How to overcome stress and stay connected these holidays

How to overcome stress and stay connected these holidays

We all know that Christmas is a big opportunity for stress. The combination of having to appear to be having fun, while coping with all the frustrations and extra work can be a real downer.

One of the things we need to know about stress is that it closes things down. It’s hard to feel joyful and enthusiastic when you are stressed. We tend to close in on ourselves and set up a kind of survival regime to get us through. Maybe it does help us to struggle along but it does not help us to care for ourselves, to open our hearts to others, to learn anything about the habits that lead to the stress in the first place.

Let’s take a look at some ways we could set about making connections this Christmas instead of going into survival mode.

Connecting with yourself as the basis to overcome stress

Do you ever feel like the people in this snow globe at Christmas—all in your festive gear but not able to communicate how you are really feeling? The holidays can be a strangely lonely time, even when you are surrounded by people.

As the lead up to Christmas gathers pace, why not take some time to check in with yourself and see what you are hoping for from the holidays.

Whether you are religious, or not you can ask yourself what is important to you about this holiday. Is it having family around and lots of good things to eat and presents to share? Or is it about having a few days off from work and routine in the middle of winter. Whatever it is, it will help you to set an intention for yourself—a kind of inspiration for the holiday.

Then at the other end of the scale, try to see what it is that triggers stress for you.

Take a moment to sit quietly and then ask yourself these questions:
  • At what times do I experience a high level of frustration over relatively small events?
  • How does it feel in my body? 
  • What do I do about it? 

Going through this exercise will help you to identify the times when stress can creep up on you, so you can prepare for it and hopefully, avoid it. Allowing yourself to use your body like a stress barometer shows you the effect that stress has on you. Spending time thinking about how you deal with stress helps to get you off the survival treadmill and really consider how you can ease your stress.

Connecting with the present moment

So often when we are busy our minds are just rushing away with us thinking ahead of all there is still to do. That’s particularly sad at Christmas when there are so many enjoyable rituals in getting ready—like making the cake. 

So one way we can ease a feeling of stress is to connect with the present moment. For example, try not to hurry with making the cake. While you are mixing it, don’t think about making the mince pies, a present for grandma and whether you have enough wine in the house. Instead, try focusing on simply sorting your ingredients for the cake, weighing and adding them in the correct order and mixing it all to a delicious consistency. Take time to smell the fruits and the brandy. Allow yourself to enjoy the texture of batter. Remember to make your wish and just be with the making of the cake. When it is in the oven, you can go on to the next task and approach it in the same way.

Connecting with a sense of enjoyment and celebration helps to dissolve stress

The more we can get our stress into perspective, the more chance we have to enjoy some of the magic that there can be around Christmas. We said earlier that stress closes things down and one of the first things to go is any sense of enjoyment and celebration.

Allow yourself time to look around you and see the things you enjoy. I am a big fan of Christmas trees both indoors and out in the open. There is something about all the lights and glitter on a dark winter evening that just says home and love to me.

What is it that you enjoy most at Christmas?

Connecting with family and friends

Probably if we are honest, one of the biggest sources of stress is how the family is going to manage together over the holidays. It can get complicated with all the in-laws and the extended family. We all know that awful tense feeling that can come when uncle George manages to come out with the opinions that we know will drive our teenage daughter to distraction. Or when grandma insists that we don’t know how to put on a Christmas like they did in her day. You dread the moment when your sister-in-law, who always manages to make you feel like bargain-basement wife, arrives for dinner looking as if she just stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine, along with her two immaculate children. You, on the other hand, hot and bothered from the kitchen feel less than glamorous.

Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind while the family dinner is underway:
  • Everyone around the table wants to be happy—just like you do.
  • None of them want to be anxious, or worried, or miserable and yet, inevitably they all have times when they are—just like you.
  • Chances are that each one of them have their own insecurities about the family gathering—just like you do.
  • Perhaps some of them are even intimidated by aspects of your behavior–what a good cook you are, how you juggle family and career—who knows?

