How to Stop Being Frustrated by Others

Written by Melissa Kessler, MA, PCC

Most frustrations are due to unmet expectations. You believe you will be promoted, and someone else gets the job. You plan to celebrate the holidays with family members, and they make travel arrangements for Florida. You assume you will be in and out of a medical appointment quickly, and you end up there for two hours. In all of these situations, you expect the circumstances to be different than what they actually are.

One thing you can do to increase the likelihood that your expectations will be met is to communicate them to others upfront. You can’t get angry with your spouse for not loading the dishwasher if you never made this request.

Here are some guidelines for setting expectations effectively:

  1. Ask for what you want and be clear. (“Will you please load the dishwasher as soon as we are finished with dinner and put all of the dishes away as soon as they are finished drying?”)
  2. Clarify understanding. (“What is your understanding of what I am asking for?”)
  3. Ask for agreement. (“Will you please do this for me?”)
  4. Negotiate if agreement is not granted. (“What are you willing to do to help me with dinner clean up?”)
  5. Finalize and clarify agreement. (“So you agree to clear the table, load the dishwasher and put the dishes away before you go to bed?”)

Sometimes, you may have communicated your expectations, and yet they still aren’t met. In these cases, you can communicate this and ask about it. (“I thought we agreed that… What happened?”)

Lastly, you may expect people to behave according to your standards and how you would respond in certain situations, and then they respond differently. (For example, your son or daughter wants to get married and work full time after graduating high school instead of going to college.) In these cases, you are better off changing your expectations, or not having expectations of others at all.

People do the best they can and what makes sense to them based upon their beliefs, needs, experiences, values, circumstances, etc.  In Brene Brown’s book Rising Strong, she asks her husband, a pediatrician, if he believes that people are doing the best they can. He says, “I don’t know. I really don’t. All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.”

Derek Harvey’s equation succinctly describes this entire concept: Expectation – Observation = Frustration. I developed a different equation that shows this concept in a more positive way: Reality + Acceptance = Serenity. Whenever I become frustrated by situations or other people, I remind myself of both of these equations. We all have the ability to choose serenity over frustration by accepting what is instead of expecting it to be different.

“It’s not the problem that causes our suffering; it’s our thinking about the problem.” – Byron Katie

 I am a lover of what is, not because I’m a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.” – Byron Katie


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