Tag Archives: stress management

Why We Need More Love At Work: How to Show Empathy Towards Colleagues

I have to report that I found it difficult to work for a couple of days recently. My mind was very preoccupied with some pretty heavy thoughts and the simple task of getting on with my work seemed very unimportant and consequently, I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for it.

The cause of this situation was a piece of bad news I received at the end of the week. For a year I hadloveatwork been working with a very impressive lady who I had appointed as my accountant. I originally met her at a networking group meeting and was immediately struck by her warm welcoming manner, professional attitude and smart dress sense – in this case one of her apparently trademark flowery dresses. After talking with her on several occasions at other meetings of the networking group and exchanging a couple of emails we arranged a one-to-one meeting and it was my pleasure to spend an afternoon talking with her over a pot of tea, sharing business knowledge and experience and eventually waxing lyrical over some deep and meaningful stuff.

Having agreed to engage her as my accountant, we kept in touch over the course of the year. I continued to enjoy working with her and was very impressed and grateful when she managed to extract a rather rare and handy tax rebate from HMRC. Bonus! I had expected our working relationship to continue well into the future and was pleased to be supporting her small but growing accountancy practice. In fact, I was very happy when she wrote to me around Summer 2014 to let me know she was taking on extra staff. Not a surprise, given the quality of service she was giving her clients.

So it was with considerable shock and great sadness that around November 2014 I learned that this dynamic young lady had been a cancer patient for the last few years and circumstances had developed such that she was closing her business to spend more time with her family. It is difficult to find appropriate words in response to such information.

I sent her a message expressing my sympathy at hearing her news and wishing her and her family the best, thanking her for handing over my file to a reputable local accountancy firm. She replied, thanking me for my email and stating that “being able to handpick the firm that would look after my clients in the future was very important to me”. Such professionalism and consideration.

That was the last contact I had with her. Although one could guess that it was likely to happen at some point, I was very sad and slightly shocked to receive an email informing me that this warm, endearing, professional person who had much left to give both personally and professionally, had succumbed to her illness aged just 31.

Although I didn’t know her well, hearing of her passing has affected me over the last few days. And it has raised one question in my mind.

What Is Really Important?

You know, every one of us becomes wound up and irritable on a daily basis due to something that happens at work. Just the other night, my wife came home in a blind rage because her manager had asked her how the hole-punch worked one time too many.

Some years ago, when I was still an employee, I had a miniature explosion over the fact that my office colleagues had berated me for not bringing in adequate supplies of cake on my birthday.

And of course, we have all heard about Jeremy Clarkson’s outburst when he discovered that following a long day of filming for Top Gear, the associate producer had failed to ensure that there was a hot steak dinner waiting for him when he returned to the hotel.

The little things get to us on a daily basis. I once managed an admin team where 80% of the team members experienced raised blood pressure whenever a particular colleague stopped working for two minutes to apply her hand cream.

The thing is, all of these little issues that occur at work seem so important to us at the time. But have you ever noticed that when you move jobs, you no longer care about the minute detail of what happened at your previous workplace? Funny, isn’t it?

Well actually, it’s not funny. One of the key causes of tension and stress in the workplace is intolerance. We are all guilty of this. There are certain things that we find difficult to tolerate. Somebody not cleaning their coffee cup to a schedule that satisfies our opinion of what constitutes good hygiene. The noisy typist. The person who doesn’t put the tea towel in the kitchen back in the right place. The person who won’t stop talking about their children. The phantom photocopier jammer. The secret snot depositor. These are the things that make our blood boil. They drive us MAD!

But NONE and I really mean this, NONE of them MATTER.

They are inconsequential.

Every one of us is a human being, which means we are imperfect. We all have irritating traits. When you are in a closed environment with the same people day after day, these little quirks begin to add up and after a while, you start to find them frustrating and annoying. And this is entirely understandable, like I said, we’re all human beings.

But hang on, let’s think about that statement again – we’re all human beings. So if we’re all human beings, then surely we can empathise with each other’s little quirks and behaviours? Because we all have them. Surely we can CHOOSE not to get irritated by the colleague who insists on sitting by the window because they struggle to regulate their temperature and regularly need cold air to keep them comfortable?  Surely we can opt to be more tolerant and understanding?

And were we to choose to be more tolerant and understanding, the benefits would be considerable. We would be less stressed, able to concentrate on our work better. We’d be less likely to dread coming into work on a Monday morning. We’d have better relationships with our colleagues. We’d be happier.

The key skill we need to upgrade is empathy and understanding for others. Here’s a few tips as to how you can demonstrate that and therefore build strong rapport and relationships with your colleagues:

1. Listening skills – paying close attention to the detail of what another person is saying, not just hearing them. What can you pick up?

2. Awareness of values – listening for and appreciating other people’s values and using them to build rapport with the person. What’s important to them? What might be motivating them to behave like they do? What do you have in common?

3. Validation – Make people feel good about themselves by validating what’s important to them in their life.

4. Matching – Observe how other people are behaving and match your behaviour to theirs. This puts you on a level with them and allows you to engage with them more easily on their own terms.

When it comes down to it folks, getting annoyed by the small stuff in the workplace is just not worth it. You’ve probably heard the phrase “life’s too short” far too many times, but it really is true.

I had a sharp reminder of that recently when I received the sad news about my accountant. How would you feel if it was one of your colleagues that had died? Would their irritating habits still matter to you then?

Give yourself and those around you a break and show some empathy for those you work with. Remember you have your own annoying habits and that’s OK because we’re all human.

