudos to LW for recognising this is something they need to improve on and proactively looking out for steps to change. So many people are too proud to acknowledge this is a problem and do nothing. LW, you won’t change dramatically over night but you’re in the right direction and good luck to you. I wish more people I worked with had the ability to self reflect as you do.

  64. Sbc*

    I know this is weird but could you ask someone to interrupt you once or twice a week next month so you can practice? Explain that you are working on responding more kindly and need to practice. I agree that mentally rehearsing a polite reply could help too.

  65. CLC*

    I want to know why people are interrupting while they are engaged in this kind of detailed technical work and trying to focus and trying to get them to do something else. Maybe the boss and others can also work on not breaking people’s focus.

  66. nobadcats*

    I used to get snappish at work, especially when trying to concentrate on something. That was, until a mentor of mine said, “I solicited feedback from your co-irkers, one message came through very clearly, ‘nobadcats is critical and abrasive.” And they weren’t wrong! I considered how I was reacting to and how I’d feel if someone did the same to me, and that made me change my way of thinking.

    I eventually trained myself to respond this way when someone approached my desk: if I was in the middle of writing an important email or taking a note, I’d not take my eyes off the screen or notepad and say, “Just ooooone second, I see you, let me finish my thought.” (sometimes just flashing a thumbs up and a soft index finger) and once finished what I was doing, I’d physically turn toward the person, smile, “Okay, what can I help you with?” It helps when your co-irkers are just as busy as you are and understand losing one’s train of thought.

    Sometimes, my co-irker would say, “Never mind, it can wait, I’ll email you.” Which was what I would model when I approached their desk with a question. No one likes hovering. Often, it was something that we both needed to physically look at to suss out the problem.

    Now that we’re all remote, I check to see if their status on Teams, and if they’re “in a call,” I tend to just send a quick chat, “when you have a moment.”

  67. fgwoffice*

    So, the work requires a lot of focus, memory, and writing.

    The problem is with the interruptions, not with your lack of forming a gentle response while your mind is working on far more important considerations.

  68. LittleMarshmallow*

    I know this is counter intuitive, but if you are agitated, slow down. I work in a lab and manufacturing environment so I do relate to the type of work you do and how hard it is to slow down sometimes (especially when an experiment is not cooperating with you) but I promise it helps. Not only does it help get you back to calm, but it will help keep you safe in a lab. When someone I’m working with snaps at me I usually slow my voice down and lower my tone. Not in a condescending or submissive way, just to indicate that it’s ok and we don’t need to rush. I can wait for you to be done and if you need assistance I’m here to help. I’m one who is ok if a stressed person gets snippy, but agree not everyone is so it is important to find ways to calm yourself. I use that same tone with myself in my head when I get agitated at work and need to calm down. Take a deep breath, slow what you’re doing. It helps more than you might think. Don’t give up on it right away. It takes practice. It’s also helpful to try to recognize earlier if you’re agitated so you can slow it down before you snip at someone.

    Sidenote: if people are routinely interrupting you while you’re in the middle of a lab task, that is something you should address with your manager. Either you’re not focusing on the correct things or there should be a discussion about the risks of interrupting people that are doing lab work. It can be risky from a safety standpoint and from an analytical accuracy standpoint. Something like a sign that says “experiment or analysis in progress, please do not disturb” might help. I use similar signs if I’m performing a particularly dangerous task. I work with high temperatures and high pressures in my lab so I definitely can’t just have people wandering up on me all willy nilly.

  69. Chickaletta*

    I just want to recognize to the LW that I would react similarly in a similar situation. I also dislike suggestions that therapy or medication (!) are a solution to a perfectly normal human reaction. Also, the fact that your employer is aware that you need to focus during the experiments that require high levels of concentration and shouldn’t be interrupted, yet they continue to do so, then blame you for your reaction, is a fault on their part. When someone says, “please don’t do this, I don’t like it” and then the person keeps on doing it, then I believe they are the ones in the wrong at that point. Also, I get the sense that being asked to internalize your emotions in the moment is causing additional stress. If nothing else, and if your employer insists that you respond to interruptions during stressful moments with pleasantries or at least in a neutral manner, I’d suggest finding an outlet (a healthy one) outside of work to relieve your frustrations (the gym, jogging, gardening, ax throwing, whatever,). Good luck and you have my sympathies!

