We work in challenging times. In 1992, a United Nations report called job stress “the 20th century epidemic.” Six years later, in 1998, the World Health Organization declared job stress “a world-wide epidemic.” And a 2005 survey by the Families and Work Institute found that one in three Americans is chronically overworked. Of course, you don’t need any voice of authority to point out the stressful realities of the 21st century work world. You live it every day! No, what you need is some guidance on how to cope with it all.
Karen Leland and Keith Bailey, the founders of Sterling Consulting Group, have spent the past 20 years surveying some 20,000 executives, managers, and staff from companies all over the world on a variety of core business issues. In the process, they discovered some significant trends that reveal the nature of stress and the specific skills that help people succeed in spite of it.
“When people talk about workplace stress, they’re usually referring to three things: change, pressure, and conflict, occurring either individually or all at once,” says Leland. “We discovered that the people who thrive in the face of stress-whether they’re from Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, Asia, or the United States-possess three essential abilities. We believe these three abilities are at the heart of satisfaction and success at work.”
What are those three abilities? Leland lists them below:
Ability #1: Smart people are central players. The changes you experience at work, both big and small, can dramatically affect your point of view, mood, and energy level. New circumstances bring new challenges, yet no matter how joyous or upsetting they may be, you have the option to choose how you think about and respond to the changes you face. Smart people know that dealing with external change is an internal game that requires clarity of feelings, the ability to reflect, and
self-determination. They also know that internal change requires a purpose greater than itself and an ability to keep going when the going gets rough.
Ability #2: Smart people create tomorrow today. Creating goals-both personal and professional-setting priorities, and developing habits of action empower you to manage the pressures of your workload and help make today’s aspirations tomorrow’s reality. Have you noticed, however, that it’s hard to create something new, different, and exciting for the future when your focus and energy today are so diluted? By tying up loose ends and removing the distracting tangles they create,
you free up your energy.
Ability #3: Smart people dance with fire. Knowing how to communicate and develop relationships with others is an essential skill that helps you make things happen. It’s tempting to think that your work life would be a lot easier if it weren’t for all those people-colleagues, bosses, customers-who are so demanding, unreasonable, and frustrating. Smart people know that to prosper at work they must be skilled at reaching out and connecting even with those they have conflicts with.
Dealing with conflict isn’t a mystery; it’s a dance with specific steps that help create harmony and understanding-if you know how to read and respond to your partner’s tempo!
“Remember that prospering in the face of change, pressure, and conflict doesn’t mean walking around wearing an artificial smile of denial,” Leland and Bailey write in their introduction to Watercooler Wisdom, a book that examines how smart people prosper in the face of conflict. “To prosper, in our book, means to do well and grow-even when prevailing circumstances seem to conspire to your downfall. Ultimately, when we look inward to ourselves for solutions rather than endlessly wait for the circumstances to change, we all become smart people.”
WATERCOOLER WISDOM: How Smart People Prosper in the Face of Conflict, Pressure and Change (New Harbinger Publications, 2006, ISBN: 1-57224-436-4, $14.95) will be available in bookstores nationwide, from major online booksellers, and from www.newharbinger.com.