Dealing with other people’s frustrations

by | Jun 24, 2018 | Change | 0 comments

I had a client recently who was upset. She had got to breaking point at work with a colleague who had been undermining her and had expressed her frustration to her partner at home. His solution was to tell her what she should do, which had made her even more upset. 

Another was confused as his son had complained about how useless an assignment was that he had been given at school, and then stormed off when he had tried to explain why he had to complete it and its relevance to his studies. 

Dealing with someone else’s frustrations can be a minefield, but it is one that can be easily and simply solved with these simple steps:


I mean really listen. Turn off the TV, or the radio; put your phone to silent; stop whatever you are doing; turn your full attention on the person you are talking to, whether it is your boss, your spouse, your child or a friend. Let them see that you are focusing on them. If you are doing something that cannot wait, tell them you can see that what they have to say is important and ask them if you can finish what you are doing then come to them so that you can give them your full attention. Then keep that promise. 

When they are talking, show that you are truly listening by rephrasing what they have said without judgment.


Even if the complaint seems trivial to you, for another person to voice their frustration means that it is not trivial to them. Tell them that you can see how frustrating / annoying / upsetting the situation is. Phrases like, “I can see this is really frustrating” do not mean you agree with them, but they do show that you can see how it is affecting them. 

If you try to put things into proportion at this moment it might escalate the tensions and emotions. To get a satisfactory solution, you need to de-escalate their emotional response, so show that you understand their feelings. 

Get to the heart of the problem

Make sure you understand what it is that is causing the problem and how it is affecting them. Without truly understanding the issue from their perspective you cannot help them through it. Try to simplify the problem down to specifics that they agree with.

One thing to emphasize here is that at this stage, don’t make excuses or explain away the situation. If it is your behaviour that is being complained about, don’t use the word “but” anywhere in your conversation. This will dismiss any understanding and empathy that you have just shown.

Ask them if they want help 

Your friend, colleague or child may not actually want you to solve their problem. They may just want to be heard. Asking something along the lines of “Is there anything I can do to help here?” will help you differentiate whether someone is asking for help or just venting frustrations. If they do want help, ask them for some ideas of what they would ideally like the situation to be – their best case scenario before potentially limiting their expectations by asking “if that isn’t possible, what would you be an acceptable solution?”

If you are dealing with your teenager, this is the time that you can also look at the other person’s perspectives. This may be a friend who has ignored their messages, or even you, worried about their grades and their future. Make sure you don’t use judgmental language or say anything that can be understood as accusing them of anything as they are likely to walk off even more upset than before. Remember your goal is to help them solve the problem at hand. 

Follow through

If they are not sure what they want, other than change, then agree a time to look at it again when you have both had time to reflect on the problem. Again, follow through. The issue may have resolved itself by the time you go back to it. 

So why is it better to go through a lengthy process rather than go straight to the solution, which would be so much faster? Well, for one, telling people what they should do also tells them that you don’t believe they can solve the problem themselves, which can make them less able to get around the next obstacle they face. Secondly, by delving into the problem and finding out exactly what the it really is can sometimes reveal a bigger issue that the problem is just a symptom or a part of.

Finally, by giving them the tools to find their own solutions, you help the other person to grow and manage independently, which if that person is your child, is the end goal after all . 

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