Talent Development

Managing Communication Intensity as Stress Levels Rise

Over the course of your career and throughout your personal life, you may have noticed that the higher the stakes, the more challenging it feels to intentionally communicate your message to others. Maintaining an effective style can be especially challenging for individuals when these two behaviors come into play—Assertiveness and Emotional Energy. Of course, many different parts of your personality impact your communication style, and these two behaviors are a good place to increase awareness of your style. Understanding the behavior behind someone’s communication style is the key to coaching someone to respond well in high-stake situations.

Coaching individuals under stress

The client you are currently working with received feedback that they can become too aggressive in meetings. Your first reaction might be to assume they have an assertive personality type under pressure. However, assertiveness might not be the cause of this issue, it’s possible that emotions are the root of their reaction. That’s because under stress, these two behaviors have one communication goal – expression of what I believe to be true. While this person believes they are communicating in a productive way, other people cannot receive the message effectively because of their perceptions of the assertive delivery. Recognizing that the motivation behind this person’s passion is out of high emotional response, rather than the need to assert a specific idea, might change how you react to them, and certainly how you would coach them to manage this behavior.

The difference between Assertiveness and Emotional Energy

Assertiveness is your tendency to speak up and express opinions openly and forcefully. In its productive behavior, Assertiveness allows for healthy discussion and debate. At the same time, Emotional Energy is your openness and comfort with expressing emotion. The higher one’s score, the more they will naturally express and reveal how they feel about the topic at hand. In its productive state, Emotional Energy encourages an enthusiastic discussion of feelings and subjective issues.


You can see how these two behaviors can look similar when under stress. High Assertiveness and high Emotional Energy can both show up as intense, exaggerated communication when under stress. 

If this is the case, how can you coach individuals with these stress reactions to be more effective communicators?

  1. Be aware of making exaggerated statements – Help the individual make fewer overstated comments. Create a phrase for them to use when they catch themselves doing so, such as ending the statement with, “While that may have sounded like an exaggeration, the point I want to get across is ____.”
  2. Help other people speak up even in light of your intense style – Due to their intense style, others may have a hard time speaking up and sharing their thoughts on the matter. Therefore, the individual should try to remember to ask everyone else in the room what they think of the topic at hand. They can ask, “What is your opinion on the matter” or “How do you feel about this?” Others will likely get less frustrated with the individual if they are able to express their opinions too, instead of feeling like it is a one-way conversation.
  3. Communicate more than just what you believe – Embed your messages with facts supporting your argument so that others see that you are not just trying to get your opinion or feelings across. It is much harder to discredit what someone is saying when it is truly supported by logical and valid evidence. You may even find that writing down three points on a piece of paper will help you stick to the key points without inundating others with what might seem like verbal dominance or emotional outbursts.

It is possible that if not managed, these styles will impact the individual’s communication effectiveness in the workplace. However, the lower end of the spectrum (individuals with low Assertiveness and low Emotional Energy) will face their share of challenges when under stress as well—yet it will look quite the opposite. In their productive style, the lower Assertiveness and Emotional Energy will show up as suggestive and strive for agreement using practical and objective solutions. Under stress, these behaviors can be taken too far and appear passive and detached, giving others the opposite impression of the higher stress reactions. Since these individuals will have difficulty speaking up and may withhold their views from the group, they may give the impression of being passive-aggressive. The detached, Emotional Energy stress will appear to lack enthusiasm and downplay the importance of feelings and sensitivity.
Low Assertiveness and low Emotional Energy can both show up as disengaged communicators when under stress.

 

How can you coach individuals with these stress reactions to be more effective communicators?

  1. Speak up even though it may feel uncomfortable – While open conflict and debate may make you feel uneasy and possibly shut-down, remember that there is more harm in not speaking up and holding back your ideas or opinions. If you are having trouble speaking up, you can try to piggy-back off someone else’s comment as a way to transition into your own ideas.
  2. Use compelling language to appear more invested – To appear more enthusiastic about the topic at hand, use language that will tap into other’s emotions, such as “urgent, critical, immediate, imperative, vital, or revolutionary”. Even though you may not look emotionally engaged, these words will help you connect to the emotions of others.
  3. Don’t be intimidated by those with a louder volume – At the end of the day, what’s most important is that you get your point across. Use powerful data or facts to get others to connect with your message. You may even prepare a presentation or one-page document with the critical points you want to get across to more easily voice your opinion.

Assertiveness and Emotional Energy are both important behaviors in the workplace, and when managed and used effectively, they can help deliver relevant messages and create meaningful discussion. What’s important to remember is how you may react under stress and knowing the tricks to stay productive during those times.

How we Help

Clients use Birkman personality data to understand the innate strengths and blind spots of individuals to coach them to be the most productive version of themselves. Birkman has been used by the biggest brands in industries ranging from technology to space exploration, aeronautics to oil and gas exploration, and nonprofits to championship-winning sports teams