It can help so much if before your irritation arises you can put yourself in the shoes of the person irritating you—perhaps they are more like you than you think.

Connecting with the rest of the world

As well as closing things down, stress makes us lose perspective. Whatever is going on with us seems so much more important than anything else that is happening in the world—which in the scheme of things, really does not make sense.

During the holiday period you can counter-act any tendency to feel that getting the lights working on the tree is more important than, say, global warming by consciously allowing yourself time to think about what is going on for everyone else in the world. Many millions of other people are celebrating Christmas around the world, with traditions that may be very different from your own. There are also millions who are not celebrating Christmas and it is just another ordinary day for them. Then there are the millions who whether or not they wish to celebrate Christmas are not able to because of poverty, or war, or persecution. Keep them in mind also.

So, a very merry stress-free winter holiday to everyone!

How to be kind when following the rules

How to be kind when following the rules

I admit to being not very good at following the rules. It’s always important to me to understand what the rule is for and if it is really necessary. So, when faced with an instruction, I usually come back with why? Or I have  suggestions to offer as to how things can be done differently. It does not always make me very popular! Also, I can see how it can be challenging for someone trying to enforce the rules.

Ways of following the rules

Of course,  we need to have all kinds of rules in order for society to function well. It just seems to me to be important how you decide to follow them. There are the kind of people who enjoy their authority. They seem to take pleasure in wielding the small amount of power that enforcing the rules gives them. They are generally not interested in explaining the rules, just in making you follow them. It can be tough to be at their mercy.

Then there are people who use empathy to help them administer the rules. These people try to see through your eyes and to understand where you might feel challenged. Conversation with people in this category can help you to understand the rules you are being asked to follow.

My recent experience of following the rules

The background

A couple of months back I had a direct experience of both of these types of people in authority. My partner and I went through an extraordinary week of loss and bereavement. We lost two people very close to us through cancer. First, my partner’s brother passed away in Amsterdam. Then a week later a very dear old friend passed away in the South of France. We wanted to attend both funerals and spent an anxious week making arrangements to make it possible. 

My brother-in-law was cremated on a Friday. Straight after the funeral my partner and I left for Schiphol airport to catch a plane to Girona. It was the quickest and most efficient way to get to Roqueronde, where the second funeral was going to be held on the Saturday afternoon.

Both of us were quite exhausted and emotionally frail with all the grief and worry we had been through, but we were very relieved to be able to attend both ceremonies.

Security at Schiphol Airport

I am always a bit uncomfortable going through airport security. There is always a slight feeling of waiting for something to go wrong and on this occasion it did—spectacularly.

We usually favour checking in our luggage when we fly. It’s good to minimise the hassle of security. This time we were taking carry-on luggage because we were in such a hurry. We completely forgot the 100ml maximum for toiletries. We had bought brand new tubes of the cream my partner needs for his skin and the gel I need for my rheumatism. Of course, they were all bigger than the allowed size.

Although we had our outsize tubes in the designated plastic bag, our case was still hauled off the conveyor belt. With her rubber-gloved hands the young woman dealing with us rummaged through everything. She was completely deaf to our explanations—which soon became entreaties—that we needed the creams, that they had never been opened and would cause no harm.

There was even an underlying feeling that she enjoyed the drama of taking about €60.00 worth of creams and throwing them all away.

Bus drivers at the long-term car park

In contrast the bus drivers at the independent long-term car park definitely came in the category of people following the rules with empathy. The arrangement is that you park your car in a protected area and then catch one of the buses that the firm have running between the car park and the terminals. When you return, there is a bus scheduled to collect you.

The driver on the way out was very friendly and helpful. He was happy to talk but kept quiet if you had little to say. He noticed my difficulties getting in and out of the bus because of my rheumatism and made sure he was on hand to offer an arm. I really got the impression that the boring routine of the job came alive for him through the people he met and helped. For him following the rules was simply a skilful means.

