Don't Let Frustration Get the Better of You
Patience is a virtue, and there's a reason – it's a tough skill to master.
Imagine, for instance, that you're waiting for someone to finish compiling a report that you need for a meeting. You're already late, you can feel your body getting tense, and you're starting to get angry. Suddenly, you lose your temper and yell at the person for putting you behind schedule. You can tell that they're shocked and upset by your outburst, but you can't help it.
We likely all lose our patience occasionally. But doing so frequently or inappropriately can harm your reputation, damage your relationships, increase stress, or escalate a difficult situation.
Discover a range of strategies to help you to stay calm and patient.
In this article, we explore different kinds of patience and how they apply in the workplace. We also examine the strategies that you can use to develop and nurture this essential quality.
What Is Patience?
Patience is the ability to stay calm while you're waiting for an outcome that you need or want. According to research by psychologist Sarah Schnitker, it comes in three main varieties: interpersonal patience, life hardship patience, and daily hassles patience.
Let's look at these in more detail:
1. Interpersonal Patience
Interpersonal patience is patience with other people, their demands and their failings.
You may consider some people to be slow learners, hard to understand, or even downright unreasonable. Or, they may have bad habits that drive you crazy. But losing your patience with them will be of no benefit, and it may make matters worse.
Patience and understanding toward others is essential when you're onboarding new staff, or when you're delegating tasks. It's also a huge help in dealing with difficult co-workers or managers, and it's central to high-quality customer service.
This type of patience is active. Listening skills and empathy are vital, and, when you're dealing with difficult people, you need the self-awareness and emotional intelligence to understand how your words and actions affect the situation. You can't just wait it out and hope for the best.
2. Life Hardship Patience
We could use the term perseverance to sum up life hardship patience. It can mean having the patience to overcome a serious setback in life, like waiting long term for the outcome of a lawsuit, or for medical treatment. But it can also include your ability to work toward a long-term goal – whether it's professional, such as a promotion, or personal, like getting fit or saving for a vacation.
Whatever the obstacle you have to overcome, it will likely require determination and focus to achieve. And you will need to keep your emotions under control throughout the journey. These emotions can range from eagerness to get it done, to anger at the frustrations you encounter along the way – which can cause you to become demotivated.
3. Daily Hassles Patience
Sometimes you need patience to deal with circumstances that are beyond your control. These are your "life hassles." Something as trivial as getting stuck in a traffic line, for instance, or waiting for a computer program to load.
You also need patience to get through those dull but unavoidable day-to-day tasks that don't necessarily contribute to your personal goals. The ability to maintain self-discipline, and give a job – no matter how mundane – the attention to detail it needs, is a hallmark of patience.
Research suggests that people who can stay calm in the face of these constant, petty frustrations are more likely to be more empathic, more equitable, and to suffer less from depression.
The Benefits and Risks of Patience
In general, being patient means that you're more likely viewed positively by your co-workers and managers (and your family and friends). You'll likely be a better team worker, and more focused and productive.
If you're often impatient, people may see you as arrogant, insensitive and impulsive. Co-workers may think that you're a poor decision maker, because you make snap judgments or interrupt people. If you get a reputation for having poor people skills and a bad temper, others may even deliberately avoid working with you. As a result, not surprisingly, impatient people will unlikely be top of the list for promotion.
Of course, being patient doesn't mean you should be a "pushover." Far from it. Sometimes it's OK to show your displeasure when people keep you waiting unnecessarily. So, ensure that you establish strong boundaries. But, be sure that you're polite and assertive, never angry and aggressive.
The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it open. – Arnold Glasow, American humorist.
Impatience has its roots in frustration. It's a feeling of rising stress that starts when you feel that your needs and wishes are being ignored. In a modern environment where we're accustomed to instant communication and immediate access to data, it's a growing problem. But recognizing the warning signs can help you to prevent impatience from taking hold.
Impatience has a range of symptoms. Physical signs can include shallow, fast breathing, muscle tension, and hand clenching. Or you may find yourself restlessly jiggling your feet.
There may be changes in your mood and thoughts, too. You may become irritable, angry, or experience anxiety or nervousness. Rushing to do things and making snap decisions – the symptoms of hurry sickness – are clear signs that your impatience is gaining the upper hand.
If you experience these feelings and symptoms, try to identify what has caused them. Many of us have "triggers" for impatience. These could be specific people, words or situations.
Make a list of things that cause you to become impatient. If you're having trouble identifying your triggers, stop and think about the last time you felt this way. What caused it?
If you're not sure, ask your co-workers (or your friends and family) about your impatience. Chances are, they know what gets you "wound up." The 5 Whys technique can also aid you in identifying the root cause of an issue.
Try keeping a journal to record when you start to feel impatient. Write down the details of the situation, and why you're getting frustrated. This can help you to examine your actions and to understand why you respond in this way.
You won't always be able to avoid the triggers that make you impatient. But you can learn to manage your reactions to them.
Many people become impatient due to physical factors such as hunger, dehydration or fatigue. Bear this in mind the next time you start to feel impatient. A simple remedy might be a snack and a glass of water!
Managing the Symptoms of Impatience
When you feel impatient, it's important to get out of this damaging frame of mind as quickly as possible. Try to develop strategies to deal with your impatience as you notice it.
Managing Physical Symptoms
Take deep, slow breaths, and count to 10. Doing this will slow your heart rate, relax your body, and distance you emotionally from the situation. Sometimes you might need a longer count, or to repeat the process several times.
Impatience can cause you to tense your muscles involuntarily. So, consciously focus on relaxing your body. Again, take slow, deep breaths. Relax your muscles, from your toes up to the top of your head.
Force yourself to slow down. Make yourself speak and move more slowly. It will appear to others as if you're calm – and acting patient often makes you feel more patient.
Remember, you do have a choice about how you react to certain situations. You can choose to be patient, or not: it's up to you. (Read our article, Managing Your Emotions at Work, to learn more about this.)
Challenge your negative assumptions, instead of letting your impatience build. Aim to reframe the circumstances in a more positive light. For example, people might not mind if a meeting is delayed, as long as you let them know in advance that you're running late. There may even be benefits to the delay: understanding a developing situation more clearly, for example.
Uncharacteristic displays of impatience may be a sign of underlying problems such as stress, exhaustion or burnout. If you think this may apply to you, seek advice from a qualified health professional.
Being Patient With Other People
If your impatience causes you to react angrily toward others, read our article on Anger Management to learn how to control this powerful emotion.
Practicing empathy can also enable you to defuse your impatience. Give the other person your full attention, and try to see beyond your own frustrations by imagining yourself in the other person's position.
Remind yourself that impatience rarely has a positive effect – in fact, it may even interfere with the person's ability to perform. Impatience will likely generate more conflict and stress, which will be counterproductive.
Although some people are naturally patient, the rest of us need to practice, for it to become a habit. Becoming more patient won't happen overnight, but persistence can pay off!
Patience is a vital quality in the workplace. It can reduce stress and conflict, lead to better working relationships, and help you to achieve your long-term life and career goals.
Many of us struggle with impatience. Learn to recognize the physical and emotional symptoms associated with it, and to identify the situations that trigger it.
When you understand the causes of your impatience, you can develop strategies to prevent or overcome it. These could include attending to your physical well-being by using deep breathing and relaxation techniques, and developing your empathy and emotional intelligence skills.
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