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The Art of Handling Workplace Stress

Hull, Raymond PhD

doi: 10.1097/
Practice Management

Dr. Hull is a professor of communication sciences and disorders at Wichita State University in Wichita, KS. He has written and published 23 books on rehabilitative audiology and interpersonal communication, and is a prolific public speaker on the art of professional communication.

I received a phone call from a young woman who wanted to ask me about communication issues at work meetings. But at that time, she seemed unsure about what she wanted to ask. She shared that she always has a difficult time maintaining her composure during staff meetings, and that when her input is challenged by a colleague, she finds it very challenging to remain calm and respond in a professional manner. She sometimes “loses it” and raises her voice, which later makes her feel very embarrassed. It troubles her that some of her colleagues are somehow able to goad her into feeling so stressed that she sometimes loses her poise and falls apart in front of everyone during staff meetings. As we talked, I was reminded of a fitting statement, which I shared with her: “Calmness is the rarest quality in human life.”1 She responded with frustration that calmness may be easy for some people, but she wanted more—she wanted specifics on how to maintain her poise in stressful work situations. As hearing health care professionals who deal with a mix of characters—including colleagues, patients, and their families—on a daily basis, we may empathize with this woman's frustration. So to better manage these workplace challenges, take note of these tips.

Be mindful of your audience. “Remember that you always have an audience,” said clinical psychologist and nationally recognized expert Sherrie Campbell, PhD.2 Your audience includes your team members, colleagues, and patients who “expect a certain level of calm, serenity, integrity, and grit from you.”

Be an example of poise and calmness. In our professional life, it is best to become the person we would like to be. One way is to think of yourself as an example of what your colleagues would like to become when faced with stress in their personal and/or professional lives. I like to call it developing the art of positive vulnerability, or being transparent in our dealings with patients, their families, and our colleagues, and revealing ourselves first as people who deeply care for them. Such poise and charm draw others to want to work with us because they know that we are who we are and they trust that we do our very best without pretense or added stress. Keeping your poise also prevents those around you from getting stressed and spreading any negativity.1

Practice pausing, forgiving, and moving on. As one of my favorite colleagues used to say, “It, too, shall pass.” Goman3 suggests that when you are aware that you are in a stressful situation, such as when someone treats you in an unkind manner, remember to pause and mentally say the word, “Stop.” Pausing gives you the time needed to gain control and respond with poise, instead of automatically reacting to the event that triggered the stress.

Also, know when to let something go. If you find yourself in a stressful discussion and cannot come to an agreement, sometimes it is best to simply agree to disagree. If a discussion is going nowhere, it is appropriate to simply disengage and move on. And, in moving on, people can still shake hands and appreciate each other despite their disagreement.

Display good workplace sportsmanship. In any clinic or office interaction, never take a cheap shot at someone—no matter how good you think it might make you feel in that moment. You will only regret it later. Don't make a big deal out of a trivial issue. If you do, ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? What is it that I am after?” And if you see an argument on the horizon, become a good listener instead. Let the other person vent while you listen quietly. You will win many an argument that way, and you won't find yourself in the middle of a potentially sticky situation. In the end, the best way to win an argument is to avoid it.

Know when you are wrong. You will never get into trouble by admitting that you may be wrong. If you realize that the other person is correct and find, to your dismay, that what you have been advocating for may be wrong—even though we sometimes don't want to admit it—there's nothing wrong with letting go of your ego and saying, “In thinking about it, I believe that you are absolutely right!” This simple response can stop a debate in its tracks and make everyone feel better, including you.

Staying calm and poised under pressure is an art that is purposely developed. We are certainly not born with these traits. Have you ever observed a 3-year-old child who remains calm when a parent takes away the toy that she or he has been playing with while in a restaurant? I never have! In fact, some adults find it difficult to remain calm and serene during stressful encounters. However, as hearing health care professionals, we must learn to manage stress to function well and serve our patients the best way possible.

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1. Campbell, S (2019). Seven strategies to succeed with that demanding customer.
2. Goman, L (2011). Conveying warmth and empathy.
3. Stovall, J & Hull, R (2016). The Art of Communication. Shippensburg, PA: Sound Wisdom Publishing.
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