Have you ever found yourself in a situation where your intention is to communicate effectively but you realise that you are starting to feel stressed?
It’s not a good place to be. Imagine you are in the middle of a meeting with your line manager and other members of the team, you have put an idea on the table and people start to pick holes in it. Someone is saying to your line manager that it is not worth spending more time on as you have other things to discuss. You want to speak up and support your idea but something stops you from doing so.
The meeting moves on and your idea is side-lined. Now you may find that you are worried about what your line manager is thinking about you.
These situations are difficult for most of us, however, by learning to reduce your stress levels in the moment, you can manage the emotions you’re experiencing, and keep your communication as effective as is possible at that time.
How then might you deal with stress when you are communicating?
The starting point is always to know yourself well enough to be able to recognise when you are starting to become stressed. What are your own signs and symptoms? Listen to the messages that your own body is communicating to you. How do your muscles feel, are your muscles in your shoulders or in your stomach tight, maybe even sore? What about your teeth? Are you clenching them, making your jaw tight or sore? Is your mouth dry so it is difficult to speak? Pay attention to your hands. Are you clenching them too, or rubbing them together? Are you remembering to breathe or are you holding your breath? When you do breathe is your breathing becoming shallow? Knowing your own signs and symptoms will help you to notice them earlier, so that you can choose to do something about it.
Let’s assume that you recognise the signs - this is a good thing - you can now take some time, even if it is only a few seconds to take a slightly deeper breathe, unclasp your hands and flex them, relax your jaw, or make sure that there is saliva in your mouth and calm a little before you continue with your communication.
You may be someone who is capable of finding something amusing when all around you are taking things too seriously. This may not be easy when you are feeling stressed, but finding something amusing about any situation, or sharing a funny story so that you and other people laugh, helps us to access a sense of relief. If we laugh, we let go of pent up energy so we get physical release too - it breaks the tension.
Be aware of which of your senses to help sooth you. If you are a visual person, conjuring up a picture of a time when you were happy or confident can help. If you are someone who is soothed by sound, think of a piece of soothing music. If smell is your sense, recapturing the scent of jasmine or lavender might relax you. If touch is your thing, imagining you are stroking your cat might help.
Taking a break is helpful too. Finding a way to do this without bringing attention to your stress is key. A comfort break might be all you need to breathe, collect your thoughts and go back in feeling calmer and more coherent. If you need to move physically, asking to bring a planned coffee break or lunch forward (if possible and reasonable) gives you a chance to get some fresh air and stretch your legs. If you feel you need a longer break asking if you could have time to think about the subject further before you continue and either ending the meeting or moving on to another topic may be beneficial.
If the stress continues it might be useful to consider working with the other person to find a half way solution for now, something that gives you some of what you want and gives them some of what they want. Letting go can bring relief, and this will help you to reduce your stress levels. It may also bring relief to the person you are communicating with and so your collective stress is reduced. This can only feel good for both of you.
Want to know more about how to improve your communication skills or deal with difficult situations? Get in touch now to find out how we can help.
Denise Campbell, Learning Professional
Passionate about working with leaders and managers who want to contribute significantly in their own area of work and inspire those they work with to deliver the goals they are collectively responsible for.
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