"How good are you at dealing with stress?” Your prospective boss gives a wry smile as he asks the question.
You smile back with a wise nod of the head and assure him that there’s nothing you can’t cope with.
You’re cool in a crisis, very little fazes you, and having just heard a very thorough description of the duties you will be expected to perform, you don’t think it would daunt you in any way.
You get the job, and you know that things would run smoothly if only your staff would do what they’ve been asked to do.
Matrix of human emotions
It all looks very good on paper, but the workplace is a complicated matrix of all-too human emotions, veiled ambitions, fears, and desires.
There are those who listen attentively but can’t carry out instructions, those who have the skill but insist on doing it their way, those who hate you because they want your job, and those who are ingratiating for the same reason.
It’s a nightmare, because with the best will in the world, you just can’t manage all those different conflicting personalities.
And of course, if you lose your temper at any time, the game is up. You may have been justified to get angry, but you’ve shown weakness, and the situation can only get worse from here.
But let’s pause and try another approach. Suppose you didn’t have to manage multiple behaviours? Suppose there was only one person’s stress to contend with: your own?
The philosopher’s tone
Since the 1970s, there has been a new understanding about the nature of our experience – one that recognises that our reality consists of what we project onto the circumstances of our lives, and not the other way around.
This understanding, introduced to the west by the philosopher Sydney Banks and known as the “Three Principles”, has been taken up around the world by many thousands of coaches, therapists, and helpers like myself.
It shows us that, despite all appearances, we are not at the mercy of other people’s faults and foibles.
Even if we could manage them all, it would not be good to try.
Instead, we only have to find our innate wisdom, and bring it to bear on any situation we encounter.
The ripple effect
The need to control our emotions sounds plausible enough, but Banks argues that it’s only our thoughts that need guiding.
Each thought has a feeling attached, and once emotion enters the equation it is too late; harsh words rarely solve anything.
Strong emotions are made from energy and that energy creates a “ripple” effect, ensuring that others around you get emotional too.
So here’s my answer to the question “how good are you at dealing with stress”. I wouldn’t necessarily list the occasions when I’d handled a difficult situation in the past, but instead I’d acknowledge that stress is created from our thoughts.
When you get a good feeling, you will often find others calm down and most problems generally disappear. This is the answer to a happy, stress-free life.