  70. Lasslisa*

    One other thing that might help is, after they’ve waited for you to finish your task [email / notes / math / whatever], when you do give them your attention, do it cheerfully. Turn your full attention toward them, look them in the face, smile… all the body language stuff that says, “I am glad to see you”.

    I used to get feedback that people were scared to ask me questions because I seemed harsh, and I had no idea why until I went to ask a senior colleague something. He typed a few more lines of code, turned to me and it was like I could see the code continuing to scroll behind his eyes. No facial expression, totally just still in computer mode. And I realized that is super uncomfortable! If you can fully mode switch when you’re done with your task, and treat it as a people task instead of a facts task, then they are more likely to walk away feeling seen and valued.

  71. Solutioncat*

    I currently use, “give me x to deliver y and then you have my full attention.” The pushy ones, because my job is literally called Solutions, get told the fire levels currently ahead of them.

  72. learnedthehardway*

    One thing you can do is to “re-program” yourself so that you take a second to THINK before speaking. There is a program called “SNAP” that is used with kids to get them to snap their fingers instead of hitting, when they get mad. It’s very useful for building in an automatic reflex that gives them just a split second to think, rather than automatically defaulting to hitting. It’s very helpful for kids who have impulse control issues.

    The idea is that you pick an action that you automatically go to, and you practice it until it becomes second nature. Perhaps for you, that would be taking a breath or biting your tongue – EVERY time you are interrupted. Pick something unobtrusive in the workplace. Practice is with someone – a friend, a family member – at home a few times. Then reward yourself when you use the technique for the first few times. Before you know it, you’ll have it down and will be doing it automatically.

    This process of “reprogramming” yourself will break the instinctive reflex to snap at people, and it will buy you enough time to do/say something more acceptable.

  73. MissM*

    I’d be careful with hand gestures (the one moment finger etc) if you’re already displaying your snappishness primarily through body language, and focus on using words. “Two seconds let me just finish transcribing” or even “let me just finish jotting these down and I will be so happy to have you assist me” (for the pear-shaped incidents. Just generally focus on the fact that if you don’t finish writing (with complete focus) those numbers are going to fly right out of your head. Ooh – two shakes let me come to a stopping point is another good one

  74. Luna*

    If possible, before answering when someone comes up, try to take a deep breath and exhale. Just to keep the immediate, first-second response (that could be snappy or short) at bay. It can also overall help in not letting yourself get stuck any deeper into a haste of trying to fix problems and becoming so focused, you end up more anxious.
    Though that last part might just be me.

  75. The Other Dawn*

    Kudos to you for recognizing this is something to work on. Not everyone has that level of self-awareness.

    Something I’ve learned over the years is to keep in mind that how I react affects how others see me and interact with me. There were a few times where I snapped at people. Not because I was interrupted–being interrupted many times a day was just part of the job since I was the go-to person for many things, and I liked helping people–but because I had a hard time dealing with the stress of the job and just couldn’t keep my emotions in check and off my face. Time and experience helped a lot, but also seeing how coworkers often worked around certain people because they were hard to deal with or would snap at them was probably the biggest thing that influenced me. I knew that if people wouldn’t come to me for help because they were leery of me, and just plowed ahead with something they weren’t sure how to do properly, it would create a big mess for me to clean up later on and might also cost the company, or our customers, money. I also didn’t want to be seen as unapproachable and be lumped in with the people who were routinely worked around.

    As you work on controlling your reaction to interruptions, or stress in the job in general, think about how your reaction affects your approachability and how others see you. Whether you manage people or not, it’s important. Do you want to be seen as unapproachable? Do you want others to avoid you and work around you? Probably not.

