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If Stress is Like a Rotten Guest

Senior gentleman holding a rotten fishIn response to my last post (Five Types of Stress), Slavko from Ottawa wrote: “For many people, stress is an uninvited ‘guest’, and it frequently stays longer than people expect”.

My father, born and raised in Amsterdam, always used to say: “A guest, like a fish, starts to stink after the third day“. True to his ancestral teachings, he refrained from staying anywhere as a guest for more than three days. (Alas, his views were not of much help to him as he co-hosted the never-ending assortment of overseas guests who would stay in our Tel Aviv home for months on end at my mother’s generous invitation. Herself born and raised in rural Saskatchewan, she thought nothing of it).

Turns out that several other cultures have similar proverbs, which suggests that there’s some deep wisdom in this notion that too much of a seemingly good thing can become problematic. Indeed, stress is like that guest: a little bit of it is energizing and vital and fun, but too much of it can feel rotten and, well, stinky.

So what can we learn from the world of hosting that we can apply to stress resilience? I decided to take a fun stab at it, and here are five little sights I got when comparing hosting principles with stress resilience practices:

When hosting, only invite guests you really want to host in the first place. In the resilience arena, be very thoughtful about the kind of stressors you allow into your life.

In hosting, when someone asks if you can host their cousin for three weeks, it’s okay to say no (graciously). To be resilient, learn to say ‘no’ – graciously, respectively, and decisively.

When you host, maintain your healthy routines even when the endeavour places heavy demands on your time, attention, and effort. When it comes to being resilient, no matter how intense the demands on you, never sacrifice nurturing the things that keep you sane – your sleep, healthy eating, exercise, yoga, prayer, playing, reading, or taking a mini vacation.  It is up to you to bring equanimity into your life.

Even when you’re hosting a houseful of guests, keep your home tidy and clean or else chaos will take over. In the same way, to mauntain your resilient equanimity, remove clutter from your life and physical space. An organized environment helps calm the mind.

As a host, sometimes you need to have a frank conversation with your guests about how things are working (or not). You might even need to part ways with your guest (again, graciously). A true commitment to your resilience might require you to have frank conversations – with your boss, spouse, neighbor, or mechanic. In some relationships, you might actually need to hit the Eject button.

Finally, remember: your home is your castle and the same is true for your body and soul. Resilience requires you to take responsibility for ensuring that your mind and body remain sufficiently agile to handle all the pressures and demands that are inevitably placed on you.

Do you have any insights to add? If you do, please do share!

 

If your team or organization needs help or just to stay in touch, contact us anytime.

Five Types of Stress

Have you ever been stressed to the point that you behaved like a lunatic? Did stress ever lead you to do and say things that you deeply regretted later? Were you thoroughly uncivil when you felt that the pressure has gotten under your skin?

If you are human, you likely answered yes to all three questions. Yup, some days you might be just plain miserable.

To get a handle on your stress (and your behaviour), start by identifying the specific kinds of stress you’re up against. From there it will be easier to apply practical strategies and take informed action. Consider these five types of stress:

  1. Anticipatory Stress happens when you worry and obsess about things that have not yet happened (and likely never will). Your mind doesn’t know the difference between this self-manufactured imaginary stressor and real threats, so is dutifully activates all the internal alarm mechanisms in full force. Classical examples are an upcoming medical test (“I’m sure they’ll find cancer”) or stressors about a child’s future (“with this tattoo, she’ll never get anywhere in life”).
  2. Situational Stress is exactly that: it’s the stress you experience when you’re in the midst of a situation. It can be a fleeting instance such as an almost-car-crash, or a somewhat more prolonged one, such as when a colleague is off work for a while and you’re filling in for him or her (on top of your own job). Situational Stress is a lot like a sprint run – it’s intense but you know there’s a finishing line.
  3. Chronic Stress is when the stress is ongoing, with no end in sight. Unlike Situational Stress, Chronic Stress is here to stay.  Whether it is caring for a disabled family member or dealing with a bully boss, it’s a marathon that goes on and on. Beware of chronic stress — it can tax you to the limit.
  4. Residual Stress is the stress that continues to affect you physically, emotionally, and cognitively even after the stressor itself has dissipated. You may have completed that big exam or delivered that project, but the effects of the stress you experienced are still lodged in your body and brain. You feel like you should be happy and carefree, but somehow you still can’t sleep at night and those tight muscles and clenched jaw simply won’t go away.
  5. Reflector Stress (that’s what I named this kind of stress, which so many of you have told me about) happens when other people’s stress rubs on to you. You walk into work on a perfectly good Wednesday morning all happy and energetic, but by the time you pass by several of your stressed out colleagues and get to your own work station, you find that you too are inexplicably edgy and tight. Their stress has reflected onto you and now it’s yours to have.

