Posts Tagged ‘stress’

The Soul of a Project #23: Watch out for Overtime

by Gary Monti on August 28, 2012

Do you want to succeed? Do you feel a personal responsibility for the project? If you just push hard enough can the project get done? These questions are probably part of your everyday life. Answering them affirmatively is often the hallmark of a successful project manager and can open doors to career success. Taken too far, though, damage can occur. One way this damage shows up is with overtime.

In my travels, most PMs start with a 50-hour week and go from there. Periodically, that is insufficient and overtime is required. It’s part of the normal ups-and-downs of a project. There are limits, and that is what needs to be watched for. What does this mean?

In my own experience where it causes trouble is when it shows up as the dark side of “spontaneous overtime.” Let me explain. Spontaneous overtime is when “the hands fall off the clock.” There is a falling into the task and being totally absorbed by it. A sense of time disappears. The light side of spontaneous overtime is when things are clicking into place and the ability to build or fix just grows and grows. It is very rewarding. Think of how rocket scientists feel when a rover has successfully landed on Mars. Even this form of overtime does have to have some limit if one has a life. However, this occurs so infrequently that pushing all else aside for a period probably won’t cause too much trouble in other areas of life.

The focus here is on the dark side of spontaneous overtime. This is when awareness of the reality of the situation has disappeared, e.g., refusing to see a powerful sponsor has pulled their support merely by neglect and the belief the project can be successful continues. This is a formula for disaster. The subconscious denial that the project has no support leads to pushing harder and harder. Without thinking, more and more overtime is put in. More meetings, more picking up others work, more “If I just push hard enough.”

There is a loss of humility and a sense of limits disappears. The PM is consumed by stubbornness yet feels realistic at the same time.

So what to do? The simplest solution is have someone to talk to who will tell you whether or not you’re nuts. If you don’t have that, think back to when this has occurred before and ask yourself, “How did my behavior shift when I was deaf, dumb, and blind?” It will show in little things. For example, do you lose your car keys? Are you grumpy, angry, or anxious in a general way with nothing you can put your finger on? Are others more annoying for no apparent reason? Experience loss of sleep or want to sleep excessively? Over- or under eating? Don’t want the weekend to end? Maybe you can brainstorm you own list with someone close to you who knows your behaviors.

The payoff is big. You are giving yourself a chance to get back within your personal boundaries and start looking honestly at the situation and confront what you see. You can restart the process of gaining control of your life.

We all have stress in our lives and a little stress can be a healthy thing.  Stress is caused by stressors, defined by BusinessDictionary  as either 1. A physical, psychological, or social force that puts real or perceived demands on the body, emotions, mind, or spirit of an individual –OR- 2. A biological, chemical, or physical factor that can cause temporary or permanent harm to an ecosystem, environment, or organism.

Stressors are like bullies: We can usually handle one or two but when confronted by too many of them at one time we may lose the ability to overcome them.  Heck, just recognizing stressors can be difficult and sometimes even counter-intuitive. Did you know that pleasant, desirable, rewarding things can also cause stress!?!? In 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe suspected there was a link between events in your life and your level of stress.  They looked at 43 life events and after thousands of interviews and surveys they ranked each life event for its contribution to stress.  Some of the events that made the list are surprising: A change in health of family member (including an improvement), a change in financial state (including suddenly receiving a lot of money), and even an outstanding personal achievement!  This is because our bodies react automatically and biochemically, way down at the cellular level, not only to bad changes in our life situation but to any changes.

To measure the overall stress using the Holmes-Rahe scale, determine which events/situations in the past year apply to you and take note of the associated number of “Life Change Units”.  Add them up and the resulting total score will give you a rough idea of how much stress you are experiencing.   (The table and explanation shown here is from Wikipedia at  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holmes_and_Rahe_stress_scale but the same table is available from multiple locations on the Internet and elsewhere.  Newer lists may also be available as part of more modern studies.).  This first table is for adults:

