Why Conversation Could be the Key to Beating Stress

New research from Harvard and Stanford Business Schools has found that stress-related health problems are costing us $180 billion each year in healthcare expenses. More alarmingly, health problems stemming from job stress are responsible for around 120,000 deaths in the US every year — making work-related stress as big a killer as diabetes or Alzheimer’s. But a study by The Oxford Group has shown that we could actually reduce harmful workplace stress through a series of simple conversations.

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Nigel Purse, Director of The Oxford Group, developed the 5 Conversations program based on 30 years of research into engagement and performance at work. The program looks at how the brain responds to difficult situations, and how stress could be aggravated by an absence of trust and understanding at work.

“What we now understand is that much of our behavior is driven by our emotional ‘mammalian’ brain. Unconsciously we are constantly monitoring how we feel about the people around us – asking ourselves ‘How far can I trust this person?’ and looking for changes in language tone or facial expression that may make us suspicious.

Health problems stemming from job stress are responsible for around 120,000 deaths in the US every year — making work-related stress as big a killer as diabetes or Alzheimer’s.

Stress happens when the brain can’t cope with being put under pressure and triggers a physiological response known as ‘fight or flight’, a hard-wired reaction in the brain that perceives a threat to survival. In the modern world, this could be prompted by anything from being late for a meeting to being criticized by a colleague. The more frequently we come into contact with these stress triggers, the more overactive our fight or flight response becomes.

“The amygdala, which is the part of the brain that sets off our ‘fight or flight’ responses, can’t tell the difference between a difficult conversation and a sabre-toothed tiger – and its job is made harder if there is already an expectation of a stressful situation. As we increasingly enter into a virtual world of communications, it becomes more essential to reach out at a human level to build authentic, emotional connections.”

Research into the stress hormone cortisol and the chemical oxytocin (which is linked to love, trust and attachment) also shows that exposure to the voice of a ‘trusted’ person reduces cortisol and increases oxytocin – resulting in less stress.

As we increasingly enter into a virtual world of communications, it becomes more essential to reach out at a human level to build authentic, emotional connections.

“What we’ve done with 5 Conversations is look at the main issues we face at work and give people the tools to tackle those situations in a less stressful way. So, for example, one of the conversations is around challenging unhelpful behavior. When we surveyed people in the US, only 40% of us said that we would feel confident to talk to a colleague about their negative behavior. It’s these kinds of situations that lead to people taking time off with stress, or leaving their job altogether. That’s what we’re ultimately trying to prevent.”

 

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Nigel Purse is Chairman and Director of The Oxford Group, which he co-founded in 1987 following a successful career in HR and business management for global clients including Mars and Burmah Oil. Nigel is an experienced facilitator, writer and speaker whose passion lies in developing management and leadership capability in new and senior leaders. He continues to work full time in the business as CEO, supporting colleagues in developing and delivering innovative learning solutions for major clients worldwide. The Oxford Group has 230 facilitators, trainers and coaches based in 28 countries and working in 28 languages. Nigel was instrumental in the development and launch of the 5 Conversations programme, and co-authored the book 5 Conversations: How To Transform Trust, Engagement And Performance At Work. The book is based on 30 years of learning from world-class organisations, tried and tested leadership coaching techniques and emergent thinking on neuroscience and employee behavior.

  • 120,000/year? Wow! I have a simple procedure to eliminate stress. I have used it and so have many others. Diligence in applying the procedure every time stress appears is the only requirement – http://www.bensimonton.com/stress.htm

    Of course, every boss can singlehandedly eliminate all stress.

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