Managing Stress with Strategic Self-Awareness



sydney-rae-geM5lzDj4Iw-unsplash*This post was authored by Jessie McClure, Delivery Consultant at Hogan, and Erin Laxson, Senior Delivery Consultant and Manager at Hogan.

Feeling the Sunday scaries? At the start of each workweek, we prepare ourselves for the stressful situations we are likely to face throughout the week. With the recent pandemic, the stress we are feeling is unprecedented. As we try to go about the workday facing new challenges in an abruptly virtual world, the way that we manage our stress might not be at the forefront of our minds. Nevertheless, strategic self-awareness is a critical concept when facing daily uncertainty.

Why Is Strategic Self-awareness Important?

At Hogan, we believe that strategic self-awareness has three components:

  • Understanding our own strengths and opportunities for change and growth
  • Understanding how our strengths and challenges relate to those of others
  • Understanding how to adapt our behavior to increase our effectiveness

We have found that the ability to be strategically self-aware contributes to a person’s effectiveness. Individuals who are self-aware are more likely to seek, accept, and act on feedback. They are generally more successful than those who might miss, ignore, or fail to act on feedback.

Personality and Stress Tolerance

Stress tolerance differs from person to person, in that some people are more prone to stress than others. Think of stress tolerance as the length of someone’s fuse. We all experience stress, but those who are less stress tolerant tend to reach the end of the fuse sooner than those who are more stress tolerant. Those with a shorter fuse may need to work harder at managing it, as it occurs more frequently. Those with a longer fuse may benefit from increased self-awareness so they can identify when they might reach the end of their fuse.

Our research indicates that the Adjustment scale is predictive of stress tolerance. Those who score lower on Adjustment are more likely to feel and experience stress than those who score higher. Additionally, individuals low on Adjustment are likely to react in a quick and decisive manner when experiencing stress. Individuals who are higher on Adjustment are likely to be more stress tolerant, thus more likely to remain calm and collected, but they might also be slower to act.

Furthermore, our research on personality under stress is significant since we are plagued with disruption and uncertainty, which can trigger our derailers. While there are a variety of ways we may react to stress and derail, the Excitable scale has been empirically linked to lower scores on Adjustment, or a tendency to be more prone to stress. When people who are higher on the Excitable scale derail, they tend to react in one of three ways:

  • Become more reactive or explosive toward others
  • Lack the resilience to move past obstacles or setbacks
  • Struggle to understand what needs to be done next to keep momentum going

While Excitable might look different from person to person, it is typically characterized by an inability to forge ahead when an individual experiences a trigger. So how do we learn to manage this unproductive behavior?

Strategies for Managing Stress

The key to managing our behavior is strategic self-awareness, which is often the gap between our identity (how we see ourselves) and our reputation (how others see or experience us). Typically, when people find a gap between identity and reputation, they are lacking self-awareness and have blind spots that they need to identify and address. One of the best ways to identify blind spots is through 360-degree feedback. If you don’t have access to a 360-degree assessment, it might be beneficial to have open and honest conversations with people you trust about how you react to and manage stress.

Another important strategy for managing stress is to know what types of situations trigger your derailing behaviors. Certain derailers may be triggered by particular situations. For example, someone who is high on the Excitable scale may find that his or her excitability is triggered when facing uncertainty or ambiguity. Understanding the situation you are in and whether you are at risk for derailing can allow you to think more strategically about the strategies you can use in the moment to manage that derailer.

Finally, think about ways to mitigate your reactions to stress. Behavior modification is the strategic aspect of self-awareness because it involves proactive adaptation as the way we manage stress. For example, if you know that you become explosive and overreact when faced with ambiguity, you might find it helpful to pause when you feel that reactivity bubbling up. One useful strategy may be to take a walk or a quick break to reset.

Conclusion

We live in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world where stress is inevitable, even for the most stress tolerant. Regardless of the length of your fuse, knowing when and how to regulate your behavior through strategic self-awareness is a critical skill to be an effective leader or team member, especially in today’s unique environment. Strategic self-awareness is a skill that can be practiced and learned, and we can all take steps today to bridge the gap between our identities and our reputations through behavior modification.