How to Move from Stupid to Smart when You’re Stressed
You do some of your old job and some managing too. It’s a pressure cooker of tasks and responsibilities.
Stress isn’t all bad:
No stress is boring.
Reasonable doses of stress challenge you to rise and conquer.
Stressed-out makes you stupid, moody, negative, and unproductive.
How to Move from Stupid to Smart when You’re Stressed
I use the following pattern for conversations with over-stressed leaders.
#1. Fear drives the conversation. They’re afraid they can’t succeed. Call it panic with a smile, but it feels like they’re thrashing in the weeds.
- Pop the cork on pressure. “What’s going on?” (You won’t have to invite them to talk.)
- Never minimize, explain, or solve a stressed-out person’s problems.
Address emotion before seeking solution.
#2. Reconnect with purpose.
Don’t try to solve stress until you find a reason to face stress.
- How did you happen to get into this job in the first place?
- What made this role attractive to you?
#3. Make a list of the trees in the jungle. Imagine you’re hacking a path through the jungle. What needs to be chopped down?
#4. No solutions allowed. When leaders list their pressing responsibilities, they add solutions. As soon as you hear a stressed person try to solve a problem, stop them. “Lets just make a list. No solutions.”
Get it all down. When they slow down, ask, “Anything else?”
Read the list back to them. Keep your pen handy. “Is that it?”
#5. Break it down.
- What can you put off until tomorrow? (Prioritize)
- What can someone else do? (Delegate)
- What do you have to do today? (Prioritize)
- What can you get done? (Make imperfect progress)
- Where they feel uncertainty, ask, “Who might know?” (Bring the outside in.)
- Remind them of their talent and strengths. “You’re suited to face this because you’re really good at….”
What suggestions do you have for making progress when stressed-out?
What shouldn’t be done when someone is stressed-out?
NOTE: This entire conversation can happen in 30 minutes. This is a short-term strategy. Long-term solutions require calm heads and time.
Stress Makes You Stupid (Time)
Coping with Stress at Work (APA)
What shouldn’t be done when someone is stressed-out? I think sitting with and asking them how or if you can help them to get past the stress points, perhaps layout a different version of what they are trying to accomplish, that may not be so stressful. Perhaps showing them what you have had the same instance and what we did to get through.
Let them know your there for them in whatever they need. There could be outside issues driving their stress that may come to the top to better understand there are deeper issues.
Don’t hang them out! Show them we can fix this stress!
Thanks Tim. I think stress makes us feel alone. It also makes us feel like giving up, especially when there’s no end in sight.
Everyone needs a “with”.
Excellent! I manage a deptartment of Project Managers and deal with this a lot. These are some great tips!! Thanks!
Thanks Tim and best wishes.
The first thing to not do when someone is stressed out is to marginalize it. Telling a stressed out person that it is going to be alright and just take a breathe will get you an eye roll and a dismissal, nine times out of ten. I like what you have laid out in this post about listening to their problems and encouraging them to make a list and really look at their situation. It is reminiscent of Covey’s mantra, “put first things first”. Personally to reduce stress in my life I sometimes just have to stop a readjust my attitude about the situation, but that does not work every time and I could not expect that to work with other people or leaders. It’s easier said than done to just stop and readjust one’s own attitude. I think I will take the tips you have in this post and probably apply them not only to the workplace but also at home. Great post!
Thanks Gary. You nailed it. When you minimize the stress someone feels they believe you don’t understand. When people feel like you don’t understand they try hard to help you understand. You can’t move forward until the stressed person feels you understand their situation.
This one is what I’ve used as a first step to controlling “stress” and my work efforts: #3. Make a list of the trees in the jungle. Imagine you’re hacking a path through the jungle. What needs to be chopped down? I put the list together I move things around, I allocate time, resources and whether I need to engage others. With this list I can then manage “emergencies” when they come in and fit those “emergencies” as appropriate where I need to. When I have a list I can better control my efforts, my stress and then my outcomes.
Thanks Roger. When we’re stressed out, all the trees look the same. It’s so helpful to divide and conquer.
This can easily be applied to personal life situations too. The script you included is a very valuable starting point.
Thanks Kristin. The phrase, “starting point,” sticks out to me. It’s important to look at these ideas as starting points.
Stress? God knows I have experienced my fair share of it. I am an author and entrepreneur. I am in the middle of revising my first novel. And, I am slowly but surely starting a non-profit. The idea for my novel and my non-profit came to me while I was in between jobs. I was collecting unemployment and had a lot of time on my hands so I would think about what direction I wanted to take my life. Lo and behold I started writing my novel and piecing together thoughts to start a non-profit. My levels of stress will cause me to have a “sense of urgency” to get something done. While unemployed, those challenging days were nothing but stress-filled, so much so I had no idea how I would stand up to get back up on my feet. To say I was broke is an understatement. I was always flat broke.
Everything in life is a secret and everything in life is a mystery. When you are down and choose to lift yourself back up life will take you in a new direction.
Whether people realize it not, we’re all on a journey and we all walk a path.
Always choose life. You cannot go wrong. Please never think you are the only one struggling. You are not alone. We all have our mountains to climb. We all go through something in life. We’ll fall, but we can stand, also. Overcome.
During my journey I have come to terms with asking for help when stressed. I feel a leader should be able to reach up or down for help. As mentioned in a other post, not being alone in a stressed situation can help ease the burden. I’ve fallen in the trap of completing all the task myself without help. That can lead to burnout or failure of task. I’m currently in a position where I’m the lead on all projects conducted in a calendar year. Aside from managing the projects, the day to day admin requirements add up quickly. I’ve worked with staff to try and delegate, but if the staff member is new, well I have to do some hand holding. But I know I’m just a call away from help and I do make those calls. Somedays the stress isolates me, but I know I can reach out for help.