Stress Reduction Techniques

“Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life.”
~Marilu Henner~

Client Elias asks: I feel like my work performance is being compromised by stress. And carrying all that stress is exhausting—sooner or later, I feel like I’m just going to collapse. How can I start dealing with it?

Coach Joel answers: Elias, you’re not alone—work is a major cause of stress for 65% of Americans, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). And none of us should settle for feeling stressed all the time. A little surge of stress can be good—the kind that gets you in gear to meet a deadline—but chronic stress is debilitating.

Workplace stress can come from small, repeated annoyances, or it can stem from major issues with your job role or organizational culture. Many of us suffer from “rush syndrome,” the fear of slowing down. Sometimes we don’t even realize how stressed we’ve been until we learn to relax. These 10 stress reduction techniques will help you start feeling like the superstar you are.

  1. Keep a Journal
    Keep a journal for a couple of weeks to track your stress, suggests the APA. Simply acknowledging your stress and affirming you’re going to address it feels good, and it’s a first step to making changes.
  2. Get Organized
    Clutter leads to stress, because we know it’s something that needs to be dealt with. It’s like seeing little tasks piled up in front of you—it creates a sense of overwhelm. Take a little time to clear out that clutter, and you’ll find your mind is clearer as well.
  3. Practice Good Posture
    Sitting up straight not only projects confidence, but gives you more confidence as well, according to Time. If you get into a crouched-down pose, it will make you more fearful and stressed, because your mind is responding to your body. These techniques for reducing stress can help improve your posture and make your body feel better, which brings more stress-reducing benefits.
  4. Engage in Deep Breathing
    According to Sharon Melnick in Success Under Stress, by regulating your breath, you can break unconscious emotional patterns that persist through short, stressed breathing. Set an intention to consciously take several deep breaths at different points throughout the day, ideally before you feel extreme stress coming on.
  5. Prepare for the Next Day
    Fretting over what you need to do the next day, or how a meeting will go, creates a lot of unnecessary stress. Instead, at the end of each workday, create a plan for what you’ll do the next day. Prepare thoughts you want to share at the meeting, along with a manageable “to do” list.
  6. Create Work/Life Boundaries
    If you’re checking email at night, you’re probably carrying extra stress around. Set clear work/life boundaries for yourself, and stick to them, the APA advises.
  7. Get Active
    If you’re not getting regular exercise, make that a daily part of your routine. Even if you work out in the evening, add some physical activity to your workday, as active breaks can lower stress. Take a walk during your lunch break, for example.
  8. Check the Self-Criticism
    Write down your greatest accomplishments and words of appreciation from others on notecards that you can keep tucked in your desk or posted on your wall. When you feel self-criticism coming on, check this self-defeating behavior by reminding yourself of those moments. This will help you stay positive as you work to overcome your inevitable challenges.
  9. Laugh More
    Watch a silly video on your break, or share a story about something funny your kid did. Breaking the tension with laughter will put you in a better emotional state.
  10. Take Charge of Your Career
    Lack of job satisfaction, few opportunities to advance or grow, and unclear performance expectations are major causes of workplace stress, says the APA. If these things are contributing to your stress, make a career plan now. Talk to your boss to enlist support, letting her know you want to grow with the organization.

Furthermore, try not to stress about your work stress. You’re not failing if you don’t address it all at once—implementing coping strategies takes time, as Martha Davis says in The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook. Be patient with yourself as you begin using these techniques for stress reduction, knowing no one gets it all right all at once.

Is stress holding you back at work? Contact leadership coach Joel Garfinkle for more support in reducing stress and changing your life.

Six Ways to Improve Business Communication Skills for Greater Success

“Intelligence, knowledge or experience are important and might get you a job, but strong communication skills are what will get you promoted.” ~Mireille Guiliano~

At a performance review meeting, Sean’s boss told him he needed to improve his communication skills. “You express yourself articulately, and you’re assertive, but you can go further,” his boss told him. His boss went on to describe a range of communication-related skills that would help Sean become a stronger leader, some of which Sean had never thought about developing.

