Insights for High Stress Professions
Trust is knowing someone has your best interests at heart, knowing someone cares about you as a person as well as your performance, knowing you can show up as you are, and knowing that person will be there when you need help.
Every action we do (or don’t do) impacts trust. Building trust means choosing behaviors that build trust rather than what is easy.
Trust is more than this warm fuzzy feeling we have with other people, it’s actually observable, measurable, and has a significant impact on team performance. In research conducted by Paul Zak, people at high-trust companies reported less stress (74% less), more energy, fewer sick days, more engagement at work, more life satisfaction, less burnout and 50% higher productivity than people at low-trust companies.
So how do we build it? We build it by showing up in the moments that matter (hint hint, they all matter, big and small). Here are some ways we can “show
Create Psychological Safety and Belonging Cues
In Dan Coyle’s book The Culture Code, he describes psychological safety and belonging cues as the source of trust.
Psychological safety is the feeling that we can ask questions, speak up, and take risks without being punished. Psychological safety can be built by setting clear expectations, inviting engagement and monitoring people’s responses to engagement. Keeping a tone of curiosity is key to these steps promoting safety. This is an area where our tone, body language and unspoken messages have to match our spoken messages. If you encourage people to come ask you questions, then get irritated or stressed when they do, they hear the message that you don’t mean what you say.
Belonging cues are actions, behaviors, body language and words that indicate to our people that they matter, they are seen, and they belong. Belonging cues include the energy invested in the exchange, valuing individuals, and signaling that the relationship will sustain in the future. This is being approachable, and making the other individual feel comfortable (as in they can show up as their full self and not have to but on an act to fit in).
Clear is Kind
In Dare to Lead, Brene Brown simplifies a strategy that builds trust, accountability and shared vulnerability: Clear is Kind, Unclear is Unkind.
Miscommunications happen. Notes get lost in the noise. Implied tasks aren’t always clear. We may think we are being nice and supportive and efficient by not addressing every detail, but it is actually unkind because it relies on assumptions and creates confusion.
Taking the time upfront to dig into expectations and increase clarity feels like it slows the process down, but how much time is wasted because teams didn’t have these important conversations up front? How much time is wasted thinking someone should have known an important factor, though it was never communicated to them?
Make space to talk through things. Ask clarifying questions where you think mistakes or misunderstandings may occur.
Brene Brown uses the phrase “Paint Done” with her team. It’s a code word in her team that means describe to me what the finished product looks like.” This is where one person is asked to describe what a finished product will look like (tasks, due outs, etc), and this allows both parties to check for understanding and identify where they aren’t on the same page.
Perhaps you read a recent blog post I wrote on Spoon Theory. I love spoon theory. I think it’s such a simple visual way of communicating physical, mental, collaborative, creative and emotional bandwidth. Our physical, mental and emotional energy reserves (bandwidth) are limited resources that must be replenished on a regular basis. Everything we do “costs” some amount of physical, mental or emotional energy.
As leaders and members of resilient teams we need to get in the habit of checking in with ourselves and with each other to see where we stand and what we need. Someone that has a stressful event going on at home cannot perform optimally at work because the stressful event is consuming a disproportionate amount of spoons (energy), leaving less for work.
As a leader, it’s important to normalize conversations around a person’s energy, bandwidth and ability on any given day. As a leader, you can facilitate recovery and redistribution of spoons. We can take this further by evaluating how we are distributing tasks. When assigning or distributing tasks for different projects, rather than thinking about how much time a task will take, ask who on your team has the spoons for this project? Or perhaps a certain task would cost one person many spoons, and another person minimal spoons.
This builds trust by creating shared vulnerability and increasing clarity. It gives a language to talk about what you need and trust that your team will respect and support you where you are.
Brown, B. (2018). Dare to lead: Brave work. Tough conversations. Whole hearts. New York: Random House.
Coyle, D. (2018). The Culture Code: The Secrets Of Highly Successful Groups. New York: Bantam Books.
Zak, P. J. (2018). The neuroscience of high-trust organizations. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 70(1), 45–58. https://doi.org/10.1037/cpb0000076
Does it feel like your hair is on fire all day long? Do you tend to run late? Do you schedule things back to back? Does it feel your roles are bleeding over into each other? Do you get bombarded as soon as you walk in the door? It’s time to build in buffers.
A buffer is space between two things to keep them from colliding. Buffers give us breathing room, they give us space to deal with the unexpected things that come up, help us set boundaries, and allow us to dictate the flow of our day.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or that you need more time to reset between events in your day, you need to build a buffer. You need to create space in your day.
I want to share three types of buffers. The most straightforward and common one we hear is a time buffer. Less common types of buffers include mental buffers and physical buffers.
If you schedule meetings or appointments back to back, you have no time to reflect on the last one before you jump into the next. There is no room for the first one to run late or take extra time to answer questions. There is no room for traffic or other unexpected things that often come up. There is no time for you to take some quick actions from the last meeting or appointment. There is no time for you to refocus and prepare for what’s next.