Life event

Life change units

Death of a spouse 100
Divorce 73
Marital separation 65
Imprisonment 63
Death of a close family member 63
Personal injury or illness 53
Marriage 50
Dismissal from work 47
Marital reconciliation 45
Retirement 45
Change in health of family member 44
Pregnancy 40
Sexual difficulties 39
Gain a new family member 39
Business readjustment 39
Change in financial state 38
Death of a close friend 37
Change to different line of work 36
Change in frequency of arguments 35
Major mortgage 32
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan 30
Change in responsibilities at work 29
Child leaving home 29
Trouble with in-laws 29
Outstanding personal achievement 28
Spouse starts or stops work 26
Begin or end school 26
Change in living conditions 25
Revision of personal habits 24
Trouble with boss 23
Change in working hours or conditions 20
Change in residence 20
Change in schools 20
Change in recreation 19
Change in church activities 19
Change in social activities 18
Minor mortgage or loan 17
Change in sleeping habits 16
Change in number of family reunions 15
Change in eating habits 15
Vacation 13
Christmas 12
Minor violation of law 11

Score of 300+: Serious risk of illness.

Score of 150-299+: Moderate risk of illness (reduced by 30% from the above risk).

Score 150-: Only a slight risk of illness.

A different scale has been developed for non-adults.

Life Event

Life Change Units

Getting married 95
Unwed pregnancy 100
Death of parent 100
Acquiring a visible deformity 80
Divorce of parents 90
Fathering an unwed pregnancy 70
Jail sentence of parent for over one year 70
Marital separation of parents 69
Death of a brother or sister 68
Change in acceptance by peers 67
Pregnancy of unwed sister 64
Discovery of being an adopted child 63
Marriage of parent to stepparent 63
Death of a close friend 63
Having a visible congenital deformity 62
Serious illness requiring hospitalization 58
Failure of a grade in school 56
Not making an extracurricular activity 55
Hospitalization of a parent 55
Jail sentence of parent for over 30 days 53
Breaking up with boyfriend or girlfriend 53
Beginning to date 51
Suspension from school 50
Becoming involved with drugs or alcohol 50
Birth of a brother or sister 50
Increase in arguments between parents 47
Loss of job by parent 46
Outstanding personal achievement 46
Change in parent’s financial status 45
Accepted at college of choice 43
Being a senior in high school 42
Hospitalization of a sibling 41
Increased absence of parent from home 38
Brother or sister leaving home 37
Addition of third adult to family 34
Becoming a full-fledged member of a church 31
Decrease in arguments between parents 27
Decrease in arguments with parents 26
Mother or father beginning work 26

Score of 300+: Serious risk of illness.

Score of 150-299+: Moderate risk of illness (reduced by 30% from the above risk).

Score 150-: Only a slight risk of illness.

The Kent Center has adopted this scale in their stress assessment and treatment practice.  (We found them online and have no affiliation with them.)  Working with mental health professionals is almost always a good idea.  If you perform a self-assessment of stress and the result concerns you, seek professional counseling (in-person and face-to-face if at all possible) because untreated stress can easily lead to physical illness and depression.  And then things can get very serious because depression cannot always be self-diagnosed or self-treated.  Worse yet, severe depression is potentially lethal.

But if you decide that your stress level is sufficiently low, and composed of only a few distinct and easily identified causes/events, you may want to tackle them yourself.  To make this stress-busting effort effective, be methodical.  Spend some time thinking about each stressor in your life.  Here are some tips:

  1. Make a Master List of Stressors and list each stress-causing event/situation separately
  2. Have a plan to deal with each one, independent of the others
  3. The plan for each one should include the following:
    • Identification of what you see as the root cause of the stress (OK all you Mental Health Professionals, don’t email me: I know we mere mortals cannot always determine the root cause of stress but this is a start)
    • A descriptive vision of what your life would be like without this stress (you being worry-free, happy at work, etc.)
    • Who else is involved besides you, and what each person will do to help correct the situation
    • Actions you and the other people involved will take today, this week, this month and this year

The human brain does not come with a user’s manual.  Get professional counseling to help with high stress scores, depression or with any thoughts about harming yourself or others.  Don’t mess with stress!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

In this six part mini-series we have talked about how other people can cause us to feel stressed, how we can recognize their disruptive behaviors and how (and when) we can then get them stopped.  Just remember a few key points:

