Coping with Your Own & Other People's Anxiety at Work

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • When it comes to anxiety the world of work can be an unforgiving place. Everyone accepts a little nervousness, but people who experience anxiety during business interactions, presentations, or social exchanges often send out the wrong message. If anxiety is the cause of obstinacy, defensiveness, rudeness or aggression in yourself or someone else, something needs to be done.


    In most work environments people follow a code of behavior. Some codes are overt and may even form part of company policy - never swearing or shouting for example. Others are more subtle and unwritten, such as the raising of an eyebrow from the chief executive meaning, ‘I'm displeased'.

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    The thing about a successful interpersonal environment is that it represents a form of trade. You offer me something and I will offer something back. So, if I offer you a coffee, you accept or decline graciously. These standardized forms of interaction lubricate our social wheels and encourage us to believe that future interactions will go well. However, if one or both people are anxious, it can lead to clumsy or inappropriate statements or behavior. In turn, this may cause a collapse in the interaction that can lead to embarrassment, further anxiety or even hostility.


    Coping with your own anxiety is one thing but handling other people's anxiety requires different skills. You can't necessarily see anxiety in others but it is often easy to infer. Simply responding to the behavior will not be as effective as trying to placate the underlying emotion. Put another way, if you meet irritation with irritation the situation will only escalate. Equally, if you attempt to analyze their behavior or comments it is very likely to be viewed as patronizing. So, in order to sustain a relationship with anxious people the rule is to always empathize and provide reassurance whilst ensuring you achieve what you need to achieve.


    Personal anxieties are often fuelled by a self-destructive inner conversation about lack of worth, skills and inadequacies. You can chip away at personal anxieties by focusing your energy on behaving in a relaxed and confident manner. This alone helps diminish anxiety in some people. For others, it's more important to get involved with the inner conversation as this is the cause of confidence erosion.


    What's an inner conversation? Well, it's all those negative beliefs you hold about yourself, such as the fact you aren't clever enough, or experienced enough to express your opinion. It's the belief that if you say something wrong everyone will think you are stupid. It's the assumption that what you say or do will lead to you being laughed at, or getting embroiled in an argument, or that you will offend people.


    To help turn things around, you could also try working up a self-image inventory. An inventory is basically a list with a rating scale. Your self-image inventory needs to be something you construct yourself, based on your own concerns and issues. For example:


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    I am over emotional   Yes . . . . .x . . . . .x . . . . . No

    I don't talk enough     Yes . . . . .x . . . . .x . . . . . No


    And so on.


    The inventory is simply a tool to help focus your thoughts. Once you have completed your list (which may be short or long) think carefully about each of the statements and rate yourself. Don't just list statements where you know you have weaknesses. We all have weaknesses, but we all have strengths. Once your list is finished, count the number of weaknesses and strengths. If you have more weaknesses, make yourself add to the list until you have at least an equal number strengths.


    The inventory won't change your life, but it will begin a process. If your list ends up as a list of weaknesses you have not been realistic or objective in your self-assessment. This lack of balance and negative thinking is typical of many people who suffer with anxiety.


    Mark Twain once observed that in his life he had known many troubles, but most of them never happened. So, help yourself by starting to think a little more positively about who you are, and what you have to offer.

Published On: October 02, 2008