I thought I was dying. The pain in my arm had been there for days and even though it was my right, not my left, I still worried about heart attack, blood clots and other terrible conditions. After googling all possibilities and working myself up, I headed to the ER, only to sit and wait for hours. By the time I met with the doctor, I was frustrated and embarrassed. Luckily, my doctor did the one thing that could remove my frustration and immediately improve her ability to help.
Did she ask me to describe my symptoms? Of course.
Did she ask me to show her where it hurts? Absolutely.
Did she ask me if I recently did something to cause my pain? Certainly.
At this point, she could have kept treating me and doing her job despite my terse remarks but she paused instead.
“I sense you’re frustrated,” she said. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Instead of continuing to embrace my anger, I started to share how I was really feeling. I thought it could be a heart attack since many women don’t have classic symptoms. Clearly, I was the only person in the building that was concerned, because if it was really life threatening, I wouldn’t move from waiting area to waiting area but would be a priority patient. I was frustrated because I took my Saturday evening to sit and wait for hours when there’s really nothing wrong.
“I hear you. I understand.”
In that moment, I did feel heard, respected and a lot less frustrated. I told her I respected her judgement and if she thinks all I need is Tylenol and rest, I believe her. She said that she respects proactive patients and wanted to do an EKG because she wants me to not only be cared for at the hospital, but also sleep well at night.
Our relationship changed in that moment from a detached doctor-patient to a healthcare team.
What about you? Ever try to help someone and clearly sense their frustration? What do you do? Do you pull out an “I’m the leader and I said so” or do you know how to remove frustration and turn around the situation?
Follow these steps to remove frustration and invite connection:
1. Acknowledge Frustration
When people are clearly bottling up frustration, say something instead of pretending that you don’t notice. The idea that you don’t have the time to deal with frustration is simply an excuse to avoid a potentially tough conversation. Letting frustration grow is a sure-fire way to tank any chance of significant shared success.
TIP: Avoid being accusatory: “Stop getting so frustrated!” Try opening a door: “I can tell that you’re really feeling frustrated.”
2. Ask about Their Frustration
Hit the pause button once you make your acknowledgement and invite them to talk about how they’re feeling. Be clear that you’re on their side by not getting defensive in your questioning. Remember, you may sense their frustration yet you may not be the source.
TIP: Avoid blaming questions: “What am I doing that’s so frustrating?” Try a conversation starter: “Do you want to talk about it?”
This may seem obvious but listening requires you to stop talking. This is the time to understand, not solve someone’s frustration through your brilliance and leadership savvy. Be kind, gentle and curious rather than time-pressed, judgmental and demanding.
TIP: Zip your lips, sit on your hands and hold back your desire to go into fix-it mode.
4. Acknowledge Feelings
If someone is vulnerable enough to share the reason behind their frustration with you, acknowledge them and acknowledge their feelings. If you think they are being ridiculous, remember that they are giving you their trust and their feelings are very real even if you don’t share them.
TIP: Ensure that they know that they’re being heard and you care. “Thank you for being honest. I appreciate your willingness to speak up.”
If you really want to turn frustration into connection there is a final step that’s all about you engaging and taking action. It’s one thing to say, “I hear you.” and another to make a change based on their needs and feelings. This is your chance to show them that you’re on their side and not only focused on getting things done.
TIP: People matter. Leaders build bridges and are willing to cross them to deepen relationships and create shared success. Try: “I hear you and here’s what I”m going to do…”
How have you removed frustration to invite connection? What tips can you share?
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