A sudden anger surge when someone blames you, disappointment when your idea gets rejected, resentment towards egocentric bosses, and the pressure of meeting other people’s expectations can all be frustrating at work.
You feel like a rubberband, you are constantly stretched and ready to give up at any moment. A slight push in the wrong direction could cause havoc in your brain, disrupt your productivity and break your world.
There are so many things to dislike about work every day. Boss that doesn’t love, coworkers that are mean, clients that nitpick and support staff that doesn’t respond to your needs, meetings that take up too much of your energy and time, and emails and messages with no sense that time exist in their own world.
This will make your frustrations appear completely rational. It is perfectly normal to be frustrated with the current state of things. Who doesn’t like to spend their time solving conflicts and dealing with the mess of others?
Your desire to control the world and the people around it, as well as your biases about how it should be organized, can cause you to become annoyed by the things around your. It is natural to desire a perfect workplace experience. However, it can be frustrating when one doesn’t exist.
Are you focusing on what is right? How can you deal with the frustration of not liking something?
You feel frustrated and stuck, and you panic, which causes anxiety and stress, and makes it impossible to do anything about your situation.
Instead of spending too much time pondering over situations that frustrate you at work, you can learn how to deal with them in a positive way.
In Not Nice, Aziz Gazipura summarizes it thus: “I can choose whether to say yes or no.” I have two options: I can keep my mouth shut and ask tough questions that challenge someone or I can be assertive. I can talk to someone who is bothering me if they are doing something that upsets me. If I want something really badly and get a negative response, I can ask questions to see if they are open to changing their mind. I am completely free to decide how I feel in the moment. I make the decisions. “I am the creator of my own life.”
Frustration that is not handled leads to an unconscious defense and impairs judgment
Unmanaged frustration at work can lead to psychological displacement. This term was coined in Sigmund Freud and is an unconscious defense mechanism where our mind substitutes a new goal or a new object for goals that we feel in their original form to not be acceptable or dangerous. It works in the mind unconsciously by transferring emotions, ideas, and wishes to combat aggressive impulses.
This defense mechanism can be seen in snapping at your spouse or child after a poor day at work. Instead of managing your emotions at work productively, your response is to lashing out at your family. It’s easier to react than to acknowledge and handle the frustrations at work. Although you may feel guilty later, your bitter experience at work is unconsciously transferred to your family.
You may lose your cool after a long struggle to negotiate timelnes with key stakeholders. Your frustration in trying to convince stakeholders to be realistic with their demands might show up on your team member, who may find it easy to vent.
You can let your inner conflict bubble up by ignoring any annoyances about work. This can lead to a cycle of rumination : Why did this person act this way? What have I done to deserve it, and why does this happen to you.
Untreated frustrations can cause anxiety and stress that is difficult to express.
Amy Arnsten is an American neuroscientist who explains how stress can affect judgment. “The brain switches from a reflective, thoughtful state to one that is more unconscious and reflexive when it experiences uncontrollable stress quickly.” While this may be helpful when life is in danger, it can also cause us to lose our ability to make decisions and take action.
You can manage frustrations well and remove unhealthy distractions. This will allow you to focus on what is important, build better relationships, and create more value in your work life.
5 emotional intelligent ways to cope with frustration at work
1. Recognize your triggers so you can act with intention and not react to your circumstances
Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher, said that “Know yourself and you will win all the battles.”
Strong emotions should not be confused with a warning sign. Take a step back, take a moment to think about the situation, then reflect on your feelings and acknowledge them. This way, you can control your emotions and be resilient.
You can change your emotional reaction to frustration at work by identifying the triggers.
David Rock’s SCARF model, Your Brain at Work, is a powerful tool to connect with your emotions. He says, “It’s a method of developing language to experience that may otherwise be unconscious so you can catch these experiences happening in real-time.”
If you feel frustrated, determine which triggers your emotions.
- S – Status: Do the circumstances pose a threat to your status?
- C – Confidence: Do you have doubts about your future and your expectations?
- A – Self-Determination: Do your decisions feel arbitrary?
- R – Relationship: Do you struggle to make connections with others because they seem too fake and unreal?
- F – Fairness: Does it mean that you are not treated equally with others?
These five social experience domains can be powerful tools to help you give meaning to your experience and not let your subconscious react to it.
2. You can tell the truth by separating fact from fiction.
Even though we don’t have any role, our imaginations create stories and make us central to a lot of drama at the office.
