Provision #625: Stress Proof Your Relationships

Laser Provision

There’s no end to the relationships in our lives; from the cradle to the grave we are bound together with others. Those relationships can either make life more wonderful or more miserable. At times they do a little of both. How do your relationships look right now? This Provision describes and makes some recommendations regarding our professional and work relationships. Next week, we will approach our personal and romantic relationships. The same principles apply to both, so what we learn this week serves as a foundation for next week. Read on to start making your life more wonderful today.

LifeTrek Provision


What things do you tend to get stressed out about? If you’re anything like most people, we covered two of the top three in the past two weeks: health and money. When those things are not going well, stress tends to mount up quickly. That’s why it behooves us to get those two things under control, and to keep them under control. When we fail to do that, stress is sure to follow.

If you’re rolling your eyes right now, wondering how in the world you can do that when you suffer from a chronic health condition or when your finances went kaput with the recession, then I would encourage you to read those Provisions again. Everything is relative to the perspective we take. When optimal physical and/or financial well being is not within our reach, due to circumstances beyond our control, it is still possible to reduce our stress by controlling the things we can control.

How many times have you heard or read about someone who has done just that? Life throws them a curve ball and they make lemonade out of lemons. They decide to control the things they can control, and that makes all the difference. Instead of being helpless they become helpful, both to themselves and to others. They set an example not necessarily because what they do is heroic or remarkable (those stories make the nightly news) but because what they do is worthy and important to them. By refusing to play to the victim they overcome the vicissitudes of life. My last two Provisions can help you do that, regardless of where you are starting from.

Of course ideally we start down the path of physical and financial well being long before we end up disabled or broke. That’s the way those Provisions work best: as preventive medicine. They can assist you to get back on track, if that’s where you’re at, but they work even better when we stress-proof our routines before things break down. So don’t wait for that to happen. If you still have your health, and you still have your money, don’t suffer from the illusion of invincibility. That’s an adolescent framework that stress-proofing replaces. Instead, benefit from the intention of productivity. That’s a generative framework that stress-proofing encourages.

This week and next we turn to the third area about which people experience the most amount of stress: relationships. Spouses, partners, children, parents, sisters, brothers, relatives, friends, colleagues, associates, co-workers, bosses, subordinates, teachers, students, customers, vendors, confidants, counselors, and coaches • there’s no end to the relationships in our lives and they all have the ability to make life both wonderful and miserable. When relationships work, it’s a wonderful thing. When they don’t work, stress can shoot through the roof. This Provision will assist you to avoid that at work.

Consider the following list of the Top 10 Causes of Workplace Stress according to the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health. In late-night television form, we present them in reverse order:

10. Overload / Underload
9.   Random interruptions
8.   Pervasive uncertainty
7.   Mistrust, unfairness & office politics
6.   Unclear policies & no sense of direction
5.   Career & job ambiguity
4.   No feedback • good or bad
3.   No appreciation
2.   Lack of communications
1.   Lack of control

Now ask yourself: how many of those causes of workplace stress have to do with other people. Where does that load come from? Sometimes from within, but also from others (and almost always with others). What interrupts us? What makes things uncertain? Mistrust, office politics, no feedback, no appreciation, lack of communications • those explicitly involve other people. And where does our lack of direction, job ambiguity, or lack of control come from? Relationships! At their core, all of the Top 10 Causes of Workplace Stress have to do with other people.

Learning how to stress-proof those relationships can be seen, then, as ranking near the top of all our stress-proofing requirements. To that end, I would encourage you to pay attention to your attributions, standards, and boundaries.

Attributions. Attributions have to do with cause and effect. What causes you to feel the way you feel, to work the way you work, to trust the way you trust, to take things the way you take things, to hear what you hear, to understand what you understand, to say what you say, and to relate the way you relate? Flip Wilson, an American comedian and actor once designated by Time magazine as “TV’s first black superstar”, was famous for answering that question this way: “the devil made me do it”. It was a great way to attribute causation to an outside force.

Most of us are not so flip (pardon the pun) but we do find ways to attribute causation to people and things beyond ourselves. My boss is a jerk! My sister is nuts! My computer has a virus! My teacher is demanding! My employee is lazy! My lawyer screwed up! My coach steered me wrong! There’s no end to the ways we like to blame others and other things for our negative feelings and experiences.

Yet the blame game, to quote Marshall Rosenberg, is always a “tragic expression of unmet needs”. It’s tragic because it makes it less rather than more likely that our needs will actually be met. It’s also tragic because it distracts us from what our needs really are. We end up focused on the strategies that are or are not working for us, rather than on the universal, life-giving needs that those strategies are seeking to meet. By focusing on needs we can stop playing the blame game and start playing the no-fault game. We open up new zones of possibility for making life more wonderful.

Standards & Boundaries. What’s the difference between a standard and a boundary? I often work on this with my clients. Simply put: standards are things we hold ourselves to while boundaries are things we hold others to. Example: If we do not use illegal substances on principle, then that’s a standard. If we do not allow others to use illegal substances in our homes, then that’s a boundary.

Unfortunately, most people are unclear about their standards and boundaries until it’s too late. They do something they later regret. Oops! A standard has been violated. They put up with something until they explode. Oops! A boundary has been violated. In the absence of clear standards and boundaries, our lives and relationships become very stressful indeed.

So the first step when it comes to stress-proofing our relationships is to get clear, very clear, about the things that make life more wonderful for us. The second step is to avoid blaming other people and things when life is less than wonderful for us (see Attributions above). The third step is to communicate our standards and boundaries to other people before they ever get violated in the first place. That lowers our stress levels immensely.

The four-step process that I learn in Coach U for communicating boundaries is: inform, request, insist, leave. It’s kind of the three-strikes-your-out principle. Before your boundaries ever get violated in the first place, you inform people as to what they are and it’s no big deal. It’s more of a helpful and interesting conversation “Why is that important to you? Wow! That’s important to me too (or not). Let’s work together to make sure we all get our needs met.”

It gets trickier after violations occur, but the sooner we voice our request that they stop the easier and the more productive the conversation will be. By the time we get to insisting, things have usually deteriorated significantly and it usually works better to leave that situation if not the relationship, so that we reduce the likelihood of continued conflict. When leaving the relationship is not an option we want to choose, then learning to communicate about the violation without playing the blame game lowers the stress level and makes a positive outcome more likely.

How do we do that? Nonviolent Communication offers a helpful way of communicating with honesty and empathy. The more we approach others as allies, rather than as enemies, in the life-long project of getting our needs met, the easier it will be to make life more wonderful at work.

Coaching Inquiries: How would you describe the stress level in your relationships? Who do you blame for that? Yourself? Others? Both? What would it take to stop playing the blame game and to start playing the no-fault game in the service of human needs? Where could you turn for help with that? When would you like to get started?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click Here.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..


Your series on stress has been incredibly helpful to me and my husband. We read them every week and have been taking many of your suggestions to heart. Thanks!


It sounds like you have found every possible way to beat stress, so I assume you are having a very relaxing summer! 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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