Here’s a great saying: If you don’t deal with stress, it will deal with you.

So my suggestion is: begin by understanding the nature of the ‘opponent’. From there. It will be much easier to handle it.

 

If your organziation needs help, contact us anytime.

And please do join me on Twitter – follow @sharonebardavid

So What if You’re Miserable Today

Male doll in suit yoga pose 000007032369SHere’s a suggestion for those days when you’re miserable at work and wish you didn’t have to be there:

Instead of acting grumpy – act happy

It’s widely accepted that when a person feels miserable, he or she should allow themselves to act accordingly. Sometimes people even refer to it as ‘being authentic’.

Here are five reasons why you might actually become happier if you act happy rather than grouchy:

  1. Acting happy will change your body’s chemistry. The levels of stress hormones circulating in your physical self will drop. The result? Your mood will change for the better as your body flushes those toxins out.
  2. When other people experience you as crabby, they avoid you, which makes you feel even worse. When you act happy (even when you’re internally not at all) they experience you positively and gravitate towards you.  This opens a cycle of positive interactions, which will inevitably uplift your spirits.
  3. Your career will benefit. Grouchy people get passed over for interesting opportunities. Besides, no one wants such folks on their team anyway. The opposite is true for people who bring good energy to the table.
  4. You’ll spend less time apologizing for your poor behaviour or having to deal with colleagues who are upset with you because of your conduct.  That alone will significantly improve your overall state.
  5. You’re a grown-up, so act like one. When you do so, you will feel good about who you are, and that in turn is sure to elevate your happiness levels.

So what the heck – why not try it? Just do a little experiment by acting happy when you’re not and see what happens. After all, what have you got to lose?

 

If your organziation needs help, contact us anytime.

And please do join me on Twitter – follow @sharonebardavid

 

Clear Your Blind Spots (With a Little Help from your Friends)

Several weeks ago I bought one of those new cars that have a ‘blind spot’ feature. Whenever there’s another vehicle in my blind spot, a little light turns on. And if I am about to change lanes and there’s a car in my blind spot, a little beep alerts me that I might be in danger of acting without proper caution.

Unfortunately, there is no parallel light that assists us in knowing when our personal behaviour is counterproductive without us even knowing about it. Having blind spots is human, but inevitably we are bound to create significant damage to ourselves and others.

So, if you want to step up and be the kind of person you really strive to be, you’ll need to clean up some of the mess in your blind spot. If you don’t, you might find yourself in all kinds of trouble. Seeking feedback from others is one of the best methods for obtaining quality data that will help you change. It may not be exactly what you want to hear, but like any other yucky medicine, it’s gonna do you a lot of good.

Here’s a list of tips I comprised for my upcoming book Trust Your Canary! Every Leader’s Guide to Taming Workplace Incivility – use them to help you collect quality feedback:

Selecting the right people

  1. Choose a cross-sectional representation of people to provide the feedback: colleagues, managers, people who report to you.
  2. Select people who are good observers of behaviour – they will give you detailed data.
  3. Don’t go only to those who like and appreciate you. Those who are not necessarily your fans might be great sources of rich information.

Setting the stagePerson shrugging

  1. Decide whether to let the person know in advance that you will be seeking feedback or whether it is better to do it on a more spontaneous basis.
  2. Let them know why you are asking for feedback – the larger context.
  3. Clarify that you are open to hearing anything they have to say without becoming defensive.
  4. Ask for the feedback to be as specific as possible.
  5. Request their observations on your behaviour as well as on the impact it has (or might have) on others.

