When I’m frustrated, I scream. I stomp. And sometimes I just quietly fume. But none of this is a problem when frustrated. Why? I find out a lot about what I think as I listen to my rant. However, the one thing that is entirely unproductive is blaming the situation or another person for how you feel. It reinforces feelings of negativity and powerlessness, which does nothing to point the way to a workable resolution. Nor does it help us feel any better.
There is a much more productive way to have your frustration work for you! Let’s look at Gabrielle (Gabi) and her story of frustration. On Thursday at 3:00, Gabi’s colleague, Peter, still hadn’t delivered the data she needed in time for the scheduled Monday presentation to the executive team.
Here are steps you can take when frustrated, through the lens of what happened for Gabi.
1. Rant – get it all out in a responsible way. Gabi ranted privately to herself: “I’m so angry! I’m going to march over to Peter’s cubicle and give him a piece of my mind! But, that would further strain my working relationship with him. He knows the presentation is Monday. I just have to wait and trust him to come through. I can’t wait any longer, though – the deadline is approaching!” She continued to spin in this circle of complaint through the remainder of Thursday afternoon and evening. Then…
2. Release your tension and name the emotions. Gabi consciously took deep breaths and released the knot in her stomach. Gabi realized that in addition to her frustration, she was anxious. She determined that if she focused on achieving her goal, her anxious feelings would probably subside.
3. Reflect on the need giving rise to your frustration, and ensure your goal is clear and empowering. A goal is a result that you are striving to achieve within the desired timeframe. The failure to fully specify the result and the timeframe can lead to more frustration and less achievement.
Gabi reframed her situation in light of the need driving her frustration, which was “to achieve her goal”. At first, she defined her goal as “getting Peter to give her what she needed.” But this was not precise enough, and really, Peter was just the vehicle she was using to achieve the end-goal. So this time, she tried: “Having the required data in hand before end of business on Friday.”
4. Brainstorm some options that could achieve the clearly stated goal. Gabi considered whether she could modify her belief that she could accomplish this goal by asking the team to give her another week for the presentation. She also thought she could see whether a resource other than Peter could help her get the data she required. And lastly, Gabi thought about meeting Peter face to face, rather than communicating through text and email, as she had been doing, to explain her situation and ask whether he could provide the information by end of day Friday. She slept on the options and decided to visit Peter first thing Friday morning.
Gabi felt pleased. By using her frustration to get strategic, defining her goal in an empowering and clear way, and finding an option that was workable, Gabi had more confidence and less anxiety. When frustrated, fix the problem, not the blame.