Our flight back was already and late evening flight and then it was delayed. We rang to warn the drivers but were still anxious that it was too late for them to wait. Imagine our relief to find the bus waiting patiently at is allocated place in a cold and rainy Schiphol. As I tried to run, he waved me down and shouted for me not to hurry. He tucked us up in the bus and drove us back to our car. We really felt we were home.

We don’t know what is going on for people 

There is a quote that I like very much and often use in my workshops:

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

The quote is attributed to Ian Maclaren, as well as  PhiloPlato and Socrates. I don’t know which of them actually said it, but it carries a deep wisdom. As we encounter people during our everyday activities, we really have very little idea of what is going on for them. The woman at security did not know we had just been to one funeral and were on our way to another.

The thing is, if we allow ourselves to take just a moment of reflection to consider how life is, we can see the truth of this quote. We all want our lives to go well and to be happy but so often things go wrong and the very things we want to avoid happen to us anyway. The very fact of being alive means that we can be in the middle of all kinds of worry, anxiety, and fear, as well as hope, inspiration and happiness. The point is that we do not know and therefore it could be a good idea to make sure our behaviour does not add to someone’ pain.

There can be many occasions when we are distracted, or overwhelmed and our wish to be kind gets pushed aside. Remembering that everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle could help to focus our attention.

Barriers to empathy

In his marvellous book, Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution Roman Krznaric sets out four main barriers to empathy. 

These are:

Prejudice

When you own opinions about the type of person you are encountering overwhelm your ability to relate to them. Among others this can refer to sexual orientation, social class, race, nationality and work occupation.

Authority

We referred to this earlier when we discussed the kind of person for whom following the rules comes first.

Distance

If the problem you are dealing with is happening a long way away from you either in geographical distance, or emotional distance then it can be easy to disengage from it.

Denial

This happens when we dissolve any sense of responsibility for actions that are taking place.

In my experience the woman at the security desk bumped into all four of these barriers.

The antidote

To put it simply, the main antidote to these barriers is humanising the other. Instead of taking distance we engage. We try to look at each human being as being just like us, with feelings and hopes and fears. Sweeping statements and broad generalisations are set aside. Instead we look at the particular circumstances and individual needs. There is curiosity to really know about people and things. We take time to pay attention.

My insight about following the rules

These barriers to empathy can be crude and obvious but they can also creep up on you in surprisingly subtle ways. When I look back on the thoughts and feelings that I had concerning the woman at security, it dawned on me that I too was bumping into the same barriers. In my distress, she became the ‘other’ for me. I was ready to fault her on the way she was doing her job without giving any thought to how she might feel as a person. Just seeing her at her post in her uniform made me feel uneasy. It built up from there. So, although I am of the opinion that staying kind while following the rules is very important, I would now add another point. When you are being subjected to the rules, you also need to keep your heart open towards the person making you follow them.

How kindness in the workplace saved me

How kindness in the workplace saved me

Copyright for photos www.santulli.nl

How I personally benefitted from kindness in the workplace

Over the last few weeks I have been blogging about kindness at work. We’ve looked at why kindness is important at work and how easy it is for our habits to get in the way and prevent us from being kind. Now it’s time to share a personal story of how I experienced  kindness in the workplace in a way that really helped me when I needed it most. It came from an unexpected source—a shoemaker specialising in orthopaedic shoes.

My diagnosis

A few years ago I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. No-one else in my family suffers from it, so I was surprised and dismayed when I found out. It can be pretty debilitating both because of the pain as well as the damage to joints. It does not help you to feel youthful! You just have to get used to managing it, adapting to a change of pace and keeping positive.

Shoes have never really been my thing

In my hippy days I used to walk barefoot most of the time and even now, I long to kick off my shoes when I get home. My dressing style favours bold colours and unusual shapes. It’s important to me to feel anything is possible and that I don’t have to follow any rules.

