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:
- Twenty-Three Thoughts
- Sometimes we get so focused on the immediate problem that we lose sight of the larger questions. Here
are twenty-three thoughts to help you focus on what really counts.
- Guidelines for Delegation
- Mastering the art of delegation can increase your productivity, and help to develop the skills of the
people you lead or manage. And it makes them better delegators, too. Here are some guidelines for delegation.
- How to Foresee the Foreseeable: Focus on the Question
- When group decisions go awry, we sometimes feel that the failure could have been foreseen. Often, the
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was set aside. Improving how groups deal with dissent can enhance decision quality.
- Holding Back: II
- Members of high-performing teams rarely hold back effort. But truly high performance is rare in teams.
Here is Part II of our exploration of mechanisms that account for team members' holding back effort
they could contribute.
- Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
- In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 18: High Falutin' Goofy Talk: III
- Workplace speech and writing sometimes strays into the land of pretentious but overused business phrases, which I like to call high falutin' goofy talk. We use these phrases with perhaps less thought than they deserve, because they can be trite or can evoke indecorous images. Here's Part III of a collection of phrases and images to avoid. Available here and by RSS on July 18.
- And on July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
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Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen
had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished.
As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important
lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product
development. Read more about this program. Here's
a date for this program:
- Ohio National Insurance, 1 Financial Way, Blue Ash, OH: July
Monthly Meeting, Cincinnati
chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis. Register now.
- Ohio National Insurance, 1 Financial Way, Blue Ash, OH: July 17, Monthly Meeting, Cincinnati chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis. Register now.
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