When receiving the feedback

  1. Monitor your reactions – do not get defensive (easier said than done, I know).
  2. Maintain a relaxed body posture.
  3. Ask clarifying questions to receive specific data (for example, “what specifically do you see or hear that leads you to say that I come across as dismissive?”).
  4. Encourage additional feedback by using phrases such as ‘what else have you seen?”, or “what do you think others might be seeing that I do not see?”.
  5. Thank them for their input and candour and invite them to let you know of anything else they may think of after the conversation.

After the fact

  1. Thank the person again in person, via email, phone or a written note, letting them know what specifically was helpful and what action you might take based on their feedback.
  2. Now, make the necessary changes!

 

If your organziation needs help, contact us anytime.

And please do join me on Twitter – follow @sharonebardavid

Incivility, Customers, and the Snowball Effect

Poor Ratings (Customer Service) 000003839435SmallIf you think that incivility on your team has little or nothing to do with service to customers, clients or patients, you may want to reconsider. In fact, you may be suffering from detrimental thinking errors. When team members are uncivil with each other, one of the following is bound to happen (a partial list):

  • A client will witness the staff’s incivility, and, based on their impressions, will make decisions that will adversely affect your organization
  • A staff member who is used to treating colleagues discourteously will inadvertently deal with a customer in the same manner
  • Team members who are used to being dismissive with each other will refer to clients behind their backs in derogatory ways (I’ve seen that happen, have you?)
  • The derogatory nicknames that are used to refer to clients will deteriorate into what the law considers to be ‘harassment’, whereby clients are referred to in terms that are based on their culture, religion or race and such
  • Staff is distracted by colleagues’ incivility. They make mistakes, take longer breaks, forget information, radiate gloom rather than cheerfulness, and offer no creative solutions when those are needed. In true snowball effect, customers will naturally conclude that your organization offers inferior service and products.

In a survey on workplace incivility I designed for the Canadian HR Reporter magazine a couple of years ago, 72% of the 308 HR professionals who participated in the survey ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘somewhat agreed’ that incivility has a significant negative effect on customer service. That’s 3 out of 4 people -nothing to sneeze off, to say the least.

And research By Christine Pearson and Christine Porath published in the Harvard Business Review in 2013 suggests that 25% of people who experience a troubling workplace incivility incident by a boss or colleague will admit to taking their frustration out on a customer. However, when we ask people in our workplace incivility training sessions to guess the research findings, they usually come up with much higher figures.

If you want to change things on your team and improve customer service, start with a good discussion about it within the team.  Click here for a process that will help you do so, step by step. And, of course, building awareness and commitment though solid training is always a great ideas too.

(PS sometimes it’s the customers who are rude first. In these cases, creative ideas for dealing with the problem might come in handy).

 

If you have great examples of incivility affecting customer service, or need help with challenges you have, contact us anytime.

And, if you missed the news, I’ve joined twitter and would love you to join me –

Stress-Busting Tool for You

In the last blog post I promised to share my method for dealing with that bad kind of stress, the sort that makes you inadvertently uncivil or makes you hyper-reactive to incivility that is directed at you.

But before we go there, let’s remember that there’s also ‘good stress’ (or Eustress, in its fancier name). This is the type of stress that makes you feel energized, alive, excited and vibrant. It injects life with spice.

Tweet 000025162279SmallOn this front, allow me to share with you news of a positive stress in my own life right now: I JOINED TWITTER! With the assistance of a wonderful expert who is half my age (gulp), I have already begun posting tweets that are meant to inform, inspire and provoke thinking. Please accept this as an invitation to join and engage together within my budding twitter community too (click here to follow me, as they say).

Now, back to that not-so-good stress. Here’s a simple tool you can use when you find yourself acting out the stress-breeds-incivility cycle. I call it the S-O-S method – Stop, Observe and Shift.

Step 1 – STOP: When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by stress, this step requires you to heed the warning signs and STOP (it’s not easy to stop or even pause in the midst of tidal wave, is it). Warning signs can include a persistent inner tension, or a sense of being on an out-of-control roller-coaster.  You might be experiencing physiological stress symptoms, anxiety or depression, withdrawal or an overall decline in performance. You might be curt with others or behaving in other uncivil ways. All this tells you that it’s time to pause and reflect on what’s going on before the situation becomes unmanageable.

