Are you aware of what stresses you out? Quick, when I say “stressful situation at work” what comes to mind?

  • Standing in front of a room full of people giving a presentation?
  • Having to mingle with a whole room full of people you don’t know?
  • Being given control of a decision that needs to be made in 1 hour?
  • Starting a project with no clear objectives or project plan?


Most people I work with talk about “stressful situations” as if there were an objective, universal definition of what is stressful. Thank goodness for us, that’s just not true. One person’s stressful scenario is another person’s idea of a great adrenaline moment—or just another day at the office. When it comes to run of the mill workplace stress (as opposed to encountering a shark in the ocean), not everyone is stressed out by the same things.

Why It’s a Good Thing

The fact that your idea of stress and your teammate’s is different can be a very good thing for your team. Just as you’re running around starting to panic, your teammate is getting a twinkle in his eye and rubbing his hands eagerly.  Conversely, something that immobilizes him could be exactly what charges you up.  That’s yet another reason why diversity is good for teams.

When It’s a Bad Thing

At the same time, if you don’t understand and appreciate differences in what causes your team stress, you might find it more than a little annoying that your misfortune is the source of exuberance for your colleague. Just as your teammate is thinking “oh yeah, finally we get to devote a full day to this important topic,” you’re thinking “what kind of cruel and unusual punishment are they trying to inflict with a full-day meeting!”

Common Stressors

Reflect on what stresses you out. Here are a few common dimensions on which differences will cause friction on your team. Print this page and check off which of each pairings would be worse for you.


Do you find it stressful when someone is too blunt or direct with you; or does it make you uncomfortable when someone beats around the bush and sugar-coats things? If you had to choose between two extremes of blunt or evasive, which would stress you out more?

I’m stressed when my teammates are:

__ Too Blunt                      __ Too Evasive

On a different dimension, which do you prefer: someone who is assertive and tells you exactly what they want or someone who invites and suggests and hints at what they are looking for? Does the drill sergeant or the wishy-washy leader annoy you more?

I’m stressed when instructions are:

__ Too Directive and Assertive                   __Too Suggestive and Gentle


Do you need to affiliate and feel like an important part of the team or do you need your time alone to be free of social demands? Does it stress you out when you are excluded from meetings or conversations (read more about FOMO here) or when you’re expected to be with the whole team for long stretches with no chance to catch your breath?

I’m stressed when the team:

__Excludes or Disrespects Me                   __Suffocates Me

Structure and Process

Do you prefer situations that are predictable, stable, and orderly or do you like a little spontaneity and flexibility at work? Are you more stressed by willy-nilly, loosey-goosey systems with poor role clarity or by rigid, inflexible micro-management that leaves no room to use your judgment?

I’m stressed when plans are:

__Non-existent or Too Vague                   __Too Detailed or Restrictive

These are just some of the many different dimensions on which you and your teammates likely differ. In fact, print a second copy and give it to a colleague or to your boss.  What can you learn and how can you become more aware and more accommodating when you understand what causes stress for your teammates?

In the next post, how to know you’re stressed.

Further Reading

How to Build your Resilience

Good and Bad Stress

Bolster Your Stress Reserves

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