“If you just communicate, you can get by. But if you communicate skillfully, you can work miracles.”-Jim Rohn.
Today I want to delve into a topic that has been on my mind lately: the importance of handling frustrating situations and resetting expectations in our relationships. Whether it’s a colleague, friend, or even a family member, we often find ourselves caught in moments where tensions rise, assumptions are made, and perceptions become skewed. We can resolve tensions and strengthen our connections if we lean into these conversations with grace and curiosity, so let’s explore how it’s done.
The first step is acknowledging that we all have filters and experiences shaping our understanding of the world. These filters can cause us to assume things about others or perceive their actions in a particular way. You know those moments when you think, “They always do this” or “They just don’t understand”? It’s our past experiences that influence our emotions and reactions.
So, what should we do when we feel frustrated, upset, or irritated by someone’s words or actions? I’ve discovered a powerful approach that has helped me tremendously: instead of bottling up your emotions, lean into them. Embrace the feeling of frustration or irritation and give it your full attention. Remember, feeling that way for a moment or two is okay. Did you know each emotion only lasts for 90 seconds? So, take a deep breath and permit yourself to acknowledge the feeling at the moment, then explore the more profound message behind the emotion. Take a few deep breaths or excuse yourself to use the bathroom. When emotions are fully processed, your inner system will start to relax. Then, cultivate curiosity and ask yourself, “What is this emotion trying to tell me?” For example, feeling frustrated might indicate that an important standard or rule is being violated. For example, a client asked for urgent help for the second time in the month. Even though you genuinely care about the well-being of the person or situation at hand and regardless if you have time to help, you might be concerned that you enabled the client to repeat this behavior in the future.
Now, here’s where the magic happens. Once you’ve identified the underlying concern, ask yourself, “What would I do if I didn’t want this behavior to repeat?” This question unlocks a world of possibilities and resources within you. When you approach the situation with clarity and a growth mindset, you’ll find yourself tapping into a state of abundance, even if your time is limited.
Let’s take, for example, the “urgent” requests we’ve all received at one time or another. It’s likely that given your expertise, if you had a bit of notice, you would be able to handle the request quickly, but when someone continues to have “urgent” requests, it can wear you, your team, and your relationships down, and honestly, it’s unfair for the other clients. So now is the time to act.
Step 1: Look inward first. Self-reflect on how well you’ve set and stuck to expectations in the past. If this is a repeated concern, likely, expectations weren’t set, fully acknowledged, or simply violated. Your repeated “going above and beyond” may feel herculean to you and just another day to your client as you’ve trained them to ignore the boundaries and expectations.
Step 2: Have a conversation. The heat of the moment is not the best time to recalibrate, handle the matter, and set a time to discuss what happened and how you can work together to honor their request and your boundary. Consider saying, “We pride ourselves on providing superior customer service to our clients. For your request this morning, our team had to push those queued tasks to fit yours in. We would appreciate an x-day lead time in situations like this in the future. What are my blind spots?” This helps set the stage for resetting expectations while supporting the request.
Step 3: Stand tall. You must establish boundaries to do great work and be great to work with. As women professionals, we tend to feel bad not helping. If you’ve ever thought, “I don’t want to feel bitchy/bossy/impossible to work with or open a can of worms,” you’re placing the needs and wants of others over yourself, your team, and your work. Healthy relationships require boundaries where mutual understanding, respect, and value are exchanged. Remember to stand tall and remember why this conversation is essential before you start the conversation.
Step 4: Own it. When you meet with them, have your data intact for the times you’ve “gone above and beyond” and your general lead time for requests. Be sure to communicate that while you’ve made exceptions in the past, your team needs time to do their best work to ensure your client is fully supported. Any reasonable person will appreciate your desire to do your best work and that you’ve clearly communicated what the team can and can’t do. While it’s rare if they can’t work within the set expectations, it will be better for both parties to part ways so that they can find someone who is set up to handle their requests and you don’t burn yourself and your team out.
It’s incredible how this simple open communication can transform a tense situation into a collaborative effort, fostering understanding and strengthening your bond.
Remember, leading with curiosity and embracing your emotions doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything or become a pushover. It’s about understanding the nature of human experiences and recognizing that assumptions and perceptions are not absolute truths. You create space for growth, compassion, and meaningful connections by approaching these situations with an open mind and heart.
So, the next time you find yourself in a challenging situation, take a moment to pause, feel the emotions, and explore their underlying messages. Let curiosity be your guide, and take steps to open communication for your relationship’s sake. I have heard that “Both parties are transformed after a conversation.” I say both parties are connected to a deeper level after a candid conversation. So, embrace the power of curiosity, and watch your connections flourish!
Karla McLaren, M.ED is an award winning author, social science researcher, workplace consultant, and empathy expert. Her lifelong work focuses on her grand unified theory of emotions, which revalues even the most “negative” emotions and opens startling new pathways into self-awareness, effective communication and healthy empathy.
Brene Brown’s book “Atlas of the Heart” https://brenebrown.com/resources/atlas-of-the-heart-list-of-emotions
Susan David, Ph.D. is one of the world’s leading management thinkers and an award-winning Harvard Medical School psychologist. Her TED Talk on the topic of emotional agility has been seen by more than 10 million people.