You can’t be serious…‘RELAX’ in this crisis?

by Gregory Lay, Heartily WorkingTM columnist

Stress is like swimming in the tar pits.
Even if you get to the other side,
you’re too exhausted to enjoy it.


From: Supervisor Searching for Positivity

I’m interested in making my workplace a better team place. Our teams aren’t very good when we worry all the time. I want to spread positive feelings, but it doesn’t stick because of stress. We just get on each other’s nerves. I know its going to take a lot of work and time, but I don’t see the effort being made. How do we overcome stress and learn to work together positively?


To: Searcher

Try harder! Ouch! That’s what you’ve been doing, isn’t it? The “try harder” response is telling yourself that you don’t have enough stress yet, but putting in more effort will make it better. So you try harder and harder and the job gets … harder and harder!

To overcome stress and learn to work together in a positive environment, you and your team must R-E-L-A-X.

The company didn’t ask employees to be stressed – it asked them to be productive. When workers become stressed, it’s self-assigned pain.

Try this: Go outside and walk one block with a frown on your face and every muscle in your body as tight as possible. Pay attention to how that feels, then sigh loudly as you shake out your arms and legs. Now walk back with a smile on your face, keeping your muscles as loose as you can. How did that feel? Which way can you walk farther and faster?

When you choose stress, you are focusing on forcing the next step and your productivity capacity tightens up. When you choose a relaxed attitude and focus on long-term results, you’re more capable of reaching your productivity goals and of going home with your energy and sanity intact.

So, R-E-L-A-X.

Re-direct frustration. When the job, situation, co-workers, or attitude make you feel frustrated – that feeling won’t help you work better. So name your frustration, and tell it that it is now going to be the solution! You can be frustrated when there’s too much to do, or exhilarated that you’ve got a lofty goal! You can be discouraged that colleagues aren’t helping, or challenged to find the right motivation. You can be disgusted with negative attitudes, or invite better attitudes with encouraging words.

Every time you notice your attitude arrow pointing downward, use your language skills to label the negative target and then re-label it in the positive direction. This language exercise will have genuine impact on your physical capacity and relationships with your team. Don’t live with your frustrations – Re-direct them.

Expect a smile and a positive attitude. When the job is stressful, we look at anybody smiling and conclude they don’t understand the situation. Optimists must be idiots, we say; this is a situation to be taken seriously. But seriously takes more energy than lightly and doesn’t move any faster. Expect yourself to arrive with a smile and a positive attitude and keep it all day long!

Expect your colleagues to respond to your smile and good attitude with one of their own. They won’t at first – frowning and pessimism are powerful habits. But keep expecting the best of them – that’s the positive thing to do – and over time you will be an instrument of improvement in the lives of many.

To spread positivity, you’ve got to be positive from the inside out.

Lift a ton. You’ve got a ‘ton’ of work to do – so lift it! Not even the strongest person can actually lift over 2,000 pounds – if they try, they’ll not only fail but will hurt themselves in the effort.

Almost everybody can lift five or ten pounds at a time. Pick up what you can handle today and carry it where you want it to be. Then go back for another load. You can lift a ton – and instead of being injured by the effort of doing it all at once, you’ll be strengthened by doing what you can do a little at a time.

People who are still using the stress response will yell at you to pick up the whole load. Just remember that you’re smiling all the while, and invite them to RELAX and help you continue to make progress.

Acknowledge little advances. When you’re looking at a ton of a task, it can feel strange to celebrate an ounce of achievement. Waiting until the whole ton is done doesn’t provide enough encouragement. Start the applause when the task is begun and keep it going throughout the process.

Recognizing little tasks that have been done well become road signs that guide the team in the right direction. Withholding acknowledgment until you reach a major milestone is withholding the fuel needed to reach that milestone.

X’ marks the spot where the treasure is buried – your long-term goal. Everybody on the team knows where we’re going and why. They want to enjoy the journey a step at a time, but the journey has a purpose and anybody who doesn’t keep your common goals in sight is the wrong kind of relaxed.

This is what positive leadership is about – it isn’t showing stress, it’s about showing your team how to get the job done without hurting themselves.

Re-direct frustration to a positive target.
Expect a good attitude – inside and out.
Lift a ton – a pound at a time.
Acknowledge small achievements.
X marks the spot of your long-term goal.

Have a RELAXing day.

Memo from columnist Sydney J. Harris: “The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

JobWise: Leaving Messages

When sending e-mail, let the recipient know if they need to reply-all or only to sender. (If unnecessary ‘reply-all’ e-mails were eliminated, everybody could take three extra days of vacation!)

When leaving voice mail, say your phone number or extension just before you hang up. Yes, it’s in their system, but you double your chances of a prompt response if you leave it with the message.

© 2009 Heartily WorkingTM

Gregory Lay’s Heartily WorkingTM responds to your questions about workplace concerns. Send your questions to