  76. MissAnon*

    As someone who experienced high stress to the point of burnout at a previous job, I came here to recommend therapy (potentially EMDR – at least that is what helped me shift from acting viscerally at work to acting more rationally). Also pay attention to your strengths and your weaknesses. If there are certain aspects of your job that trigger extreme stress for you, that is something to pay attention to. Potentially this type of role (or a role that is comprised mostly of those things), this job may not play to your strengths. This doesn’t mean you’re broken, it means you might be in the wrong line of work (for me: immovable deadlines cause extreme stress and I was in a fast paced BD role – not the right fit; a career change although not an easy hill to climb made all the difference). Of course, this is more of a long term fix, but something to think about.

  77. EAW*

    I can almost guarantee that this is worse and more frequent than you realize. That’s the nature of anger and snapping problems – they’re far less apparent to the person doing it than they are to the people on the receiving end. I say that as someone who’s struggled with a similar issue, but mine was with my immediate family, so they would call me on it each & every time (as work colleagues or even a manager are unlikely to be able/comfortable doing). Lots of times they’d say I was snapping when it really hadn’t seemed that way to me, at all; I thought I was just (rightfully) annoyed, not angry. Eventually I came to realize that I was actually snapping at people all the time and just didn’t perceive it, and that when I felt annoyed it usually came across to others as anger (or, to be more precise, I conveyed it as anger).

    Second – pay attention to what else might be going on when this happens. I hear you that it’s when you’re trying to focus and getting interrupted, but is it – for example – only when you’re starting to get hungry that that situation escalates into anger? Or on days you’re tired? etc.

    Finally – try some anger management classes/books. I liked “The Anger Trap: Free Yourself from the Frustrations That Sabotage Your Life,” by Les Carter, but there are lots of others to pick from. You are not alone in this kind of struggle.

    Good luck!

  78. Jules the 3rd*

    A friend of mine noticed their snappishness gradually increasing over the last three years, both at work and at home. He finally went to talk to a health professional, got a formal anxiety diagnosis (he’s in health care… no shock there), started zoloft, and feels a lot better. He’s hoping for this to be relatively short-term, resetting his brain pathways, and he’s also doing talk therapy.

    (He did have a 4mo wait for the appt, a lot of people are struggling right now.)

  79. Kate*

    It sounds like you’re snapping during experiments – does the lab door have some kind of sign you can put up saying ‘experiment in progress?’

  80. CorpGirl*

    Agreed with Alison on thinking about it as part of your job! I have ADHD and it can feel really overwhelming and frustrating sometimes when I get distracted from a task that involves deep focus. It has helped me A LOT to reframe these interruptions in my mind as “I need to talk to this person professionally now because it is part of my job” rather than “Why is this person distracting me from my job when I’m obviously busy?” Sometimes I still FEEL annoyed, but I’ve gotten a lot better at suppressing that reaction and not pushing it onto others.

  81. Captain+dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    I had a similar issue. The resolution was realising I was setting myself up for reprimands and more. It was quite odd how keeping the job was a motivator for keeping my mouth shut.

  82. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

    Since this sounds like it’s a new thing, in addition to the above considerations, one other one to consider is if you had a head injury. My partner had a severe concussion that resulted in very noticable changes in his capacity to handle irritation, for ~12 months. Not all the time by any means, but all of the sudden the nicest, chillest man ever (and not a frequent driver!) would be chasing down a truck that switched lanes in front of us, or getting mad at me for the silliest non-things. Eventually I sat him down, pointed out the times this happened, and helped him realize he needed some new approaches to managing this.
    This is probably the least likely cause, but putting it out into the world because we found it really hard to get good concussion management info.

  83. Hippononymous*

    This is so relatable for me, and can I just say, I highly recommend a therapist. This is something I’ve dealt with for YEARS and although I’m sure in part it’s due to being a woman, I know it’s also a problem. What I want to emphasize though is that I’ve realized since working with a therapist it is due to TRAUMA! Not to make an excuse for my behavior, but I finally feel like I can improve it because I understand why it truly happens, and also see how this has impacted my personal life. You might have some undiagnosed or unresolved trauma, so please do see a therapist and see if there’s more going on here, it’s so worth it.

    1. NotNormallyGrumpy*

      I’m on a waiting list….current predications say I may get an appointment some time in November :)

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