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Caution: Co-worker under stress

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When speaking with a stressed co-worker, you should be aware of statements to avoid and others that can help calm them down and get them thinking of their situation in a new light. Some guidelines:

Simple statements like “just do it” can sound like you’re telling co-workers they’re lazy and unmotivated. Your co-workers may perceive such statements as you thinking they aren’t doing anything, even though they feel they are constantly working.

Sometimes people try to calm down a stressed person by telling a story about how they overcame a similar situation, or about how stressed they are currently. Stay away from this kind of “I” talk.

Some people get uncomfortable when others complain about their problems, and in response they minimize the situation by using general statements like “don’t worry about it.” These types of statements make you sound uncaring.

When co-workers start to vent, listen. But letting it drag on for an extended period means productivity decreases, which will only add to their stress. Venting is important to relieve some stress, but inaction will only make their stress worse.

— Adapted from “What Not to Say to a Stressed-Out Colleague,” Holly Weeks, Harvard Business Review.

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