A time buffer is creating a block of time in your calendar after an event that allows you to decompress, recover, reset, refocus, put out fires, answer questions, hit traffic, etc., before you have to get going on the next thing in your calendar.
How long your buffer needs to be can change based on factors like whether an event tends to run over, how draining you think it will be, the bandwidth you have that day, etc. You should actually schedule a buffer into your calendar (especially if others have the ability to schedule things into your calendar). If you think it will take 20 minutes to get somewhere, you should plan to give yourself 30. We tend to estimate time based on best case scenario (as in no traffic or accidents or needing fuel), so giving ourselves 30 minutes allows for a more realistic commute window.
How you transition from one mental space to another. Think of a mental buffer as a warm-up or cool down. A mental buffer acknowledges that to do the next task, you need to be in a different mental or emotional space or state than you are in right now, so you need to transition to that state. This is like getting to work and it taking a while to “settle in” to work mode, or getting home and needing some space before your family jumps in and needs something your energy and attention.
To create a mental buffer, you need awareness, time and tools. You need the time it will take to implement tools to collect yourself and raise or lower your mental and emotional energy to match the situation you are about to face. For example, acknowledging that you aren’t in the right mental or emotional space to respond to and sensitive email or have a difficult conversation, so you deliberately decide to not tackle those tasks RIGHT NOW. Then, you deliberately choose to use a tool like rhythmic breathing, loving kindness meditation, mindfulness, or exercise, to deliberately change your mental and emotional energy to get where you need to be for the next task. You can’t have a tough conversation with someone if you are depleted or if you are on edge. Getting where you need to be mentally and emotionally to be present and engage effectively with others is a service to you and to the other person.
Physical buffers look and sound more like boundaries or containers and are intended to protect physical spaces and the mental energy around them. It could be keeping work and electronics out of your bedroom, creating physical buffers to protect sleep. It could be creating a specific area in your house where work or homework are done. This not only helps keep your home more organized, but it protects mental space. If you are trying to focus in the same physical space where you relax, sleep, or play, it will be hard to maintain focus because your brain associates that space with other things, not with work. A physical buffer can also be leaving your work station for lunch and breaks.
Some work from home experts go as far as to recommend separate devices (here, here, here, here, here and here). As in have a work computer and a personal computer, have a work phone and a personal phone. That way, when it’s time to put work away, you completely separate yourself from the work devices and only use home devices. You aren’t tempted to switch screens and check work email because it isn’t even set up on your personal device. I understand the logic here, and acknowledge that it’s not necessarily a practical or a feasible options (as I type from my both business and personal laptop and check social media on my both business and personal cell phone).
What can you do to create space in your day? What do you already do to create breathing room?
Welcome to my third post of the Building Resilient Teams series. To me, you need high trust and high engagement to have a resilient team trust and engagement are what build capacity for resilience. Adaptability, however, is how resilience is actually enabled. Adaptability is the ability to recognize when things aren’t working, change to new directions, come up with new ideas, and know when to double down and when to move on.
A team with a culture of adaptability knows how to do good work but also knows when it’s time to change the methods. A team with a culture of adaptability can predict and better prepare for challenges, take things in stride, and come up with innovative solutions that become future best practices.
Big Picture Focus
A team that lacks adaptability sticks to the way things have always been done, often because they are bogged down in details. When we are bogged down in details, we can’t see that a process is now outdated or redundant and we can’t see that a strategy will cause more problems than it will solve.
Maintaining a big picture focus is about two main things: staying focused on the mission or desired outcome and staying aligned with our values.
If we are focused on the mission or desired outcome, we may see that as long as we still get the job done, some of the steps along the way were redundant. If we are focused on the mission or desired outcome, we can come up with a new way to get there when an obstacle prevents us with following the plan we initially created.
If we stay aligned to our values we can be proud of each step we take along the way. If we stay aligned to our values, some decisions are made clearer.
Build a Learning Mindset
A learning mindset is curious. A learning mindset enjoys research and trial and error. A learning mindset makes mistakes, has failures and setbacks. When a learning mindset has mistakes, failures and setbacks, it mines those experiences for what they can learn so they can make better decisions next time.
It’s not about celebrating failures or trying to make us more comfortable with the feeling of failures. A learning mindset is about celebrating the learning that happened and acknowledging that learning is sometimes uncomfortable. We try. We make mistakes. We learn. We try better.
Check In With Yourself and Others
Checking in with yourself and with the members of your team is about seeing how you are doing in stressful situations or times where you or your team needs greater adaptability and seeing what you or your team needs to make that happen.
A burnt out, drained or disengaged team can’t see new opportunities or strategies. Over-reliance on certain team members adaptability can burn them out. This is about using your resources well.
When we get in a rhythm, we sometimes forget to look up and look around. What tools does you or your team need? What skills do they need to learn? What obstacles are they having that are avoidable? Are there problems that some team members solved but didn’t share with other team members?
Make this a regular thing. Build the habit so you and your team are comfortable speaking up if they have unmet needs that hinder their performance and adaptability.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
Our mission is to help first responders and cybersecurity professionals armor themselves to handle the cumulative stress load of their professions and reach personal work-life satisfaction.
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