Articles on business communication skills often address the importance of being assertive in the workplace. In some cases, however, they don’t discuss the “hidden” skills that are essential for strong communication, like the ability to view the world from someone else’s point of view. When you’re equipped with a wide array of communication skills, you’ll be poised to succeed in all realms of business. Here are the six ways to improve business communication skills.

  1. Practice good office politics.
    Participating in office politics is essential, and that’s not a bad thing. Done well, it means influencing company culture and building your influence. Showing loyalty to your boss, honing strong relationships with allies, and networking with different circles of people in your organization are all examples of participating well in office politics. It all comes down to being respected and noticed by others, and showing respect and appreciation in turn, in order to grow your influence with them.
  2. Communicate across functions.
    Strong communications across different organizational areas is essential for maximizing productivity. Your team isn’t going it alone—you depend on all the other teams in your organization, and if you’re not communicating closely, your relationships, processes, and outcomes are suffering. Get to know the people in other areas of the organization, and become a liaison between these different areas of business to improve the flow of communication. Along with members of these other teams, work to define your joint goals and establish how to coordinate your efforts.
  3. Learn to understand different working styles and personalities.
    Learning how others think and work is an essential part of leadership. During one-on-one sessions with people you manage, ask them how they learn and work best. Some employees might appreciate receiving an email about an important topic the day before a meeting, rather than being asked their opinion on the spot, for instance. Navigating these differences is a vital task of a leader, and it will greatly improve the effectiveness of the team.
  4. Become a pro at conflict resolution.
    Conflict resolution may not be fun, but that’s why it’s such an in-demand skill. Learn to master conflicts by addressing their root causes, helping everyone to feel heard, and asking for solutions from everyone who’s invested in the issue. As you guide both parties toward compromise, you’ll gain greater respect and trust from them both, enhancing your relationships and reputation in turn.
  5. Be assertive yet humble.
    Assertiveness is one of those obvious business skills that articles on communication in the workplace tend to tout, and it’s definitely an important quality of a leader. However, the strongest leaders balance assertiveness with vulnerability. They know how to ask for feedback on their performance, be transparent about issues that affect everyone, and gain the trust of others by putting them at ease.
  6. Use virtual communication effectively.
    Resisting using virtual communication will prove a major hindrance in today’s workplace. Virtual communication offers a way of making the playing field more equitable for people who may have trouble physically getting to work for long hours each day, like parents of young children. It also makes working with contract staff more viable over long distances. Plus, job training and coaching can often be done via virtual communication for a lower cost. Get comfortable with virtual communication, and many doors will open.

“As you build strong business communication skills, you’ll enhance cooperation and relationship-building throughout your team,” Sean’s boss said. For the remainder of their meeting, Sean’s boss helped him craft a plan for improving in these areas. He also gave him business articles to read on improving communication skills. Sean left the session energized and enthusiastic about making the changes, knowing his boss was priming him for taking on greater responsibility down the road.

Are you working to improve your business communication skills? For specific guidance, support and tips on becoming a master communicator at work, you can contact Joel for executive coaching or visit his hundreds of articles.

Talkback:
What business skills have you focused on developing? How did they improve your leadership? Share your stories here.

Five Communication Hurdles to Leadership Effectiveness and Influence

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” ~Warren Bennis~

Client Ethan asked:
A lot of misunderstandings and hurt feelings are cropping up in my organization. Crucial information often doesn’t get shared; people often feel their voices aren’t heard. As an aspiring leader, I know I need to find ways to fix the situation. What should I do?

Coach Joel answers:
Ethan, these issues all come down to improving your communication skills. Taking initiative to address them is one of the most important things you can do to prove your leadership abilities. Building your influence and leading your organization to success means improving your organizational culture by overcoming these hurdles.

