You would think that deep breathing, relaxation, mindfulness, taking walks or a better list of priorities are the keys to great self-care at work.
There is tons of popular advice on how to ease anxiety in the workplace…if you can relax enough to do them. But I know breathing deeply isn’t going to cut the tension if someone on my team just did something that really bothers me. Thoughtful action is required.
Actually, the greatest amount of self-care gold can be mined by de-stressing the required tasks you most dread—the things that you can’t really opt out of, the stressful situations that pop up and demand your immediate attention. Addressing conflict, dealing with mistakes or poor performance, asking higher management for something you need, or talking to anyone with a difficult personality are all situations that will drive your anxiety into high. For me, meditation is not going to solve the intrinsic issue of poor communication. A little pre-planning and preventative action will allow you to totally avoid big work stressors.
The most dreaded of all
The task most dreaded by all is giving honest feedback to a team member. If you are a manager or team leader, this source of stress is built into your role, and the anxiety may arise often. If you are an individual contributor, there are times when you need to share an unpopular opinion or request a change from your co-worker. If you have high standards and are working on a team, your desire for the team to succeed creates awkwardness when you need to speak out.
Here are some tips for how to solve the problems that are causing your anxiety when you know you need to say something:
#1 Once you’ve taken that breath…jump in and give feedback BEFORE you are super upset about the situation
Do it today. Don’t wait. If you notice someone doing something that hurts your (or your team’s) ability to reach your goals, share it now and state it in terms of how they can get it right in the future. Example: For next week’s meeting, please send out your data summary the day before the meeting so we can address it quickly and avoid spinning our wheels.
#2. Scrap written performance reviews if you are a manager. At least for the moment. Set the expectation that you will be talking with each person in your group more often to exchange feedback informally. Start having short meetings with people in which you focus on one or two improvement areas that will make the biggest impact on the team’s goals overall. Speak honestly and exchange ideas with them for helpful solutions they can commit to. Then ask for their feedback for you. Schedule a follow-up conversation in two weeks or less. Even if you are required to fill out the paperwork later in the year, this approach will make that part easy. And you will avoid big-deal confrontations!
#3: Make feedback to a peer positive. Even when you’re ticked off, start by acknowledging the way the person most contributes to the team in your opinion. Then share the negative, but improvement, feedback in terms as a request for what you would like them to do differently and why. Example: I appreciate that you’re so committed to our customers; you listen patiently to their concerns. However, we’re overloaded with calls lately, and it will help the whole team if you take more calls during our shift. I know that management is looking for an additional representative, so it shouldn’t be too long until we have some relief. Discuss with them how they can shorten their calls to make this change. Whether or not they commit to meeting your request, they will often improve just to help you.
#4. Giving feedback to your boss. Follow the above approach to giving feedback to a peer, except replace acknowledgement of what they do best with a statement of how it will help the boss reach a goal. Example: I have a request that I feel will help our team be more productive (or successful). Then make the specific request and how you think it will help.
#5 Check to make sure you’ve set common goals with anyone causing you stress
Sometimes the people who drive you the craziest are people who don’t see their goals as aligned with yours. They don’t see you and they as having much in common at work. For example, they think they are making customers happy at any cost and you see cost-effectiveness as a huge part of what they should be doing. Initiate a collaborative conversation about goals and priorities BEFORE you give them feedback about what they are doing wrong. Reach a common understanding and make sure to record it on paper. This will prevent a lot of problems and disappointments in the future.
#6 Adopt an “always improvement” mindset when talking to people you work with. Ask: How can we do better? often and be known for your focus on improvements. People will start expecting it from you and not feel surprised by the your feedback habit.
The best thing is that you will stay calm and avoid a stress mode at work!