Statistics show that employees who really know how to handle stress and pressure do better at work, avoiding the low productivity and health issues that can result from too much of it. They also foster respect and nail plum assignments and promotions faster than others. But let’s face it, instant recognition and respect from others, while a fundamental human need, is not always a given–especially in the workplace. Often colleagues and supervisors are under the same pressure as you are, or more, and can behave in less than positive and productive ways if they, themselves, do not handle things well.
So what can you do to turn challenging circumstances into those that are manageable and better yet, into something that works to your advantage?
Experts say the key to workplace harmony and promotion–which may also apply to home life matters– is to apply the same steps to managing stress as you would to plowing through your daily workload in general, namely prioritizing, compartmentalizing, and negotiating when necessary.
For Nebraska IT professional Louise Lawson, keeping a 200-member manufacturing company running often had less to do with her training and expertise (which were top-notch) than dealing with what she called “many masters.” In a department of 16 highly-skilled technology staff, she’d been the last hired (translation: so-called “low man on the totem pole”) and was subject to more than one supervisor.
Citing little control over workplace and department policies and procedures (sometimes the way we need to execute our own work can deviate from a company procedural mandate), a lack of agreement among her supervisors which filtered down to subordinates, and compromised communication defined by delayed access to a decision-maker, Lawson certainly had her hands full.
“Some days I feel like I’m trying to work from the bottom of a bowl of cloudy Jello,” she confessed. “I can’t move very well or see up and out clearly.”
Never one to succumb to a challenge, Lawson applied her former military training and discipline to prioritize these stressful events. For instance, she wrote them down and color-coded them, deciding which ones truly needed to be addressed, which could wait for an easier day, and which ones she needed to simply let go, as it was.
Because disagreements among her supervisors tended to be frequent (and loud), with their sometimes lack of resolution clearly affecting the rest of the department, Lawson resolved not to react the way many of her colleagues did by gossiping and expressing their own anger and frustration, and chose compartmentalization over confrontation. She focused hard on the work she needed to get done each day, relegating office politics to a back burner. “Some days I just put it all in a ‘mental’ box, sealed it shut, and imagined shoving it into a dark closet,” she quipped of the stressful incidents. “Knowing I rarely clean out closets and would likely never see it again, even if I did revisit it, so much time would have passed that it wouldn’t mean as much–if anything,” she said of her analogy.
When given a conflicting set of directions or procedures by her superiors for the same task, as was not uncommon, Lawson said she learned to negotiate by taking the best of everything presented–the parts that worked for her–and explaining to them how she would like to meet that particular goal.
“I’d start off by complimenting each of them on their ideas,” she explained, noting eventually they took their cue from her and even began seeing the good in each other’s approaches.
At home, Lawson and her husband have two busy, active teenagers with strenuous schedules involving school, sports, weekend jobs, and more who have benefitted from applying her workplace practices to their own lives. “And we try to do it while at home as a family,” Lawson affirmed, noting the difference in those times when they may forget.
“Prioritizing, compartmentalizing, and negotiating are key ingredients that translate to almost any stressful situation or to life in general,” said Lawson, who recently received a big promotion at her company. “These ideas can work to everyone’s advantage.”