Control, Influence and Frustration

By Chris Chittenden

As coaches, we are often exposed to people's frustration. Listening to someone's frustration, we can also listen to a person feeling they are not able to have something or someone be the way they would like it or them to be. In many ways, their frustration might also speak to a disconnect between what he or she believes they should be able to control or influence and the current extent of what they control or influence.

When dealing with frustration, we find one of the most effective questions to ask is, "Who are you frustrated with?" There can be three types of responses to this question. Firstly, they can say they are not frustrated with anyone. Such a response can come from a situation where they want something to be different, but have no idea about who can make that difference. Secondly, they can speak of their frustration with other people. This can be interpreted as someone who believes others seem unwilling to take certain actions that they should take. Finally, they can be frustrated with themselves in that they feel they should be able to do something but can't. Each of these responses opens up a line of questioning, which may provide some options in dealing with their frustration.

As we have said, in many instances people find they are frustrated because they believe something or someone should be a certain way and they do not seem to have any means to make that happen. A good example lies in a parent dealing with their children. How many times have you heard someone say, "They should control their children!" Although it is a commonly held belief that we can control others, we hold this is not the case.

In our interpretation, we like to distinguish between control and influence. Control speaks to having no choice in response. If I control someone, they will automatically do what I ask. We believe this is never the case. Rather we say that the only control we have is over ourselves and, even then, we can only control things of which we are aware and in which we are able to intervene. Hence, we can control our actions, what we say, how we appear, our emotions and so on. Hence, if I am to control my emotional responses, then I must be aware of them in the first place. With that awareness comes an opportunity to develop strategies to intervene in emotional responses that I do not feel are appropriate.

When dealing with other people, we talk of "influence". We distinguish this by saying that influence relates to dealing with people who have a choice. When we influence someone, we create a context where they will make a choice that is in line with what we are seeking to achieve. The key to effective influence lies in two domains - good interpretations of human behaviour and high level conversational skills.

When dealing with someone who is frustrated about something, one approach which may prove valuable is to have them explore what they can control and influence and how this fits with what they are frustrated about. Often, they will come to the conclusion that they can have no impact on the situation or they might identify things they can control or people they could influence as a way of dealing with their frustration.

If you know someone who seems to be significant impacted by frustration, coaching may be the answer. Contact us at to find out more.

More articles on Being Human

© 2004 Chris Chittenden