When my specialist advised me to get orthopaedic shoes to help with my walking, my reaction was pretty strong. It seemed like a whole part of who I am was being consigned to the rubbish dump. From now on, I would need to clump around in heavy ugly shoes, and everyone would stare at me!

Santulli Orthopedie B.V. maker of orthopaedic shoes

My GP provided me with a list of possible vendors, and I began to look for somewhere close to where I live. I ended up going to Santulli Orthopedie, a maker of orthopaedic shoes in Amsterdam, just because it was not too far away. 

When I got there, I just felt depressed. I have never been in a shoemakers’ before, so I had nothing to compare the shop with. I was just so sure that it was all going to make me miserable.

A glimmer of hope

In fact, it was very pleasant to be so warmly greeted by Caroline, the receptionist and office manager. She easily spoke to me in English, as my Dutch is not yet good enough to manage a whole conversation. My partner and I were offered tea and coffee and made to feel welcome. Her manner is practical and business like, but all the time infused with warmth and understanding. My appreciation for how she is has only grown over the time I have been going there.

The turning point

I was asked to go through to the fitting area of the shop. Here I was not surprised to find an irritable older woman, dressed in grey and being very difficult. It all fitted my mood and my idea of the kind of people who wear orthopaedic shoes. 

I watched the interaction between the grumpy woman and the person serving her. I did not then but this was Claudio, the frontman for the team who deals with most of the customers. Gradually it dawned on me that he was being very gentle, humorous and patient. He didn’t react at all to the woman’s irritability. 

After a bit he went down to workshop to pick up the shoes the woman had come to collect. Imagine my amazement when he returned carrying a pair of bright red ankle boots that anyone would have been delighted to wear! He put them on for the woman and she walked about a bit to make sure they fitted well. Here was this woman who represented everything that frightened me about orthopaedic shoes walking elegantly out of the shop in a pair of dazzling red boots!

My fitting for my first orthopaedic shoes

Then it was my turn. While all the measurements were being taken Claudio explained each stage to explained to me. Like Caroline, his manner was practical but warm and gentle. He knew when I was likely to lose my balance. Whenever I wobbled he offered me his shoulder to hold on to. It was clear to me that he really understood how the people who come to his shop might be feeling. Immediately it became easier for me to relax.

When it came time to choose the style and design of my orthopaedic Claudio really lit up. By then I had started to look around me a bit more and saw the variety and originality of the shoes that were on display. There are racks of leather samples to choose from. Instead of the drab browns and greys that I had been dreading, there were all the colours of the rainbow! Not only that—there were leathers that shone, glittered and changed colour in the light. It is like an Aladdin’s cave for shoemakers.

Claudio took time to sense my preferences and then made suggestions to help me decide. We settled on a style and chose two contrasting kinds of leather. You get a little sample of the leathers you’ve chosen to take home with you.

A family business

I have just brought home my third pair of orthopaedic shoes made at Santulli Orthopedie B.V. It turns out that they are very familiar with the rules of each health insurance provider and can advise you when you qualify for your next pair of shoes. These ones I just bought are made of soft blue leather that sort of glows, with an inlay of glittery blue. There is even a contrasting stripe along the sole of the shoe. They really are beautiful and I feel great wearing them

It turns out that the Santulli family came originally from Italy, so it’s no wonder they have such an eye for colour and style. Claudio’s father still works there, along with several other members of the family. Perhaps that it is why kindness is so effortlessly woven into everything they do. All day and everyday people come to them to have shoes made because they have some kind of problem with their feet. There is a fundamental, unspoken acknowledgement that having problems walking is not something people enjoy, along with a mischievous intention to at least have some fun while you deal with it.

The more I come to know them, the more I see that along with the service they provide in making orthopaedic shoes, they offer an empathic understanding that this might not have been your choice. There is nothing sentimental, or sticky about this but a down-to-earth kindness that nourishes the heart.

