How to Handle Stress and Avoid Interpersonal Communication Fumbles

Posted by Lori Free
February 4, 2016

lori-free--1-1.pngIt’s that time of the year. The playoffs are over and many Americans will be tuned in to watch the Super Bowl. As an avid football fan, I thought it would be appropriate to review how to avoid interpersonal communication fumbles. When we fumble with our communications, it can cost us a penalty or the entire game.

Have you ever said something and as soon as you did,  wished you hadn’t? Once those words are out, they’re out there. Even if you're given an instant replay, people don’t forget the play where you fumbled.

Now, I want you to think about your emotional state at the time of the fumble. Were you angry, tired, stressed out? Most of the time we make communication fumbles when we're emotional and stressed. We may never eliminate stress from our life, but the ability to manage it is crucial to our personal and professional relationships.

The Mayo Clinic developed a stress management tool kit called the Four A’s: Avoid, Alter, Accept, Adapt. You can either change your situation, or the way you respond to the situation. When you need to reduce your stress level, try using one or more of the Four A’s.

Avoid – Yes, you can actually avoid stress. If your teammate keeps dropping the ball, stop throwing it to him.

  • Learn to say “no” – This is very difficult for many of us because we feel saying “no” is a reflection on our abilities. However, we cannot do it all. When there are too many things on our plate, we can't give the same time and attention to each one. In the professional environment, it's difficult to say “no” to our superiors. I‘m not suggesting you tell your superior, “I’m not doing that.” I am, however, suggesting when your tasks pile up and there really isn't enough time to accomplish them all, to talk about re-prioritizing. Don't overextend yourself by sitting on another committee, baking the cookies, or selling the tickets. The people around you will enjoy a less-stressed person.

  • Avoid people who stress you out – This is much easier said than done. Limit the time you spend with "Debbie Downer" or "Chronic Complainer". Use your confident communication skills to tactfully tell someone you wish to look at the positive side, and prefer if they could keep their comments to themselves.

  • Control your environment  Knowing what to expect in advance, and then preparing for it, can reduce your stress level. If you know the 9:00 meeting never starts until 10 past, bring something to work on until it begins. Or, speak to the facilitator ahead of time, when you’re calm, about an on-time start.

  • Pare down your “to do list” – Prioritize what absolutely has to be done in a day. Set realistic expectations. Make sure you have set aside some personal time every day for yourself, whether it's going to the gym, walking the dog, taking your lunch, or reading a book.

Alter – If you can’t avoid the stressful situation, figure out what you can do to alter it. Change up the play. Often, this will involve changing the way you communicate and react.

  • Express your feelings – If something or someone makes you uncomfortable, you owe it to yourself to address the situation sooner than later. Suppressed feelings can erupt interpersonal-communication-2.pngat inappropriate times.

  • Be more assertive – Remember when sharing your feelings to use “I” language. “You never listen to me” can evoke a defensive response. “I don’t feel you’re hearing me” takes ownership of your feelings.

  • Be willing to compromise – Compromise doesn't mean throwing in the towel and losing the game. Compromise means looking for alternative solutions both parties can agree upon; a win/win position.

  • Manage your time better – Group together similar tasks. Time management and organizational skills can help reduce stress. How many times have you heard, “There’s not enough hours in a day!” Most people look at their e-mail all day long, afraid they may miss something. This can be such a distraction to the tasks at hand. I learned to check my e-mail on the hour for 15 minutes, offering me 45 minutes of uninterrupted time to work. I taught my team members (including my supervisor) that if they had an emergency, they should call my office.

Accept – Sometimes you have to face the fact: it is what it is. Okay, you missed the field goal and it cost you that game. How many times did you make it?

  • Practice positive self-talk – A mistake does not define who we are. We're human beings who'll inevitably make mistakes.

  • Don’t try to control the uncontrollable – You can’t control the traffic jam, the weather, or someone else’s behavior. You can control how you respond to it.

  • Lean from your mistakes – The project may have been better if you didn't leave it till the last minute. Okay, next time plan accordingly to increase a positive outcome.

  • Forgive – Don’t hold on to anger. It's a waste of time. People do make mistakes, including you. Learn to forgive others and yourself.

Adapt – Your team isn't used to playing in the snow. You have three injured starters. What are you going to do? Take your ball and go home? I think not. Look at the situation and adapt your course of action.

  • Reframe the problem – Try looking at the situation from a different perspective. You left the office early, rushed to the doctor’s office only to sit there and wait an hour. When do you get an hour to just relax? Breathe. Always have a good book on hand.

  • Look at the big picture – Will this matter in a week or a month or a year? More often than not, it won’t matter in an hour.

  • Adjust your standards – Striving for perfection in and of itself is stressful. Give yourself a break. No one needs to know you ordered the food for your dinner party. That’s what they make serving dishes for!

  • Focus on the positive – When you feel overwhelmed, take a breath and really focus on all the positive things that are going on in your life. ATTITUDE is EVERYTHING. How we think has a profound effect on our emotional and physical well-being

It’s not whether you win or lose, it really is how you play the game. We're all capable of making a bad play, or fumbling the ball. In our personal and professional lives, we want to minimize the amount of times we fumble with our communications. Managing your stress level will definitely help you minimize how many times you drop the ball!

How do you feel about your stress-management abilities? Let us know in the comments below!

While you're working on your stress level, why not assess some of your leadership skills?:

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