Along with the flu, colds, and the coronavirus, something else is going around: frustration. Business leaders are dealing with their own frustrations and the frustrations of the people they are leading, and some days, this can feel overwhelming. People are often frustrated with colleagues not meeting deadlines, bosses tolerating underperformers, customers taking advantage, co-workers talking too much, not getting enough funding, feeling under-appreciated, decisions delayed, standards not enforced, and someone ate my lunch! And how are leaders managing others’ frustrations? They fix and solve every single one. It’s like clockwork: someone is frustrated because their laptop isn’t working properly, the leader trouble-shoots it; someone is frustrated by an unhappy customer, the leader calls the customer; someone is frustrated with a co-worker who isn’t playing nice, the leader sets up a meeting. And on, and on, and on.
One problem with being a fixer is that it’s exhausting and unproductive. It provides a short-term fix to problems that will resurface in different ways. And even more concerning is that by fixing the problem, the leader misses a great opportunity to help someone solve their own frustration and to feel empowered by doing so – which is what leadership is all about. Here is a simple tip to better manage other people’s frustrations in a more effective way:
Let’s say someone comes into your office and starts sharing their frustration. You don’t even need to let them finish speaking because you already know how to fix it (because you developed the skill of ESP at a very young age and you’re the fastest thinker of anyone you know, right?! 😊). You interrupt, respectfully of course, and start to speak … and here is the tip – STOP! Don’t say it. Catch yourself and pause. Wait a couple of seconds, and then instead of fixing the problem, acknowledge something the speaker is saying. You can say, “That’s hard,” or “Wow, sounds irritating,” or “Looks like you’re in a tough spot.” And you’ve done it – you’ve just made someone feel heard.
After that, ask an open-ended question like, “What do you think you can do about it?” or “What needs to be done?” or “What help do you need?” or “What’s the next step?” And most times, that’s all that’s needed. They may go on a bit more about the problem (venting is how we let air out of a frustration) but the usual result is a sense of relief that you understand them and how they feel, and a sense of empowerment that they can do something about the frustration. And, you might even get a “You’re the best boss ever.”
Charlotte Shelton, author of “Quantum Leaps: 7 Skills for Workplace ReCreation,” writes about frustration this way: “Frustration is internally generated. Regardless of how controlling your manager is, or how incompetent your co-workers appear to be, there is another way of seeing them … you can always find something to appreciate. Energetically, we have little probability of changing our negative external realities until we can see them from a positive perspective. The paradox is that as our perceptions shift, so do our feelings. Our need to change the external environment often diminishes when we cease to focus so much negative energy on the problem.”
Don’t be a fixer – help others become their own fixer. And keep leading!