6 Lazy Ways to be Unintentionally Not Kind

6 Lazy Ways to be Unintentionally Not Kind

Fortunately, I do not know anyone who sets out on their day intending to be not kind to anyone at all. It’s probably the same for you too. So why is it that in any ordinary day all sorts of unkind things happen? 

Let’s look at our own behaviour at work. We could ask ourselves if in the rough and tumble of an average working day we find ourselves unintentionally being not kind. The thing is that individually each action may seem so small as to be insignificant. It can be the cumulative effect which is damaging.

Often it is because of habit, or insecurity, or pressure that we fall short in being kind. So, here is my list of six lazy ways it is easy to fall into being not kind. I call them ‘lazy’ because they are not necessarily intentional—in fact, usually they aren’t. They are largely due to not noticing what is going on with other people, or how your behaviour is affecting them.

1. Being pre-occupied can mean being not kind

When we are stressed, or really busy then it is all too easy to become turned in on ourselves. Our priorities take centre stage and our ability to see what is going on around us is reduced. 

At work this can easily become a sense of self-importance. This can lead to the feeling that what you are doing is so vital that it takes precedence over everything else. It gives us permission to prioritise our own story and not pay so much attention to other peoples’.

It can creep up on you in quite a subtle way. From your point of view, you are simply trying to do a good job. There is no intention to let your kindness slip but that is what happens when you become too self-focused. You don’t give your full attention to the needs of people around you and you miss things.

2. Gossip can lead to unkindness

I would be willing to bet that you are not the workplace gossip at your job. They are usually pretty easy to spot and not so difficult to politely avoid. It’s much more difficult to manage your own reactions and emotions without unintentionally being not kind.

If you are in any kind of team-leader, management role everything you say has an enhanced significance for the rest of the team. When someone in your team is struggling then how you talk about them in the group is very important. You need to find a way to give them difficult feedback without damaging their confidence and their ability to learn. They will be listening to every word you say, and what others tell them you said with a sensitivity heightened by fear and anxiety.

Whatever your role is, there are always people at work who are less easy to get on with than others. It is these people that you need to take special care to talk to and talk about with great skill. Just one off the cuff comment made in irritation can cause tremendous harm.

3. Criticism 

How does your workplace handle feedback and constructive criticism? It’s another example of something that, when it is done well, can help a colleague move through challenges. However, if it is done without kindness then it can be an enormous blow. 

Most of us have probably experienced receiving both kinds of feedback ourselves. One of my most useful work experiences was when a colleague—not a boss, or manager—asked to talk to me and set out to inform me of all my faults as she saw them. It was a devastating experience but when I recovered,  I realised I had an excellent list of what not to do if you want to give someone helpful feedback. I still draw on that list to this day.

The main thing that I realised was you need to give the kind of feedback that would be helpful to you, yourself. That is the only feedback that people can really hear and respond to.

4. Blame will make you not kind

According to research, blaming mistakes on other people is socially contagious. Observing someone blaming their mistakes on other people can lead to you doing the same thing to protect your image. Such a cycle does not help anyone.

In a workplace where blame is part of the norm, staff are less likely to succeed, and much less likely to be creative. Anyone who is in the habit of blaming others misses out as well. You don’t get the chance to learn from your mistakes if you don’t take responsibility for them.

It seems that optimistic people blame less, and pessimistic people more—with the prize going to narcissists.

For most of us the time to watch out for lazily blaming someone else for a mistake is when we are tired, worried, or over-worked. It’s not that we want someone else to get into trouble—it’s just that we don’t want to have to deal with it ourselves.

5. Bullying

It would seem that kindness and bullying are pretty far apart—how could someone interested in promoting kindness also engage in any kind of bullying activity?

Let’s take it down a notch—instead of bullying think of steamrollering, pressurising, over-persuading someone. When I think back to my years of managing an international non-profit, I am pretty sure that I used tactics like this. I was convinced that what I was doing was so important that people needed to get on board. Indeed, what I was doing was important, but I forgot to treat each person I dealt with as an individual, with their own strengths and weaknesses. I wanted everyone to go at my pace and it exhausted some people.

