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Don't Let Frustrating People Get You Down

No leader is void of individuals who bring frustration. It could be a direct report, critical outsiders of the organization, other department members, a boss, or, at times, those in a leader’s innermost circle. Handling these types of people can be very draining, and depending on the leader’s personality, it may be difficult to navigate to an appropriate response.

Most leaders understand, however, that their response can often dictate the individual’s performance and ultimately the progress that the organization can and should make. If a leader is too harsh or bulldozes over those who bring frustration, momentum can be diminished. Oftentimes, this leader overcommunicates through their tone, body language and word choice, which can hurt the relationship and damage the capacity for progress.

Understanding how to deal with people in the times that you are most frustrated is critical to creating a culture that produces great work and emotionally healthy staff. Recently, I came across a passage of scripture that speaks directly to this. I have read it several times before, and though it is easy to quickly read past, as a leader it can be very difficult to apply. Here’s the passage:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” — James 1:19-20 (NIV)

This isn’t a revolutionary idea. In fact, I bet you have read it before. The truth is, though, that choosing to be slow to speak in moments of your greatest frustration can be very challenging. What is so interesting to me is that the writer connects your ability to be slow to speak and slow to be angry not with the individual you’re dealing with, he connects it with your own personal growth. That means that a lack of patience is a reflection of your personal growth, not the individual you’re dealing with.

With the understanding that you will be frustrated in the future, it is important to have a game plan on the front end to ensure that you give the appropriate response to each situation. Here are a few ways that you can ensure you’re leading towards that end.

1. Predetermined Empathy

Empathy is simply defined as being able to see and feel what the other person sees and feels. Before frustrating situations arise, predetermine that you will be the type of leader who constantly puts himself or herself in the other person’s seat. Rather than formulating your rebuttal in difficult conversations, seek to fully understand the thoughts and needs of the other person. In frustrating conversations, constantly ask yourself, “What does __________ want and need, REALLY?

2. Intentionally Focus on Tone and Body Language

Your tone and body language is either fueling tension or diffusing it. You are either communicating genuine concern or revealing emotions that add to the problem. During frustrating moments or tense conversations, seek to have open gestures and choose not to match the tone. If you are constantly matching the tone, the intensity will increase. Choose to speak at least one level below what the other person is communicating. You can be firm, but calm, at the same time. These two focuses alone will minimize the energy and intensity level of the conversation.

3. Summarize and Restate

John Maxwell has often said that “people don’t care what you have to say, until they know that you care.” In the same way, most people don’t care what your thoughts are until they know that they have been heard. Affirm the other person by ensuring that they know you understand where they are coming from. You can easily do this by summarizing and restating what they have communicated to you.

4. Ask Empowering Questions

Some leaders often push the other person to be defensive. A much more healthy response is to leverage intentional questions to help the other individual reach his or her own conclusions about the problem at hand. Asking questions like, “Can you help me understand … ” will move the other person to respond directly to your inability to understand something. This will allow the other person to move from unhealthy emotional responses to a more logical response.

5. Assume the Best

No matter how intense the frustration or how difficult the conversation, as a leader you must choose to assume the best in the individual’s intentions. If you have hired or recruited wisely, then you should have people on your team who have the right intentions. Even if the individual isn’t on your team, choosing to assume the best of their intentions will help you move quicker to the root of the issue and toward a better understanding of what the real problem is. If the issue is their intent, it will clearly surface over time.

As you move forward this week, know that your patience is a reflection of your personal growth, not those who frustrate you. Choose wisely in how you respond, and you can grow your influence while making others, even the ones who cause you frustration, better.