  1. Communication channels are undefined.
    When it’s not clear whom people should talk to about particular types of issues, communication is likely to break down. Your workplace needs to have well-defined channels of communication for handling projects, and managers need to set the tone for communicating well. Each person needs to know which coworker to talk with about a particular issue. Additionally, you need a clear path of communication between departments, meaning communication roles must be clear. One member of your team might be in charge of liaising with the art director regarding a package design, for instance. A clear path of communication is important for handling complaints, too. Employees need to know whom to speak with, and that person needs to know what to do with the information.
  2. Silos keep information from reaching all stakeholders.
    Similarly, with poor communication, information can get stuck in silos. It might just be that departments need help understanding how to communicate better, but there are often deeper underlying issues. It’s not just that people don’t know how to communicate—it’s that they’re not motivated to communicate. Departments may have even come to view one another as competitors because they’ve lost sight of their common goal. Inspiring people to believe in a common vision is the first step toward correcting the problem, and it’s one of the most important ways of demonstrating leadership and getting noticed. Holding collaborative meetings with people from various departments will help people stay motivated to work toward their common goal.
  3. Communication flows only in a top-down path.
    When communication flows only from the top down, employees can feel frustrated, knowing they have a great deal of input that isn’t being used. You might not have control over how higher-up executives handle communication, but you can voice your feedback about it if you have an ally who might be receptive. Furthermore, you can work to encourage the people you supervise to share feedback and suggestions with you. An idea box is a great way to encourage people to speak up when they see something that could be improved. As you grow your influence, your leadership effectiveness will become apparent to other managers and executives, and they might emulate your approach.
  4. Views are unrepresented.
    When holding meetings, ask yourself if you should include particular individuals from other areas of the organization who might have a stake in the topic. For instance, if another department might have valuable input about the project your team is discussing, ask a representative to join in or share input by email. Making people feel heard is just as important as gaining their valuable input. You’ll be building stronger relationships by taking these steps.
  5. Unclear terminology leads to lack of understanding.
    When people use jargon frequently, others might not understand their meaning—or they might think they understand, but get it wrong. It’s important to ask clarifying questions when people use technical terms or ambiguous language. One department might have an internal understanding of a slang term it uses, while another department might get a different impression of the meaning. Likewise, if people use convoluted language, paraphrase what they said and verify that you understand what they meant. It’s much better to spend a moment clarifying than spending hours or days trying to repair the damage of a huge misunderstanding. As a leader, look out for the moments when team members might misinterpret something, and clarify the issue even when you believe you understand it correctly.

As you improve communication in the workplace, your team will see its productivity rise, in part because their job satisfaction will increase. Be sure to voice appreciation for employees’ efforts to strengthen communication. This will keep them motivated to continue making a conscious effort to improve. Your leadership and influence will grow along with the effectiveness of your team.

Are communication hurdles compromising your team’s performance, order Joel’s book Difficult Conversations for the entire team. If a conflict needs specific support, contact him for executive coaching.

Talkback:
Have you worked to overcome these types of communication challenges? What worked, and what didn’t? Share your experiences here.

Four Ways to Break Career Stagnation

“I believe ambition is not a dirty work, it’s believing in yourself and your abilities. Imagine this: what would happen if we were all brave enough to believe in our own ability, to be a little more ambitious. I think the world would change.” ~ Reese Witherspoon ~

Aaron felt like he was stuck. The job just seemed like a treadmill. The same thing over and over. When he took the job 8 years ago, he had visions of promotions and advancement. Now? Not so much.

As Aaron took stock of his career he decided to combat the stagnation. Surely there was a way to get around it. He just couldn’t figure it out on his own. He hired Joel to be his executive coach.

Part of it involved recording exactly what he was doing so he could be prepared and present it as needed.

  1. Sharing accomplishments. Words disappear and can’t always be remembered. Aaron saw the value in sharing his accomplishments through writing. He wrote a weekly message updating management on the projects he was working on.

    He included the challenges he’d overcome and the progress he’d made. The make sure to explain how his work affected the progress of the job. And how the job would impact the company. This gave Aaron confidence his job was valuable and productive
  2. Meeting Preparation. Aaron doesn’t think fast on his feet. He works better when he has a chance to mull over ideas. This is true of most introverts. So Aaron decided to write out notes about what he wanted to say before meetings.

