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When Stress Numbs Personal Productivity, It's Time to Talk

Empathy is key to authentic communication and stress reduction

All work includes an element of stress, but when that stress becomes too much, productivity suffers and employee engagement and retention falls. High levels of stress cause both mental and physical health issues. Symptoms include emotional responses such as anger, anxiety, guilt, despair and fear. Physical conditions caused by stress include problems sleeping, heart conditions, high blood pressure, and stomach and digestive health issues.

The most common causes of stress include long working hours, high levels of responsibility, and excessive demands. Add to this difficult managers, poor working conditions, hard-to-please customers and bad relationships with co-workers, and most of the causes are covered.

Helping employees to cope with stress

If employees are not provided with a mechanism to reduce stress, they are more likely to turn to unhealthy ‘stress-coping strategies’ that don’t work – smoking and drinking more, eating more or less, and neglecting exercise in favor of sitting in a bar.

As society understands more about mental health issues, organizations are becoming more aware of the need to tackle stress at work. The strategies they employ to do so should help their efforts to improve employee engagement and retention. Procedures can be put in place that enable employees to seek help for stress, and organizations can provide places where employees can destress and regather their composure after tension-filled meetings. However, above all such initiatives, managers and leaders play a vital and key role in stress management in the workplace.

Communication is key in stress management

As we’ve discussed in a previous post, communication is the key to engaging employees and leading effective change. It is also key to reducing some of the causes of workplace stress. While it is impossible to eliminate all work-related stress, it is possible to help employees cope better. By communicating goals more clearly, and ensuring that instructions are understood, a manager will eliminate stress caused by unnecessary confusion, misunderstanding and frustration.

However, effective communication is not simply about expressing yourself clearly. Effective communicators listen, so they understand others better. Good communicators listen to what is being said, and seek to understand the meaning behind the words. They use learned listening skills to interpret the message and understand it as it intended. This skill is especially important when dealing with people in stressful situations, or those who are unable to cope with the stress they feel under.

Be an empathetic listener

In order to fully understand another, it is essential to see their point of view. Only by taking an employee’s perspective can a manager hope to learn what it is that is causing the employee so much stress and angst. This is called empathetic listening, and is a skill that must be developed. Many managers listen to respond rather than listen to understand.

Good managers take time to listen. They talk less and listen more. They make themselves approachable, and ensure that distractions are eliminated from the conversation. They don’t make snap decisions, but instead take the time to listen, ask questions to gain greater appreciation of the issue, and ensure they have complete understanding. This enables the manager to formulate a positive and collaborative solution, with the aim of reducing stress and improving employee engagement with their work.

Be an authentic communicator

Managers who pay lip service to communicating with their employees will quickly be found out. A lack of communication skills is likely to lead to an environment in which the manager is mistrusted, people refuse delegated tasks, stress levels increase and productivity falls. Managers who have empathy with their employees and communicate their own messages effectively are more likely to lead highly motivated teams.

Authentic communicators have the ability to:

  • Focus solely on the person
  • Put that person at ease
  • Encourage people to speak openly and honestly
  • Match nonverbal communication with verbal messages
  • Listen and understand how the other person feels

When listening, it is essential to feel how the other person feels. Words alone will not convey the true meaning of the verbal message. It is necessary to listen to tone of voice, pace of speech, and pitch and variety in the voice, as well as observe nonverbal messages such as eye movement, tremoring limbs, perspiration, and hand movement. This is deep listening, and informs empathy as a communicator and manager.

Those who master the art of empathetic listening are those who will improve their teams, reduce stress levels, and increase employee engagement and retention.

Effective communication is created by two-way conversation. This includes the ability to really listen to what is being said. To boost the communication skills of the leaders and managers in your organization, contact Forward Focus today. We’ll ensure your leadership team is equipped with the tools to improve empathy with your employees and reduce damaging stress at work.

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