May 082012

Effective Communications Reduce Workplace Stress

One of the contributing factors of workplace stress is ineffective communications. It is true. We may not realize it, but the way we communicate is one of the chief causes of stress-related problems. Consequently, one of the ways to reduce uncertainty in the workplace is to improve our communication skills.

Stress is defined by control. Having control over a situation can reduce your stress, while losing control will cause stress levels to go up. We all know that some level of stress can be good. As our stress levels increase so can our productivity. Positive stress is known as “eustress,” a healthy form of stress that keeps us motivated and excited. The opposite of “eustress” is “distress.” Distress has negative implications. Too much of it can lead to exhaustion, illness and even a breakdown.

Some stress will always be there; it is unavoidable but we can learn to cope with it better. One way is to get a better understanding of our goals and expectations, and better communications can help. What is important is that we understand and are understood. How many times can you think of when poor communications led to confusion, mistrust, misunderstandings, ill feelings, hurt, false hopes, and even war?

Communicating is not just about expressing ourselves verbally; it is also about having strong listening skills. It is a two way street, and the way you communicate determines what others think of you and how you are accepted and appreciated.

All of us want to be understood; it is one of our strongest desires. We want to have others understand what we think, feel, value, love, fear, and believe. It is not just about speaking or writing clearly, it is about the ability to hear AND understand what is intended to be communicated. It is also about communicating your intended message successfully. The person listening must interpret your message in the way they it was intended. This takes listening skills, something most managers do not give much thought.

The highest form of listening is empathic listening. Empathic listening means you are understanding someone from their perspective. It does not mean you accept what they are saying, just that you understand it. You have to develop the frame of mind that is curious and develops your capacity to listen. Stephen Covey wrote in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Being a good listener means you have to stop talking and listen. It means you do not think about other things and that you avoid distractions. It also means that you do not start forming an opinion or start thinking of an answer or rebuttal to the sender of the message before they finish delivering it. To do this you have to involve all your senses and skills to understand the person.

Empathic listening means you have to listen with yours ears, eyes and heart. You listen for feeling and meaning. Your verbal message has to be sent and received with the appropriate and corresponding non-verbal message. You will be sending confusing messages if your verbal message is saying no, and your head is nodding yes.

In his book iLead, Joseph Sherren mentions how we can improve our communications by doing the following:

  1. Tune the world out and tune the speaker in
  2. Put people at ease
  3. Get people to talk about themselves
  4. Do not ask threatening questions
  5. Make and hold eye contact
  6. Listen to how people feel

The last point, “listening to how people feel” is one of the most intriguing. You can listen to how people feel by paying close attention to their rate of speech, vocal variety, tone of voice and the pitch in their voice. It takes practice but it can be a very effective listening skill.

Effective Communication is one of the models in my upcoming Ascending Leader’s Program. In fact, it is the longest module (two hours) because I think it is one of the most critical skills a manager, project director, or ascending leader can possess.

If someone on your staff could be more effective if they communicated better, it could improve the workplace and reduce stress levels. Contact me to discuss how our Ascending Leader’s Program™ or Coaching Program can be of help.

Keep listening and take care.


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