Let’s all make a vow to be more tolerant within our workplaces – if for no other reason than this:

Life is too short not to be.

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Lauren Burgoine. 


How to Stop Yodelling in Meetings – Managing Your Personal Stress Levels

I’m not one of those people who vocalises my anxiety, more a “grit your teeth and get on with it” kind of chap. But whenever I feel nervous or anxious, I have a feeling which I often describe as an “internal yodelling”. It’s a kind of “ohmygodherewegobloodyhellgetmeoutofhere” internal dialogue. And it’s really rather unhelpful.Stressful_Meeting

Recently, on-going health problems led to me having an ultrasound scan of my abdomen. And it was a bizarre procedure. I was led into an ominously darkened room with a stern but polite nurse and a rather funky but esoteric doctor who appeared to be a little bit too proud of his byzantine and slightly terrifying medical equipment. I half expected Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” to be permanently playing on a loop, but fortunately there was only the rhythmic beeping of the doctor’s toys.

After the inevitable brief conversation about why I was there, I was asked to remove my shirt and lie on top of a piece of apparatus they referred to as a bed but which looked more like a workbench. When the doctor began to lube up my belly, the inevitable internal yodelling started. I was so nervous about the potential outcome of this slightly undignified procedure that I even forgot to deploy my preplanned quip, “is it a boy or a girl?”.

Never mind, they’ve probably heard guys knock out that cracker plenty of times before.

Naturally, the source of my anxiety was both the potential outcome of the scan and the environment in which the process was taking place. I could not necessarily prevent my anxiety but what I did was use a technique I always use in situations like this.

I switched my mind from emotional mode into thinking mode.

Getting Control Of Your Emotions

Now, you may have been in many situations at work where you have felt similar emotions to those I felt on the day of my scan. You’ve probably experienced this most often in meetings. After all, meetings are one of the most intimidating and anxiety-inducing pieces of theatre we perform in organisations. Think about it, you are on show. Everybody is giving a performance. There are expectations, requirements, emotional investments. Everybody is fully loaded with all of these things.

When you walk into a meeting room there is an atmosphere. Hell, some meetings are not dissimilar to my aforementioned hospital room. Beeping equipment, stern but friendly people, an enormous flat surface in the middle of the room and sometimes even, an absence of light. Okay, nobody is being asked to remove their shirt – well, not in any organisation I’ve worked with… but you get the idea. They can be genuinely intimidating.

The thing is, like me and my ultrasound scan, you can’t necessarily avoid this atmosphere or prevent your anxiety from surfacing in the first place. What you can do, is shut off your anxiety so you can think.

Business Requires Thought, Not Feelings

Performing business requires our thinking minds more than it requires our emotional side. After all, the rules of the world and reality are not based around arbitrary emotions. They are based around facts.

And yet, so much of what goes on in organisations today is based on people’s feelings. Meetings are a virtual circus of individual’s emotions but their purpose is to collate collective thoughts in order to make progress on various issues. Ironically, feelings prevent this purpose from being achieved.

So if you can shut off your anxiety and allow yourself to think, you will be able to make a far greater impact on the progress of your organisation and have a much better and more rewarding experience while you’re at it.

Brain Capacity For Thought And Feeling

The problem you have is one we all share. The human brain has a very limited capacity to simultaneously process rational thoughts and emotions. It works like this-when you’re feeling emotional your capacity for rational thought reduces.

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Similarly when you’re engaged in rational thought, your capacity to feel emotions also reduces.

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If you are generally ruled by your feelings, this process works against you. However, if you are able to turn the tables and knock your mind into thinking mode then you can make this work very much in your favour.

When you are in a stressful situation such as a meeting, the environmental conditions are usually what puts your mind into feeling mode and prevents you from getting into thinking mode. You might remember my internal dialogue from earlier -“ohmygodherewegobloodyhellgetmeoutofhere”. Try saying this to yourself over and over again in a frenzied manner and see how rational and stable you feel at the end of it. In my case, my yodelling is default internal dialogue that helps to reinforce the messages that are being sent to me by the stressful environment I’m in. It’s likely that you will have a similar internal dialogue that surfaces whenever you feel anxious.

Now it turns out that you can switch your mind into thinking mode by changing your internal dialogue to a logical and thought based phrase. My yodelling example is clearly an emotional phrase, so my technique for changing modes to thinking is to use the phrase “hmm… this is interesting”.

Try saying this to yourself. You’ll notice that this phrase immediately makes your mind curious to gain further understanding of the situation you’re in. It is not connected to any emotion, it is a logical phrase.

When I was in the hospital, lying on the work bench, lubed up with what appeared to be a storm trooper’s head being scraped across my gut, I said this phrase to myself – “hmm… this is interesting”. The anxiety lifted, I began to see the humour in the situation and I became interested in understanding more about how the procedure worked and what all the equipment did.

This could work for you in meetings and other stressful situations.

What’s your logical phrase going to be? Pick something that works for you and next time you’re sitting in a meeting and internally yodelling from all the drama and theatre, use your logical phrase. Switch your mind into thinking mode and become interested in solving the problem or situation and watch how effective you become. Imagine how effective you will be and how much influence you will be able to assert if you are able to think where everyone else is yodelling.

And finally, in case you’re wondering, all was well with the scan but take my word for it, if the Doctor asks you if you’d like to see the images, just say no.


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John Hackett

Managing Director – Franklin-Hackett Ltd.