What To Do When Others Disappoint Us

Inside the brain of a frustration stuffer

Inside the brain of a frustration stuffer

When others break their promises, fail to meet expectations, or behave badly we can stuff our frustration (and eventually blow up), rant and rave (and make things worse), or we can voice our complaints in a way that holds others accountable while saving the relationship. It’s a way to disagree agreeably, turn debate into dialogue, and get the results we want.

1.  How we justify NOT confronting

  • We deny the risks of staying silent.
  • We exaggerate the risks of confronting.
  • We’ve convinced ourselves we’re conflict avoidant.
  • We ignore the benefits of resolving the problem.
  • We think nobody else is complaining so why rock the boat?
  • We’re afraid of hurting other’s feelings.
  • We were taught, “Don’t question authority.”
  • We expect others to read our minds.
  • We’re guilty of doing the same thing and we are hypocritical.
  • We don’t know how to complain effectively.
  • We figure “What’s the use?”
  • We hope to ignore it and the problem will go away.

2.  If we don’t confront others when they…

  • Break promises they’ll continue to break promises.
  • Violate expectations they’ll continue to violate expectations.
  • Behave badly they’ll continue to behave badly.
  • Lie, steal, cheat they’ll continue to behave badly.
  • Abuse drugs, others, or us they’ll continue to abuse.
  • Act irresponsible they’ll continue to act irresponsibly.
  • Act immorally or illegally they’ll think we approve of their actions.
  • Do wrong we’ll be tempted to belly-ache to others which doesn’t help at all.
  • Deserve to be confronted they’ll get away with things.
  • Offend others they’ll continue to blindly offend others.

3.  Confronting is risky when the…

  • …offense is petty. Would others think this problem is worth complaining about?
  • …complaint addresses the wrong problem.
  • …complaint addresses too many complaints at once.
  • …offended person loves to control, micromanage, or stir up drama.
  • …complaints are frequent, loud, and unending.

4.  Effective confronting starts with curiosity: why did they do that?

5.  Effective confronting creates safety

6.  Establish your credibility

  • Others often disappoint us because we’ve disappointed them.
  • Ransack your memory—are there unresolved old hurts between you and the other person?
  • Is an apology necessary?

7.  Start by sharing your good intentions

  • I want you to be successful…
  • I want to protect you from other’s wrong assumptions.
  • I am concerned about something and I need your help.
  • I want you to continue to live/work here, however, I’ve got a problem.
  • What do we need to do to help you succeed?
  • I don’t want to add to the problem by looking for blame. I just want to solve the problem.
  • I know what I care about. I want to learn what you care about.

 8.  Launch the conversation

  • Describe the ‘gap’ between what was expected and what you observed. “This is what I saw ___.”
  • Offer a tentative interpretation of why you think the other person did what they did (“These are the ideas going on inside my head ____.”
  • Ask if those ideas are correct. If your conclusions are wrong, let them explain their point of view. Seek to understand before you are understood.
  • Don’t say, “You said ___.” But rather, “I thought we agreed that ___.”
  • Does the other person agree there’s a gap? “Did we miss something? I thought we agreed that ___.”
  • What was the underlying cause—lack of ability or lack of motivation? “Are you choosing not to do what I ask or are you unable to do what I ask?”
  • End with a question, “So, I was wondering what happened?” “What would it take to fix this?” “Where should we go from here?

9.  Stay calm. If we lose our cool THAT’S what others will focus on, not their responsibilities. Be direct and respectful.

10.  Ways we justify using force to make others change

  • Other’s non compliance makes us feel powerless, so we ramp up the threats, the volume, and the criticism which in turn triggers their resistance.
  • Exerting power/threats gives us quick results (or so we think) but it turns us into policemen.
  • We think there are only two options: force them to comply (I win, they lose), or let them off the hook (I lose, they win).
  • Others used power on us and so we use it on others.
  • Hurt people hurt people. If we have been hurt, we should do our best to focus on solutions, not revenge, punishing, angry demands, martyrdom, guilting, or manipulating. These tactics don’t last.
  • Winning coaches/drill sergeants abuse their players/recruits. We think, “Some people simply deserve my tantrums, threats, and attacks.”
  • If necessary we can always use power later (law suits, firing, leaving the relationship, discipline). But let’s start with effective complaints first.

11.  Help them be motivated to take appropriate action

  • Do not try to motivate by using force.
  • Do no assume the other knows what you want. Spell out your expectations and boundaries clearly, calmly, and professionally.
  • Help them see the natural consequences of their continued disappointing behavior, “Here are the negative things that will happen if you continue to ___.”
  • Help them see the see the natural consequences of good behavior, “Here are the good things that’ll happen if you start doing ____.”
  • Brainstorm possible solutions that help you and the other person meet your and their personal goals.
  • Agree on who will do what and by when, and set a date for follow up. Check back with (not check up on) later.

12.  Some possible consequences to mention if they continue to resist you

  • Does this behavior accurately represent who you are and what you want for yourself?
  • How might others (family, coworkers, peers) view your behavior?
  • How might your behavior negatively impact others (family, coworkers, peers)?
  • How might you benefit by changing your behavior?
  • Compare short term benefits with long term costs of not changing negative behaviors.
  • Compare short term benefits with long term benefits of making positive changes.

For more information see Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzer, Crucial Conversations (McGraw Hill, 2002) and Crucial Confrontations (McGraw Hill, 2005).

Leave a comment


  1. This is an excellent piece filled with specific, useful ideas that work very well. Thanks for contributing information people really need. You have a great way of doing so without adding to “information overload.” Much appreciated!

  2. Thanks, Bonnie! Glad to be of service.

  3. berthamakes

     /  January 9, 2013

    Reblogged this on Bertha's Blog.


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