I’m stressed out, lately. And, like all of us, when I get stressed out, my ability to communicate effectively is impacted. Why? Because my limbic system takes over. The primitive part of my brain wants to get out of stressful situations as quickly as possible. I react emotionally rather than logically.
Interpretation is also impacted for the same reason. I’m relying on my limbic system to get me out of a situation, thus, my interpretations of communications become less logical. Add in the imperfect nature of communications channels (1, 2) and you have a potential communications disaster. Since I work remotely most of the time, most of my communications are through those imperfect channels – email, text message, phone – leaving plenty of opportunity for me to misinterpret the true meanings of messages, and to respond emotionally rather than logically.
How do you fix this? Here’s a few tips:
- Know when you’re stressed. Breathing fast, or shallow? Fists clenched? Muscles tight? Ready to lash out? If so, it’s a good time to shut up.
- Take it back. Take a few deep breaths. Clench and relax those tight muscles. Stop and think about something pleasant for a few minutes.
- Lighten up. Try to find something funny about the whole thing. Tell a related joke, if only to yourself. Humor will make you see the situation for what it really is, and a little less seriously.
- Ask for time. Before you respond to anything that stresses you out, stall. Ask for clarification of a statement. Use that time to try to get your prefrontal cortex back online.
- Shut up. Don’t respond until you feel like you can do so logically and without a highly emotional reaction.
- Keep it simple. When you do respond, keep it brief, to a single point, with one supporting piece of info. Stop. Wait for a response.
- Pick your battles. If the other person really cares about something, try to find a way to let them have it. Not every hill is worth dying on.