While we can’t manage anyone else’s stress, only our own, there is a lot we can do to make sure we don’t “contaminate” our workplaces by spreading stress. I think that stress is more contagious than a virus. I refer to some people in workplaces as Henny Penny in the old fable, sighing heavily and mumbling the work equivalent of, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”
So here are some things that YOU can do to manage stress in your workplace (and maybe even in your household!):
Show more gratitude. Colleagues feel so much better when their work is noticed and appreciated. Remember to thank the colleagues you meet, to begin and end emails with appreciation, and to demonstrate thanks. Make sure your body language matches your appreciation, which is a sign that you can be trusted. What more can you do to show gratitude?
The more specific, the more terrific. Work on telling a peer, “I really think you captured the essence of our message here.” Or, “When you cut off the dominating voice in the meeting, and asked to hear from others, you had full control of the room and you gained respect. Well done.” The reason we all like specific gratitude is because it tells the recipient, “I am truly paying attention to the great work you are doing.” And no one can feel stress at the same time they are feeling appreciated.
You encourage others to show appreciation when you are a role model of specific gratitude.
Model reframing. Remind colleagues to seek out things to be grateful for, such as their job, its benefits, its environment, coworkers, etc., and to focus on what is right, not just what needs attention.
Be aware that this attitude will sometimes be met with eye rolls and sighs. No one likes to hear these things, but we know from research that no one can feel stress at the exact same time as appreciation, and those who feel less stress are terrific at reframing situations.
Add phrases such as these to your lexicon to model reframing challenges into a more positive light:
“I understand that person is challenging. When I work with her, it helps me to think that she is bringing up the issues others are thinking, but just too polite to mention.”
“This is a good problem to have.”
“All we can do is one thing at a time.”
“What can realistically be done with our existing resources, since they aren’t likely to change?”
“How can you pace yourself?”
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
“All I ask is for you to do what you can do with the time you have.”
Notice that some of your peers may wear stress as a badge of honor. “I have so much to do. I worked all weekend.” If the work can wait, maybe it should.
Don’t respond to emails at night or on weekends. When a workmate receives an email at night or on a weekend, their thoughts shift back to work. He or she may have been emptying the trash (mindless activities allow our brains to rest), or watching a great game on TV (distracting activities allow us to disengage), or having a quiet moment with a loved one (connecting with a loved one is the best stress antidote on the planet).
If you want to write emails at night or on weekends, that’s fine, but consider holding off sending them until work hours. Most email programs have a delay feature that is easy to use.
When you receive a work email at night or on the weekend, evaluate whether the message could have waited. If it could have waited, definitely don’t respond until work hours. If this is a trend from a few employees, encourage them to respect others’ down time.
If you are a leader in your organization, role model going home on time and taking vacations. Your employees are watching you. If you don’t take vacations, they won’t. And, in the long run, resentment will lead to a loss of productivity.
Laugh. Encourage laughter. Work is a social situation. Small talk a bit. Laugh a lot. When someone cracks a joke, be the first to laugh, and on occasion say, “Thanks for setting the tone,” or “Thanks for reminding us all to laugh.”
And most of all, manage your own stress. Practices such as meditation, prayer, yoga, Tai Chi, exercise, and healthy eating can all help alleviate stress in the office and at home.
Please share with me, how do you manage stress?
In my work with leaders and managers, I am often asked “What can I do to lessen the stress here?” It is a heartfelt question from leaders who want to improve the culture of their workplaces. Above all, remember that stress is an inside job. In many cases, what’s going on all around us is beyond our control.
People who manage stress well have learned coping strategies within themselves. This is important because most people blame outside factors such as deadlines, traffic, family responsibilities, and work demands for their stress, when stress actually occurs in one’s own head!
My mentor told me years ago that it would be easy to manage stress if he were a Buddhist Monk, meditating and praying all day while living in a monastery. The challenge is waking up at 5:00 a.m. to emails requiring immediate attention, followed by a tumultuous commute, then attending one meeting after another resulting in one deadline after another, topped off by working with people who do not always carry a full load or who do not have the same work styles or abilities, and finally coming home to bills and family demands….you get the picture. It is hard to manage stress with the lives we all live, but it isn’t going to diminish.
Start by remembering that stress is an “inside job” and you will be headed in the right direction, since you cannot generally control the outer world experience. Next week, I will share ideas on how to set a tone of productive calm to ensure that you aren’t increasing your colleagues’ stress levels.
What are your coping strategies?
Below is a link to a funny Twitter thread started by Paul Coxon, a physicist in materials science at the University of Cambridge, who in front of colleagues referred to a photon as a “shiny crumb.”
Since I barely passed high school physics with the help of a very encouraging teacher and five incredibly devoted classmates, I am impressed with Paul. I mean, being educated as a physicist in materials science from the University of Cambridge is a big deal.
Also, I can relate to Paul. Is it okay if I call him Paul? I can understand calling a photon a shiny crumb. That makes sense to me and seems like an apt description.
Interestingly, when I coach professionals on public speaking they share three universal concerns. And sometimes they aren’t just worried, they are in full blown panic.
What if I forget a word?
What if I forget what I am supposed to say?
What if someone asks a question and I don’t know the answer?
My answer to you, and to Paul is, “What if you do?”
When you forget a word, often your audience will help you by sharing the word you are seeking. This fumble demonstrates your humanness and makes you a less robotic presenter, and therefore a more approachable presenter. It makes you “one” with the audience as you are no longer the incredible expert with all the answers, speaking to lesser people. Instead you and your audience are together on a learning journey.
When you forget what you are supposed to say next, that’s why slides and note cards were invented. Take a glance, a pause, have a sip of water and look at what you had planned. If you have practiced, taking the time to transition will help you and your audience prepare for the next topic and content. It’s all good!
And when someone asks a question and you don’t know the answer? First of all, plan for the question and answer time, period (even if there isn’t a planned question and answer period) as painstakingly as you planned everything else. If you stop and think about it, you can anticipate almost every question. If you seek out your most curious colleagues and ask them to hammer you with questions during your practice, you will have heard some variation of every relevant question.
Second, consider the question. If it’s truly a relevant question and you feel you should know the answer, say, “I don’t know but I will find out and get back to you.” Then be sure to do just that. But, if it’s just an audience member trying to gain attention and show off their brilliance with a technical question, it warrants a different answer. Don’t say, “Well, you loser, I am not going to answer that because you are just showing off,” but do feel free to say, “I’m not sure. Could you research that and let us all know?” If the show-off is genuinely curious, they will research it and will let you know and you will have found a lifelong professional colleague who is as interested in your topic as you are. If they don’t research it, no problem, your speech continues and you look like the shining star that you are.
And remember, if Paul Coxon refers to a photon as a shiny crumb, you get some leeway as well.
What have you experienced while speaking?