Does your enthusiasm and passion for your work ever translate as pressure for other people?

6. Not listening is not kind

Once again, we rarely simply ignore someone when they speak to us—especially at work—but we often listen in a distracted way. We’re busy, the speaker is taking too long to make their point, and so our attention wanders. The thing is that we feel it when someone is not giving us their full attention and it’s unsettling. Our ability to communicate is reduced.

When we don’t listen with full attention then we don’t hear all the levels that are being communicated and we don’t pick up on the accompanying body language, or emotional signs. That’s where the unkindness can come in. We miss stuff—someone’s concern, or even distress—and the person feels overlooked. Maybe it is simply information that we don’t completely process, which leads to mistakes further down the road.

It’s not only distraction which blocks our listening, it can be our opinions and prejudices as well. If we think differently to the speaker, we tend to listen through a critical web which filters out the points we just want to refute. It’s even worse if we don’t like the person who is talking to us because then we listen through a whole range of remembered slights and disagreements.

Wanting to fix what the person is telling you can also get in the way of listening deeply to what they are saying. We are so busy thinking of the response we want to make to put them right that we don’t listen fully to what we are being told.

Something to remember

None of us is perfect and there will be days at work where our kindness might be less than others but watching out for these six lazy ways we can be not kind can become a good reminder. For me, the underlying basic principle is to try and put myself in the shoes of the other person, or people. An easy way to do this is to ask how you yourself would feel if you were being treated in any of these six ways. Think how it feels to be the subject of gossip, or to receive withering criticism. No-one wants to be pressured to behave in a certain way and no-one enjoys being blamed—especially when the blame is unfair. We are all busy and trying our best and we all like to be listened to with kindness. Remembering this is a basic key to avoiding being not kind.

Is it Important to Have a Kind Workplace?

Is it Important to Have a Kind Workplace?

Take a moment to think about your workplace. Would you say it was a kind workplace? Is kind behaviour encouraged, or considered important?

All too often kindness is simply seen as a ‘soft skill’ and not considered to be necessary for navigating the complexities of work. This is a shame because focusing on kindness provides tremendous strength and flexibility to any workplace.

Stress at work

There are lots of quite worrying statistics about stress and its effects in the workplace. First off – stress is expensive. When people are stressed they are not functioning at their best and they tend to get sick.

The statistics bear this out. The Health & Safety Exec states that in 2017/18 15.4 million working days were lost in the UK as a result of stress. Across the pond, the American Psychological Association estimates that more than $500 billion is siphoned off from the U.S. economy because of workplace stress, and 550 million workdays are lost each year due to stress on the job. 

The effect on staff

Moreover, engagement in work — which is associated with feeling valued, secure, supported, and respected — is generally negatively associated with a high-stress, cut-throat culture. It people do not feel valued and respected at work, then they tend to disengage and this has consequences.

In studies by the Queens School of Business and by the Gallup Organization, disengaged workers had 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects. Similarly, in the UK it is estimated that disengaged employees are costing the UK economy £340 billion every year in lost training and recruitment costs, sick days, productivity, creativity and innovation.

This also affects staff loyalty and the rate at which people leave to look for new jobs.

Consumer expectation

Increasingly consumers are more alert to companies’ ethical positions. With Statistics from recent consumer polls by Edelman, and Young & Rubicam, show that 87% of UK consumers expect companies to consider societal interests equal to business interests, while 71% of people make it a point to buy brands from companies whose values are similar to their own.

Looking at this sample of statistics, we can see that the environment of a workplace definitely has an effect on the people who work in it. If the atmosphere is not healthy, there are strong repercussions.  So, maybe a kind workplace culture could turn out to be much more of an investment for employers that they thought.

What is so special about kindness?

From a Buddhist perspective, generating loving kindness is a way of wishing people happiness. It is an antidote to anger. If you think about it – it’s hard to be angry with someone and do something kind for them at the same time.

