Monday, 14 November 2011

You're really stressing me out!

Researchers from the University of Hawaii, led by Professor Elaine Hatfield, discovered that second-hand stress can be passed from person to person in the workplace - and it seems to be contagious.

Washing your hands isn't going to deal with this sort of contagion, but recognising those personality types you work with that cause you stress may help.

"We call it 'people poisoning' and we describe the culprits as stress carriers," says Dr Chandra Patel, stress expert and author of The Complete Guide to Stress Management (Vermilion). "They induce stress in others without suffering it themselves."

Behavioural scientist Dr Robert Bramson has identified seven key personality types who cause difficulties and stress for those around them. Work out which category your tormentor fits into, the theory goes, and you can find coping strategies to reduce the stress they cause you.

1. Know-it-all experts ~ these can be divided into two types: those who might know what they are talking about and those who 'become' experts on the basis of very little information but present it with such authority that it's difficult not to feel overwhelmed by them.

2. Super-agreeables ~ they come across as good humoured and willing, but never deliver. They are exasperating because they agree everything in an effort to be liked, but constantly let you down.

3. Indecisive stallers ~ one of the most stress-inducing types, especially if you are dependent on their decision making to get your job done.

4. Pessimists ~ no matter what you say or how you present it, they always respond negatively and often respond with such conviction that it's difficult not to get hooked into their negative agenda.

5. Silent unresponsives ~ this type purposefully use silence to negatively control situations, undermining others, and it can be a form of passive aggression or a spiteful refusal to co-operate.

6. Hostile aggressives ~ basically these are the office bullies, who aim to get their own way by being hostile, using ridicule or sarcasm. Criticism tends to be personal and stress is induced by confusing, frustrating or even frightening you.

7. Complainers ~ constant whining while refusing to take steps to change those things they complain about is super stressful because they suck you in while ignoring helpful suggestions and wasting your time.

Whether it's your boss or a co-worker or someone who reports to you, identifying what it is about them that triggers a stressful response can help you see how to deal or avoid it.

It's also helpful to review your own behaviour, too and see what your default position is and how this might cause stress to those around you. None of us is infallible, all of us are human, but given how much time we spend at work - in the UK an average of 48 hours a week, way over the European standard - we owe it to each other to facilitate each other's and our own best use of time. Actively trying to reduce second-hand stress in the workplace helps us all concentrate and work better, more effectively and in less time.