I’m sitting by Lake of the Woods in Northern Minnesota one recent morning, enjoying the sun rise, when I ask my sister-in-law about the most difficult part of her job as a sixth grade teacher. “Managing my frustrations”, she replied “getting the students to do what they are supposed to do and their parents to have reasonable expectations”.
Sound familiar managers? Substitute employees for students, and factor in that your subordinates are adults not children, and the challenge of managing your frustrations is almost a daily effort. Several years into his US presidency, Dwight Eisenhower described his daily routine this way: “I sit here all day trying to persuade people to do the things they ought to have sense enough to do without my persuading them” (Richard Neustadt’s “Presidential Power”, PP 9-10, 1960 edition). For a 5-star General, this had to be frustrating.
How often as managers do we think, “how often do I have to tell them”, or “wasn’t I clear when I said do this”, or “is there something confusing about the word no”? Still as subordinates, we all knew how to play the game of wait and see if the boss really meant what she or he said, or decided to wait and see if the boss would move on before we had to comply with some decision we opposed.
The best managers understand that the need to revisit things multiple times with many subordinates is tightly woven into the fabric of a manager’s job. That fact doesn’t make it any less frustrating at times but it does foster the persistence necessary to see things through to completion. Moreover, the best managers also understand that giving full, open, ill-considered expression to their natural frustrations is generally counterproductive and often leads to more resistance not less.
Frustration is one powerful emotion and it builds over time. The more we find ourselves overwhelmed with such feelings, the angrier we are likely to become and the harder it becomes to think clearly, logically, and productively about the other important aspects of our job. In addition, when angry, the more likely it is that we will give vent to our anger – verbally or behaviorally – in ways we will come to regret. Some things said and done can never completely be undone.
Managing your frustrations and anger is a critical part of managing effectively. Over time as a manager, I discovered that four proactive initiatives were especially helpful in dissipating the frustration-based emotional tension that often leads to the types of reactions you are bound to regret.
First, let folks know you are frustrated before real anger sets in. It is perfectly reasonable to explain to somebody how their non-compliance or lack of cooperation is making you feel. The mere expression of you feelings dissipates some of the accompanying emotion.
Second, watch your language. In a recent blog, I talked about the power of words. The more anger and emotion you feel, the more likely a torrent of inappropriate, derogatory, demeaning, disrespectful, and damaging – you’ll regret it later — language is likely to spill from your mouth. Over-the-top language obscures your real message and usually elicits an angry response in return. Use strong, unambiguous language to make your point but be measured in tone and body language in its expression
Third, if you must keep reminding someone about the need to do or accomplish something, then it is time to make clear that there will be consequences for continued non-compliance. Reminding folks to do what is necessary cannot go on forever.
Finally, once you have indicated that there will be consequences, you must follow through if even that accomplishes little. Otherwise your authority will mean little to a subordinate and all those who are watching to see if you mean it. Nothing gets everybody’s attention faster than the boss’s actually following through on what she or he said they would do.
Managing the emotions associated with frustration is a critical component of self-management, which in turn is step one in learning how to manage others. Taking positive, proactive steps, as opposed to stewing about something, is always a healthier response.