Step 2 – OBSERVE: Here you take an honest, hard look at reality. Ask yourself tough questions, such as: what’s actually happening to me and around me? What specifically is troubling me? How am I acting when I’m stressed and how is this affecting my life, health, work and relationships? Am I endangering anyone? (there’s some research that indicates that fetuses can be affected by mother’s stress). And – am I still the person that I strive to be? If I do nothing, where will I be a year from now?

Step 3 – SHIFT: Once you’ve observed and gained insight into the situation, it’s time to Shift. Some shifts require a change in circumstances. If necessary, you might need to make dramatic changes that require courage and significant risk-taking (such as changing careers or ending a relationship). Other times, a small but meaningful shift (or even a mini-vacation) is all it takes.

Sometimes the shift requires work on internal rather than external changes. Regaining your balance is often a matter of recalibrating your thoughts and feelings. For example, you might discover that you need to accept and even embrace certain things (and people) rather than expecting them to change. This internal shift will liberate you from the constant obsessing over stressors over which you have little control.

So, are you ready to take care of your stress? Just hit the S-O-S button.

Good luck on the journey!

 

 As always, please feel free to get in touch anytime.

The Stress-Incivility Tango

Stress Breeds Workplace IncivilityHave you noticed how when people are stressed, workplace incivility becomes a real big issue?

In the workplace, elevated stress levels are directly correlated with a rise in incivility levels. That is, the more stress there is, the more incivility you’ll see.

It’s simple: when you’re under the influence of stress you’re more prone to be short, discourteous, and reactive. And, to boot, you become more sensitive (more ‘velcro’, if you will) to even the most minor incivility that emanates from others.

In contrast, when your stress level is low, you are more polite, cordial and civil. You have the time (and the mindset) to be friendly and you possess the patience to accommodate other people’s ways. You are more thoughtful and considerate. And if per chance you are the subject of another person’s incivility, you are more forgiving and generous. You’re able to brush it off more readily.

So where might your elevated stress come from? Well, its sources can be rooted in your work life, home life or both. And you may experience spillage issues: pressure at home can contribute to your work stress and vice versa. When a loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness and your childcare arrangements collapse simultaneously, you may not be able to demonstrate your usual patience with a colleague who submits an error-filled report.

If you are a manager committed to boosting civility levels on your team, pay attention to people’s stress levels. Ask yourself what you can do to support resilience and decrease the stressors, and then take purposeful action. Just make sure that you stay away from delving too deeply into the details of people’s personal circumstances, because that might get you going places which, frankly, you as a manager have no business going to. Equally as important, as a people-leader, keep your own stress levels under check, because your pressure-induced incivility will affect your people in destructive ways that you might not be aware until much later (if ever).

Whether you are in a leadership position or not, working on your personal resilience is a good idea, any time, any day. There are three kinds of meta-strategies you can use to tame your pressure levels, and I invite you to click here to read an entry I wrote on this in ‘the old days’, when I was still doing lots of work in the field of stress resilience training. (Spoiler alert: not all of the strategies are good for you!).

And – stay tuned! – in the next blog entry I’ll share a simple tool that you might want to use when you find yourself acting out the stress-breeds-incivility cycle.

 

Please feel free to get in touch anytime.

P.S. If you are managing someone who is an abrasive leader, or if you are a manager who was told that you are abrasive – we are always here to help with a (free) perspective or input.

Would Love Your (Quick) Help!

HiRes

As you know, I’ve been hard at work on my upcoming book – a hands-on guide for leaders on how to prevent and deal with workplace incivility. There’s nothing even remotely like it on the market, which makes it all the more of an exciting project.

I’ve been vacillating between different titles and would love your input in arriving at a great solution. The book title will be used across our other programs, tools and products and as such will become a recognizable part of the Bar-David Consulting brand. So it’s super important to land on something catchy, evocative, and compelling.

I’d love you to weigh in with your opinion on a few options I’m considering.

Would you be willing to help?

Providing your input will take less than two minutes – – it’s only 4 multiple-choice questions.

AND, TA-DA! …. you’ll be entered in a draw to win one of three copies of the book, once published!

