Learn to Let Go of Frustration

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About this Launch Plan

This launch plan is all about how to deal with people during conflict, during a meeting or any part of the workday.  We will use a meeting as the typical format, but these techniques will work anytime, anywhere.

About the Author

James Carter is the Founder and CEO of Be Legendary. He has spoJames Suit Smallken for hundreds of groups and thousands of people while training hundreds of new and experienced facilitators on how to facilitate meaningful activities. James is also the co-author of two books with others like Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard, Deepak Chopra and Brian Tracy. James lives in Boulder, CO with his family and rides his bike as much as possible.

People Truths

No One Believes They Are the 'Bad Guy'

There is no one – not even serial killers – who think of themselves as the villain.  Every person is doing what they are doing because they believe they are the ‘good guy’.  They are right and YOU are wrong!

As impossible as it may seem when someone is being completely ridiculous, offensive and instigating the conflict, that person thinks what they are doing is right.  Uhmmm, wow.  That is about all I can say when I observe some people.

In order to reduce conflict, you must attempt to gain understanding of their perspective and help others do the same.

You Cannot TELL People They Are Wrong

In the moment, about the worst thing you can do is try to tell someone they are ‘wrong’ and further convincing them will only  make it worse.

People and Conflict

How People Move into Conflict

When all is going well, MOST people care about:

  1. Themselves
  2. The ‘problem’
  3. You

Moving into conflict, YOU drop off the equation and people care about:

  1. Themselves, and
  2. The ‘problem’

Deep into conflict, people care about:

  1. Themselves ONLY

This is not bad, it is human nature. If you are to diffuse conflict, you must understand this basic truth.

You will be able to tell how deep someone is in conflict by what they are talking about.  Do they mention the ‘problem’ at all?  If so, the conflict is not too bad yet.

Techniques to Address a Difficult Person

Help or Hinder?

Another way to use it is as a facilitative technique in your bag of tricks when the group, one or two individuals, may be getting rowdy, rude or dismissive and you want to bring the focus back to the workshop/meeting.


  • I would like everyone to stop for a moment and ask yourself, ‘Am I helping or hindering the success of the group?”
  • “The humor is awesome and I am very happy to see that you are all comfortable making jokes.  Let me ask you this, is the constant joking helping or hindering you from creating what you said you wanted at the beginning of the day?”
  • I recognize and appreciate you may not want to be here because attendance was required.  Think about the others in the group. Is your behavior (be specific) helping or hindering them learn something?

Join or Judge?

This a powerful technique to check in with people and help them make better decisions.

Join or Judge is similar to Help or Hinder, but is *just* different enough to merit providing this for you and this is better used by pulling a person aside for a moment.

Many people would rather sit back and criticize – judge – instead of joining in and stepping ‘outside their comfort zone’ and ‘Join’.

Do not be upset by this.  It is completely natural and normal because we have been taught that judging is perfectly acceptable behavior while joining is mocked, “Looks like James drank the Kool-Aid.

Instead, pull that person aside and ask them in a very compassionate tone:

James, you don’t need to answer, but consider carefully – are you joining the group or judging the group right now?

Be quiet for just a moment while they consider it and then continue:

I would very much like you to further join the group.  If you feel you cannot and continue to judge, please do not say your judgements out loud.  Is that fair?

For a group version of Join or Judge, consider using the Two Wolves parable.


Almost every one of us has a graduate degree from/in MSU – Making Stuff Up!

When you see this happening, I intrude upon the conversation and stop it after I see enough to know MSU is a real problem.

I typically poke fun at myself and say,

Excuse me, I am not sure how many of you know, but I have a Ph.D. in MSU!  Did you know that?  I worked long and it was hard.  My dissertation is considered a foundation in the field.  Yeah, I am REALLY good at MSU – Making Stuff Up!

We constantly make stuff up.  With a lack of information, we fill in the gaps.  And we almost never have ALL the information, so we MSU.

In a ‘team’ or group context, it would be MSU about other people:

  • I know why Jane didn’t forward that memo to me.  She is mad because I ate her yogurt last week and she is trying to make me look bad. (May be true, but I don’t REALLY know, right?)

But it can also be about process or policy with no particular person identified:

  • The reason that senior management created policy was because Howard kept complaining until he got what he wanted.

