Anx­ious at Work? Try This

Prac­ti­cal Tips From an Ex­ec­u­tive Coach

Newsweek - - Contents - BY DORIE CLARK @dorieclark

Re­ces­sion, un­prece­dented unem­ploy­ment, a pan­demic— there’s a lot to be anxious about th­ese days. In fact, re­searchers who mon­i­tor pub­lic sen­ti­ment on Twit­ter have de­ter­mined that 2020 is, by far, the worst year since they be­gan mon­i­tor­ing things in 2008 (it­self not the best of times).

Every week on Linkedin Live as part of Newsweek’s new video in­ter­view se­ries, I in­ter­view au­thors, busi­ness lead­ers and other thinkers who can help us learn how to be­come just a lit­tle “Bet­ter” at what we do. Re­cently,

New York Times best­selling au­thor Ch­ester Elton, co-au­thor of All In, The Car­rot Prin­ci­ple and

Lead­ing with Grat­i­tude, joined me to share four tips about how we can get smarter about manag­ing our anx­i­ety—and oth­ers’—in the work­place.

Over­com­mu­ni­cate. “When there’s a gap in com­mu­ni­ca­tion, that gap gets filled, and it gets filled with ru­mor, in­nu­endo and fear,” says Elton. “One of the best things that lead­ers can do right now is con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

You may think you’re keep­ing your col­leagues and em­ploy­ees in­formed, but with so much noise and un­cer­tainty out there, the mes­sages are prob­a­bly not get­ting through in the way you imag­ine. In­deed, in the world of pol­i­tics, there’s a say­ing: Vot­ers need to hear your name seven times be­fore they’ll even re­mem­ber it. Sim­i­larly, whether you’re an­nounc­ing a new pol­icy, ini­tia­tive or just re­as­sur­ing peo­ple, you ab­so­lutely need to talk about it and ex­plain it mul­ti­ple times. Elton adds, “We coach a lot of ex­ec­u­tives and say, ‘If you think you’re over-com­mu­ni­cat­ing, it’s prob­a­bly about right.’”

Amp up your grat­i­tude. It’s easy to make fun of the mantra to “just be grate­ful” or to “count your bless­ings.” But Elton rec­om­mends some­thing far more sub­tle and pow­er­ful: Ex­press your grat­i­tude to your col­leagues and em­ploy­ees in a per­son­al­ized fash­ion, so they un­der­stand it’s not just empty words.

“If fam­ily is high on their list of mo­ti­va­tors,” says Elton, “one way to ex­press grat­i­tude is to give peo­ple time off. If some­one wants a lot of au­ton­omy or wants to work on a new project, that’s the way you ex­press your recog­ni­tion and grat­i­tude. Get to know your peo­ple well enough so that it doesn’t come across as be­ing fake. And by the way, if you think peo­ple are get­ting too much [grat­i­tude], trust me, they are not. You can’t overdo it.”

As­sume pos­i­tive in­tent. Dur­ing chaotic times like th­ese, when many peo­ple may be work­ing from home and si­mul­ta­ne­ously manag­ing vir­tual learn­ing for kids or car­ing for sick rel­a­tives, some­times balls can get dropped. Of course, we don’t want to per­ma­nently lower our stan­dards— but dur­ing spe­cial chal­lenges, there’s virtue in ex­tend­ing just a lit­tle more

lee­way to oth­ers.

“When peo­ple aren’t get­ting back to you or the project is maybe run­ning a lit­tle late,” says Elton, “don’t as­sume neg­a­tive in­tent—that peo­ple are screw­ing up. As­sume that peo­ple are do­ing the best they can, and things are pop­ping up. You need to be a lit­tle more pa­tient.” That gra­cious at­ti­tude will be re­warded later in the form of em­ployee loy­alty and the recog­ni­tion that, as hu­mans, we all have ups and downs.

Tell your own story. It can feel very vul­ner­a­ble for em­ploy­ees to ex­press the chal­lenges they’re fac­ing. Elton says the an­ti­dote is for lead­ers to step up first. “The num­ber one way we found to break down those bar­ri­ers is when lead­ers share their own sto­ries of anx­i­ety,” he says. “It gives ev­ery­body else on their team per­mis­sion to ex­press it, as well.”

It’s a pow­er­ful state­ment when you model for em­ploy­ees that they won’t be pun­ished for ap­pear­ing im­per­fect, and cre­ates a much greater sense of psy­cho­log­i­cal safety. For in­stance, my col­league Christie Smith, the for­mer head of di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion at Ap­ple, is a sur­vivor of 9/11 and was in­side the World Trade Cen­ter when it was at­tacked. As we dis­cussed in an ar­ti­cle we wrote for the Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view, Christie kept quiet about her ex­pe­ri­ence for years, but ul­ti­mately re­al­ized that talk­ing about the trauma of that day and her feel­ings of sur­vivor’s guilt helped em­power col­leagues to open up about their own lives.

When things are mov­ing fast and chang­ing quickly at work, it’s easy to for­get about the niceties of in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships. But, as Elton notes, “The thing that lead­ers need to re­mem­ber is, you have to be very in­ten­tional about [your com­mu­ni­ca­tion], and you have to be very dis­ci­plined.” Ul­ti­mately, it’s those pos­i­tive con­nec­tions that will en­able you and your team to suc­ceed in the long term.

→ Dorie Clark, au­thor of en­tre­pre­neur­ial You (Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view Press)nd Duke Univer­sity Fuqua School of Busi­ness pro­fes­sor, hosts newsweek’s weekly in­ter­view se­ries, Bet­ter, on Thurs­days at 12 p.m. ET/9 a.m. PT at newsweek.com/linkedin­live. Sign up for up­dates at dorieclark.com.

“When there’s a gap in com­mu­ni­ca­tion, that gap gets filled, and it gets filled with ru­mor, in­nu­endo and fear.”

BET­TER. A Linkedin Live se­ries with Dorie Clark Thurs­days at 12 p.m. ET at newsweek.com/ linkedin­live

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