American Association for Physician Leadership

Problem Solving

Want to Help a Stressed-Out Colleague? Here Are Some Suggestions

Harvard Business Review

October 17, 2017


At a time when wellness is essential for physicians and other professionals, keep these seven ideas in mind when faced with an overwhelmed co-worker.

At a time when wellness is essential for physicians and other professionals, keep these seven ideas in mind when faced with an overwhelmed co-worker.

We all know people who seem to be constantly stressed out — who claim to be buried in work, overloaded with projects and without a minute to spare.

How do you deal with these kinds of co-workers? Here are some tips:

Don’t judge: Check that you’re not being too judgmental. Unless you’re a psychologist, judging someone’s way of handling stress as inappropriate is fraught.

Acknowledge the stress: Acknowledging your colleague’s feelings in a neutral way gives you both a chance to move beyond them.

Offer praise: Praising someone’s performance in the workplace gives the person an alternative self-image according to which he is a competent, positive professional. Appreciation can be a powerful intervention.

Offer your assistance: Say, “Is there anything that I, or anyone on my team, can do to help you? Your offer will give the other person a chance to think about solutions and feel that he is not on his own.

Break down your requests: Think about ways to reduce your colleague’s sense of being overwhelmed. You might shorten your emails to the person or split your larger requests into several smaller steps.

Ask for more detail: If your co-worker's anxieties seem to be having an impact on her ability to focus — and you’re genuinely worried about her health — ask her to provide more detail. Say, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how worried should I be about your level of stress?"

Get some distance: Stress can be contagious, so keep a close watch on the effect it’s having on you. In some cases, you might want to limit your interactions with that person.

Copyright 2017 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

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The American Association for Physician Leadership has helped physicians develop their leadership skills through education, career development, thought leadership and community building.

The American Association for Physician Leadership (AAPL) changed its name from the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) in 2014. We may have changed our name, but we are the same organization that has been serving physician leaders since 1975.


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