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Thought Leadership 22 April 2021

The critical mistake we’re making when we talk about stress

Why it’s crucial to add self-awareness into conversations about stress in the workplace…

Stress. If there’s ever been a few months that we can unequivocally term ‘stressful’ then these have been it. However, one of the biggest mistakes we often make in our conversations about stress is that we talk about it in broad strokes and generalist terms. We may think it shows up in the same way for all of us and triggered by the same things: so we assume that managing it will require a one-size-fits-all approach. But that’s absolutely not the case, and when you add self-awareness into the conversation around stress that becomes really clear – really fast.

In case you’re not familiar with Insights, here’s a very quick whistle-stop tour of our way of thinking.

We believe in the power of self-awareness. We believe that everyone leads with one of four colour energy preferences, Fiery Red, Sunshine Yellow, Earth Green and Cool Blue, and that each of the colour energies has a different communication style. Once you start adding those points of difference into the equation, the whole conversation around stress starts to look very different…

How stress shows up in colour

Let’s look at how stress actually shows up. Many of us are continuing to work remotely for now and, while that may change in the coming months, that’s a whole other conversation. But in the here and now, our interactions with colleagues are very different to how they used to be. If we previously relied on visual cues to pick up on stress in others then we definitely can’t right now, right? It’s also worth considering whether stress is always visible at all, in yourself or in others.

Has anyone ever commented on how calm you seem, and you’ve been surprised, because you certainly don’t feel calm on the inside? Or a colleague has told you they feel stressed even though, to you, they seem as on-their-game as they ever could be? Stress isn’t always visible – and even when it is, it may not show up as stress per se. It may show up as irritability, or questioning, or even disorganisation, depending on the person’s colour energy preference. It’s worth taking a harder look at yourself – and your colleagues – to tune into how stress is really showing up right now.

Stress triggers in colour

Now let’s consider some of the circumstances that may have triggered feelings of stress over the past few months. If we go back to the beginning of the pandemic, we all had to make decisions incredibly quickly. You may have had to get your team working from home with a notice period of 48-hours or overhauled your 2020 strategy in a matter of days. Sound familiar? Some people would thrive in this situation – at least in the short term – and may even have relished the opportunity to push through innovative ideas at pace. But for many others, that wouldn’t be the case at all. If you like having time to plan and prepare, prefer considering all angles before making decisions, or dislike change in general, that would have been a real struggle, and may have resulted in stress.

Once you start applying the colour energies, you begin to realise how different our stress triggers really are. For those who lead with Cool Blue, for example, a lack of structure can be a stress trigger. But for those who lead with Sunshine Yellow, too much structure can cause stress. Similarly, for those with a preference for Earth Green energy, short deadlines can be stressful – whereas for those with a preference for Fiery Red energy, it’s a lack of immediacy that can trigger their stress. So not only are our stress triggers different, they can also be the inverse of others’ stress triggers. No wonder we miss the mark if we only talk in really generalist terms, right?

How to manage stress

How do we manage stress? This is a toughie, because we’re working through a time of shifting sands. Are we going back to the office or are we not? Will we continue with some element of working from home, or will we be parking it completely? Should things go back to how they were before or, as Salesforce argue, is the 9-5 dead and done?  With four-day weeks, five-hour days, and all sorts of chatter about the future of the world of work, it’s difficult to get a steady hand on how things are really going to be over the coming months. The only certainty is uncertainty.

That definitely puts the cat amongst the pigeons when it comes to stress. Some of us may be desperate to get back to the office, particularly those with a more extraverted communication style. For leaders, too, being visible again may feel important. For others, that may not be the case. Going back to the office may now be simply another big change, particularly if we’ve got used to working from home. It’s therefore important that we consider different perspectives when we’re putting in place our back-to-work strategy, because what works for some won’t work for others.

The takeaway is this: if we really want to tackle stress in our organisations, we have to come at from a place of self-knowledge and self-awareness. Umbrella initiatives are never going to be able to fix the stress issue for your people, because they assume that everyone is the same. It’s only when we treat people as individuals that we can really tackle stress in the workplace and ensure we’re building a supported workforce who can readily meet the challenges of the future.

Would you like to find out more about self-awareness and how it can support your workforce? Find out more about the solutions we offer here.

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