And I stress the word pressure

The last few days at work have been, well, a bit hectic. As an ever so slightly more experienced member of the team, I have been given a fair amount of responsibility, and this has been fascinating me somewhat. It was one of the things that have kept me sane.

I had a conversation one evening with a fellow employee about how he likes pressure, but not stress. Instantly I agreed with him, but then upon trying to define the difference, I couldn’t. I started leaning towards stress being a negative form of pressure, but in truth this isn’t really a satisfactory meaning, as you can be stressed when nothing is exerting any demand on you. I have now come up with an improved idea; stress is when you excessively worry about a problem and pressure is when others worry you excessively about a problem. This got me wondering as to whether you can assure that you have pressure without anyone being stressed, as this would of course be the optimal solution. However, I have my doubts that there is one golden solution, as people are all so different that any management technique cannot encompass all this variety.

As someone who then had to manage a few other people, I was very aware of my own actions and their effects in this area. I was under pressure to make the project meet its deadline and was keen to ensure things were done quickly. I noticed how much little things began to annoy me and how optimisations were springing to mind all over the place. At one point I was alarmed to see someone had left their desk, but then realised they hadn’t disappeared for good, but were just getting a drink or something. My tolerances changed dramatically and updates were needed constantly. I began thinking that I wouldn’t like myself as a manager, but I was disregarding this and pursuing my own wishes regardless.

You see this is why management fascinates me, imperfect people being managed by flawed individuals. The problem they are hired to solve is not technically what you are employed to solve; management’s job is to get the most out of the people. It is a kind of job that requires a balance between sympathising with your staff and making them work as hard as you possibly can. It’s not an easy job, but it certainly is good to watch. I’m fortunate to see three very different manager’s styles at my work, and it’s been very interesting to see how they have handled this week. For a people watcher, watching other people try to manage their team is quite close to heaven.

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3 thoughts on “And I stress the word pressure

  1. Chris

    Stress is a complicated subject, you can have stress which is negative to your mental state but you can also have positive stress. Some of the most successful (by worldly standards) business people thrive on stress, and find it is essential to there drive and eventual success, without the stress they have little motivation and little drive to get the work done. Whereas others cave in under the pressure of the stress, find it hard to balance and rationalise the demands on them and there time. The large defining factor of stress is how you deal with it, your level of maturity and also the arsenal of skills that you have available to you to manage the situation and your stress levels. One of the best ways of managing stress is by planning your time, and appropriately planning the tasks of people on your team. The old phrase of “Fail to plan, plan to fail” is quite relevant. When you have a clear plan of what you have to do, how you plan to do it, and the steps you are going to take are important. With this clear picture you can very easily use the stress in a positive way by channelling it towards your task, and you can in the future learn to thrive on that stress to drive your team and project. Also by accepting that you won’t get it right every time and that things will crop up from time to time which will set you can, will make things a lot easier, just factor in time to resolve these problems when they occur. It is also important to think about yourself, making sure you are taking breaks and watching your and your teams well being. As soon as the rot of negative stress takes hold it can be quite easy to break. Sometimes just taking members of your team to the water cooler or to get a coffee and have a short chat to them can quite easily identify difficult or potential problems early on. It’s like steering a super tanker, steer it early and you can easily avoid obsticles, it is quite hard to steer a super tanker (and nearly) when you leave it to late or don’t identify problems early on.

  2. I don’t actualyl agree that you can have positive stress. Stressis bad for your health whether it fules you or not. I just think you can either have a positive reaction to your stress or a bad one. If the stress is caused by something justified then by motivating yourself you can do something about it and hopefully eliminating the cause of the stress.

    The rest I agree wtih you though., you can avoid stressfull situations sometimes by forward planning. But when that isn’t a luxury or other people have made it difficult to do so then no matter what you do you can’t stop the stressfull situation from arising. Then you need to learn to cope with the stress and deal with it sensibly. However, too much stress whether preventable or not is really not good for people. We just live in a society that thinks that’s how life is and should be and that it comes hand in hand with a successful life.

  3. chrysalisloall

    Interesting discussion on whether stress is good or not. I think I agree more with Jess, that it generally isn’t a good thing. I agree that it can motivate people, but so can sex and gambling. But it can motivate more respectable people and helps me with drive sometime. This im myself is more a case of wanting to overcome despite the adversity I’m faced with, and so will just plough on, determined to beat it. The metaphor that comes to mind is easy and hard Sudoku puzzles. An easy one I can do but I never get to the point where I can’t put it down. With hard ones however, they get more and more frustrating as I get seemingly closer but have fewer options. The frustration drives me in part, though it is not a good thing. The main drive however is to overcome it, to beat it such that I have won beyond all doubt, preferably in a way that did not require guessing.

    I believe there are positive ways of dealing with it though, but as Jess says, they are not always possible. When you are waiting from a decision higher up the chain of command of what you are going to do after a certain objective becomes unobtainable, there really is nothing you can do to help. With management there watching you too, a water cooler break is not possible.

    This did make me think of another question, that I’m still unsure of. The Bible contains the phrase fear of God a lot, so do you think you can have positive fear?

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