Are You Outsourcing Your Stress Management?

Are you stressed?

Given that the World Health Organisation has called stress “the health epidemic of the 21st Century” your answer could well be in the affirmative.

What do you do to manage down your stress? Asking clients yields: I go for a long weekend away to get my head straight; I numb out on Netflix; I go to gym and pound the treadmill; I go for a sail to take my mind off work; I drink red wine; I go for a massage; I go for a run / bike ride; I head for the spa; etc. And there are plenty of other new options coming up, for example: oxygen therapy / bars that provide relief from stress.

What’s common in the list above? They are all options that outsource your stress management.

There is a good chance you’ve never thought of it like this … but I urge you to do so. Why?

Because I think these activities are palliative.  Sure, you are less stressed once you’ve done any of them but – and this is my point – the same you then returns to the same environment which caused your stress in the first place. Are you going to get stressed again? You betcha.

(Just to clear something up before I continue. I’m not saying don’t do any of the above activities; just do them for the pure enjoyment of them. If you love sailing then go sailing and enjoy yourself fully rather than using some of the time to destress.)

True stress management is an inside job (insourcing) and this, I believe, is accomplished by adopting the latest neuroscience practices. I’ve done this myself and can attest to the quite dramatic change that has occurred in me. Neuroscience practices literally alter the brain for a better outcome.

For any new practice to be effective they have to become habits but once they do you can “armour up” your stress defences 24/7. In my research, and personal experience, you will: have greater confidence; become more influential; be more productive; have better relationships; obtain greater resilience; and become more self-aware. I have!

I’ve identified 24 practices to bring about the above. You don’t have to embrace all of them from the get-go and neither do you have to practice everything within them. Life is a marathon. The practices I’ve identified are:

If you would like to know more about why you should be insourcing your stress management, please contact me:

021-674-3820  |  083-414-5756  

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Peter Moss holds a Diploma in Practitioner Coaching. He is further qualified in The Hay Group’s Emotional & Social Competency Inventory (ESCI) and Gary Norton & Associates’ Emotional Maturity Inventory, both EQ/EI Assessment models and is a Certified Level 1 Qualified Strengths Deployment Inventory Facilitator from Personal Strengths South Africa (SDI is the cornerstone tool of Relationship Awareness Theory). Peter has extensive experience in executive and business coaching, across a variety of companies and industries.


The Right Way to Start a Meeting

We all know there’s a price to pay for a making bad first impression: A limp handshake conveys low confidence; a wrinkled suit makes you seem lazy; oversharing comes across as emotional instability. But do you ever think about the first impression your meetings make? Frequently restarting meetings for stragglers sends the message that participants have more control than you do. Issues opened for discussion with no clear purpose get hijacked by participants with a clearer agenda than yours. Monologues validate everyone’s fears that your meeting is going to be about as valuable (and as scintillating) as watching an hour of C-SPAN.

If you want to have a more productive meeting, focus on a strong opening. A good start to a meeting is like an overture: It sets the tone, introduces the major themes, and provides a preview of what you can expect. Here are some best practices for starting your next meeting:

Make the purpose of the meeting clear. It’s amazing how much time gets invested in meetings where no one really knows why the meeting is happening. Remember to state the purpose of the meeting in the agenda and then reiterate it at the start of the meeting. Differentiate between idea generation sessions and decision-making forums; separate meetings driving long-term strategic thinking from those driving short-term action and accountability. (For more on how to create fit-for-purpose meetings, see “A Step-by-Step Guide to Structuring Better Meetings.”) While you’re at it, talk about what the meeting is not about. “This is our monthly capacity-building session. We’re working on the business today, not working in it. Any tactical issues need to be tabled until Wednesday’s ops review.”

Be specific about the purpose of each agenda item. Although the types of agenda items in any one meeting should be similar, they might be at different stages and therefore require a very different conversation. Before each agenda item, take a moment to clarify the goal. If your goal is idea generation, say so, and facilitate the discussion appropriately. Don’t allow action-oriented team members to converge too quickly if you’re trying to foster original thinking. In contrast, if an item requires a decision, be clear on the decision criteria and the process. Specify whether everyone gets to vote or whether one person owns the decision and is looking for recommendations. “Barb owns this decision, so I’m going to ask Barb to halt the discussion when she has what she needs to make the call.”

Ask people to filter their contributions. Another way to set the tone at the start of a meeting is to tell people what level of engagement you expect from each of them. You can cite the MIT research that found that a team’s collective intelligence is predicted by how equally team members participate. Ask participants to modulate their contributions (either up or down) so that they take up about as much airtime as everyone else. Ask that participants refrain from simply agreeing with one another. You can say: “I’m looking for different perspectives and new ways of thinking. I’m going to move on if we’re all in agreement.”