99.9% of MSU is detrimental to the group process, whether you are talking to another person or simply thinking these thoughts.  Of course, serious damage can occur when we MSU and then pass the MSU on as fact to someone else.  This is how rumors begin and is a major thrust of gossip.

MSU does not make us bad people.  We all do it and most of us want to do it less.  By bringing this to the surface, we raise our own awareness so we can recognize when we are doing it.

If we can recognize when we are MSU, we are able to stick to what we know and lead a much healthier life.

As we begin to be more conscious of our MSU, most people begin to ask more questions.  Instead of wondering if Jane didn’t mention the memo to me because she is mad, I simply ask her if there was some reason she did not forward the memo to me.  Oh, and I also apologize for eating her yogurt!

This can also be a great team tool to check in with one another, with enough trust:

TRUE STORY from our team.  I was in the kitchen and had shared some information about another person to several others.

“Interesting James, is that fact or MSU?”  Which made me reflect and I realized what I said was actually 50% MSU.  I rephrased, stated what I knew and apologized for the MSU – to the person who was not there in the kitchen.  I felt like a real jerk, especially because I was the ‘boss’ and had been called out for what we teach.  Having someone check my MSU prevented some serious damage to our team.

Once you have introduced the idea of MSU, go back to the conversation and share your observation:

I heard several things that lead me to think perhaps MSU was playing a role in our conversation.  Let’s continue the dialogue and if anyone thinks MSU may be a part of the thinking we will address it by asking, ‘James, is that fact or MSU’?

This, too, can be taken too far with constant interruptions for MSU which actually becomes distracting.  Be sure to limit interruptions and take turns speaking like adults.

Accept/Legitimize/Deal With or Defer:

Create a safe environment for participation by:

  • Responding neutrally to a speaker whose ideas are “out of synch” with others in the group
  • Legitimize his or her contribution
  • Agree together how to move forward


You’re convinced we’re not getting anywhere?  That’s OK, you may be right.  Would you be willing to hang on for fifteen more minutes and see what happens?  Yes?  Thanks.


The issue you just raised sounds like an important one to you.  Can we finish debriefing this event, before we move on to discuss your issue?

Review Group Agreements:

You: “Remember the ground rules we discussed as we begin to talk about this event.  What is happening right now that violates your ground rules?”

See the focus on ‘your’.  It is ‘the ground rules’ at the beginning of the question and ends with ‘your’.  This puts you squarely in the role of enforcing THEIR rules and not  yours.  You are simply holding them accountable for their actions.  That is your job here.  Don’t apologize for it.  Don’t be afraid to do it.  The group is depending upon YOU to enforce their rules.

Share Observations

Share an observation and then follow up with a question.  Be sure the question is truly and honestly inquisitive and appreciative.  You are NOT calling out someone here, but you really want to know the answer.

Here are some examples, but you can use this in ANY situation.


It’s own form of difficult from passive-aggressive people who simply sit with their arms folded.

It is very quiet.  What does the silence mean?”  And then BE QUIET and let someone speak.

 Rowdy behavior

“It is very rowdy right now.  Is this typical of your group behavior?”

With individuals, you can do exactly the same thing – share an observation and ask a question”

“I can see you are very upset right now.  Would you share what has caused this?



Team Member: “It is not possible to to this!”

You: “If it was possible, what would need to happen?

If you encounter MORE resistance, “I just said it is NOT possible!”

You:   “Yes, I heard you.  Pretend for a moment that you knew, without any doubt, it WAS possible, what would need to happen/occur?”

You will be amazed at what happens.

If they continue, but louder, pull that person aside, “James, clearly you are frustrated, can we speak alone for just a moment?”  And then Accept/Legitimize/Deal with or Defer.

Most of the time, they are frustrated about something else and are simply taking it out on you.

Two Wolves Parable

This is a great parable to help participants make a conscious decision to actively participate, join instead of judge and be present during the activity/discussion/intervention.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.two_wolves

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

What to do if...

Someone Gets Overly Competitive

What you will See:

  • Taking the activity too seriously.
  • Bending the rules or cheating.
  • Extreme efforts to win or do better than others.
  • Overly discussing the activity afterward with a focus on strategies and missed opportunities rather than on learning opportunities.

Likely Causes:

  • A naturally competitive environment in the workplace like a sales force.
  • Naturally competitive people.
  • Too much focus on the activity from the facilitator.
  • Work environment filled with silos and butt-covering

How to Prevent it:

  • Focus the group’s attention on the activity’s purpose and learning goals when introducing it by front-loading the activity.
  • For a naturally competitive group, select activities that encourage teamwork or that have less of an element of competition.

