STRESS Unveiled Part II – The Systematic way to De-STRESS

I recently took over as the head of leadership development for Wipro BPO and in last one month I had the opportunity to spend time on the BPO floor meeting the teams in both voice and non voice business.
The environment in BPO has a constant sense of urgency as everything needs to be done here and now. More or less every transaction has a touch point with the customer or customer’s customer with a high degree of customer involvement and constant interaction with the Wipro team. It is a challenge to maintain the same level of energy and enthusiasm for an agent from his first call when he or she logs in to the last call when he or she logs out especially if the agent lands up handling back to back irate customer situations. In order to keep the customer satisfaction levels high there are Quality Assurance people who monitor a set of agent calls every day. During my flight back from Wipro BPO Delhi I was reading the book “Quite Leadership” by David Rock and I was thinking that how many times do we observe our conversation with people like the way the Quality Assurance personnel were doing for the agents? How will observing those conversations improve my relationships with people around me? Will the improved relationships help in managing my stress? I have seen people either getting more stressed when they go to work or for some people when they come back home as I guess the relationship is not going well at those places.
In last decade there has been phenomenal research done on how our brain works and its impact on stress. As a sequel to my earlier blog on Stress I would like you to consider practicing 3 observations and see how that helps in managing your stress levels.
First Observation – Observe the Maps in your brain: Maps are built in our brain with our experiences. Let me talk about Maps with an example. Imagine you are born in a religious Hindu Brahmin family, the first map that will get built possibly is to go to temple every day after taking bath and never wear shoes inside the temple especially where the deities reside. Now imagine you are born in a religious Catholic Family in Mexico, the first map that will get built possibly is to go to Church every Sunday and always wear the best shoes in the Church. The two maps are completely opposite. Mexicans have similar looks like Indians and let’s bring the Mexican on his first visit to India and he does not know much about Indian culture. In first few days he comes to know that Temples are like Churches and he decides to visit the temple. There is likelihood that he may enter the Temple with his best shoes and imagine the Hindu Brahmin after his bath sees him in the Temple with shoes. Since Mexicans have similar looks like Indians his map will instantly see him as an Indian who is arrogant or insensitive or many other words for Indians may come to his mind. His instant reaction can be very bad to the extent of pushing him out of the Temple. Imagine if there is no clarification or conversation that happens between the Indian and Mexican, will the Mexican ever visit India again or what new map he will have about Indian culture? Considering this example if you start observing your Maps you will realize that very often we behave like the Indian who don’t recognize the Mexicans around us. The Indian could have challenged his Map and said to himself that let me ask why is he wearing shoes instead of concluding that he is arrogant, insensitive etc. and pushing him out of the temple. Once you start observing your Maps you will build the capacity to observe other people’s Maps and instead of reacting you will come to know from where they are coming. This will help you build relationships in every conversation. In the example above the Indian could have possibly worshiped together after explaining him about shoes and asking him to keep them outside. In fact with his newly formed friendship the Indian could have gone out for lunch together and realized that “Rajma” is same as “Beans” of Mexico and if they continued for few more days they would conclude that everything is a Map and there is nothing wrong or right. Imagine if we start building all relationships the way the Indian and Mexican are now enjoying being together respecting each others Maps, where will be there any scope for Stress. As you observe your Maps, do share your insights and hope this observation will help you not create new stress in you.
Second Observation – Automatic Limbic Response: The Limbic System in our brain is based on long term memory and it creates habits that we unconsciously practice. Let me talk about this with an example. Imagine the time when you were learning to drive car. The ABC of Car driving was so tough. ABC is Accelerate, Break, Clutch and the co-ordination between the three was like a big task for first few weeks. After you got used to the ABC you started driving with the car picking up from every signal without any hiccups or engine stopping. After a year or so you started even answering phone calls while driving. Now what had happened is that the Limbic system is working unconsciously and giving directions / responses for driving. While most people take pride in multi tasking of answering calls and driving at the same time but I will talk about how brain gets stressed out because of that later. For now let me continue with Limbic System. The way the Limbic system was giving automatic response for driving it does the same for many other situations. In one of my coaching assignment my coachee shared that he always had arguments with his spouse on not liking Brown Color shirts. When I dug deep in his past experiences we found out that in his school days he always dreamed and was waiting to get into college so that he can get away with Brown Color school uniform and wear the dress he likes. Unfortunately the year he got admission in the college they introduced Brown Color Uniform in college also. The subconscious mind recorded the hate for Brown Color and even after 20 years of leaving the school and college his automatic Limbic response is that he does not like Brown Color. In one other assignment the coachee always had disagreements with his boss but got along well with his boss’s boss. We found that he stayed with his grandfather and his father would come only once in few months to meet him. When his father met once in few months he would ask questions about his studies, marks etc. which he did not like. So every boss for him was a father who would only ask questions and boss’s boss was like grandfather who he loved to live with. Now in the above two situations the relationship with the spouse and the boss will obviously not go well and create stress. It is tough but it would be very helpful to keep observing our automatic Limbic responses especially those with which people get annoyed with us and instead of blaming them we can fix our own issues and reduce stress.
Third Observation – Pre-fontal Cortex Response: I mentioned about stress that gets created by too much of multi tasking. Pre-fontal Cortex is the working memory of our brain. It helps us process information and take decisions. Let me talk about Pre-fontal cortex with an example. It is like the RAM (working memory) of our computer and you must have observed that when we load too many applications either the computer becomes slow or it crashes. On similar lines if we load our Pre-fontal cortex with too many things for too long it gets exhausted and creates tremendous stress in us. Hence it is very important for us to take enough sleep. Also in my previous blog I had talked about keeping intentional blank spaces between meetings and that is to recharge/refresh Pre-fontal cortex. It also needs glucose to work optimally so eating snacks from time to time helps (avoid cakes/pastries but eat more fruits as fruits release glucose slowly for a longer duration whereas cakes/pastries releases glucose in one shot making the Pre-fontal cortex again starve for glucose). That is one of the reasons why dieting for reducing weight does not work because when we deny food to ourselves for the entire day we exhaust the pre-frontal cortex (no glucose) and when we reach home we completely eat the fridge. I like the idea at Infosys where they have snacks outlets next to the bus depot so that employees can pick up some snacks before boarding the bus for their long journey providing glucose to Pre-fontal cortex. So do observe your Pre-fontal cortex and you will see that your irrational decisions are taken when the Pre-fontal cortex is completely exhausted.
Do share your observations as you make the above observations and let’s help each other to reduce our stress levels by creating new maps, changing our automatic Limbic responses and keeping the Pre-fontal cortex free to take stress free rational decisions.

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