Reiterate any important ground rules. If your team has spent time developing ground rules (which I highly recommend that you do), use the time at the beginning of the meeting to remind everyone about any that are still aspirational. Too many teams go to the effort of defining ground rules and then never speak of them again. Don’t overdo it, but pick one ground rule that you think will be particularly salient for your discussion. For example, say, “I know we’re talking about some sensitive issues today. Just a reminder that we’ve all committed to starting with a positive assumption.”

Head off passive-aggressive behavior. One reason that meetings are so abhorred is that they tend to go on and on, but don’t expose the real problems that need to be solved. Many teams use the meeting-before-the-meeting and the meeting-after-the-meeting to surface the prickly or unpopular issues. That makes the meeting itself a complete waste of time. Address the risk of passive-aggressive behavior explicitly by asking that issues be addressed in the meeting, not after it. It’s not a fail-safe approach, but calling out difficult or contentious discussions at the start of a meeting, and asking for people to share their points of view candidly, will increase the likelihood that you get the issues on the table rather than leaving them for hallway gossip later.

Decide whether to roundtable. I would be remiss if I did not weigh in on the controversial topic of roundtables. By roundtable, I mean the portion of the meeting where each participant shares a status update. Roundtables are notoriously bad for sucking up time, adding little value, and providing a platform for nervous team members to justify their paycheck. If that’s what’s happening at your roundtable, get rid of it. If, in contrast, you’re willing to redirect your roundtable to selectively address issues related to the agenda topic, then have at it. Just be strict on the time limits and stop anyone who goes off topic: “It’s our quarterly strategic meeting, so the topic of the roundtable today is the one trend that is either exciting or frightening you.”

It’s likely true that you attend too many meetings. It’s even more likely that you attend too many bad meetings. You can usually tell within the first two minutes whether the meeting is going to be a good use of your time. If you’re running the show, make sure your meeting makes a great first impression by focusing everyone on the unique value they’re supposed to be adding, emphasizing diversity of thought, and filtering out time-sucks. Do that and you’ll find that your meetings earn a sterling reputation and actually help get work done.

Liane Davey is the cofounder of 3COze Inc. She is the author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done and a coauthor of Leadership Solutions: The Pathway to Bridge the Leadership Gap. Follow her on Twitter at @LianeDavey.




How to Mentor a Perfectionist

It never ceases to amaze us. Bring up the topic of perfectionism in a room full of corporate CEOs, college presidents, or U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen, and you’ll see the same knowing smiles and nods of the head. Moreover, you’ll hear thinly veiled bravado about who among them is the most-perfect perfectionist. Many of them will extol the virtues of seeking perfection, and more than a few will include the pursuit of perfection among their notable strengths. Work environments that foster a zero-defect mentality often exacerbate this veneration of perfection.

The erroneous notion of “good perfectionism” is so widespread that many people struggle to distinguish toxic perfectionism from positive characteristics such as desiring achievement, striving for excellence, and setting high personal performance standards. Research by psychologist Thomas Greenspon indicates that it is a mistake to conflate perfection with a striving for excellence. Perfectionism and the desire to excel are not different locations on the same continuum; they are entirely different constructs. The notion of good perfectionism turns out to be a hopeless oxymoron. If perfectionists are successful at work, it is in spite of their perfectionism, not because of it.

Take those same CEOs, college presidents, and service academy students, and mention that habitual perfectionism is linked to emotional distress, relationship dysfunction, and even the diagnostic criteria for obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and the smiles and bravado will begin to fade. True perfectionists know these hidden costs all too well.

The science on perfectionism as a personality syndrome reveals that perfectionism consists of two discrete elements. First, perfectionists set impossibly high — and clearly unattainable — standards for their own performance. Second, perfectionists are relentless in severely criticizing themselves for failing to achieve those performance hurdles. Ultimately, perfectionists are afraid of failure, worry about the possibility of mistakes, are motivated by a strong sense of duty and obligation (rather than enthusiasm or healthy challenge), and are preoccupied with the possibility that others will disapprove of them. Some might even be described as “working scared.”

Rather than a recipe for success, perfectionism is a “script for self-defeat,” says psychiatrist David Burns. In their quest to avoid mistakes, perfectionists stifle their creativity and avoid taking necessary risks. Self-critical perfectionists are significantly more likely to suffer from symptoms of depression (guilt, anger, sadness, low energy, lack of pleasure), anxiety, hopelessness, and even suicidal thinking.

