Keeping Others Focused

Steven Gaffney People become stressed and unfocused for all sorts of reasons including organizational changes, job changes, personal issues, and even world events. When this happens how do you keep others focused and at the same time support them?

  1. Allow others to express their emotions. Expressing emotion is a great way for people to begin to free themselves from the build-up of their feelings, especially stress, worry, fear, and anxiety. Unfortunately, many people encourage stoic demeanors by saying such things as "check your emotions at the door," or "don't show emotions." This is similar to putting a lid on a pot of boiling water…eventually it will boil over and when it does, it will be a mess. The more we allow others to express their emotions in an appropriate way, the more likely their emotion will dissipate and the more likely they can refocus on what needs to be accomplished.

  2. Acknowledge other people's emotions. Once someone expresses his or her emotion, acknowledge it. We can do so by saying something such as, "I understand you are upset/stressed/annoyed." Try to avoid saying something like, "I understand you are upset BUT…" The "but" makes someone feel invalidated. It is the same as saying, "Don't get upset" or "Don't worry," and we know what happens when someone does that to us. In fact, when we tell someone to "not feel" a certain way, it usually has the opposite effect and can make them even more emotional because they feel invalidated. The more we acknowledge their emotion, the more likely their emotions will be diffused and we can begin to help them address the issue.

  3. Ask how you can support them. Usually people know what they need to feel supported. The problem is that we just don't ask, or, even worse, we give them advice when they have not even asked for it. If you do ask how you can assist or support them and they say they don't know or are unsure, it is usually an excuse and a cover for "I am afraid to ask you." If that happens, re-ask the question and assure them you really mean it.

    Then, when they tell you what they need, work out an agreement that is suitable for both of you. The key is to be proactive and to ask them first. You may be surprised to find out that all they wanted you to do was to just listen.

  4. Create some meaningful, big goals. The more passionate people feel about their work, the easier it is for them to focus on it. Working can be a great escape from what is happening around us if the work we are doing is exciting and/or important.

    There are many strategies that can be used to help people cope and focus during challenging times. Be upfront, discuss the situation, then develop a plan that works for everyone.

Steven Gaffney ( delivers keynote addresses, breakout sessions and intense multi-day seminars in the area of communication, motivation and leadership. Call for more information at (703) 243-7994 or 1-877-6Honest or e-mail Steven directly at Copyright 2004 by Steven Gaffney and the Steven Gaffney Company.

Category: Work-Life, Balance
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