When you think about it, October really is the start of the holiday season — at least in the workplace. November and December are booked solid with end-of-year corporate events and personal trips, making scheduling a beast and team productivity rare. We’re expected to meet not only our social obligations, but also our billable hours.
So now is the time to stress! And if you’re a human like me, then you may make a blunder or two when you’re under pressure, sleep-deprived, or just plain tired. We know that stress doesn’t lead to our best behavior. In the realm of communications, that can mean lashing out (misdirection) or getting offended (misinterpretation) more easily than you would in less-stressful times.
I would love to tell you how to avoid these slip-ups altogether, but that wouldn’t be realistic or honest — they aren’t preventable. They are manageable, however, with one simple approach.
Name That Sh!t
To be a strong communicator, it’s important to stay mindful of the most important conversation of all: the one with yourself. If you goof up that narrative, then the rest of the house of cards is doomed to fall. Acknowledging the feelings that arise within your body and mind is key.
Tools like our Emotional Awareness tracker can help strengthen your internal dialogue. They force you to take a more objective view of your feelings and remove some of your personal negative attachment toward them. (Externally, we call this phenomenon “bias.”)
Once you dissociate the emotion from your identity (e.g., you feel anxious in this moment; anxiety doesn’t define you as a person), then you can begin to change your behavior through a series of small steps.
- Step 1: Observe. Put a label on whatever you’re feeling, and get specific. Instead of “great,” are you “inspired”? Instead of “meh,” are you “conflicted”? The chart in the tool offers some suggestions to pick from and write down in a private log.
- Step 2: Assess. Once it’s labeled, ask yourself: Is this emotion helping me in this moment? Anger can be useful to warn a small child about danger, for example, but it is less useful when reprimanding a colleague about a stray typo. If the emotion isn’t helping you, then it’s probably not worth your precious energy.
- Step 3: Interrupt. Make a plan to teach yourself a new habit in response to the most unwieldy emotions you’ve identified. In the biz, we call this tactic an implementation intention. This could be as simple as: “When I feel overwhelmed, I will draw three small stars on my notepad very slowly.” Or “When I feel nervous, I will get up and drink a glass of water with my eyes closed.” The trick is to make these small behaviors a physical activity, so that you call your own attention to the action and away from the immediacy of the emotion. Commit to taking your plan one day at a time, and notice if you feel differently after a couple of weeks of practice.
Following these three simple steps whenever you encounter stress can help you have a calmer, more controllable holiday season — or really any time of year, for that matter.
Despite what abilities some people claim to have, removing emotions from your work is just not possible, nor is it ideal. Emotions are with us all the time, and they actively inform our behaviors. By remembering that emotions are neither good nor bad, you can instead focus on your responses to them — as either productive or unproductive, given the setting.
You can’t always control how you feel but you can control how you respond. Once you master that discipline, then stress becomes like any other workplace obstacle that you can manage (like a rockstar, of course).