Stress, The Helper

“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”
   Fred Rogers

In my work as a coach and facilitator it is not unusual to be engaged in high stakes conversations.  Because we all come to the table with our life experiences, world views, cultures, and expectations, it takes strong intention to expand beyond our personal view to a new and expanded perspective.

Many of you who have worked through difficult conversations in a positive way know the effort involved personally and as a group to get to a new and better outcome.  To lead in a global world it takes the ability to listen with our ears and heart and to trust that the questions are as important as the answers.  These are necessary skills of the 21st century leader.  The only way to get good at them is to practice them in all venues.

Recently, one of my teenage sons decided to act out in the way only teenagers can.  We were in a group of friends so I choose not to address it right away.  Later when I discussed it with him, I was a bit righteous (my stress) about his behavior.   The conversation went nowhere.  I talked it through with my husband a few minutes later and was able to see there was more focus on “what was right” instead of “what caused this situation to go wrong”.  When I changed my approach I found out my son had a fever,  a class paper due, and his assignment was at home (we were on vacation).  I realized why he acted out.  My laid back, easy going teen shared an indicator that something was wrong by acting out/ aka stress.  By focusing on the “what” of the situation and using stress as an emotion to be understood, we had a much better conversation and all flowed forward better for all.

While this is a personal situation, I find it mirrors other venues as well.   As leaders you are often in situations that may trigger stress for you or see it with others.  The ability to look at stress as an emotion to be understood creates a positive pathway for all.

Here are a few key skills to use to discover “the gold” stress has to offer:

  • Note the tension in the room or conversation and speak to it if the timing is right.  For example, “I notice that XX topic seems to be a critical point, can we take a moment to explore this before we move on”
  • Be courageous and speak your truth on what the tension might be.   If someone says you are wrong and lets you know what the key issue is, say thank you and begin to explore what makes it a key issue
  • Get as many perspectives on the table as possible
  • Understand what is causing you stress
  • Let go of your own need to be right or have the answer
  • Be genuine in your curiosity to emphatically understand – ask open-ended, discovery based questions


Practice of the skills above in every aspect of your life makes it easier when you are in high stakes conversations at work.  Your desire to learn and use stress as a helper and guide will create more ease, synergy and effectiveness as a leader.

It turns out Fred was grooming children to be future leaders.

Be courageous, step into the tension,

Bobbie Goheen