by Dr. Yvonne Eve Walus
You are a typical 21st century father: you work from your home office (which sometimes has a separate entrance and sometimes is the table in the corner of the lounge). You juggle parenthood, your partner's needs, and your business.
You think you have the best of both worlds. Staying at home while earning a living allows you to feel like a permanent member of the family. You see them over your morning cup of coffee, you join them for your lunch sandwich, you are there in case of an emergency.
Stop. Think. Are you feeling stressed?
Barbara Prashnig, the director of Auckland-based Prashnig Style Solutions and a leading international expert in the field, offers a unique perspective on the causes for feeling unsettled or anxious.
She calls it the working style mismatch.
“Everybody has his or her unique Working Style,” say Barbara, “a way in which they concentrate, make decisions and solve problems. If you are forced to work in a different way, one that is not inherently you, you will usually experience stress and frustration, which may ultimately lead to ill health.”
Multitasking is the single most important factor that can contribute to stress and burnout. In today’s electronic world, it’s not unusual to read emails while talking on the phone; and it’s virtually expected of you to handle several projects at the same time.
And that’s just at work. If you’re working from home, you have the added pull of the family life: looking after the baby while the older child is walked to school, for example, or having to switch off the oven when the family is at ballet lessons.
That’s all very well for people whose working style is simultaneous - they thrive on multitasking. Those whose working style is sequential, however, find multitasking taxing, if not downright traumatic.
Think about your workload: does the idea of doing more than one thing at a time give you a headache? If so, try to plan your day in a way that will allow you to finish off one task before moving on to the next, and try to plan ahead for the necessary family interruptions.
This, incidentally, is something you can apply to parenting as well. You’ll be amazed what boundaries you can put in place if you set your mind to it. If doing one thing at a time is truly important to lowering your stress levels, your little ones will soon learn to take heed when you say: “Please be quiet for one minute while I change this nappy, then you can tell me what happened to Nemo.”
Details versus The Big Picture
Picture this. You’re sitting in your home office with a client. She’s just asked you to write a report that would consist of five tables, three pie charts and would describe the vertical as well as the horizontal properties of -
You’re trying to listen. You really are. But the more detail she throws your way, the more confused you feel. What you’ve just experienced, is a typical example of mismatched working styles: your working style (holistic) was not compatible with your client’s (analytic and focused on detail). She did not start by telling you the overall picture, nor the aim of the report: she just jumped straight into the minutiae of the pie charts.
If you don’t know that it’s your working style that’s to blame, you may end up feeling incompetent and unprofessional, or blaming yourself for not being able to listen to the client’s instructions. And the net result is stress.
Knowing your own working style will give you the tools and the confidence to say to the client: “Hold it right there. So that I can help you better, would you tell me a little more about the context of the report and where it will fit into the bigger picture, before we go into the details?”
Communication in general, when not handled correctly, can also be stressful.
Have you ever spoken to a client only to see their eyes glaze over? Have you ever tried understanding a complex issue over the phone? Have you ever struggled to make sense out of a technical text, or figure out of a scientific diagram, or read a large block of text?
Some people understand pictures better than words. If you try to talk to them about a complex issue, chances are, they will blank out.
Others like getting their information while listening. Such people probably have trouble understanding complex graphs and to them, a picture is definitely not worth a thousand words.
Everybody has their own preferred way of communicating. The rule of thumb is as follows: in order to understand, you need to be communicated with in your preferred way. In order to be understood, you must use the working style of the person with whom you’re trying to communicate.
Time of Day
Another element that can contribute to the amount of stress you feel when trying to work or run your home business is the time of day. If you’re an evening person, for example, it’s physically stressful on your body and brain to function early in the morning - and that is equally true for office work as well as getting the children’s breakfast and lunchboxes ready.
And if you’re not a night owl, it will be stressful and exhausting for you to try and catch up on admin work when the children are finally asleep.
To feel less stressed, determine when your best “working time” is (early morning before the family wakes up, late morning, after lunch, after supper) and try to do the bulk of your work then, particularly the complex and difficult bits. The effort will be worth the end result of not feeling stressed.
