Frustration is an emotional response to circumstances where one is obstructed from arriving at a personal goal. The more important the goal, the greater the frustration. It is comparable to anger and disappointment.
Sources of frustration may be internal or external. Internal sources of frustration involve personal deficiencies such as a lack of confidence or fear of social situations that prevent one from reaching a goal. Conflict can also be an internal source of frustration when one has competing goals that interfere with one another. External causes of frustration involve conditions outside the person such as a blocked road; or conditions linked to the person's actions but not directly such as lack of money, or lack of sexual activity.
Frustration can be a result of blocking motivated behavior. An individual may react in several different ways. He may respond with rational problem-solving methods to overcome the barrier. Failing in this, he may become frustrated and behave irrationally. An example of blockage of motivational energy would be the case of the worker who wants time off to go fishing but is denied permission by his supervisor. Another example would be the executive who wants a promotion but finds he lacks certain qualifications. If, in these cases, an appeal to reason does not succeed in reducing the barrier or in developing some reasonable alternative approach, the frustrated individual may resort to less adaptive methods of trying to reach his goal. He may, for example, attack the barrier physically or verbally or both. The worker who is refused time off to go fishing may "cuss out" his supervisor to his face or behind his back. If he is sufficiently aroused, he may strike out at him with his fists or with the nearest weapon. If the supervisor is not present or the worker's fear of the consequences of direct attack is stronger than his desire to attack, he may transfer his aggression to someone or something else. Taking his frustration out on his family or on some object like his car or his equipment are typical ways of transferring aggression.
Another "solution" to frustration is regressive behavior — becoming childish or reverting to earlier and more primitive ways of coping with the goal barrier. Throwing a temper tantrum, bursting into tears, or sulking are examples of regression. Wearing a long face and a worried look are other signs of this method of dealing with frustration.
Stubborn refusal to respond to new conditions affecting the goal, such as removal or modification of the barrier, sometimes occurs. As pointed out by Brown, severe punishment may cause individuals to continue nonadaptive behavior blindly:
“Either it may have an effect opposite to that of reward and as such, discourage the repetition of the act, or, by functioning as a frustrating agent, it may lead to fixation and the other symptoms of frustration as well. It follows that punishment is a dangerous tool, since it often has effects which are entirely the opposite of those desired”.
An example of nonadaptive behavior of this sort might occur in the case of the executive who feels persecuted by his failure to be promoted. Even when offered a training course to improve his chances of promotion, he turns down this opportunity and continues to sulk.
Flight, or leaving the scene, is another way people have of dealing with their frustrations. In the above example of the executive, we might find him quitting his job rather than face up to the consequences of being passed over for promotion. Or, a player quits the football squad because he is not given enough playing time or fails to win the starting berth as quarterback.
Managers must learn to recognize the symptoms of frustration to avoid responding in ways that intensify rather than ameliorate the problem. The main point to remember is that the affected person is often not in a rational, problem-solving frame of mind and is, therefore, not attuned to the "facts" or to logical procedures for dealing with his situation. Some frustrated people need to be guided back to "reality". They cannot be reasoned with in their present mental state. Listening with understanding to such a person is one effective way to reduce frustration. Talking to a sympathetic listener provides a way for him to vent his feelings and regain control of himself.
Motives provide energy and direction for behavior. Appropriate behavior, in turn, reduces the inner tensions that signal the motivated state. An understanding of the relationships among motives, behavior, and human goals provides the manager, administrator, or leader with a way of thinking about human activity and a framework within which to gather, sort, and analyze data related to behavioral problems.
An increasingly common source of frustration is due strongly to the presence of computer technology. Because modern computing is marketed as user-friendly, it can be extremely frustating when one cannot achieve a goal due in part to a technological error, and because the user-friendly aspect is removed, many people find themselves unable to come to terms with their lack of options.