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Dealing with seasonal stress

It’s well-known that the holidays are a pressured time of year and that’s no less true in the workplace. Whether it’s your team feeling put-upon or the customers bringing their stress to you, it adds up to extra pressure on your workforce. So how to beat the seasonal strain? How can you support your team when facing difficult situations?

What do we mean by ‘difficult’?

What constitutes a difficult customer or colleague? It might be that they…

  • …won’t listen to you;
  • …insist on something that isn’t possible;
  • …won’t do as they’re told;
  • …will do as they’re told but won’t do it the way you like it done;
  • …just seem to cooperate but then just do their own thing anyway.

The thing to remember is that however ‘difficult’ they seem to you, they probably don’t realise it. Very few of us actually set out to be difficult, argumentative or aggressive, it’s just a response to the situation and the chances are it has very little to do with you – you’re just unlucky enough to be the nearest upright object while they’re having a bad day.

Of course, it doesn’t help to point that out. You need a slightly more sophisticated strategy…

Dealing with ‘difficult’

What’s needed is a little Christmas* conflict management. Try the following steps:

  1. Listen – Before you can defuse, you need to understand and that means paying attention. Somebody has to stay calm and on this occasion, it’s you. So, bite your tongue, say, “Tell me more,” (or similar) and then listen. You’re hoping to listen past the anger and understand the problem.
  2. Acknowledge what they tell you – Listening is not enough, though. You need them to realise that’s what you’re doing. When they feel listened to, they’ll start to calm down.
  3. Explore – Ask them to tell you more. Make sure you understand not only what the problem is but why it’s a problem for them. Not only are you showing interest but you’re turning the encounter into a dialogue (which is much better than a tantrum!).
  4. Inform (if necessary) If there are any misunderstandings or gaps in their understanding, you should have spotted them by now (if not, keep listening and talking). Now you can calmly correct any misperceptions.
  5. Agree – With a fact-based dialogue in progress, you can start looking at solutions together. What is practically possible? What can realistically be done? Don’t make any promises that you can’t keep or you’ll be back where you started (and probably worse). But do look for any positive action you can take for them, however small. They may not get what they want but perhaps there’s an alternative.

"To be listened to is..., a nearly unique experience for most people. It is enormously stimulating... Man clamors for the freedom to express himself and for knowing that he counts”

-- Robert C. Murphy (1888-1973)

As mentioned already, hardly anybody is intentionally ‘difficult’; the situation is almost always a case of insufficient communication. Anger, like fire, needs fuel. If you can stay calm then the chances are that at the very least, they’ll calm down too.

*If you prefer, replace ‘Christmas’ with the stressful holiday of your choice. ;)

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