KISS Your Work Stress Good Bye

KISS Your Work Stress Goodbye: Practical Steps to De-complicate and Regain Footing

What stresses you at work?

For our Mental Model Dōjō session on March 20, 2024, we tackled the topic of “KISS Your Work Stress Goodbye – Practical Steps to De-complicate and Regain Footing”. Here are my notes from after the session.

We gathered to discuss and learn from one another mental approaches for dealing with stressful situations at work. I kicked things off by sharing the following mental models before the session starting with KISS (“keep it stupid simple”), just to see which aspects of work participants found to be the most stress-inducing:

I anticipated that participants would bring up a range of stress factors, such as workload challenges, performance pressures, work-life balance, worries about job and financial security, and undoubtedly, interpersonal conflicts including dealing with toxic individuals.

We Want Feedback

What subtly emerged, and it came up in both morning and afternoon sessions, was the following: the stress of not being heard.

One situation involved someone in business development and the stress of getting little responses from clients. Another situation was people feeling their efforts at work going unnoticed by their colleagues and bosses. And then there were clarifications from participants that it was actually the lack of feedback that was killing them.

This revelation made me pause. Participants explained that they don’t mind making the effort, failing, receiving negative feedback and not always getting praises. But they feel powerless when they’re not getting any response or feedback because they don’t know if they’re doing the right thing. They feel lonely, isolated, helpless.

This helped me further unpack this subtle point from the angle of praises. Many leaders consider giving lots of praises to their people as good management practice. Everyone loves getting praise, and it creates a positive atmosphere, so it’s great, right? Well, at the risk of superficiality. The real truth is that we have a need for recognition, which is often mistaken as a need for praise. Indeed, we feel valued, appreciated and recognized even when we are given negative feedback because it can be an acknowledgment of our efforts, encouragement for improvement, recognition of our potential, care and attention for our growth, trust and respect for open communication, and so on. On the other hand, we can still feel unvalued or undervalued, unappreciated, and unrecognized with praise if it lacks specificity on what aspects of our work were recognized and how it was valuable to the praise giver.

How to Set Up People to Give Feedback

So, the lack of feedback is stressful. And now the question is, how do we get people to give us the feedback we want?

Is it as simple as asking? Yes, and more I think.

First, KISS. If anything, keep it stupid simple and just ask, “Feedback please.” “What do you think?” – this is frequently a magic phrase that we forget to add that makes the difference between a monologue sales pitch and a dialogue of inquiry.

Meanwhile, these are the moments that the quote “What you tell a person is less important than what you enable the person to tell you.” pops up on my mental dashboard. If we want feedback, we should set up the other person to give us feedback.

How to set up people to give you feedback. This is actually an advanced business and people management skill that won’t come naturally and requires learning and practicing with intentionality. (And this is an important skill set that we should raise awareness – big learning for me from this Dōjō session.)

Aristotle’s Influence Model

I have two mental models to suggest. The first one is Aristotle’s Influence Model. I use this model to help people find power in influencing beyond convincing and persuading. For “influencing” or nudging people to give you feedback, I think this model is helpful too.

  • The emphasis is on “ethos” – your presence, gravitas, impression perceived by people. If you come across as somebody that is curious, a learner, a seeker – that sets the stage to help people be open to responding to your inquiries.
  • And that posture paired with “pathos” – your interest, care, willingness to feel and understand what’s important to the other person, you will have someone leaning in to listen to you.
  • “Logos” – whether it’s a sales pitch or work we deliver, the clarity and quality of the logic, reason, rational of whatever we do, is nothing but a benefit. So, if you’re a “head-strong” person that excels on this front, don’t hold yourself back. The key is in understanding that logos shine most when it’s in balance with ethos, pathos and kairos.
  • And finally, the moment of truth, “kairos” – the right time, place and situation. With ethos, pathos, logos in place, you ask the power question at the opportune moment – boom, you get to hear what you want to hear.
Aristotle’s Influence Model

NVC

The second suggested mental model is Nonviolent Communication (NVC). I share this from my personal experience including a recent event.

I regularly collaborate with industry peers in developing new learning programs and contents. In this instance a partner came up with an original idea and looped me in for my contents expertise – so we were like startup co-founders where the partner is the business guy and I am the product guy. As work progressed, I started feeling the frequency and the volume of requests from the partner rather heavy workload. Meanwhile I could tell that my work was valued, but I wasn’t sure how my value was seen as a partner, and I was getting stressed about it. So, I decided to have a talk.

4 steps of Nonviolent Communication

Since NVC dug me out of a hole from a major work incident a few years ago, I’ve been a complete convert. According to the late Marshall Rosenberg, NVC is practiced in 4 steps: (O) Observe, (F) identify Feelings, (N) identify Needs, and (R) Request actions. Therefore, before approaching the partner to speak, I studiously clarified in my mind the situation I am in (high frequency and volume of requests from partner), my feelings (“I feel like a supplier, service provider to my partner, rather than a partner or co-founder, therefore I feel demotivated”), and my needs (“I want to know how valued I am to my partner”). I also tried empathizing with the partner’s current situation, feelings and needs. With that, I considered what and how to ask.

The last (R) Request action part in NVC consciously addresses a psychological phenomenon called fundamental attribution error and essentially follows the SBIN (Situation, Behavior, Impact, Next steps) feedback flow. Accordingly, I shared with the partner the situation of high frequency and volume of work requested, and my feelings of demotivation stemming from a need for recognition as a valued partner and co-founder. I also normalized the situation by sharing that this feeling of imbalance is a regular occurrence among co-founders and all that’s needed is some candid conversations once in a while. The partner took the conversation very well, I got the response I wanted, and my motivation was restored.

Fostering a Feedback-Rich Culture

At Agile OD, enhancing feedback skills and cultivating a feedback-rich culture are foundational to our work in leadership and organization development. Our extensive archive of articles on feedback mechanisms underscores the significance.

The insights from our Dōjō session illuminated a critical, yet often overlooked, aspect of feedback: its critical role in shaping employee morale and well-being. This revelation underscores the nuanced yet profound impact that the presence — or absence — of feedback can have on people and team dynamics.

This experience underscores the essential role of communication in fostering healthy organizational dynamics. The central message is clear: effective feedback goes beyond mere critique or praise. It’s a call to action for leaders to engage in thoughtful, ongoing, and meaningful conversations that recognize and unlock the potential in every person.

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