If you’re willing to help, just click here to share your view.

Your input will be soooo appreciated!

Questions, ideas or need help? Get  in touch, anytime!

Note added on May 15th 2014: thank you to all of you who blessed us with an abundance of thoughtful and creative responses! The poll is now closed and winners of the free books to be announced shortly.

Wanna be Rude? Pas de Problème… Just Pay More

At La Petite Syrah Cafè in Nice, France, the price you pay for your morning coffee fix depends on your civility level.

Yes, you read it right.

The image of the restaurant’s blackboard below tells it all:

 

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Patrons who just say, “a coffee” pay 7 Euros per cup of coffee.

Those who say, “a coffee, please” pay 4.25 Euros.

And those who go the distance and say “good morning, a coffee please”? Well, those folks pay only 1.40 Euros for a very same cup of coffee.

According to the online magazine The Local, what began as a joke to try and reduce the rudeness of stressed and hurried lunchtime customers, resulted in people being super-polite, more relaxed, and smiling more.

Civility is about those little gestures that make everyone’s life more pleasant – the hellos, please’s and thank you’s are a great place to start. This is true for La Petite Syrah, and it is equally true for your workplace. Civility from customers is great. Civility towards customers and colleagues is equally great, if not greater.

And as you already know, when civility is not there — when the other side of the coin settles in the form of incivility, there will be lots of ripples in the pond. People can get mighty upset, and even retaliatory.

Instead, why not use humour to address things, just like the good people at La Petite Syrah chose to do? As the saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

So here are a few questions you might want to consider:

  1. What is one insight you gained from La Petite Syrah’s initiative? How will you use this insight to boost civility on your team?
  2. What are the top two things you teach (or would teach) your children about civility? How do those teachings apply to your workplace/team?
  3. If you saw someone at work behaving in an uncivil fashion, would you intervene? Why or why not?
  4. What is one bad habit that you possess in regards to this issue? What will it take for you to begin taming this habit?

As always, good luck on the journey! 

And do get in touch, anytime!

 

The Art of a Good Revenge

It ain’t pretty but it’s true: when people velcro themselves onto en experience where they feel they were treated in an uncivil manner, they often seek revenge. They engage in getting-even actions that are intended to balance an imaginary ledger.

Remember my last blog entry, “why bother saying hello?”. It examined how people get reactive when someone skips a greeting.

In reality, this dynamic goes quite a bit deeper.

When a person is upset by someone’s incivility, his or her getting-even activities will tend to be in proportion to how serious they think the other person’s ‘offence’ was. So when a colleague doesn’t say hello, they begin by exacting a punishment that is similar in intensity to the original offence. (“You didn’t say hello? Well, I won’t say hello either!”).
Justice Goddess 000017878996

But over time, if the first person continues to be a greeting-offender, the affected person will up the ante – – they’ll add  supplementary getting-even tactics to their original actions. In addition to not saying hello to that no-good person, they might throw a bit of gossip into the mix, or perhaps even the occasional little work-related sabotage. In other words, a chronic offence will require an elevated getting-even response that will satisfy the affected person’s sense that they are adequately balancing those invisible justice scales.

There’s no shortage of creative strategies, but good old tried-and-true revenge strategies can always be relied upon to give one that sweet sense that precious justice is being adequately served: spreading the word about the person’s inconsiderate ways, ‘forgetting’ something just when someone needs it, sabotage (the kind that’s juicy enough to make an impact but subtle enough not to get you into trouble), ignoring requests, or ‘working to rule’.

Meanwhile – have you too noticed this? – the person who is engaging in executing justice via these even-the-ledger activities is utterly blind to the fact that his or her own behaviour is itself a form of min-aggression that constitutes workplace incivility. They say that ‘justice is blind’ – indeed it is.

if you are part of a spiralling cycle such as this, you find yourself having tremendous difficulty freeing yourself of the entanglement of feelings and actions involved in its dynamics. And if you are in management, it is practically impossible to sort out who started what, when, why and where. You might get better results by avoiding getting into the history of events and just stepping up to the plate and holding people accountable for professional and civil behavior going forward.

 

We’d love to hear from you –  get in touch anytime.

 

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