I am not a chicken farmer.

da308d093c74a10675dd2ab57b0ee8b8We’ve all had those moments where we’ve ended up walking on eggshells at work.

Which is to be expected if you’re a chicken farmer.

(I’m not.)

It’s amazing how quickly the best of moods can be soured by just a few minutes in the presence of a what I commonly refer to as a *stress monkey*. Their agitated movements, impatient glances and acrid responses can be like nails on a chalkboard. Even worse is when their anxiety and irritation gets under our skin, rapidly setting the tone for how we then feel and react to others. Instead of offering welcoming smiles, we become the ones giving dirty looks.

Working with people like this is emotionally draining. However it’s really difficult not to absorb their tension. You try and help. They don’t want your help. You try to be cheerful and create a positive distraction. They get a face on and drag the mood down even further. Impossible.

A stressed person is like a loose cannon. You don’t actually know what’s going to set them off. Each word you utter is emitted with great caution, and then you wait with baited breath for a response.

In basic terms, the other person’s stress spreads like second-hand smoke: It becomes your problem because you’re there.

This might seem counterintuitive: You would think that being once removed from the source of stress would help to blunt its harshest effects. But second-hand stress is often just as corrosive, since you’re powerless to deal with it directly. With first-hand stress, after all, you can act – confront the issue, try and find a solution, count to ten etc. With second-hand stress, often you can’t do much more than just stand there and take it on the chin.

How to deal with it? I’m not sure there is a magic cure. Mantra-like repetition of “it’s not personal” does on occasion help me… (Joke!)

It pays dividends to remember that the *perpetrator* of the second-hand stress is beyond your control, however your response to their stress is something within your control.

Being pragmatic for a second there are two obvious options to resolving a situation like this: Change the atmosphere or to simply remove yourself from the situation.

“Kill them with kindness Bucky” are words on occasion uttered at me by my OH. And he’s right – it flipping works. React with compassion rather than irritation or aggression. Remember that your own tetchy feelings derive from theirs. Treating them to a smile and a kind word may just have the desired effect.  However even if it doesn’t it will help you to distance yourself from their stress, and to also be kind to yourself.

Alternatively get some physical distance from the situation. Allow that stressed person to have some cave time. They most probably need a bit of mental breathing space.

Be mindful you won’t always be able to put a positive shine on a situation or issue and you won’t always be able / want to be out of the presence of a stressful person or situation. At times like this you need to prepare yourself mentally and be ready to remain positive and to not allow the other person’s outlook to colour yours.

Regardless of which option you choose you must be cognisant of what you can and cannot change.

Over and above this you might need to be prepared to talk honestly: Stop trying to protect and comfort someone who is a source of stress when this sends your own stress levels soaring to defcon three. Sometimes you’ll need to tell it like it is, as it’s quite possible the person bringing the stress home from work or spreading it around at work, doesn’t even realise the impact that they are having.

Finally – and in all seriousness – remember that it’s not personal. Not everything is all about you.

3 thoughts on “I am not a chicken farmer.

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