Kindness also makes us happier because we feel good when we are kind. In his research with volunteers, Allan Luks identified a Helper’s High that people experienced when they volunteered due to the release of dopamine in their brains.

It is also good for the heart because acts of kindness are associated with emotional warmth. This produces the hormone oxytocin which has an effect of causing blood vessels to dilate and so eases blood pressure.

We all like to be around kind people. Kindness reduces the emotional distance between people, and we feel bonded. So, kindness helps us to connect and improves relationships.

A great thing about kindness is that it is contagious. When we see people being kind to each other—we don’t even need to be directly involved—we feel good ourselves. Then we are more likely to go on to do something kind for someone else.

So, a kind workplace would be one in which employees were happier, geared to helping each other and healthier. It would also mean an improvement in relationships between staff but also with suppliers, customer and clients.

How would a kind workplace be?

Here are a few thoughts on some basic elements that would assist in ensuring that kindness is valued in a workplace. It’s by no means exhaustive.

• Staff would not need to assume a persona to succeed

It’s a strange fact of our lives but we spend more time with the people we work with than our friends and family. We see them most days—whatever is happening in our lives and however we feel. The thing is that all too often we feel that we need to wear a mask at work. A mask that says that we have ourselves together and are not affected by emotions. 

Actually, it’s a pity if we feel this way. To begin with, it’s not true. Of course, we are affected by emotions and the things we need to cope with. By hiding this at work and pretending to be something else, we are cutting off a source of connection and even empathy.

Naturally we are at work to carry out a job and to do it to the best of our ability, but this does not mean that we have to behave like machines. We can be honest about how we are and how we are doing.

People would be willing to lend a helping hand

With that kind of honesty in a workplace, it becomes much more possible to offer support to colleagues when they are struggling. If someone is having a hard time they don’t need to feel like a failure, or that they are letting anyone down. Knowing that it is alright to acknowledge struggle and to ask for help when it’s needed can be a tremendous source of relief. It opens the possibility to deepen relationships and to learn and grow together.

Blame would not be a fallback response and mistakes could be forgiven

How easy it is to blame someone else for the inevitable mistakes that occur in any workplace. This tends to happen more in a work environment that is particularly competitive and aggressive. 

Managers have a big role to play here. They need to create a culture where mistakes are understood as opportunities to learn, rather than failures to be punished. Staff could be encouraged to experiment and take reasonable risks. Managers could provide support to increase their confidence. Knowing that you will be blamed if something you are working on goes wrong increases stress and decreases improvisation.

• The meaningfulness of the work would be a priority

Generally speaking, we all look for meaning and purpose in our work. We want to know that we are using our time well and contributing to something bigger than ourselves. The very process of developing kindness in the workplace is itself connecting staff to a greater purpose.

Managers can enhance this by encouraging kindness and by sharing stories of how this connects to the company’s values.

People wanting to inspire one another at work

A workplace based on kindness would function as an interdependent unit. There would be a holistic view of the workforce. In such an environment, individuals would realise that just as they need encouragement and inspiration, so do other people. So, it would be natural for people to want to inspire and encourage each other. 

People could treat each other with respect, gratitude and integrity

Learning to respect other people’s opinions is not always easy – especially if you disagree with them. A kind workplace would take respect as a foundation for difficult conversations and working through challenges. Allowing people to express themselves and to be heard is a mark of respect. Dialogue and exchange will go more smoothly in such circumstances.

Appreciating the efforts that people make and being grateful for their contribution is also fundamental to a kind workplace. It does not have to be a big thing. It can be simply being grateful for a friendly greeting, or the offer of a cup of coffee. Showing your appreciation makes the other person feel seen and respected.

This is the first of a series of posts on kindness in the workplace. I would love to hear your response and your ideas about how to bring this into action.

