Exercise on Interpersonal Conflict: How to control frustrations and anger to solve problems


“If we don’t change the direction we are going, we are likely to end up where we are heading.” – Chinese Proverb

Of the three basic emotions that lead to poor productivity and interpersonal flare-ups —disappointment, frustration and fear—frustration leading to anger is the most destructive. Your particular situation may involve enormous frustrations and disappointments with others or yourself.  (“I needed to find better ways to handle Danny’s tantrums before I create a never-ending battle of the wills.” Darn him for always having a melt down when I need his cooperation.”) or enormous self-anger (“Why, why, why can’t I be a better Dad when things are not going well with the kids; m expected reaction just raises the temperature and sets him off. I really hurt our relationship when I get anger.” Whatever the proportions, some feel frustrated guilty but resist letting the situation escalate to anger, shouting and demanding; others acknowledge their frustration and inability to handle the situation but feel “stuck” in same old patterns.. Most of these regrets get you stuck in unproductive perseverance.

Considering frustration and anger separately makes both more useful. Right now, think of something or someone you are frustrated with… With that situation or person in mind, finish this sentence: “I’m frustrated that __________.” Repeat the exercise until you run out of frustrations and things related to that person or situation. For example, if you are  frustrated with a building contractor not finishing on time or making major errors on the project, you might say, “I’m frustrated and extremely disappointed that I have to stay on top of every piece of this remodeling project or it doesn’t get done on budget or in a timely manner. I’m angry that I chose such an incompetent builder and that this project is taking up all my time and energy. ” So this first exercise gets at the root causes for the frustrations.

Now that you have fully itemized the causes for the frustrations make another list of possible solutions needed to be implemented to solve the causes. In this part 2 of the exercise begin each sentence with the phrase, “I’m frustrated and angry at ________ because________ and I want to resolve this by _____________” For example, “I’m angry at Bill, the builder,  because of the cost and time over runs and I want to solve this by instituting a daily meeting to set priorities and action items for completion. To ensure we stay on task I am immediately bringing in a new supervisor for the project.” I’m sad about the need for this tight structure and supervision and the finger-pointing and blame game that has been going on” Write down the solution based  on your identification of the causes for the frustrations and anger about the personnel and situation.

Underneath frustrations is the feeling of disappointment when looking back at what we could have done. It does have a piece of self-loathing. Also, anger for what took place or is still happening. Try learning the lessons the experience is teaching you now rather than looking back and obsessively contemplating what could have been. Reflecting on Warren Buffet’s view of looking back may help you put frustrations and disappointments in perspective–”I never look back. I figure there is so much to look forward to that there is no sense thinking of what I might have done. It just doesn’t make any difference. You can only live life forward.”  So as you think about your frustrations right now–If you had the opportunity for a “do over” what would you do differently? What can you do now to correct the situation or put the project back on track?

Finally, remember that you need to focus on living and working fully and intensely in the present, with minimal infringement from the past failures or miscues to solve this problem and improve productively and enable others on the team to do their best work.


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