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Frustration and the Path of Least Resistance

March 22, 2018 / Comments (76)

To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.        
– Isaac Newton

Most of us have been touched in some way by the recent events in Paris and Beirut and other atrocities over the last few weeks. One thing these events have done is to put attention on what happens in any situation when one person strikes out against another.

According to Isaac Newton, from a physical perspective, if there is motion in one direction there is always an equal and opposing response. I have found this to also be true in relationships.

When I first started out in consulting I had a boss who was very intelligent and had years of consulting experience. He would frequently flaunt his intelligence. My guess now is that he was a bit out of his comfort zone and he needed to reassure himself that he was good enough for the job. With my being so new and having very little consulting experience at the time, I often felt less than or not good enough when I was around him.

One day we went on a client call together. My background happened to be similar to the clients and we had an immediate connection. Not so for my boss. I remember at one point my boss said something that wasn’t appropriate for the situation. I looked at my client and we rolled our eyes. I know, very childish of me not to allow my boss to save face but, that is where I was at the time, needing to feel smart.

After that whenever I would write a proposal he would analyze it looking for any small detail he could point out that was wrong. Then he would march into my office and say, “Do that again and you’re going to get the pink slip.” And yes, his reaction to me was childish as well.
His pink slip threats continued for several years and each time I would silently bristle. Finally I had enough and found another job. Sadly we both wasted an opportunity. I could have learned a lot from him and at the same time I was his top earner in the department.

The problem is that when we are in the middle of a disagreement or a negative situation our tendency is to either place all the blame on the opposing side or, in some cases, to take all the blame ourselves. We fail to recognize that there are opposing forces at work and as long as both sides continue to push against each other then there can be no resolution.

But, what happens if one person stops reacting to the force of the other person?

A number of years ago I was leading a system implementation for a national retailer. The retailer’s executive sponsor for the project was constantly picking out minor concerns and blowing them all out of proportion, demanding more and more details.

My reaction was a very typical female response. I would pull together the information he asked in an attempt to “take care of” his concerns. This is what I often refer to with my clients as the ‘mothering’ syndrome.

Every time I brought him information he demanded more. At times it felt like I was being bullied. There seemed to be nothing I or anyone else could do to shift his attitude towards me and the team. Every week for months on end it was the same story. It was stressful and I was overwhelmed with all the work that I felt he was unnecessarily placing on me.

We weren’t yelling at each other but the fight was on. I could feel my resentment growing and the tension between us was real. He was going to demand what he wanted and I wasn’t going to let him think I wasn’t good enough to lead the team.

Luckily, during this time I had a coach who asked me to consider what else might be going on for the executive sponsor that might be causing him to be so unreasonably demanding. Was it true that he was being critical because he didn’t think that I was good enough to lead the project?

In doing a little undercover work I discovered that he had been previously downsized and was most likely worried about his job security. His family was angry at him for moving them to a place that they hated. And, last but not least, his boss and he didn’t get along.

Then my coach asked me to consider how I was responding to him. Slowly I became aware that I was reacting from my need to be accepted and valued. In my subconscious I believed that if someone was angry that it must be my fault and I just needed to try harder to gain approval.

My reaction to him made me the perfect target to let out his frustrations. Every time I responded by bringing him more information it just fueled the fire. I was so concerned about myself that I couldn’t hear that he simply needed a safe place to vent his frustrations.
How do I know this is true? A few weeks after this discovery we were in a team meeting. He started to berate me in front of the entire team. But instead of trying to fix the situation he was talking about, I sat quietly and attentively listening, until he ran out of steam. Then without saying anything I was able to continue on with the meeting.

After the meeting one of the team members came up to me and asked, “What was that all about?” I was able to honestly say, “He is having a rough time right now and just needed to vent.”

The best part is that the aggravated demands stopped. Why? When I stopped pushing back the opposing force had an opportunity to be released. I found the path to least resistance.
Bottom line, just because we aren’t overtly fighting doesn’t mean we aren’t pushing back and creating resistance and unnecessary problems for ourselves. Pushing back can take many forms and can look to ourselves and to others like we are just doing our job. It may even be something as simple as an eye roll or a sigh when we don’t agree with something someone says during a meeting and which may feel like a put down to the other person.

And please note that just because my examples were with men doesn’t mean that the same thing doesn’t happen with women. In truth, we all want the same thing and that is to have our needs met.

In most cases we can’t fix the other persons underlying concerns, nor should we try. What we can do is to discover how we are pushing back, then stop the pushback and allow the tensions to be released so that a very different relationship can emerge.

If you have a situation or business relationship that feels overwhelming or stressful to you and you don’t know how to stop it, contact me and let’s talk about how you can

connect to your power,
Jane

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Last modified: September 20, 2018

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Frustration and the Path of Least Resistance

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