3 Small Things Every Person Can Do to Reduce Stress in Their Office

In a world of tight deadlines, it’s no wonder that some of your stress might seep out and affect your colleagues. But — because they’re under pressures of their own — you risk perpetuating a vicious circle, where you mirror and magnify each other’s frenzy.

First, stop being vague. If someone doesn’t know the full context of a situation, vague messages — which might be quite harmless — are often read like a Rorschach test, with fears and interpretations piled on. If you send a late-night email to a coworker that says, “We need to talk,” without further explanation, that can trigger an unhelpful cascade: Is there a problem? What did I do? Is she going to reprimand me?

Second, triage your responses. We all know email can be overwhelming — the average professional sends or receives 122 messages per day, according to one study — and in order to make progress on important projects, I’ll often go days without responding to emails. Usually, this isn’t a problem; most missives are informational and non-urgent. But there’s one glaring exception: messages that contain specific, time-sensitive inquiries. Can you come to the meeting Friday at 4pm? Do you approve the new draft of the presentation for tomorrow? Should we extend the job offer to Anika or Marco?

Finally, stop watching the kettle boil. Just as it’s damaging to neglect communication, as above, and let your colleagues languish without your necessary input, it’s just as bad to monitor them relentlessly. If you’re a perfectionist, or feel a keen sense of responsibility about a given project, you might feel tempted to watch their every move to ensure they’re performing, on time and on budget. That’s a laudable impulse, but the net result is that your colleagues will feel hounded, mistrusted, and micromanaged. In fact, scrutinizing them too closely is likely to make them perform worse, as demonstrated via research into the phenomenon of “choking under pressure.”

Monitor your own tendencies, instead. Recognize that responsible professionals thrive when they’re given autonomy, and work with them to establish a timeline and agreed-upon metrics of progress. That way, you can check in at appropriate intervals and they won’t feel blindsided. That takes the pressure off and allows them to do their best work.

Excerpts of article from hbr.org