Stress complicates person-to-person communication, especially when it affects several people in a group simultaneously. Angry outbursts come immediately to mind, but there are many other ways to mess up. Knowing the stress traps, and talking about them in advance of the action, gives a group tools for preventing them when the action starts.
Here are some of the common mistakes people make under stress.
- Jumping to meaning
- We jump prematurely to a single meaning of what someone said, ignoring alternatives, and not bothering to seek alternatives. And we tend to focus on the most familiar meaning, rather than the one most likely to apply.
- Hat hanging
- When someone or some situation reminds us of someone or something else, we act as if we were there or then, rather than here and now. We hang the hat of the past on the present. See "You Remind Me of Helen Hunt," Point Lookout for June 6, 2001, for more.
- Not listening and not hearing
- When we become preoccupied with our own thoughts, we sometimes don't even hear what's being said. On the spot, we can sometimes mentally "replay" the last few seconds, and we try to conceal the fact that we've temporarily checked out. Sometimes we fool others, but rarely do we actually grasp what we missed.
- Completing one another's thoughts
- Knowing the stress traps
gives a group tools
for preventing them
when the action startsWe don't wait for people to finish what they're saying. We complete it for them — in our own minds, at least, but sometimes out loud. It's easy to hurt others this way.
- Replaying dramatic putdowns
- We use insults that we learn by hearing them — sometimes in the pop media. Often we get a feeling of satisfaction from this, but it rarely helps the communication.
- We have an exaggerated sense of urgency — no time to listen, and surely no time to explain. We dismiss or interrupt the other to move on past. See "Discussus Interruptus," Point Lookout for January 29, 2003, for more.
- Being dazed and confused
- We get confused, or we lose track of the conversation. In some cases — the most dangerous — we aren't even aware of having lost it.
- Mind reading
- We convince ourselves that despite our lack of ESP, we know exactly what someone else is thinking. See "The Mind Reading Trap," Point Lookout for October 10, 2001, for more.
- Living the catastrophic expectation
- When one of the several possible interpretations of what someone else has said is truly catastrophic, that choice can become the only one we fix on.
- Blame dancing
- I blame you and you blame me. Or together we unite and blame someone or something else. Or in anticipation of being blamed we defend ourselves or attack another. There are many variations.
These patterns can occur even when stress is low. The good news is that when we learn to control them for the stressful times, we learn to control them for the other times, too. It's an effort worth making. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- What Makes a Good Question?
- In group discussion or group problem solving, many of us focus on being the first one to provide the
answer. The right answer can be good; but often, the right question can be better.
- Discussion Distractions: I
- Meetings could be far more productive, if only we could learn to recognize and prevent the distractions
that lead us off topic and into the woods. Here is Part I of a small catalog of distractions frequently
seen in meetings.
- Teamwork Myths: Formation
- Much of the conventional wisdom about teams is in the form of over-generalized rules of thumb, or myths.
In this first part of our survey of teamwork myths, we examine two myths about forming teams.
- Management Debt: II
- As with technical debt, we incur management debt when we make choices that carry with them recurring
costs. How can we quantify management debt?
- The Retrospective Funding Problem
- If your organization regularly conducts project retrospectives, you're among the very fortunate. Many
organizations don't. But even among those that do, retrospectives are often underfunded, conducted by
amateurs, or too short. Often, key people "couldn't make it." We can do better than this.
What's stopping us?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
- And on December 25: Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk. Available here and by RSS on December 25.
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Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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