Practicing good communication can help you better cope with work related stress

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  • 08 July 2021

tags: how to communicate when stressed, work related stress, communication tips

Struggling with work-related stress? Poor communication is closely linked to stress. People who are  stressed may find it tougher to communicate well with colleagues, friends, and family. They may become exhausted and frustrated, thus limiting their ability to express their thoughts and emotions coherently to others. They may also misinterpret the words and actions of others, causing interpersonal conflict. In this article, we cover some communication tips for managing work related stress.

Increase Your Self-Awareness

Increasing your self-awareness is a good way to start addressing your stress. When you are clear about what your needs are (both body and mind), it is easier to communicate them to others succinctly.

Know your limits. How much work is too much for you? What kind of tasks may you require more guidance or instructions on? How much time are you willing to spend at work each day or week? How comfortable are you if a supervisor or colleague contacts you about work-related matters outside of work hours?

Know your triggers. What upsets you the most at work? Examples include being overworked, vague instructions, being micromanaged, interacting with certain colleagues, perceived unfairness, and last-minute changes. What do you find upsetting about these situations? How do these triggers impact you? What else affects you?

Be aware of your body language. Notice what you are communicating nonverbally through your body language. When speaking to others in the workplace, people may choose words that help them appear confident. Negative or poor body language that occurs at the same time, however, can have the opposite effect of making them look anxious, nervous, unconfident, unapproachable, disengaged, or even hostile. This inadvertently creates mistrust and affects one’s professional relationships. Examples of negative or poor body language include fidgeting, hunching or slouching, too much or too little eye contact, crossing one’s arms, gesturing too much, or being distracted. Find out more about your body language by observing yourself the next time you are engaged in a work-related discussion. Alternatively, ask colleagues you feel closer to for feedback.

Communicate Assertively

When you experience stress related symptoms at work, do you typically communicate passively, aggressively, passive-aggressively, or assertively?

An individual who is communicating aggressively may be seen as angry, rude, or hostile. They insist on doing things their way and have no room for compromise. An example could be an employee who speaks loudly in a meeting. They instruct colleagues to do something exactly the way they want, without listening to others’ opinions.

Individuals who communicate passively, on the other hand, give in to others despite having their own needs or opinions. For instance, these individuals may find it hard to say “no” to additional tasks that come their way. This can happen even if they are aware that their workload is becoming unmanageable.

An individual who uses passive-aggressive communication “acts out” indirectly to get what they want. Such communication may take place via sarcasm, ignoring others, procrastination, and not doing what is asked. For example, when asked to help another department with some work, an individual may feel resentment but agree overtly. The individual may then intentionally delay getting the work done for as long as possible, while secretly hoping that the other department would “get the message”.

Communicating assertively, on the other hand, can help with work related stress. Being assertive means communicating in a manner that is clear, direct, confident, and respectful of others’ needs. It may include stating your viewpoint clearly and calmly, disagreeing with others’ viewpoints respectfully, and saying “no” comfortably and politely. An example could be, “I understand that you would prefer to engage Organization A, but I think Organisation B might be a better fit for us because of the following reasons…” Communicating assertively also includes being able to give and receive feedback respectfully. Of course, communicating assertively takes much practice over time, especially if you have had the habit of communicating in non-assertive ways for years.

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Regulate Your Emotions

Learning to regulate your emotions can increase your capacity to manage stress related symptoms at work.

Take short breaks from time to time. Make it a habit to take breathers at work. What works for each individual will differ. Some examples include simple stretching exercises at your desk, getting a cup of your favourite tea, observing nature, or watching cute animal videos. Taking a short breather before responding to a difficult work situation may also help you respond in a more calm, objective, and professional manner. If your work situation allows, you may wish to consider saying something like “I will need X amount of time to think about that” before providing an answer. Of course, it is important that you actually respond with an answer eventually.

Be kind to yourself. People sometimes have different standards for themselves and others. For instance, an individual may be kind, patient, and supportive towards a friend who is going through a difficult time, but berate themselves instead if they found themselves in a similar situation. If a friend was facing work related stress, what would you say to them? Would this also be the same response you would tell yourself if you were the one going through work related stress? If it is not, what might be the reason for that?

Ask for Help

Don’t be afraid to approach others for help in the workplace.

Many people worry that asking for help in relation to their work related stress makes them appear weak, while others believe that asking for help “burdens” the people they ask. No one is perfect, however, and it is absolutely normal for all of us to need some help from time to time. In fact, asking for help when you need it actually takes great courage and strength. This is especially true if you have been used to solving things independently.

Think about the specific kind of help you would like to ask for, and from whom. For instance, you may wish to ask close colleagues for resources or advice on specific projects. If you prefer to keep your personal issues separate from work, consider online counselling. You may also ask your supervisor or the Human Resources department about what the company offers to its employees, such as an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which may include skills training and personal therapy.

With family members and friends, it can be helpful to be specific about how you would like them to support you. For instance, would you like reassurance or a listening ear? Maybe you’d like them to spend time with you. Would it help if they encourage you to exercise? Perhaps you’d like them to continue inviting you to family activities and social gatherings. Or maybe you’d like to hear their suggested solutions, given their knowledge of you?

However, if you are feeling suicidal, contact the Samaritans of Singapore at 1800 221 4444. Alternatively, go to the emergency department of a hospital. 

Communication Tips for Managing Work Related Stress

Communicating well can help in managing work related stress. Increasing your self-awareness is key to knowing what exactly you would like to communicate to others, while assertiveness helps you to communicate your needs to others respectfully. Concurrently, regulating your emotions may increase your tolerance in stressful situations. When you find yourself struggling to cope, it is normal to reach out for help, either from a friend, family member, close colleague, or a professional therapist.

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