  • Aggressive people (especially bullies) count on other people’s high threshold for avoiding confrontation.  Bullies grow accustomed to “getting away with” bad behavior, with actions that unnecessarily inconvenience others.  Bullying in schools has become an epidemic and has resulted in tragedies when the victims commit murder or suicide. But even just a little corrective effort, by lots of people, adds up to lots of positive impact.
  • Sometimes, insecurity causes people to overcompensate and cross into aggressive behavior.  But we will leave the issue of “cause” for mental health professionals to address.  Law enforcement officers will tell you that bullies should be confronted early in their “careers”, when their aggressive behavior is first noticed by parents, teachers or the victims.  A society’s tolerance of bad behavior usually lets it get worse because, as with criminals in general, bullies usually just get more aggressive, not less.  Just as petty crimes lead to major crimes, minor bullying and “pushing” behavior in a person can lead to the person developing into an increasingly aggressive person who leaves a bow-wave of stress as they plow through the lives of others.
  • Each society determines what behavior is acceptable and the people of that society then individually and collectively enforce those norms.  Whenever a subset of individuals violates the norms, other people will be at least inconvenienced causing minor stress or perhaps even aggravated causing serious stress and in extreme cases innocent bystanders can be injured or killed.
  • To minimize the stress you feel from others, help them learn more friendly, cooperative behaviors.  We live in North Carolina and our “Southern” politeness and manners on the highway, in lines at restaurants and when shopping are different than those shown by many visitors who come from just a few hours’ drive north.  I often advise my neighbors and friends not to let our Northern visitors’ behaviors cause them undue stress but to instead use the opportunity to gently teach and to demonstrate “proper” manners.  For example, you can say “you are most welcome” when you hold the door open for someone who doesn’t even speak to you as they whip through it.  And you can graciously let drivers out of parking lots and let others merge into your lane in front of you.  You should even move over quickly for an aggressive driver coming up behind you in the left lane, because it is just common sense plus the law requires you to let faster vehicles pass on the left.  The result of all this accommodating behavior will be less stress for all concerned.

So now go practice keeping other people from stressing you out!  In a future post I will show you how to avoid the most dangerous stress of all – – – self-induced stress!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Have you ever been taken advantage of by a stranger who cuts in front of you in line and you wished you had spoken up?  Have there been times when someone else’s behavior was driving you crazy but you didn’t have the courage to speak to them about it?  Well here are some tips for doing just that – – – confronting someone about their behavior and doing it in a way that stands the best possible chance of getting them to change what they are doing without them getting angry at you.  At this point we assume that you have already decided that confronting the person is not inherently dangerous and that their behavior is sufficiently bothersome that you have decided to mention it to them.  Intervening now has three parts:

  • Getting their attention
  • Establishing some rapport and
  • Telling them what you want them to do.

At the office, talking with a direct report (employee) about changing their behavior can be a formal HR-related issue and it deserves some preparation and forethought – – – After all these are your coworkers and you are about to ask them to change their behavior.  But whether the person is a direct report or a peer, you’ll want to meet in a private place where both of you can speak openly. And HOW you ask for that meeting actually impacts the tone of the subsequent conversation.  Assuming you are not the person’s supervisor, try one of these ice breakers:

  • Could I ask a favor? I’d like to pick you brain on a problem I am having. Could we chat somewhere quiet for 5 minutes?
  • I need your advice on something.  Could we have a coffee this afternoon?
  • You seem to genuinely care about our organization and the people here.  So here is some constructive criticism that will make you even more effective with your peers.

Once you are in the private office meeting, these openings are often effective:

  • I think you are a sensitive, caring person.  But one behavior you sometimes exhibit when under stress is actually causing your coworkers some major stress.
  • You are doing something that is upsetting your colleagues, and I don’t believe you even realize you are doing it.
  • Have you noticed how upset other people get when you . . .
  • And the most powerful change-inducing phrase ever: When you [insert the other person’s troublesome behavior here], it makes me feel [insert how you feel here]. An example would be When you make snide comments about me behind my back, it makes me feel that you don’t appreciate the long hours and hard work I do here. It is powerful because it is unassailable.  Other people cannot argue with it because you are only saying how you personally feel.  And it is an expression of fact.  Plus you are not actually asking them to change their behavior (yet).  This is a very powerful technique and should be used with care.

Not Intentional

Bear in mind that, when confronting stress-generating people, you always want to give them the benefit of the doubt.  You want to choose your initial words based on the seriousness of the offense committed by the other person.  I always just assume people don’t wrong me intentionally; they are usually just in La La Land and are not paying attention. Example: The lady who cuts in front of you in the bank line may have thought you were completing a deposit slip and weren’t even ready to see the teller.  After all you were writing on something.  So be as polite as possible when you confront her as she walks past you, headed to the teller.  Smile and say softly “Sorry, I think I am next in line”.

