3 questions to help you vent a headful of steam

Photo courtesy of Flickr user: hang_in_there

Photo courtesy of Flickr user: hang_in_there

You could bring a problem to work that really has you fuming mad, but unless you have a saintly colleague waiting in the wings, you’re about to raise your frustration level even higher. More likely, someone will try to “fix” your problem with impractical advice, or an office buddy will be reminded of when they had a not-so-similar situation and shift the attention to their past dramas.

Your lunch pal might assure you how things could be worse, minimizing your feelings. Or your chosen confidant, a person quite uncomfortable with conflict, will ask to check back with you later — “after you cool down” – or they will suddenly remember something they have to do right now.

Recognize these “listeners”? If only they knew what to ask! (“Ask”, not “say”.) To help you chill out when you’re flaming hot, the most helpful colleague is one who can help you get to the root of your mad response. What might they ask to move the process along? Answer these three questions; it could re-engage your brain to help you (1) vent and (2) solve your own problem:

“What has you the most frustrated?” The listener will be watching for emotional words – not words like “glad”, “sad” “mad” or “afraid” – our four core emotional feelings — but rather the words you practically shout or spit out. “He is so darn stupid! He never listens to me and we always wind up having to spend our weekends helping his sister. It isn’t fair!”

Your empathetic friend will want to hear more about the words stupid, never, always, sister, and fair, helping you drill down to the root of the problem. “Tell me more about [insert one of the above words],” they might invite.

“What are you most angry about?” This isn’t a separate question, but a continuation of the first question, helping you connect your own emotional dots. Are you most angry that your partner is stupid? That he never listens? That his sister too often takes priority over you, or that you feel he lacks a backbone when it comes to family? Are you most irked because he isn’t fair in his dealings with you?

One of these “truths” (your truth) is the actual emotional trigger that was pulled. Not all of those words are tied to the real trigger – they are just descriptive of the backdrop presented in this situation. But the real word likely was said.

“What are you really upset or worried about?”You might be worried that you are dating someone who is less intelligent or quick on their feet than you, and it is proving to be an unexpected disappointment or growing inconvenience in your life. You might be most upset that you are feeling as if you come second to other members of his family. It might be that you don’t feel you have control over your own schedule or desires due to the relationship.

Once you get down to the core problem (as you see or feel it), then you can begin to make logical plans or choices to actually address it – when you will either accept or confront the trigger.

Too few people are good listeners. But the truest fact of all is that too few of us actually listen to our own words and try to move forward through our own problems. Instead, we live our exhausting little dramas over and over again, holding all of that steam inside or erupting at the most inopportune time, with a fury that most people find off-putting. It takes courage to calm down and answer a few straightforward questions honestly.

The good news is that courage is where change lives. It is in courage that we might also find compassion for others and for self – and even forgiveness. Best of all, just acknowledging the root of a problem or attitude sometimes is all we need to “vent” and steer safely, in the future, around this particular bump in our journey.

About Jody Glynn Patrick

Jody is President of Glynn Patrick & Associates, which provides management consulting, executive coaching and strategic planning services. She is Publisher Emeritus of In Business magazine, which she published for 17 years. Selected as the “U.S. Business Journalist of the Year” in 2007 in Washington, DC, by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Jody has been a business reporter, editor, radio talk show host , and has won other state and national journalism awards. At the same time, she has helped corporate clients grow their businesses -- the basis for her practical coaching advice here. She also was the 2005 Athena Award recipient for her leadership role in mentoring other professional women. Jody will be talking with you weekly on TDS’ blog to share her insights and tips from the C-Suite perspective. Follow on G+.

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