Raising Your Frustrations at Work: When and How

Are you frustrated at work? Not sure if you should just keep it to yourself?

Communication is not easy at the best of times.  Add a problem to the mix, and communicating can either make the situation better or worse. So how do you know when to communicate your frustrations at work and how do you do so without jeopardizing your relationships?

Here are three steps that can help you become a better advocate for yourself:

  1. ASSESS the situation and identify the cause of your frustrations. Is it your new colleague’s personality? Or is it the fact that this new colleague was hired for a role that you wanted? Taking the time to understand the underlying issues (either by speaking to a trusted colleague or writing out your thoughts) is a good first step to exploring if the frustration is internal or external or both. This is important because it will help you to identify with whom you need to communicate and the purpose for the communication.  Sometimes a frustration can be within ourselves such that the solution (or first step) is the need to work through it alone or with a trained professional. This could include issues around confidence, anxiety, and procrastination.
  2. DECIDE if you do, in fact, need to externalize your frustration. This can be the hardest step. In my coaching practice, I have seen many lawyers hesitate to raise their frustrations out of fear. They fear that they will hurt someone’s feelings. They fear for their job security. They fear a confrontation. These are all valid to consider when deciding whether to speak up, but I would add a few more factors to the list:
    1. Are you already discussing your frustration with others (at work or at home)? If so, then it’s probably worth raising. There is a difference between venting, which has its place. Raising a frustration recognizes that venting is not enough.
    2. Will this unresolved frustration cause you to leave your job or underperform? I see the former a lot. Sometimes leaving a job is the best thing to do, but sometimes that thing you’re avoiding just follows you from job to job. Avoidance can be even more harmful.
    3. How will this unresolved frustration impact your mental health? If you’ve not done so already, check out the former Chief Justice George Strathy’s piece on The Litigator and Mental Health.
  1. If you decide that raising your frustration is necessary to move forward, then PLAN what you will say to start a conversation with the appropriate person. I like the framework developed by the Center for Creative Leadership: Situation, Behaviour, Impact.
    1. Capture the situation and be specific about the details.
    2. Describe the behaviour that is frustrating you and stick to the facts (try not to draw conclusions about what someone did).
    3. Describe the impact on you by using “I” phrases and ask a question.

Here are some examples with an initial draft (the one that first comes to mind) and a refined draft (the one that gets developed with time and input):

Scenario One

Initial draft: “When I looked at my calendar for the week, I saw that you ignored my request yet again for a 30-minute buffer between meetings. I can’t believe this!”

Refined draft: “When I looked at my calendar for the week (situation), I saw that I have less than 15 minutes between meetings when I had asked you to schedule a 30-minute buffer (behaviour). I am concerned that I won’t have enough time to prepare between each meeting (impact). What happened?”

Scenario Two

Initial draft: “I still can’t believe Sonia got admitted to partnership and I didn’t. This is so unfair.”

Refined draft: “I have been actively working towards becoming a partner for the last 3 years, so when the committee decided that I was not ready (behaviour), I was disappointed (impact).  What’s missing from my candidacy?”

If you’re looking for a few more resources in planning what to say, here’s one for bosses and here’s one for dealing with difficult people.

I’d love to hear about your experiences in raising frustrations at work. And if you don’t want to do it alone, I’m here to help: paulette@21stcenturylawyer.ca

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