The opposite end of the behavior spectrum is the person who allows a small child to cross a busy parking lot alone, weaving between stopped cars – – – now that requires some strong and immediate intervention because a life is in danger.

The three steps

Step 1 – Getting their attention:  Here are time-tested opening lines arranged from most polite to most confrontational.

  • Could I ask a favor?
  • This is going to sound weird but could you please . . .
  • My daughter used to cry just like yours, and for no apparent reason.  You might try . . .
  • On the airplane or train: Excuse me.  I think that is my seat.
  • Something odd just happened . . .
  • Actually, there is a line here – – – we are all waiting for the kiosk
  • Whoa buddy.  There is already a line here.
  • We all need to keep an eye on children so they stay safe.  Did you know your toddler daughter was crossing this line of traffic between stopped cars, all alone?
  • I don’t think you realize what you just did!  What were you thinking?
  • You could have killed someone with that move just now, sir!
  • PLEASE DON’T DO THAT!

Steps 2 and 3.

Establishing rapport and asking for a change in behavior.  These two steps are often very closely related and can happen almost in the same sentence.  Savvy conversationalists also call this “moving the conversation sideways” and then asking for the change.  You are trying to get the other person to become a little sympathetic to your needs, which makes them MUCH more likely to change what they are doing that is causing you stress.

  • This has been the day from Hell.  I am exhausted.  Could I ask you to put those heavy groceries in my minivan right there please?
  • To the policeman who just pulled you over: This day has been unbelievable.  I am late for work for the second day in a row.  What did I do wrong, officer?
  • To the spouse: Honey, my job is draining me.  Even you said you have never seen me look this exhausted.  Could we talk about some ways that we can share the household chores so I can have a little energy left for the kids and for you each night?
  • To the loud mouth in the restaurant booth behind you:  This is our first night out of the house in a month.  Could you lower your voice please so we can enjoy a quiet dinner?
  • You seem like a nice person.  Could you please . . .
  • Had a rough day?  Me too.  But can you turn down that music just a little, please?  Thanks man.
  • Our ears are ringing! Can you please take your child outside until she stops screaming?  Thanks.

In this five-part series we have examined how we can get the people around us, the people in our workplace, family, circle of friends and even strangers, to stop causing us unnecessary stress.  Next week we will conclude this mini-series on stress reduction and offer some final advice on persistently driving the unhealthy stress out of your daily life.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

In our last post we dealt with situations where we didn’t want to intervene because we questioned the impact on our personal safety of doing so. Now we will look at some situations where intervening and trying to get a person to change their behavior would be safe, but might not be the wisest choice.  We must always ask ourselves if a person’s aggravating behavior really justifies our getting personally involved in a possibly confrontational situation?   Like everyone else, you have a threshold of tolerance for bad behavior by others.  Can you just ignore the behavior this time?  Can you perhaps even use the situation to your advantage later?

Example #1:  You casually mention to a new hire an idea you have regarding cost savings.  You then learn that the new employee took that idea to your mutual boss and presented it as her own.   The boss loves the idea and publicly thanks the new employee for the great idea at the next all-hands meeting.  Assuming it would be safe to confront your colleague about the unethical behavior, should you?  Does the action rise to the threshold for you to confront the person?  Probably not.  Unless it was a HUGE cost savings for the company, you will only appear petty and selfish.  Instead, I would work into the next private conversation with that person, somewhat jokingly, that I am happy to provide additional career – enhancing ideas for her and then watch her reaction.  If she has any ethics at all she will apologize and then she’ll tell the boss that the idea was mine.  And then she owes me a major favor.  THAT debt is worth something in the big scheme of company life!

Example #2:  You are entertaining business clients. A group of 8 people seated near you at a restaurant are noisy and keeping you and your clients from enjoying a quiet evening.  They are often laughing loudly and seem oblivious to the tables of people near them.  Do you:

  • Confront the people and ask them to quiet down because, after all, you deserve a nice dining experience with your business clients?
  • Complain to the restaurant manager and ask him/her to talk to those people?
  • Begin hinting loudly to your clients and colleagues that “some people should consider the effect of their behavior on others nearby”, hoping they get the hint but secretly daring those hooligans to say anything in response.

