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Talking with “Type A’s” about stress

Yesterday’s guest article on superperformance.com was: “Is Success Hazardous To Your Health?” by Barbara Bartlein. It’s about the health effects of stresses caused by the usual behaviors of “Type A” people climbing to the top of their careers. It was written in 2004, but it is still applicable today. It is a good example of the kind of articles that warn of dangers you can avoid and how to make yourself safe. And a few people heed the warnings and take action in time.

However, most “Type A” people don’t change from warnings, even when they believe them. “Type A” folks take warnings as challenges to prove they are right in their choices to begin with. After all, when you’re trying to get someone to change, you generally tell them what you think is wrong with them. Nobody likes being wrong. Nobody likes criticism — including constructive criticism.

If you want them to try new directions that lower their stress levels, you must do more than telling them what’s wrong with their stress levels and how it affects their health. That should be pretty obvious, because articles like the one mentioned above have been written again and again by many authors. Many, many doctors have had the same discussion with their patients. Many, many spouses have had the same discussion with each other. That’s not working. Because many, many “Type A’s” are still crippling themselves or dying from their stresses.

It’s not that you shouldn’t talk about the stress and health hazards. It’s important to make sure to remind everyone of the hazards of overstress. (Which is why I published Bartlein’s article and have written similar ones myself. ) But that’s only part of the equation. You get ambitious people to make the “right” changes by telling them what’s in it for them. Show them an immediate pay-off in terms they value more than the comfort of avoiding change.

Get them to change by showing them how what they are doing affects their careers and their bottom lines. How it hampers performance and productivity. You can show them what to do that simultaneous improves health/stress levels and performance/productivity.

What you show them will be different for each individual. You can’t serve up generalized examples, because they will immediately differentiate themselves from the people in the examples. “That’s them, this is me. I know what I’m doing. I know what I feel. I know how to handle it.”

If you are a change agent of any sort — boss, friend, family, coach, counselor — you must know an individual well enough or get to know him well enough to give him specific examples of his own specific behaviors, the immediate results of those and the costs of those behaviors. You also need to be able to show him examples of the better pay-offs he gets when he has done “the right thing.” When he’s felt better after making “good” choices.

The good news is that once you get high-stressed “Type A” people to focus on exactly how their own specific behaviors are impacting their goals and performance, you can use more generalized examples of how others have succeeded in their goals and performed better or produced more with low stress behaviors. Why? Because by then they will be able to relate their own specifics to your descriptions of others’ actions and achievements and understand why and how they are alike. Naturally, they will want to compete with the more successful ones to be better at low stress behavior.