Do you know a person who assumes that others’ handle stress the same way as they do? A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that we tend to perceive other people’s stress responses in the workplace the same as our own stress response. Our stress mindset is based on our own interpretation and experiences. For instance, if we perceive stress as positive and a motivator then we may assume others have a similar mindset even when they don’t. The consequences of these assumptions are miscommunication and missed opportunities. Our stress mindset affects our judgement of other people’s stress response. Not paying attention to emotional cues or signals of our coworkers, family, and friends can cause misinterpretations and conflicts.
Some of us are not good at picking up social cues and reading others’ emotions. We may be self-absorbed or anxious about saying the wrong thing and completely miss the nonverbal signals. Or maybe we don’t pay attention because emotions matter less to us and we assume they have little value to everyone, especially in the workplace. The reality is that being aware and sensitive to others’ feelings can make a big difference in any environment. We can develop a greater connection and understanding of others’ moods and attitudes when we ask the right questions and shift the focus to them. How can we better understand people?
Obviously, the best way to understand people is to be a better listener and allow others to share without interrupting. Another important factor is paying attention to people’s facial expressions, eye contact, body language, etc. to determine if they are inattentive, disconnected, or stressed. We can pick up a lot of information about someone’s mood when we stop long enough to attend to their nonverbal communication. For example, if a person is not looking at us when we’re talking to them this may mean that they’ve detached from the conversation, are bored with the topic, and/or are preoccupied with their own issues. When listening, paraphrasing or repeating back in your own words can be one way to stay focused and verify that you’re still correctly tracking the conversation. Another technique that is helpful is validating the other person’s feelings and acknowledging their situation. As mentioned above, we want to avoid displacing our response to stress onto others and assume they handle it in the same way we do. Lastly, pay attention to pauses in conversations and don’t feel compelled to fill the dead space, but allow the other person time to respond. We can all benefit from applying these tools to be better communicators and improve our connectedness with others. Let’s start by increasing our emotional smarts and discerning times be to quiet.