My first choice is none of the above.  Ask to be reseated elsewhere, someplace away from that group of happy revelers.  They are obviously enjoying themselves (birthday, anniversary party, etc.) and we strongly support low-stress, happy occasions with friends and family.  Either let it go, join them, or move to a different table.   Your business clients will be impressed at your patience, tolerance and flexibility.

Example #3:  You are driving to work, in the right lane of a 4-lane highway and another driver slices into your lane in front of you, a little closer than you are comfortable with.  You didn’t need to hit your brakes but it aggravated you and you honked your horn.  A mile up the road, you and that driver are side-by-side at a traffic light and his window is down.  You want to say to him “Wow, such a nice car and it doesn’t even include turn signals in the basic package”.  You could do that.  But, it is likely to cause the other driver (especially if it is a guy and he is not alone) to confront you.  And once that happens, he will be defensive and your chance of changing his behavior drops to zero.  So don’t even bother.

My response?

  • If the other driver was trying to get over to an exit off the roadway and just didn’t take the time to signal his lane change, and he didn’t really endanger me, I will let it go.  In fact, he may begin a conversation at the traffic light with “hey man, sorry I cut you off back there.  I was about to miss my exit here.”  I have had that happen several times on the road.  And if he had waved to me to acknowledge me or thank me for not hitting his car, then I have no real issue with him at all.
  • On the other hand, if he was just being a jerk and couldn’t care less about me, then my disapproval will fall on deaf ears.  But I want him to know that I saw his stupid behavior and I choose to let it pass.  So at the light, I will look right at him until his eyes meet mine.  Then I’ll smile and look back to the front and shake my head side-to-side in the universal international expression of disbelief.  I make your point, he knows his silliness didn’t go unnoticed, and no words are needed. [Note: In Germany adding an index finger tapping your temple says “you are an idiot” and can cause a fight.]

So let’s assume we have decided we are going to confront someone about their behavior.  We have decided that it is safe, it is worth our involvement and we believe we can (and should) get the person to change.   In the next post we’ll look at some time-tested techniques for getting other people’s attention, building rapport with them and getting them to actually change their behavior so they cause less stress for you!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

In our last post we looked at two scenarios where, even though other people were causing us stress, we did not ask them to stop because we could not do so safely.  Here is the last scenario before we move on to subject of “is it worth your time to intervene”?  What would you do here?

Scenario:

A lay-off recently occurred at your company and a week later one of the terminated people comes to the receptionist’s area at the office.   You come back from lunch and walk into the situation.  He is obviously distraught and is yelling about the unfairness of the lay-off he mentions that he now has no reason to live.  You know the guy, he seems harmless enough and you just want to end the disruption his ranting is having on the employees.  He has two young children and you just want to take him next door for a coffee and give him a chance to vent awhile.  Should you ask him to stop disrupting the office and offer a shoulder to lean on?

Answer:  Absolutely not.  Doing so would be unsafe for you and your coworkers.  When he 1)  showed back up at the office and 2) mentioned “no reason to go on living”, he crossed a line.  Anyone who seems unstable, no matter how small or harmless looking, must be considered dangerous even if you know them personally.  Crime stats are filled with disgruntled former employees who return to the company and attack former bosses and coworkers.  Quietly lock the door to the work area, have somebody call the police immediately and encourage your people to leave the area where the guy is screaming.

Something like this actually happened to me twice as a manager at a major corporation back in the 1990s.  The first time was when we terminated a PhD in electrical engineering in my organization.  He was odd, lazy and didn’t get along with our other technical staffers so at the end of his 6 month probationary period, we let him go.  He then called a company manager at home, very drunk, and mentioned that he was thinking of returning to the office with a machine gun and killing everyone there.  He asked to meet the manager and talk about his grievances.  The manager correctly declined the meeting and immediately called our security who called the local cops.  The police went to his apartment and had a chat with him and then his photo and a description of his vehicle were posted at every gate to our facility.  Nothing further came of it and we didn’t press charges.

The second time was during a contract in the Arabian Gulf during the build-up to Desert Storm (aka Gulf War 1).  I was leading a team of 105 Americans working on ships and one of them began acting strangely.  He provided (unarmed) pier security on the night shift (6 PM to 6 AM) to prevent pilferage and he complained to coworkers that when he returned to his hotel room each morning, his belongings had been moved around.  He said that the CIA was routinely searching his room!  Nobody else took him seriously but when he started leaving razor knives on storage crates every 50 feet down the pier “in case somebody jumps me” his behavior started to stress the other workers.

