Frustrated at Work
Frustrated: disappointed; thwarted: an announcer who was a frustrated actor.
Thwarted: to oppose successfully; prevent from accomplishing a purpose.
I do career coaching and often people ask me for advice about how to handle situations with colleagues. In this case, the situation presented to me was about how I might handle the “know-it all” who is doing something wrong and wants to be told that they are doing it right.
“I started to ask him about his use case when my boss stepped in and started to argue with them that they were doing it all wrong. All that happened is that I became frustrated as the two of them argued and nothing changed.”
In case you haven’t noticed, no one responds well to an argument that translates into “You’re wrong and I’m right.” The proof is in how many people were persuaded to change their minds about who to vote for (or against) in the last election.
After all the insults of political candidates, insults of people who supported a particular candidate, memes, etc., the number of people who changed their mind about who to vote for in the US could probably be counted on two hands. It is no different in the workplace or with your family. No one like to be told directly or indirectly something that translates into, “What are you stupid? What are you thinking? Where are your brains?”
All that happens is that one person or the other feels frustrated — thwarted in their desire to win. We expected to win because we were “right” in our minds. Their ideas have been held at bay.
What the words, “frustrated” and “thwarted” don’t address is how we emotionally respond as a feeling. What I have seen is that when we feel frustrated we become angry and direct that anger at ourselves because it would be wrong to direct it at the other person because there would be bad consequences.
Maybe you would be brought in for a meeting and told that what you did was wrong. Maybe it would affect your promotion, salary increases or bonus. Pretty quickly we learn that anger at others can’t be expressed at work so we still are still angry but hold it in and feel angry at ourselves.
There are many layers that people experience in episodes like this. Male know it all and female coworker. US born know it all not listening to non-US born co-worker who really just wants the best for him. Superior subordinate. White vs. non-white. Two white male superiors arguing and ignoring a female subordinate of a different nationality and race who only wants the best for the situation and actually knows better than either how to achieve it.
Lots of different subplots in the story that all lead to frustration. Anger. Anger held in. Anger that eventually becomes self-directed by three people.
How could it have been handled differently?
I think everyone could have approached it differently.
When dealing with a “know it all,” any questioning can be interpreted as criticism. Thus, when asked about a “use case,” this person sensed criticism was coming and put up his guard.
Better to have asked, “I’m curious, why did you take that approach? I would like to learn your thinking because I would have approached it differently and I need to learn from you.” Notice an acknowledgement that a difference would have existed and an invitation to explain choices.
Maybe “The Know It All” Does Know Better
After all, maybe, just maybe, the alleged “know it all” actually knows better that the supposed expert. Hasn’t that happened many times in the past? One side knows better than the supposed expert what they want and what needs to happen to satisfy them. Rather than demanding compliance with a structure that doesn’t work for the people who are forced to operate in it, it is better to hear them out and learn their point of view.
In addition, the playing field has been leveled between what are seeming combatants and there is an invitation to explain choices and reasons for decisions. The alleged expert can listen and learn as long as she is legitimately curious and acts like someone who wants to help them.
When her boss steps in and escalates the level of hostilities, she can say to him, “We are having a good discussion here and an opportunity to hear from someone who is affected by our work. Let me handle this and circle back to you if I need your expertise.”
Thus, she is able to defend the “know it all,” indicate that she is fine and, if her boss ignores her respond by saying, “I guess I’m not needed here,” and extricate herself from the warring armies having made an ally while respecting her boss’s authority.
Speaking to you who are managers, directors, VP’s, leaders in an organization, you need to learn to trust your people, rather than signal your distrust. A great response would have been, “Let me know if I can help.” That would have been inviting to both parties rather than turn things into a duel.
Who’s The Key Person in This Story?
We all know that not everyone is reasonable and that we all have days when we are “off.” When you think about this situation, the key person here is the SME, the real expert, who has to practice taking charge of situations and not allow herself to be run over by deflecting the attack into a legitimate desire to help while acknowledging that she would have approached the solution differently.
Why not ask questions, be quiet and listen. It might actually work in some family situations, too!
© The Big Game Hunter, Inc. Asheville, NC 2017
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked in recruiting for what seems like one hundred years. He is the head coach for JobSearchCoachingHQ.com and NoBSCoachingAdvice.com. He is the host of “The No BS Coaching Advice Podcast,” “No BS Job Search Advice,” and “Job Search Radio.”
Are you interested in my coaching you? Email me at JeffAltman@TheBigGameHunter.us and put the word, “Coaching” in the subject line.
Subscribe to the “No BS Coaching Advice” podcast.