How does perfectionism take root? Although the science is imperfect, perfectionism appears to blossom from some combination of genetic predisposition, parental behavior or modeling, and sociocultural factors. In addition to modeling emotional distress and anxiety about their own performance, there is evidence that perfectionist parents are more critical, demanding, and less supportive of their children. Perfectionist parents may use affection and approval as a reward for flawless performance. When children are imperfect or make an error, the parent’s obvious disappointment or anxiety will be interpreted as rejection.

Gender also matters. Not only are women more prone to “inherit” a parent’s perfectionism — particularly a mother’s — but they also encounter a host of biases and stereotypes regarding their competence, which can fuel the need to strive for flawless performance. Among these, the prove-it-again bias may be the most pernicious. To be seen as equally competent, women are often required to demonstrate their competence again and again. Men are more likely to be evaluated on potential, while women are evaluated on performance. And performance standards for women tend to be strictly enforced. This means that while men’s blunders may be forgiven or forgotten, a mistake at the hands of a woman is scrutinized and remembered, fueling a woman’s self-imposed and self-critical demands for perfection.

In historically masculine organizations and professions, women are more vulnerable to imposter syndrome. In these contexts, even the most competent and high-achieving women can harbor doubts about whether they belong and even whether or not they are deserving of their own successes and achievements. Such internalized gender bias, when coupled with external stereotypes at work, may create a perfect storm of self-doubt, self-criticism, and the setting of impossible standards for performance.

A perfectionist is a tough person to mentor or coach. The most productive and meaningful relationships are characterized by transparency, reciprocity, openness, and trust. Yet a perfectionist never lets a mentor discern areas for growth and development. Not even relative weaknesses are shared. And so a perfectionist’s desperate need to appear flawless may sabotage the value of mentoring or coaching. Even if a mentor astutely diagnoses a mentee’s perfectionism, the mentee may resist the mentor’s efforts to accept imperfection.

What’s a mentor to do? Here are several imperfect but promising strategies for helping a mentee overcome the most insidious effects of perfectionism at work:


  • Check your own perfectionism at the door. Have you struggled with unreasonable personal standards and self-criticism? If so, be particularly cautious about the model you offer mentees, and appreciate the risk of — openly or subtly — endorsing a mentee’s self-defeating perfectionism.
  • Focus your mentoring on affirmation, validation, encouragement, and support. Express value for your mentee, not their performance, first and foremost. When your mentee falls short or believes they have failed, help them to cultivate a sense of curiosity, inquiry, and risk taking about what went wrong and different approaches for moving forward.
  • Firmly but kindly identify perfectionistic thoughts and behaviors in your mentee. Challenge them to learn to recognize and reject such unreasonable demands. You can try doing this through artful questioning, like Peter Falk in his character of Columbo (I’m confused, you’re insisting that you be perfect. But like the rest of us, you seem to be human, and of course we know that to err is human. Can you help me understand that?).
  • Employ well-timed self-disclosure about some of your own mistakes and missteps. Show your mentee how you learned from each mistake, how each has been an opportunity to grow professionally, and, most important, how you continue to accept and even like yourself as a fallible human being who strives for imperfect excellence.
  • Never pretend about competence you don’t have. It is often helpful to say, “I don’t know that, let’s find out together,” thereby giving your mentee permission to not have all the answers.
  • Use humor often but thoughtfully. In the anxiety-ridden world of the perfectionist, empathic humor can be medicine for the troubled soul. For instance, when irrational self-demands are expressed in the form of frequent and rigid “I shoulds,” a mentor might lightheartedly say, “I suspect that all that shoulding on yourself isn’t getting you anywhere. Let’s try a more reasonable approach.” Or try a paradoxical intervention to humorously highlight a mentee’s catastrophizing: “Yes, I’m certain you are correct. If you don’t perform flawlessly in the meeting this afternoon, I’ll bet both of us will be fired on the spot, end up homeless, and never be able to find work again.”
  • Push your mentee to be open to the very thing a perfectionist fears the most: imperfection. Elicit agreement from your mentee that they will deliberately make some minor mistakes and refuse to fix them. For instance, ask your mentee to send you an email filled with typos — and to tolerate the anxiety it may create.
  • Recognize and accept that perfectionists can be tough to help. And recognize that you are a thoroughly imperfect mentor.

W. Brad Johnson, PhD, is a professor of psychology in the Department of Leadership, Ethics, and Law at the United States Naval Academy, and a Faculty Associate at Johns Hopkins University. He is the co-author of Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women as well as other books about mentoring.