These same coworkers warned me that they considered him mentally unbalanced so I asked him to join me for a friendly, private walk-and-chat.  He told me that, beyond any doubt, the CIA was “after him”.  I told him that, were I him, I would take that as a serious threat and I added that maybe the CIA had him confused him with some other person.  He obviously had not thought of that and while he was pondering the ramifications I told him I thought the best thing we could do was to get him out of the Arab Gulf immediately.  He agreed and was on the flight to Amsterdam the next evening, and then home to California’s Long Beach Shipyard.  In this case, I was forced to intervene with an unstable person because I was responsible for the job getting done and the person’s behavior was stressing the rest of the team.  But always do this gently, with kid gloves. Do not be confrontational.

OK, assuming a person’s behavior is causing you stress and you have decided you can intervene without risking your personal safety.  But should you?  In the next post we will learn some proven techniques for determining what type of stressor we are dealing with and how to then get them to stop stressing us out!

In the last post we identified five common types of stressful behaviors:  Day Dreaming, Comparing, Time Traveling, Gut Reacting and Grade Schooling.  Before we get into details about how we will change these people’s aggravating behaviors, we want to encourage you to first use some common sense about deciding if you should undertake the task at all.  You are not the behavior police and some people deserve a WIDE berth.  You should only intervene when you are not risking your personal safety and the person’s behavior is so aggravating that you cannot just let it pass and when you think by confronting the person you might actually have some reasonable chance of getting them to change their behavior.

So in every case, for any type of stress-causing behavior other people exhibit, the three questions you must ask yourself (in this order) before you intervene are

  1. Is it safe to confront this person about their behavior?
  2. Is it worth my effort to confront this person? and
  3. Do I have any real chance of changing their behavior?”

The answer to all three should be “YES” before you intervene.  So let’s look at a few scenarios and see if they get past the first of our three criteria for intervention – – – our personal safety.

Scenario #1

On your way to work in Los Angeles, a car full of men in their early 20s, with shaved heads and their bodies covered in tattoos, stops beside you at a traffic light with their music blaring.  The music is deafening and they appear not to even notice the discomfort it is causing in people nearby.  Do you get involved?

Answer: Are you serious?  Just asking them to turn it down could get you shot.  And you have ZERO chance of changing their future behavior.  So control your testosterone boys (women are smart enough to not even CONSIDER intervening here), keep your eyes forward and drive on.  That was an easy example.  Now for one that is not-so-easy.

Scenario #2

You and your office colleagues are standing in line to order at a fast food restaurant.  A guy near you is acting odd— standing too close to you, fidgeting a lot, looking around nervously and mumbling to himself.  He seems to be in a hurry to get his food but his behavior is annoying.  Do you ask him in a stern voice to step back a bit?

Answer:  No.  This guy is possibly mentally unstable or on drugs or both.  Very odd people should trigger a “flee” response in you. I would just walk out of the restaurant, to my car, and wait for him to leave.  Do not confront someone who may be on drugs and/or mentally on a different planet.  Asking him to “give me a little room, please” might trigger a bizarre response.  Don’t become a statistic.

In our next post we will see an all-too-common scenario, the corporate lay-off, and a disgruntled coworker whose behavior  stresses his colleagues.  Would you ask him to stop?  You may be surprised at the correct answer.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Have you noticed that the actions of some people often cause you stress and frustration? Does interacting with certain colleagues, bosses and/or direct-reports in the workplace cause your blood pressure to sky rocket?  Have you ever wished you could do something about it?  Well, you can!  You can get those behaviors changed.

(Note that in this series we’ll be talking about changing a behavior, not a person. Understanding that a person’s behavior is separate from the person himself [or herself, we use the masculine form to represent both or either] is fundamental to changing our or anyone else’s behavior.  Later posts will explain this in more detail.)

We have identified at least five distinct types of stress-producing behavior:  Day Dreaming, Comparing, Time Traveling, Gut Reacting and Grade Schooling.  Let’s look at examples of each.  (Warning: you will think of people you know when you read these descriptions and you may see yourself here!)

