What could be more satisfying than the life of a financial advisor? You’re helping people solve their problems, get rid of financial pressures, become more secure, and attain cherished goals. So why the tension headaches, acid stomach, insomnia, and maybe even an intense desire to start happy hour right after lunch?
In our performance-driven culture, stress is something many of us constantly struggle with. But by learning to master it, we can sometimes turn it to our advantage. To teach yourself better ways to cope, consider how you might handle situations like these.
Q: Another planner and I are at the same level of seniority in our firm. He’s aggressive and rides herd on his staff all the time, while I’m laid back and give my group more freedom. When he tries to push my team and me around, I think he counts on the fact that I won’t push back because I’m a woman. So far I’ve been keeping quiet and letting our monthly performance tell the story, but the constant friction spoils my pleasure in my work. Is there a better way to handle this?
A: I think what you’re asking is whether or not you should play his game. You can always try to confront him and out-aggress him (“I’m not going to put up with this…. Try it one more time and you’ll be sorry!”), but I suspect that your strengths are more likely to be your ability to build consensus and inspire teamwork.
Many women find aggression more painful than men do. Our preference for accommodating others and avoiding conflict appears not just to come from indoctrination, but to be neurologically hard-wired. Understanding this difference may help you view his objectionable behavior with more detachment. If you’d like to know more, pediatrician and psychologist Leonard Sax does a wonderful job of analyzing male/female dissimilarities in Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences (Broadway, 2006).
It could also be that this guy’s behavior pushes your buttons by reminding you of an overly aggressive male in your personal history. If so, learning to separate him emotionally from his predecessor will make his bossiness less irritating to you.
After reflecting on these issues, consider meeting with him about the difference in your management styles. You might tell him that you know he’s only doing what comes naturally, but so are you. If you’re not judgmental about his behavior being “bad” and yours “good,” he may pay attention to what you need from him in order to do your job more effectively.
But even if he’s willing to cooperate, don’t expect radical change at once. You might rehearse a few humorous quips to use when he tries to boss around the employees you supervise. This could help him stop short and recognize his knee-jerk autocratic behavior.
In the meantime, you may need to practice whatever self-soothing techniques work for you. Deep breathing, meditation, or a pleasant walk could help you distance yourself from this stressful situation and get back to a more peaceful inner state.
Q: One of my staff has a hard time dealing with job stresses. About a year ago, he started some medication that helped him a lot. He was doing so well, in fact, that he apparently decided he didn’t need the meds any more. Now he’s withdrawn and bad-tempered again. I know I need to speak to him, but I don’t want him to know that I’m aware of the medication issue, which I was told about in confidence. How should I handle this sensitive conversation?
A: My suggestion would be to look for an appropriate catalyst (such as a client’s difficult demands) to open a discussion about job stress with your employee. To make it less formal, you might invite him out for a Starbucks break or lunch. Start by mentioning work stresses that you face, and explain how you’re trying to handle them. Or you could share some personal stresses you’ve been coping with of late. This way, your staffer won’t feel like he’s the “identified patient” and get defensive.
Then ask how it’s been going for him recently. Encourage him to open up about what bothers him, and try to listen without judging or jumping in to address his complaints. You might bring up some stressful event that occurred when he was handling things well, and observe that he seems to have a somewhat harder time coping with such tough situations now.
If he admits that stress is more of a problem these days, you could bring up some stress management techniques that you’ve found to be effective, such as asking for support from fellow workers, family, and friends. Once on this topic, you might relate the story of a “friend” who was helped tremendously by medication that relieved his overreaction to stress. Ideally, your employee will then open up about his own experience with meds, and you can weigh in without having exposed his secret.
Q: Our independent practice was recently bought by another firm that has instituted a lot of unwelcome changes. I’ve tried to put a good face on things for my staff, but they’re becoming demoralized and I’m increasingly depressed. My suggestions to the new management seem to fall on deaf ears. How can I help my staff cope with the situation? Is there a way to recapture enjoyment in my job?