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June 2017
Communication at Work

Frequently Frustrated?Patti Lind


It isn't fair. This shouldn't be happening to me. It shouldn't have to take this long. Something is wrong with them. That is the language of FRUSTRATION. The sound of frustration can be impatience, exasperation, raised voices and resentful silence. I'm sure all of us regularly visit the emotion of frustration. While it is perfectly natural to feel frustrated from time to time; as a habit, it sets us up for feeling helpless over and over again.
Frustration has pretty deep roots in our development. As a small child we were frequently frustrated when we didn't have the language or the means to communicate our needs. But we were also on the receiving end of frustration from our novice parents who didn't know how to get us to bed, deal with our occasional tantrums and hold us to our household chores as we grew older. Feeling frustrated and receiving frustration was normative in our lives and consequently it feels like a justified emotion as an adult. We get frustrated when we are disagreed with or challenged. It pops out again when feeling ignored or dismissed. Illogical or repetitive people frustrate us. Even a driver who is taking too long to make a right hand turn can easily frustrate some people. When I listen to my clients, I notice that they become frustrated when they don't get quick results. They use frustration to mask their sense of feeling powerless and at wit's end. If they stay in the emotion of frustration, they will choose to do nothing other than complain or vent their frustration in a way that increases the level of resistance from the target of their criticism.
Frustration presents us with a significant communication learning opportunity. Instead of assuming we are being treated unfairly and at a loss on how to proceed, what if we recognize it as a "first emotion" that is telling us to become more intelligent and skillful. Let's go back to the parent example. While it can be initially quite frustrating to learn how to get a toddler to stay in their first "big bed", it isn't hopeless. There are books, classes and seasoned friends who can guide you and your child to a more peaceful evening. For leaders, instead of becoming frustrated with your team's resistance to change, you can view their resistance as an opportunity to learn more about the change process and how to develop your capabilities as a leader.
The next time you start feeling frustrated and blocked, challenge yourself with a different approach other than venting or silently building resentment. About 25 years ago, I changed my approach by shifting from "I can't stand this" to "I can handle this" in my self-talk. It turned out to be a very powerful change in my life. Just saying "I can handle this" immediately shifts me towards feeling capable of learning and capable to act.
Here are some important tips for changing your approach:
  • Learn your personal signs of becoming frustrated. Frustration is easily recognized by the desire to quit, blame or push your own agenda.
  • Develop the ability to pause and minimize your re-activeness. Breathe, slow down and relax your body.
  • Tell yourself, "I can handle this" and refocus on what you are trying to solve. With a small child, it might mean escorting them back to bed again and again. With an adult, it might mean having an honest, face-to-face conversation with your colleague that is long overdue.
  • If you don't know how to handle a situation, start learning. Most likely, there are people all around you who have battled a similar problem. You just need to ask. Decades ago, I felt 100% humiliated after bombing in front of a large group of surgeons. My first response was to never want to work for surgeons ever again. That lasted about two weeks and then I started asking people what it took to communicate effectively with surgeons. People were very willing to help and I learned the importance of being at ease, clear, direct, honest and courageous. Those lessons helped me become a stronger adult and professional.
  • If at first you don't succeed, keep trying. Trying to secure agreement with another adult can take weeks, months and sometimes years. The important thing to keep in mind is to continue acting in a way that builds towards your goal. For example, building trust might take a significant amount of listening, respectful behavior and honesty. As difficult as that might seem, the path of frustration will be much more tiresome and defeating.

So, what can you do if you find yourself on the receiving end of someone's frustrated vent? I find it very helpful to ask the person what they are wanting at this moment? "I can see you are very frustrated with me. What is it you want?" Interestingly enough, that question usually catches them by surprise and gets them to think a little more deeply about why they are getting frustrated. Their answer might be "this is taking longer than I thought it would" or "I'm not feeling supported." Once I get them to provide me with a genuine answer, I can continue listening for more detail. Listening invites people to dialogue with us as adults and that usually stabilizes an escalating situation.
It is important to remember that when you allow your feelings of frustration to overwhelm you time and time again, you might be the one who is most blocking your path forward. Give it some thought. Is your tendency towards frustration really serving you?
Storytelling is a powerful way to interact with one another. Try dedicating 15 minutes of one of your team meetings to engage in a little story telling. Divide your team into groups of 4 and ask each of them to tell a story from their life that will expand what others on the team think of them. Each person gets 2 — 3 minutes to tell their story.

Resources
This talk by Chimamanda Adichie challenges us to become inquisitive about others beyond the single story we have heard about them. I found both the talk and the speaker very impressive.
Ted Talk - click here

My book, Communication At Work, is available in paperback, Kindle, Nook, and eBook formats, and may be purchased at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell Bookstore and Inkwater Press.
Communication at Work

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