  1. Day Dreaming:  We sometimes say a person must be day dreaming when they seem unaware of their surroundings.  Such people can cause serious stress in others without realizing it.  If confronted they may be genuinely surprised. One glaring example is the order-taker at the restaurant drive-through speaker who mumbles or stringsallthewordstogether.  He causes stress for customers who must repeatedly ask “what?”, for the kitchen staff who keeps getting incorrect orders returned and for the manager who must apologize to frustrated customers. Another common example is the person talking very loudly into a cell phone, disrupting the peace and quiet for everyone within hearing distance – – –  usually the person is completely unaware that there ARE people around, not to mention the effect his loud voice is having on them.  At work, this can be the boss who provides poor direction and blames others for the resulting confusion (expects employees to read her mind) or routinely and cavalierly says hurtful things about others in public. It can also be the colleague who embarrasses himself and others with inappropriate jokes or sexual innuendos, totally unaware of the pained looks on the faces of onlookers. People who are Day Dreaming are often oblivious to the stress they cause in the lives of others.
  2. Comparing:  This is the often-subconscious act of looking at the happiness of another person and comparing it to your own mental state.  Some people are only happy when they come out on top in such a comparison.  They are happiest when others are miserable.  When they act on these comparisons they can cause lots of stress in others.  People who think this way will disrupt a pleasant conversation by interjecting a piece of bad news that instantly changes the feel of the gathering from happy to sad.  Or they will use a “yes, but” maneuver:  “Yes, winning the office’s sales contest would be great for our team but we are short two people and we have never been able to do it before.”
  3. Time Traveling:  This behavior is generation-driven; the Baby Boomer who cannot stop herself from asking everyone who gets to a meeting even a minute late “What time does the 9:30 meeting start?”; or the Gen Yer who cannot resist asking the Baby Boomer having cell phone problems “That advanced technology giving you problems there, Grandpa?”  The result is always more stress.
  4. Gut Reacting: People who routinely use this behavior are seen as the quick-draws at work, the people who always have a fast come-back to any comment.  But they also often omit the think step that should always occur before the speak step.  Their fast, knee-jerk response leaves no time for thoughts of “should I say this?” OR “will it hurt someone’s feelings?” OR “how could this comment be taken?” The result is often wounded pride and stress in others.
  5. Grade Schooling: This behavior is usually motivated by revenge, jealousy, power-trips or other markers of immaturity.  Examples include sabotaging an initiative at work so the originator fails; calling attention to yourself (even negatively) because you need the constant reinforcement of being noticed (poor self- image); or doing something just because you can even if it causes stress in others, for example driving continuously in the left lane of a superhighway so you can keep other people from driving 56 mph in a 55 mph zone.  People who do these things seem to be stuck with only the emotional maturity they had in grade school – – – they just never grew up.

In upcoming posts we’ll show you how to deal with each of these behaviors.  You’ll see how to first decide whether to intervene, then how to get the person’s attention, and establish some rapport (if possible), and lastly how to request a change in the person’s stress-inducing behavior.  We’ll show you how to do these things in the workplace but the techniques will also work well when shopping, in restaurants, with the family at home and in lots of other situations.

And if you think there are other categories of stress-inducing behavior, beyond the five we mentioned above, we’d like to hear from you.  Email me at Mack@SolidThinking.org

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Flexible Focus #44: Lessons in Life Balance

by William Reed on March 10, 2011

The common word for it is Work-Life Balance, the challenge and stress of giving proper attention and time to both work and family. Part of the challenge is that every individual’s situation is unique. No one pattern fits all.

Sometimes the stress is generated not so much by the situation, as by the person’s thoughts and attitudes in responding to it. Particularly stressful is the effort to do give equal attention or equal time to everything. This cannot be done, though you can work yourself into a frenzy trying.

The juggling pattern

In a previous article in this series we looked at the question, Are Goals Traps or Opportunities? That article looked at four approaches to goals: distracted pursuit, single-minded focus, stepladder thinking, and flexible focus. When you attempt to juggle the elements with anything other than flexible focus, you tend to drop all of the balls.

Juggling is an excellent metaphor for Life Balance, as taught by Michael J. Gelb in his book, More Balls than Hands: Juggling Your Way to Success by Learning to Love Your Mistakes. A good juggler can easily juggle 3 balls with two hands, and a professional can juggle 4 or even 5 balls. However, in life we must juggle far more factors than this, in eight fields of life: health, business, finances, home, society, personal, study, and leisure. This is our challenge.