What to Do:

  • Focus the Debrief on what happened, why it happened, group dynamics and so forth rather than on who won or did better than whom.
  • Discuss the competitiveness that came out, why it occurred and how helpful or destructive it was – Competition CAN be good.
  • If you must, stop the activity in the middle of the activity to remind the group of the purpose and learning goals


Adapted from Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers by Brian Miller.

Someone Does Not Want to Participate

What you will see:

Rolling eyes:

  • Lack of eye contact with you, or used negative body language
  • Negative comments about the activity or the experience
  • Direct comments they do not want to participate

Likely causes:

  • Past experiences that were unproductive or unpleasant
  • Not understanding the purpose or value of what you are doing

How to prevent it:

  • Be clear about the purpose
  • Be sure the purpose of the activity is relevant to the group and the challenges of the group

What to do:

  • Unless it is critical, don’t make a big deal of it.
  • Remind them this is a group effort, everyone must participate in order for the activity to be beneficial
  • Find a way for the person to be involved, but not directly – perhaps a scorekeeper, timekeeper, etc.  Ask them to observe and provide feedback from an outsiders perspective during debriefing.


Adapted from Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers by Brian Miller.

Participants Don’t Join the Debrief

What you will see:

  • Lack of eye contact with you, especially after you ask a question.
  • Minimal one-word responses to your questions
  • Shoulders shrugging
  • Silence

Likely Causes:

  • They did not understand your question
  • You haven’t given them enough time to formulate an answer.
  • They fear embarrassment of a ‘wrong’ answer in front of you or your peers.
  • They are angry about something – may be unrelated to the activity.

How to Prevent it:

  • Ask questions slowly and with patience.
  • Pause after each question.  This pause may feel like an eternity to you, but it will give participants the time they need to consider a response.
  • Unless they are too far off, accept and appreciate all responses.  This is an opportunity to appreciate the diverse thinking styles of your team.

What to Do:

  • Reword or restate questions only if the group tells you they didn’t understand the question; otherwise let them think.
  • As a last resort, call on participants by name to respond.
  • Explain that the activity is only as valuable as our ability to transfer what we learned from it back to the workplace.  WE can start doing that by discussing these questions.
  • After asking a question, offer your own observation.  Then ask what others saw that was similar to or different from what you just shared.
  • When you get responses, emphatically thank the first few participants for contributing.


Adapted from Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers by Brian Miller.

One Person Dominates the Conversation

What you will See:

  • One person answering most of the questions
  • One person talking excessively.
  • Most participants remaining silent.

Likely Causes:

  • The person wanted to show that he or she has the correct answers.
  • Other participants are afraid to differ with the dominant person.
  • The person may dominate the work environment and this is simply reflective of the work environment.

How to Prevent it:

  • After the dominant person answers, ask ‘What else?’  This will signal you are looking for alternative possibilities to create discussion.
  • Be patient and wait for additional responses.
  • If you expect one person to dominate, consider talking to that person before the debrief and asking them to observe the discussion and offer comments at the end.

What to Do:

  • When asking questions, make eye contact with the other individuals.
  • Call on a few participants for their thoughts
  • In an extreme case, ask directly for differing thoughts.
  • In the most extreme case and if in the middle of the debrief, stop the debrief and move on to another activity (be sure to have one ready) and use above preventive measures before the next debrief.


Adapted from Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers by Brian Miller.

The Discussion Gets out of Hand

What you will see: 

  • A gripe session
  • Arguing or fighting
  • Discussion moving off the topic
  • Side bar discussions

Likely Causes:

  • Poor questioning from the facilitator
  • Unresolved team issues

How to Prevent it:

  • Be careful of using activities when therapy is a more useful and honest solution.
  • Do not use activities when you are seeking to change the behavior of one or two individuals
  • Avoid questions that will put any single person on the spot.
  • Avoid questions (and activities) that pit one individual against another.

What to Do…

  • Step in and stop the discussion before more damage is done by asking “How does this discussion apply to what we learned from the activity?”
  • Don’t assign blame or find the cause of the problem.
  • Refocus the discussion with specific questions.  Have questions prepared before the activity.


Adapted from Quick Team-Building Activities for Busy Managers by Brian Miller.