May 2002 - Stress: How It Affects The Roles We Play
Stress: How It Affects The Roles We Play
by Debra Gawrych
Stress kills or at least bends us to the point of breaking. The stress of our ever- increasing pace of life is evident in the world around us. Lately, in the news, we have been bombarded with images of the corporate demises of Enron, Global Crossing and Arthur Andersen. We read and speculate about what happened that compelled management to push the envelope and we hear about the thousands of families hurt by the downfall of these companies.
We donít often hear about another side of the story ó the personal aspects that could drive someone to make the kind of decisions these executives made.
What stressors were present in their lives? What motivated them? How much did stress influence their actions? Once we can ascertain this information, it is easier for us to see that poor business decisions donít occur in a vacuum.
When bad things happen, it is human nature to want to place blame. We want a bad guy, someone to take the fall: some way to make sense out of a catastrophe or nonsense. We read daily about situations of fraud, collusion, greed and corruption and just when we began to be immune to reading these stories, September 11th happened.
Yet who is really to blame? Enron was a global catastrophe causing a chain link of reactions. First, the bankruptcy of the company, the loss of billions of dollars, and loss of thousands of jobs. Next, the indictment of their auditors, Arthur Andersen and again a loss of thousands of jobs worldwide, and then on to legal proceedings against officers of Enron and related parties. It is almost too easy to say that one party is to blame. What drove the officers of Enron to push the envelope more and more into the risky world of derivative trading?
Where were the watchdogs when the investments were skyrocketing? Enron executives pushed the envelope because stockholders and Wall Street analysts demanded higher and higher rates of return. As things turned sour, Wall Street continued to champion Enronís stock based on rosy expectations, and Enron executives were reluctant to come clean. We can suppose that greed was behind many of their decisions, but stress may also have played a factor.
The employees and managers of these companies are in limbo, not knowing if the company will remain in business, or if they will have a job or a paycheck from one day to the next. This uncertainty and instability can cause stress.
You donít have to be the victim of a corporate debacle to feel stress. T he pressure and strain of daily life causes stress, whether you work or not.
Unless we are willing to take a hard look at what might be difficult to admit, history may repeat itself. As I read the daily media reports of corruption in corporate America, investments and accounting, I seek not to judge, but to understand. How do individual personalities react under stress and given certain inherent tendencies in oneís character, how could he or she/he handle things differently, given the circumstances.
Of course, it is simplistic to say that stress was the over riding motivator in the lives of these decisions makers, but consider the lyrics from this popular rock song:
Stress and fear, whether it is brought about by external forces, such as the demands of higher rates of return, client demands to look the other way at accounting transactions or internal stress brought about by failing to live up to oneís expectations can confuse what is real.
Every person and personality type has stress; the key is how you react to stress.
Stress can cause anyone to react irrationally and far from their best in a given situation. Conflict can cause stressful reactions and stress can cause conflict. The following is a brief listing of how each aspect is likely to behave during periods of stress.
From the Seven Aspects Personality Model, each of the seven aspects has his/her own unique tendency to behave under stress:
In this exercise, you will learn how to step back from conflict and evaluate what is happening and why. You do this by:
My Primary Aspect ______________________________
Other Personís Primary Aspect ______________________________
Summary of the Conflict ______________________________
Letís look at some examples of how this exercise can work.
In this conflict situation, there is a Warrior and a Priest who are working together on a project. The Priest is the leader who is out-front with her/his vision, and the Warrior is the committee member who distrusts the Priestís direction and suspects ulterior motives.
What are the characteristics exhibited by both people in this situation?
In the above example, the Warrior doesnít trust the Priest. The Warrior could use her/his natural tendencies to be forthright and truthful to address this issue with the Priest.
Result: Warrior concludes that the Priest is leading for the good of the group rather than for her/his own personal gain.
Letís look at another conflict situation. This time a Warrior (the daughter) and a Priest (the sister-in-law) are butting heads over a family matter: an anniversary party.
Result: Warrior considers that she may have been wrong about her sister-in-lawís motives.
Use this exercise and these examples to guide you to a better understanding of situations and people that cause you stress due to conflict.
1. Know yourself before you act. Focus your attention inside to determine what you really want before taking any action. This will help you to be proactive rather than reactive. It will also help you to determine which of the techniques you need to employ in any given situation.
2. Seek to understand the other person and the situation. Ask questions. Instead of trying to expose weaknesses, look for strengths. You can note the negatives, but donít dwell on them. Instead try to uncover what is underneath, what the other person is really searching for. You may find that your assumptions are wrong and that the conflict is resolved merely by listening to the other personís wants and needs. If nothing else, you may at least agree to disagree.
3. Have a game plan if attacked or provoked. Decide how you want to handle a volatile situation under anger or duress before it happens. And most importantly, decide how much effort you want to give to this situation. It may be worth ignoring the provocation. The person may not mean enough to you to go through all of the agony you must go through to work through a problem.
4. Spend your time and energy wisely. Mentally rehearse what you are going to say. Write it down and practice with someone you trust. There is learning that takes place in the practice. It is much better to make mistakes and refine your technique with a friend than to flounder when you are in the emotional heat of the moment. Feedback from your practice will also help to ensure that you use the right words and tone. It is easy to judge and let critical words creep into our dialogue when there is repressed anger. It is much better to be truthful, but to express your truth with respect.
In conclusion, reactions to stress can vary greatly from one person to the next. The important point is to realize you own inherent tendency and seek to find balance by having strategies to help give you breathing room to make choices in the stressful moment. One of the best strategies to help you get started is just that-to breathe. The simple act of breathing provides oxygen to your brain and to your muscles and can help you relax enough to wait before reacting or decide before withdrawing.
Debra J. Gawrych is the author of the new award winning book The 7 Aspects of She is also a leadership consultant and the CEO of Common Boundaries Consulting & Communications. She has an MBA and has published articles in The Business Journal and Todayís American Woman. Debra conducts programs and gives keynotes to corporations and universities nationwide. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of her book goes to Breast Cancer Research and the Womenís World Banking Organization. Find out more on her website www.commonboundaries.com.
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