Noise and Lights
What about noise? If your working style calls for a silent area in which you can concentrate on your money-making venture, the noise of your children playing downstairs will distract you.
Even something as innocuous as the office lights may contribute to your stress. If you need a darker room in order to concentrate, a brightly lit office (especially a garage fitted with fluorescent lights) is going to contribute directly to your feeling tense. If, on the other hand, you need bright light and sunshine, a dark office or artificial lights will depress you or slow you down do that your productivity is affected (which will ultimately raise your stress levels).
Coping with Stress
Incidentally, how you cope with stress is also a hallmark of your work style. Strong analytics try to cope with stress by becoming focussed and withdrawn until the problem is solved (think of a stereotypical man retreating to his cave: an analytic woman will tend to want to do the same).
Strong holistics, on the other hand, become emotionally involved in the problem and try to solve it by talking and discussing - that’s equally true for both genders.
Your Parenting Style
Did you know that your working style is also an indication of your parenting style?
· If listening is not your strong point where communication is concerned, you may struggle to distil information from your children’s prattle about their day.
· If you are an analytic thinker, you might get lost in the details of parenting instead of looking at the bigger picture and picking your battles.
· If you don’t like following recipes, making play dough and lunchbox muffins will be stressful at best, and a fiasco at worst. If you thrive on change, you might find the daily routines so necessary for a young child’s wellbeing… well, dull.
Did I just say dull? I take that back. My two-year old has just burst into the room and pressed the Reset button on my computer, while my four-year old has settled herself on my knee to tell me about her day. I now have apple juice stains on my t-shirt as well as on my keyboard.
With parenting, there’s never a dull moment.
Side panel: Analytics versus Holisitics
Some people are analytical in their work and perform tasks step-by-step, and we call them left-brain thinkers. Others prefer to approach problems holistically, with their right-brain information processing. Very few people are true-blue analytics with no flexibility towards right-brained thinking, or vice-versa. But generally, analytics are driven by deadlines, they love lists, have perfect filing systems, always deal with one project at a time and keep their desks tidy. Right-brained people, in contrast, are holistic multi-processors. They aren’t interested in the nitty-gritty of issues. Instead, they need to know the overall picture, the reasons behind a project rather than its deadline. Piles of paper gather dust on their desks and office floor, yet they are able to find any document at a moment’s notice. Holistics tend to use their intuition or feelings rather than rationalise about a problem.
You can imagine that if you are an analytic trying to work in with a holistic person whose desks is messy and filing systems nonexistent, you will become frustrated. Similarly, if you’re a holistic trying to receive instructions from an analytic client, you will become increasingly stressed, because what you need is the bigger picture, and what they give you is details.
Side panel: Are you feeling stressed?
If you find it hard to concentrate at work or experience feelings of stress when entering your office, it could be that at least one of your biological needs is not satisfied. Ask yourself:
· Do I need to sit while working, or would I prefer to move about?
· Would sipping a glass of water or eating an apple while reading email help my concentration?
· Could I work more effectively earlier in the day or later at night?
· Do I need silence or background music when concentrating?
· Should my office light be bright or dim?
· Should my office be cool or warm?
· Does my desk feel right or would I rather work on the floor?
· Do I like working on my own, or do I miss being part of a team?
Side panel: Which Style is Best for Me?
There is no right or wrong when it comes to working style. Handling tasks well in a style that’s comfortable and compatible with our own leads to job satisfaction and greater productivity. Having a better understanding of your clients’ working style can help us improve your communications, resolve conflicts constructively, and lead to more contracts.
Says Dr. Helmut Jasch, an ex Marketing Executive for IBM Europe:“The most important advantage, however, will come from your self-awareness. Knowing how you like to work and working in your optimal way, is going to make you like your work. It will also reduce stress, improve wellbeing, make you more efficient and - happier.”
There is very little we can do about our inborn preferences, short of accepting them and making them work for you.
(To analyse your Working Style, please click here