    If you want to say something at a meeting or event, take the time to write it out beforehand. This way you can organize your thoughts, focus on what is essential, and not be fumbling for words when it’s your turn to speak. When you have something prepared, it makes it more likely that you will speak clearly and professionally. And you say what you intended to say.
  3. Prepare for and schedule one-on-one meetings. Again, if you have an agenda you want to cover, writing an outline of the topics can give you confidence going into the meeting. One-on-ones are a great opportunity to talk about your work and how it affects the company.

    This is a great time to discuss your concerns about your career stagnation. Meetings with your boss can help you formulate a plan for your transition into the next step of your career.
  4. Volunteer for committees and events. Participating in a committee or helping to host a conference or charity event translates to an abundance of networking opportunities. Aaron found that committees and events gave him the opportunity to meet new people, talk about his work, and put his name and face in front of people who wouldn’t normally notice him.

After working this program for several months, Aaron feels much more hopeful. He sees his career stagnation breaking apart. His boss is on board with his goals for a promotion. Many more people know of him and his work. He’s received more praise and people are paying more attention to what he says.

“This is what I was looking for,” Aaron said. “Coaching really helped me. I can’t believe how much more excited I am about my job and its potential.”

If you’re feeling stuck and have work stagnation in your position, Joel Garfinkle provides executive coaching. He can give you individualized help and support to move your career to the next level.

Talkback:
How have you pushed back against career stagnation?

Break these Five Bad Social Media Habits at Work

“Like all technology, social media is neutral but is best put to work in the service of building a better world.” ~ Simon Mainwaring ~

Ellen Asks: One of my friends told me the boss watched how much time we spent on social media. I don’t want to get in trouble. How can I tell if I have bad social media habits at work?

Joel Answers: Social Media can keep us connected, speed communication, and increase productivity. But it can also be a distraction and a time waster. If you suspect you might be misusing social media, check out these six potential problems.

If you don’t eliminate these problems, you might get fired… or at least reduce your chances for a promotion.

  1. Wasting Time on Social Media. Do you check tweets, Facebook, and other social media multiple times at work? If you’re not sure, try the old rubber band trick. Put a rubber band loosely around your wrist. Every time you check non-work related media, snap the rubber band. Sore wrist? Chances are you’re overdoing the viewing.

    Instead of focusing on what interests you, consider the value you are offering the company. Limit Facebook to breaks, lunch, or other non-work time.
  2. Sending the Wrong Message. Be very careful of inappropriate post or tweets. There have been news reports of people fired for off-color or socially insensitive posts. Things are never private on social media. Tweets criticizing former or current employers— or even clients, or coworkers— have a way of turning up in the wrong hands.

    Instead, look for positive things to say about workers or employers. Save the negative for private conversations.
  3. Betraying Your Brand. You’ve worked hard to create a professional brand at work. But poor behavior on social media can damage your image. If you lash out, flame, or attack with meanness other points of view, it can come back to haunt you. Take care how you address politics or politically correct topics to be sure they are not offensive to others.

    Instead, consider the brand you want to present. The authentic you will behave in a way that reflects your brand at work, at home, and on social media.
  4. Inappropriate pictures. There are many kinds of good photos you can post to social media. Inappropriate pictures will, again, tarnish your professional image. Avoid photos that are suggestive or portray you in a questionable light. Avoid posting pictures of your fun trip— the trip you took when your boss thought you were home sick. Instead, use images to create the perception you want others to have of you.
  5. Dishonesty. Be very careful of misrepresenting yourself and your qualifications on social media. It’s a bad habit to suggest you have credentials or job experience you do not have. Instead, review your profiles and posts to reflect your best you. Work to improve yourself so you can accurately show accolades.

You asked a great question, Ellen. Taking care of your social media presentation and the time you spend there can have a significant impact on your work. Use it to strengthen your brand and showcase your abilities instead of it being a distraction. Then you can turn social media into a good work habit.

Need pointers on how to increase your visibility and strengthen you image? Contact Joel for executive coaching.

Talkback:
How have you overcome bad social media habits at work?