How to Learn Tolerance

Tolerance is your ability to limit the emotional impact of people who upset you.

Learning to be tolerant of coworkers is among the most challenging skills to acquire. Tolerance is neither ignoring nor making excuses for the person who upsets you but is a technique that allows you to use logic and reason to control your emotional state. When you have no choice but to work with someone who regularly upsets you, it will enable you to maintain your sense of well being while also allowing you to perform without the influence of negative emotion. 

Consider the following situations where a colleague might upset you:

  • When you are speaking in a meeting, they cut you off mid-sentence to tell you your idea won’t work in front of your peers.
  • When reviewing your work, they offer harsh criticism with no suggestions for how to improve it. 
  • When you ask them for help, they complain to their manager that you are distracting them from getting their work done.

Getting upset at any of these situations is entirely understandable and justifiable. However, allowing yourself to become upset does not benefit you in any way. This is the essence of why you learn to be tolerant.

Learning to tolerate someone can be broken down into three steps:

  • Empathy – Inferring what they are going through emotionally and how they must perceive the people around them.
  • Understanding – Based on their perceived emotional state and outlook, extrapolating the motivations behind their actions. 
  • Assignment – Based on their perceived motivations, assign the level of control over your emotional state you wish them to have.

For the scenario when you are speaking in a meeting, and they cut you off mid-sentence to tell you your idea won’t work in front of your peers, here is an interpretation of the situation that may help you tolerate them:

  • Empathy – They must be feeling a lot of pressure and are acting defensively against anyone whose ideas increase their feelings of stress.
  • Understanding – I can understand how someone feeling a lot of pressure can react negatively towards ideas they think will make things worse for them.
  • Assignment – As they are someone who cannot deal well with stress and, as a result, will attempt to shut down ideas they find stressful, they are not the type of person I wish to affect my emotional state.

For the scenario of when reviewing your work, they offer harsh criticism with no suggestions for how to improve it:

  • Empathy – They must believe my work is terrible compared to their’s or to that of others.
  • Understanding – I can see why they would criticize work they think is terrible, but if they have no suggestions for improvement, they must not be very skilled themselves.
  • Assignment – As their feedback has no practical value in improving my work, and they are not very skillful themselves, this encounter is of no consequence to me. 

For the scenario where you ask them for help, and they complain to their manager that you are distracting them from getting their work done:

  • Empathy – They must be struggling to get their job done.
  • Understanding – I can see how being asked for help when you are struggling to get your work done would cause you to make excuses to your manager.
  • Assignment – As they are the type of person that uses other people as justification to excuse their inability to be productive, they are not the type of person whose actions or opinion matters to me.

Using logic and reason to control our emotional state is a learned skill that requires practice to master. Once mastered, you will be immune to the negative emotions of your coworkers as you will realize that you are the only person who can control your emotional state. If you are the only person in charge of your emotional state, it is irrational to give that control to another person – especially one who cares so little about you such that they are willing to upset you.

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