How to Find Ease with Stressful Work Situations

How to Find Ease with Stressful Work Situations

Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

We hear a lot about increasing levels of stress in the workplace. It seems that now almost 20% of workers in Europe say they experience stress in their job. I recently witnessed an incident with a flight attendant and a difficult passenger. It struck me how keeping your cool can come at a high price. Looking for ways to ease a stressful situation could work well with less cost.

The incident that caused stress

It was on a return flight to Amsterdam from the UK that I overheard a fellow-passenger giving a flight attendant a really bad time. It was hard to catch the full story from where I was sitting but it involved the passenger asking for hot water in a plastic, see-through cup. Apparently cups of this sort are not safe to hold hot water and the only alternative was the purchase—for three euros—of a polystyrene cup. Not surprisingly the passenger found this rather excessive. What was more surprising was his response—he proceeded to cross-examine the flight attendant in increasingly aggressive tones, applying the kind of ruthless logic that would not have been out of place in a courtroom. 

The reaction to the stress

The flight attendant did his utmost best. He remained polite, consistent and managed not to react to the escalating tone of complaint and anger that he was subjected to. He had a kind of party line that he could fall back on, ‘Sorry sir, this is company policy, I am not allowed to give you this cup…’ and so on. After some time, he managed to get away and push his trolley on to the next customer. As he came past me our eyes met and I murmured, ‘breathe’.He looked at my rather desperately but did not respond.

The passenger’s final attempt to get his own way was daring—he simply marched up to the refreshment trolley and started all over again. He returned to his seat carrying a bottle of cold water.

The cost of that reaction

I happened to be one of the last off the ‘plane and exchanged a few words with the male flight attendant. Remembering my attitude of sympathy—but not my advice to focus on his breath—he asked me what I thought of the sort of thing they had to put up with. During our short conversation my earlier hunch was confirmed—when dealing with a stressful situation he relied on his determination to stay professional, rather than adopting any strategy tomanage his stress. Instead of looking for ways to ease the stressful situation, he gritted his teeth in the face of trouble. He took up the burden as a way of demonstrating to himself how efficient he was at enduring one of the downsides of his job. It would probably have been how he was trained. 

3 ways to ease a stressful situation

Here are a few things that the flight attendant could have tried:

1. Humour helps to bring ease to the stressful situation

When he saw that the passenger was not impressed by the company policy, the flight attendant could have used humour. There is something farcical about two grown men arguing about a cup of hot water. With a bit of skill, he could have tried to get the passenger to see things from his point of view and to laugh with him.

2. Putting himself in the passenger’s shoes would have brought ease to the stressful situation

I found myself having some sympathy with the passenger, although I did not care for his aggression. It is galling to be told that a seemingly simple request cannot be granted. No-one likes to be managed and the passenger could probably feel that that was what was happening to him.

Because the flight attendant was focusing on containing the situation, he did not appear to take the time to see it from the passenger’s point of view. Nor did he really take the time to address the needs of the passenger. 

Both men adopted opposing sides of the situation, without trying to find common ground. One of the most direct ways to disarm a situation is to realise that all the participants are just trying to manage their day. They would like their day to go well but could be dealing with all kinds of hassles along the way. We all have this in common.

3. Working with his emotions to bring ease to the stressful situation

The flight attendant had his emotions firmly under control but that was part of the problem. He was obviously challenged by the passenger and yet maintained the same party line throughout. Being able to notice when your emotions are triggered and then working with what you noticeis a more sustainable way of being with emotions. 

When we are in the grip of emotions it can be hard to remember that they will pass, that they are not solid and real. Mindfulnesshelps us to be able to identify an emotion, to acknowledge it and to gently let it go. It helps us to respect it but not to take it too seriously. When we start to identify with the emotion and use it to bolster our position then we are creating a possible trigger for stress.

The kind of stress I witnessed on this occasion was not major, but it was nasty. The man I spoke to looked very tired by the end of the flight and I doubt if it was his last of the day. The tension he was holding looked like it was heading towards a stiff drink and a good moan—not so bad in small doses but not a good long-term strategy for stress-management.

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