Monday, March 16, 2009

Frustration Inflation

Let's say there's a problem (gasp!). Further, let's say the problem happens more than once. This is a real concern, and particularly when it's difficult or embarrassing to deal with, the people handling the problem are going to get frustrated. Repeated hardware DOA issues - support and professional services will be frustrated. Repeated reopenings of the same issue - QA is going to get frustrated. Repeated reporting of the same (nonexistent) bug - dev is going to get frustrated.

And rightly so.

The thing you have to be a bit careful of, though, is what I call frustration inflation. 

Let's say you're trying to get to the bottom of one of these issues. One of the normal questions you will ask is, "how often has this occurred?" or "what's the frequency of this?". Someone who is frustrated is going to remember the frustrating incidents - the recurrences of the problem - more than the situations in which the problem did not occur. So they will unintentionally exaggerate the frequency of occurrence. You'll start to get answers like, "all the time!" or "like 80% of the time", or "way too often". Take these with a small grain of salt. These statements deserve credence as an expression of frustration, but may not be strictly accurate.

So what do you do when you're in a situation where "frustration inflation" is likely occurring?
  • First and foremost, check your facts. You may be the one frustrated and inclined to discount reporting from those closer to the issue.
  • If it's not doing harm, let the frustrated person vent. There's not necessarily a need to call someone out on this; you'll only increase the frustration.
  • Be ready with facts. If there is some frustration inflation going on, and it gets to a point where you have to address it (especially if inaccuracies are getting to a client or to a boss), then the only way to counteract it is to be extremely accurate. Dates and occurrences help here.
  • Do not attack the person who is frustrated. There is likely a reason for this frustration - assuming we're all professionals here! Keep it accurate, and let the other stuff slide at least until things are calmer.

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