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MANAGING STRESS How does an air traffi c controller or someone in accounts receivable manage the stress? The key is within training, experience and an individual propensity to cope. In other words, being prepared reduces stress. What level of stress would you have doing something without being trained compared to being well versed on the subject? How stressed were you the fi rst time you did something? How about the tenth time? It was a lot less stressful the tenth time, wasn’t it? Then we have the individual factor where all the training and experience doesn’t help in reducing stress. Some individuals are more vulnerable to high-stress situations and do not handle it well. We all have a stress level that is optimal for our performance but there is a tipping point where we move from being very capable to a breakdown of abilities very quickly. This is called the Yerkes-Dodson Law. It is after that tipping point that our cognitive and decision- making abilities are at their lowest. It’s probably at that same point where clear, logical decision making is required to be its sharpest. This adds to the stressful situation and we enter the death spiral. Training is not just the technical


variety — what if you are confronted with something you haven’t been trained to do? Do you shut down? You cannot be trained in every situation you might encounter, so you need to learn how to deal with the stress from the unexpected when confronted with those situations. Job stressors typically revolve around work overload, ambiguity (job/role clarity and lack of support), confl ict (both personal and cognitive) and resource inadequacy. These job stressors have one common theme: they are not in your sphere of control. The more you don’t have control


over the stressor, the more stressful the situation. If you have ever driven in the north in winter and came across black ice on the road, you know what I mean about the correlation between instant loss of control and high stress.


THE ROLE OF CONTROL You cannot control what you cannot control but you do have control over yourself. This is easy to say when you are not in the heat of the moment, but you need to step back and take another look at the situation. What can you do with the resources you have, including the training and experiences you have acquired? This might be a limited solution but it is at least an objective decision and not a subjective, reactive one. Even if your decision is wrong, you can be content that your decision was based on the facts you had at the moment. Even WAGs (wild-assed guesses) are based on some facts to give you an edge in the decision. Like George S. Patton said, “Take calculated risks; that is quite diff erent from being rash.”


THE MANAGEMENT FUNCTION Will that save you from the wrath of management? The answer will be no unless you have wise management. Management, especially middle management, has largely not progressed to understanding human behavior. The 1920s concept of managing people is still in place in many organizations. People are not chattel to be looked at as a commodity or asset to be used and discarded. You manage resources and lead people. Don’t get this confused with manpower, which is a resource. I am referring to the people, the person, the personalities, the human side of the organization. There is some progress but it is slower than many researchers would like as witnessed by questions like, “Why doesn’t the workforce follow the


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