How is it when some people enter a room the atmosphere improves instantly, yet with others it’s like a black cloud has descended? Unless you have the emotional constitution of a rhino, the fact is we’re tuned in to the emotions of those around us and this can have quite an effect on our own mood.
The notion of ‘emotional contagion’ has been around for a while. The idea is simple enough but the effects can be dramatic. We’re designed to both empathize and respond to the emotions of others and it’s one of the cornerstones of successful relationships. For this to work however we need to feel some sense of balance, a trade off between taking and giving, because if this doesn’t happen the stress produced by just one person can spread like an infection.
Stress at work is so commonplace and widespread that many companies have strategies for identifying and responding to such issues. We’d like to think this was an entirely altruistic act but a more realistic picture is that stress is one of the leading causes of absence from work and costs businesses a great deal of money.
Stressful experiences may result from the nature of the job itself (too taxing or too dull and repetitive), or the economic climate that can threaten job losses, or just a single person who appears to thrive on misery and moaning. Whatever the source of stress the effects are similar. People start to feel edgy and tired, motivation is hard to sustain, sleep can suffer and even news reports can help fan the flames with their relentless focus on disasters, deaths and human misery.
In order to better cope with stress we need some way to inoculate ourselves from the worst effects of a stress infection. It’s largely to do with making adjustments to our own mind set and perhaps taking measures to change behaviors that disrupt or avoid unnecessary stress. Here are a few ideas:
It’s fine not to become over involved in people’s problems and feel you have to keep suggesting solutions. A lot of moaning is really to do with getting things off the chest. Many people just feel better getting their troubles out and into the open; they aren’t really looking for advice or a way to resolve the issue. Another way not to ‘own’ stress is to ask questions rather than offer solutions. For example, ‘what do you think you’ll do?’ or ‘how do you plan to make things better?’ or ‘is there someone you could talk to about this?’ This simple technique reflects issues back to the person, encourages them to think for themselves and hopefully start to take some personal responsibility.
Before setting off to work in the morning consider changes to your routine that may fuel stress. If you’re a late starter it stands to reason that giving yourself a bit more time will leave you less flustered and less prone to being forgetful or making mistakes. Avoid watching or listening to the news in the morning. You may be surprised how much lighter it can make you feel.
Perhaps you work in an environment that encourages ‘looking busy’. This is a bizarre culture in which people adopt the look of appearing stressed and rushing about when actually there is no need. This is a symptom of an organization that is poorly managed and where the appearance of ‘busy’ seems more acceptable than what is actually produced. Working practices like this are stressful and if you can, you should avoid them or step back.
Because most people, including the moaner, tend to get a lot out of positive emotions it can be useful to foster these. When working in a stressful environment it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that a great many people really enjoy their jobs. They can’t wait to get to work, see their friends and work colleagues, and get stuck in. A positive atmosphere is the key. Here, people share positive experiences, perhaps share personal and professional goals, and emphasize positivity over negativity. When dealing with an individual, just a little deflection can help, like pointing out the good things as a counterweight to their complaints.
Finally, it’s a simple fact of life that things do sometimes get quite stressful. If you start to feel this it is more useful to accept your feelings and let others know that you’re feeling under pressure and to accept help if it’s offered. If you know what it’s like being on the receiving end of stress this is when your own self-awareness needs to kick in and strategies employed to take off the edge.
Published On: November 25, 2012