When leaders stress out their people

Managers and leaders have a direct effect on their employees’ stress levels, but too few leaders are aware of this power. Even well-meaning managers may unwittingly stoke anxiety.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of business psychology at Columbia University and an associate at Harvard’s Entrepreneurial Finance Lab, points out five behaviors that can increase people’s anxiety levels. Leaders who can spot these behaviors can start to change them.
  1. Using negative language: Words matter…Even if two leaders are addressing the same issue, impacts vary. Talking about “possibilities,” “improvements,” or “potential” has a different impact than “problems,” “dangers,” or “complications.”
  2. Erratic or unusual actions: Even in unpredictable situations like the current pandemic, leaders should act in consistent and predictable ways. Don’t make employees guess what you’ll do next.
  3. Emotional volatility: Work hard to notice your nonverbal communication when you’re feeling stressed. It soothes others when you project calm.
  4. Excessive pessimism: Pessimism can be useful in preventing risks. But keep pessimistic communication in check. During uncertain times, your staff has a right to expect you to notice what they can be optimistic about.
  5. Ignoring people’s emotions: During stressful times, avoid obsessing on your own emotions. Focus on others and exhibit empathy.
As a leader, do you think about how your words and actions impact those you manage? Have you consciously changed any of your behaviors during this stressful time?
From the Glasers Communication Capsule