And yet think about how many things are juggled already in perfect balance without any effort or interference on our part! Your breathing, blood circulation, digestion, sleeping cycles, a vast number of habits and actions we perform without conscious thought or effort. And in the greater scheme of things, the coming and going of the seasons and cycles of nature, the movement of the sun, the moon, and the stars, all of these things are juggled by forces beyond our imagination or control. There is peace of mind in appreciating the process.

A better understanding of balance

A simplistic view of balance is that of equal weights on a scale, like the scales of Lady Justice, dating from ancient Greek and Roman times. While this may be the goal of common law, it is precisely the effort to make everything equal which confounds us in the process of Life Balance. The process is far too dynamic to be able to measure in this way.

Nor is it a matter of trying to please everybody, or do everything. In Japanese, the word happō bijin (八方美人) refers to a person who smiles equally insincerely to everybody. Politicians sometimes fall into this trap, promising all things to all people, and delivering on none.

What metaphors then can help us gain a better understanding of balance, one which is both beautiful and practical? The core metaphor for the Mandala Chart is the zoom lens of flexible focus, through which you can see the big picture, the small detail, and the connections all at once. Through the articles in this series, hopefully by now you have had plenty of practice in flexible focus.

Another metaphor which illustrates the process in an appealing manner is that in the art of Alexander Calder (1989~1976), inventor of the mobile and a pioneer in the art of moving sculpture. It is best if you can see a Calder mobile up close, but there are plenty of Calder art images online to give you the idea. In addition to being asymmetrical and 3-dimensional, they are in constant motion.

Each element able to move, to stir, to oscillate, to come and go in its relationships with the other elements in its universe. It must not be just a fleeting moment but a physical bond between the varying events in life.

~Alexander Calder

It would be hard to find a better poetic description of flexible focus.

Soft focus and a calm center

At the end of the day, what really makes for Life Balance is not how you juggle the parts, but whether or not you maintain a calm center. It is in the central frame of the Mandala Chart, the seat of meditation, where you free yourself from the distraction of forces pulling from the outside, yet maintain your awareness and control. You can see it in the eyes of a Buddha statue, soft focus which is all seeing.

In addition to meditation, you can cultivate flexible focus by calm and deep breathing, such as done in the slow movements of Tai Chi Chuan. A compelling image used in this art is that the number of breaths you draw in your lifetime is fixed. Hence calm and deep breathing leads to long life, while quick and shallow breaths can shorten your life. So what is your hurry?

Worry and Anxiety – Can we really overcome them?

by Vijay Peduru on October 15, 2010

A lot of us are anxious, worried and get depressed most of the time.  A research was done about worries and the following statistic was found

  1. Things that never happen: 40 percent. That is, 40 percent of the things you worry about will never occur anyway.
  2. Things over and past that can’t be changed by all the worry in the world: 30 percent.
  3. Needless worries about our health: 12 percent.
  4. Petty, miscellaneous worries: 10 percent.
  5. Real, legitimate worries: 8 percent. Only 8 percent of your worries are worth concerning yourself about.

If we look at this statistic, the majority of our worries i,e 92% do not happen and yet we are worried and this worry leads us  to all sorts of  problems including relationship problems and health problems.  Let Mr. Worry be around you a while and you invite a new guest in your life, called anxiety!

If we analyze worries deeply, it is nothing but our stories about a future situation. If the future situation seems unfavorable, worry sets in, you let the story fester for a while, the worry becomes anxiety. On the other hand, if the future situation seems favorable, we feel better and more positive emotions (such as anticipation, excitement etc) set in. Take, for example, the feeling when you are planning to go on vacation, you feel great. Why? Because the future situation is fun. At the end of the vacation you feel depressed. Why? Because you have to return to work you don’t like.

So, how can we overcome worries and anxiety? Here are 2 quick ways:

  1. Realize that all our worries are invented by us by thinking that a bad future situation will occur in the future. Remember, these are just stories, they have not yet actually happened… and probably never will.
  2. Invent a good future situation by deliberately thinking about the good things which will happen in the future.

Now, think of that next presentation that you have to deliver to the management team… or that public speaking event that has your nerves a bit unsettled… or that next important meeting that has you chewing your nails… all these need not be a source of worry! You just have to first notice the story around the worry… and then change it in your favor!

Good luck!