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7 Sentences That Will Stress Out Your Staff (and What to Say Instead)

7 Sentences That Will Stress Out Your Staff (and What to Say Instead)

Workplace stress is a common problem, but as a manager, you can reduce the likelihood of your employees suffering from stress simply by changing the way you communicate.

The stress response is a reaction to an external cue—you can “talk” your employees’ stress responses into overdrive if you communicate a certain way. It is surprisingly common for bosses to use inflammatory language that sets the stress response up automatically. On the other hand, if you’re careful about the way you word things, your employees’ responses to work pressures are more likely to be positive and measured.

Here are seven things you should stop saying to your staff, and some better sentences to use instead to encourage calmness and productivity.

1. “I don’t want to worry you, but…”

This is surely one of the most cortisol-producing phrases in the English language. This sentence releases so many stress chemicals it should be banned from all workplaces. You’ve already set your employee up to worry by suggesting there may be something to be concerned about.

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Say this instead: This sort of sentence is usually used to introduce a fear, rather than a certainty, that something may be about to go wrong. It is best not to mention worry at all. Instead, ask a question to check whether your fears may be justified. Eg. “Mike, did you double-check the figures on that spreadsheet?”

2. “We need to talk…”

This is another of those really unhelpful introductions that sets an employee on edge for no reason. If you say this to a staff member, they will immediately start asking themselves “About what? What have I done? Am I going to get in trouble?” Leaving an employee feeling worried and confused is not the way to get the best out of them, nor to make them improve.

Say this instead: Instead of dancing around the subject with ambiguous phrases, introduce the topic at hand immediately before asking to sit down and talk it over. Make sure the employee knows they are not in trouble and point out the scale of the problem. If there is only one thing that they are being pulled up on, then say so, so they don’t get stressed out for no reason. Eg. “Michelle, I liked this morning’s presentation overall, but there was one thing I think you could do better. Can we talk it through now?”

3. “I have some terrible news.”

There is no need to get your staff worked up over announcements and changes, even if they may seem to be negative. Using this sort of language can unnecessarily panic employees, leaving them feeling resourceless. Stating that something is “terrible” is a very black and white way of thinking, and suggests that there are no silver linings at all.

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Say this instead: Let your staff decide for themselves what to make of news by giving them the facts, rather than deciding for them how they should feel. Be neutral with your language when announcing something that may be challenging. Eg. “I have an announcement from Head Office.”

4. “I don’t have time for this.”

If one of your staff members wants to talk to you, or needs you to sort out an issue, it is very discouraging to be told you don’t have the time. You may well be busy, but listening to employee’s concerns is an important part of a manager’s job too. Don’t leave your staff members feeling like they can’t count on your support.

Say this instead: Give your employees a sense that you are willing to listen. Don’t brush them off with an “We’ll talk about it later.” Give them a supportive message and a specific time when you’ll be free. Eg. “I want to give your concerns my full attention. Can you come to my office to discuss this at 3pm?”

5. “What’s wrong with you?”

When an employee is struggling, it can be frustrating for all involved. But using phrases that attack individuals is really unhelpful and can make employees defensive and stressed out. Sentences such as these make employees feel like you are making an attack on their personality. This should be avoided at all costs.

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Say this instead: Don’t use language that suggests there is something wrong with an employee intrinsically. Use phrases that suggest that their application is the issue here. Be specific about what has gone wrong, so that you are not calling their whole skill-set or performance into question. Eg. “Andrew, you have miscalculated this column of numbers.”

6. “You need to…”

This is one of those seemingly innocent phrases that can actually put employees’ backs up and make them feel like you’re suggesting you are better than them. If staff think they are being talked down to, or ordered around, they may become defensive. Being too rigid in how you ask employees to do things can make them feel trapped and stressed out.

Say this instead: Make your employees feel trusted, and like you are giving them guidelines rather than dictating to them. Allow your staff members some personal agency by telling them what needs doing and suggesting resources rather than prescribing your way of doing things. Eg. “Susan, please could you write this month’s meeting agenda? There’s a template on the intranet that may be helpful.”

7. “You’re much better at this than Maria is.”

It is great to make employees feel valued, and to give them positive feedback, but this shouldn’t be done at the expense of other employees. Telling one worker they are better than another will make them both lose confidence in their team members and also make them worry about trusting you. If you’re able to put down a co-worker behind his or her back, when might they suffer the same fate?

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Say this instead: Keep your grievances about other employees private. These should be addressed with the individual concerned at an appropriate time. If you want to compliment an employee, that’s wonderful, but do so by acknowledging their individual strengths, rather than comparing them to someone else. Eg. “You’re so good at replying to customer queries, Tim. I really like how you manage to be succinct, yet thorough.”

Featured photo credit: xiaming via flickr.com

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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