Tips for expressing frustrations in conversation

It can be difficult to express a frustration. We worry it will come out wrong, or be interpreted incorrectly.

We feel this way because we know that effective communication isn’t just about what we say; it’s about what other people hear. The trick to expressing frustrations in a way that are constructive is to remove any of your own evaluations, preferences, and suggestions from what you say. This way you don’t risk criticizing or insulting people.

Stay focused on how you feel, what triggers that feeling and why that feeling does not contribute to your wellbeing.

Try expressing your frustration in this way:

When I observe (see, hear, remember, imagine) ..., I feel [emotion] ... because I need / value ...

A real-life example might be:

“When you didn’t mention that I helped on that project, I felt frustrated because I need recognition for my contributions”

In just a few words you can express a frustration by what you observe, what you feel and what you need. It’s important to try and understand what needs are not being met, so you can show to others why you feel frustrated. Here is a list of some common needs at work, which everyone can relate to because we all have them.

Autonomy – Competency – Connection – Collaboration – Reassurance – Understanding – Support – Security – Consistency – Clarity – Respect – Integrity. Find more here

If your sense of frustration is arising from a shared value that is not being upheld, you can refer to a company value – like “openness”, “excellence” or "respect".

“When we started the last three meetings late this month, I felt frustrated because we have a need as a team to respect each other’s time.”

It’s important not to load your need with a suggested strategy by becoming too specific. A need to respect each other’s time can be met in many different ways – e.g. moving the meeting start time, re-visiting the purpose of the meeting, reducing the number of overall meetings, individual commitment to start on time. It’s better to discuss the strategies as a group so you find a solution that you can all work with.

Take a look at the guidance in this blog for more help expressing frustrations.