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Leadership: Help an Employee Turn Frustration into Action

“Trying to eliminate pain merely strengthens its hold.
It is better to uncover its meaning, include it as an essential part of our purpose, and embrace its potential to serve us.”

Roberto Assagioli – Psychosynthesis,

Setbacks and adversity are inevitably accompanied by negative emotions. Someone who has lost a big account, been passed over for promotion, or produced poor quarterly results is bound to feel disappointment, frustration, or anger.

Most leaders, confronted with an upset team member, view negative emotions as a contagion to contain before it infects the broader team. Or they see them as a problem to be solved quickly so that people can return to normal.

As a leader, it’s natural to want to help them bounce back quickly. But you can also help them channel that negativity into motivation and turn them into powerful tools for motivating demoralized people and unlocking their potential.

It comes down to knowing how to have productive conversations around negative emotions.

Here is how to navigate three key moments in a conversation to channel negative emotions into positive growth:

Label the negative emotion and engage.

Many leaders either try to rescue people from negative emotions or retreat from them. Neither approach is effective because both simply paper over strong feelings, ignoring the energy seething underneath. Instead, engage disappointed team members. Name the negative emotion and invite them to talk about it. – Example: “It sounds like you’re really disappointed,” – Don’t worry about being wrong. Just take your best guess. When you put a label on someone’s emotion, they will instantly either agree or correct you. They won’t be able to stop themselves. – Exameple: it’s not so much disappointment, but I feel betrayed – At that moment, the energy under the emotion surfaces. It is that energy that you want to channel in a constructive direction.

Feed the self-coach, not the self-critic.

Once the emotion has been identified and the raw energy underneath is exposed, remember that it’s just that: raw. At this stage, it could trigger the positive self-coach voice that says things like, “I clearly have a blind spot; I need to invest more time in understanding how I’m perceived by others.” The energy could also spark doubts about one’s abilities and trigger comments like, “people have finally realized I’ve been faking it all this time.” The positive self-coach is helpful; the self-critic is self-destructive. Effective coaches engage people in creating a productive answer to the question, “What is this emotion telling me?” You can amplify the self-coach’s voice in a demoralized colleague and muffle the self-critic by framing negative emotion as a sign of meaning.

Channel energy to action.

The energy that underlies negative emotion can be channeled into things we can control or toward highly unproductive ends. Help paint a clear picture of the gap that exists between a future of action and one of inaction — and use the difference to channel energy into action. Start by asking the person to imagine how he or she will feel if nothing changes …

Negative emotions are painful, but leaders can help turn them into something positive.

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