“Intentions can’t be seen. They are based on the behavior of others. We make them up, or in other words, we create them. However, our imagined stories about the intentions of other people are less accurate than we think. Why? Because intentions are complex, just like everything else in difficult conversations. Sometimes people act with mixed motives. Sometimes, they act without intention or with little to no relation to us. Sometimes they act with good intentions but still hurt us,” writes Douglas Stone in Difficult conversations.
We tend to exaggerate everything and this leads to us falling for common thinking traps that cloud our judgement. We assume everyone is out there to get us. It is difficult to discern fact from fiction, and we create narratives that support our beliefs and disregard all that challenges them.
Confirmation bias, and availability heuristic highlight negative emotions while ignoring positive ones.
Adam Grant, a psychologist for organisations, says that “the best advice doesn’t tell you what to do. It helps people see their blind spots and clarify their priorities.”
These questions will help you to distinguish fact from fiction when dealing with frustration at work.
- What is the story I tell myself?
- How can I tell if this story is true?
- What other explanations are possible?
- What is my contribution to this situation?
- What might other people think?
You can use a sense inquiry to understand your frustration and base your emotions on reality, rather than living with a fictional story.
3. You can control what is within your reach by setting your expectations.
Expectation feeds frustration. A healthy amount of frustration can help you push forward in your goals. However, it is the unmet expectations of things outside your control and your obsession with external validation that can cause a lot of frustration at work.
We put constant pressure on ourself to be the best, and then we feel exhausted when we don’t live up to that unrealistic standard. In No Hard feelings Liz Fosslien writes that when we rely on our bosses to validate us, even the smallest bit of criticism can feel like a rejection.
While you can control what you do, others cannot. It can lead to frustration and constant disappointment at work if you try to please other.
You can save your frustration by setting realistic goals and avoiding chasing things that are not within your reach.
4. Even if it is uncomfortable at the beginning, learn to have important conversations
What do you do if you feel frustrated by another person? A micromanaging boss, a senior employee who is constantly telling you what to do or a product team member who can not seem to decide on a feature, or a client who pushes you to agree to unrealistic timelines? You can complain about the behavior of others and avoid doing anything that will solve your problem.
Difficult conversations can be uncomfortable, no doubt. As a species, we are taught to avoid conflict because it is against our instincts of fight-or flight. “When we are arguing, debating or running away, it is because we don’t know how to share our meaning. In Crucial Conversations, Joseph Grenny says that instead of having healthy dialogue, we engage in silly and expensive games.
We can reduce frustration at work by having calm, productive discussions. This will help us to manage differences of opinion, conflicting priorities, and differing expectations. Joseph suggests asking these questions:
- What is it that I truly want for myself?
- What is it that I truly want for my friends?
- What is the most important thing in a relationship?
- What would you do if you wanted these results?
Instead of venting your frustration, be more positive and move closer to the results you want.
5. Try to make every experience positive by looking at it as an opportunity for learning.
In this NYT article, Adam Grant, a psychologist for organisations, says that.
“Office Space” is a mode where disgruntled people choose to fight to sabotage their workplace or to do the minimum to avoid being fired. We haven’t considered that there is a third way to react to frustration. Sometimes we invent, rather than fight or flight.
Then he continues to say, “
Frustration can be described as feeling blocked from achieving a goal. It can be a destructive emotion that can lead to creative inspiration, even though it sounds negative. We can become frustrated when we aren’t satisfied with the status quo and question how things were done in the past. This allows us to reject the status quo and seek out better ways.
It can be powerful to try and understand your frustrations by reframe them.
It can be frustrating to learn about your own weaknesses. However, it can also provide an opportunity for improvement and growth. Bad managers can cause frustration and be an example of what to avoid. It can be frustrating to repeat the same task every day. Rejecting a proposal can be a sign that you should give up or try harder.
Try to create a positive narrative and not let the negatives drain your energy. Instead of dwelling on your default setting, see every situation through a different lens.
What should you say to someone who is unhappy with their work
Sometimes, you might be the wiser one and can offer advice to others. What if a friend, colleague or coworker expresses frustration at work?
Instead of trying to validate their feelings by adding your stories to the mix of emotions, ask these questions.
- This is what’s most frustrating about the situation
- What do you think was the cause of this frustration?
- What is their perspective on this situation?
- Do you worry about something within your control?
- What outcome do you anticipate from this conflict?
- What can you do to fix it?
- What can this tell you about yourself?
Engaging with them using a Growth mindset can help you move beyond complaining and find a solution. They can be empowered to make their life their own.
Either you allow frustrations to take over your time and prevent you from reaching your goals. Or you can act intentionally to make these frustrations lessening by setting expectations, engaging in healthy dialogs, avoiding thinking traps and setting the right expectations.