David G. Smith, PhD, is an active duty U.S. Navy Captain and Associate Professor of Sociology in the Department of Leadership, Ethics, and Law at the United States Naval Academy. He is the co-author of Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women. His research focuses on gender, work, and family issues including dual career families, military families, women in the military, and retention of women.





Silence the Critical Voices in Your Head

There’s one debilitating behavior that most of us fall victim to with great regularity: listening to critical voices in our heads. Whether they originate from external criticism or our own fears and doubts, these negative voices tell us we’re not good enough, kind enough, or productive enough. Research shows that echoing negative thoughts inside our heads increases our chances of depression, isolates us from others, and inhibits us from pursuing goals.

For example, Rajeev, an executive vice president in charge of a billion-dollar business within a high-tech company, fell victim to this kind of thinking. He had been rapidly promoted and had a track record of successful business results. Rajeev had also created teams that worked well together. But the higher up the chain he went, the less feedback he received. Rajeev was hungry for information on what he could do to further improve his effectiveness. He hired me as his coach and asked me to interview 15 coworkers so he could better understand how they perceived him. The results were overwhelmingly positive. People loved Rajeev’s smarts and business savvy, and they applauded his ability to look to the future and take decisive actions.

But Rajeev didn’t see this positive feedback. Instead, he magnified the much smaller negative criticisms in the report: that he could become so focused on a goal that he neglected relationships along the way, and his colleagues could end up feeling dismissed and rushed. Rajeev was devastated.

This feedback wasn’t new to Rajeev — and the feedback was valid. But it wasn’t the actual perceptions that triggered Rajeev to spiral into despair; rather, it was the tone of voice and turn of phrase in some of his coworker’s comments that he latched onto. He heard their voices in his head. Those voices made him hide in his office, slowed his pace of work and output, and caused him to avoid making key business decisions.

Rajeev needed a strategy to get himself back on track. Some studies have suggested that we need five positive voices for every one negative voice we carry around in our heads to feel balanced, happy, and productive. Fortunately, for Rajeev, he didn’t need to seek out five more voices — he already had a written report full of them. He just needed to use them.

We put together a plan and he followed four steps. Here’s how to move past negativity and into productivity:

  • Look for the positive. We often assume that the biggest potential for improvement lies in fixing our weaknesses, but amplifying our strengths is also important. According to Gallup, people who use their strengths daily are six times more engaged, and strengths-focused teams are 12.5% more productive. Instead of only asking about what you did wrong, request positive feedback too. Ask, “What did you like about my presentation?” or “What worked well for you in this pitch deck?”
  • Hear the positive. Take it in. Many of my clients will ask for positive feedback but only start taking notes once the negative feedback starts. Jot down the positive feedback so you know what to replicate. It also cues the feedback giver that positive feedback is just as important to you as areas to improve.
  • Dig in to understand the positive. Allow yourself to lean in and explore praise. Think of a compliment someone paid you recently. What did you do in response? Did you make excuses? “I was lucky.” Did you minimize it? “I had a lot of help.” At best, you probably said, “Thank you.” In contrast, what do you do when someone makes negative comments? You ask questions and even request examples. Turn a compliment into an opportunity to gather concrete examples of how you’re effective. For example: “I’m so glad my workshop was helpful to you. What about it was helpful? What did I do that helped you learn?”
  • Believe the positive, and act as if it were true. Even if you somehow work yourself up to following the three steps above, you might still have a hard time believing what people say about you. Maybe you wonder about the feedback giver’s ulterior motive. Instead, believe what they’re saying might actually be true. This is easier to do if you cultivate what I call “Jalil” voices. Jalil was the first person in my life whose words of encouragement helped me and even saved my life. Find the people who have your best interests at heart and who you can count on to tell you the truth. When you hear their voices over and over again, you’re more likely to see the positive themes and internalize them.

As Rajeev learned to channel the positive voices in his head, he not only became more productive, but also more aware of his own tone with others. When negative voices in his head subsided, he recognized what he could say to be a positive voice for his colleagues. This helped free some of his coworkers from their own dark thoughts and increased their productivity, too — a virtuous cycle.

Make it a daily practice to shoot for a five-to-one ratio. You may not keep a precise count of how many positive and negative voices you’re allowing inside your head each day, but once you start to stockpile positive comments, you’ll notice a difference in your energy level and output. With a full tank, it’s easier to pass on the goodwill and be a positive voice for others.

Sabina Nawaz is a global CEO coach, leadership keynote speaker, and writer working in over 26 countries. She advises C-level executives in Fortune 500 corporations, government agencies, non-profits, and academic organizations. Sabina has spoken at hundreds of seminars, events, and conferences including TEDx and has written for, and, in addition to Follow her on Twitter.