Management Consultant Mike Eldon

What to do when mounting sense of frustration hits

By coincidence, last week not one but two of my coaching clients asked me to take time with them so they could do a better job of handling growing feelings of frustration.

As a result they were becoming unduly irritable and sometimes downright angry; they were more intolerant, even shouting at those who did not deserve their wrath.

As I prepared for my sessions with them I immediately thought about the need for emotional intelligence, in which those who rate highly first acknowledge their own emotions and feelings. They then manage them, and next carefully assess how those with whom they interact are feeling and hence behaving, before working at building positive relationships with them.

My clients were having to deal with an unusual number of people who were acting unreliably, disrespectfully and unethically. But despite how they felt about the unfortunate way they were being treated, their emotional intelligence challenge was to find the strength to separate their feelings from their behaviour, aware of the negative consequences of not doing so.

For those with emotional intelligence remain calm and disengaged enough to evaluate what behaviour will work most effectively in making difficult situations better, rather than to stagnate or degenerate further. They try to empathise with their awkward others despite how they are behaving, figuring out what lies behind their unhelpful posture. (Maybe how they are confronting them is disconnected from the root cause of their behaviour.)

How can a non-performer, an antagonist, be won over to deliver what is wanted, to become an ally? How can we use our negotiating skills, our powers of persuasion, a lightness of touch, to get to some adequate win-win resolution of an issue? What can we offer to make it easier for the other party to reciprocate with their own reaching out, responding positively to our requests? Imagine how a mediator would approach the situation, going back and forth till both sides feel adequately satisfied.

At times it may feel good to give vent to our frustrations, to allow ourselves to ‘lose it’, knowing that’s what the other deserves. But the immediate sense of gratification is quite likely to make the situation yet worse, and yet more difficult to recover from.

Not always, mind you, and in particular if we have been allowing ourselves to be taken for granted. Then it may be just what’s needed. Better still if we actually had not lost control but had actively decided that showing our frustration was what was needed.

Another option is to pull back and disengage, having assessed the chances of being able to move forward as slim: there’s no point wasting emotional energy for nothing, right? It’s why we are advised to choose our battles carefully.
Over the years I have been running workshops on stress management, in which I advise participants to divide their sources of stress into three categories. The first is where the possibility exists to change something that will immediately and completely remove the source of stress. The second is an intermediate position, where over time some progress may be possible. And the third is one where there’s nothing we can do to change what’s happening and so we must just live with it – while seeking to migrate to happier environments, at least for some of our time.

As a way of detaching myself from those who are frustrating me I console myself by writing about the issue – often in my journal, and if I am really upset through hammering out an angry poem. It’s very therapeutic. Certainly sharing frustrations with a family member, a friend or a colleague is helpful, and if possible combining with others to pursue a common cause.

In search of solace and inspiration many turn to prayer, and some to meditation. Exercise is helpful too, as are hobbies – anything to occupy our minds and our bodies in uplifting ways. All this we know.

The challenge is that when frustrations mount, we must not wait too long before we pray or run or write or do whatever helps us cope. So breathe deeply and smoothly, friends, and this too shall pass.