One of the key points in my presentation, “Changing How You Manage and Cope with Change,” is that people vary in their response to change. After I gave this presentation last week, I had an interesting conversation on just this point with a fellow who’d been in the audience. He told me that the kinds of change he faces at work don’t bother him at all.
“Want to know why?” he asked.
And he showed me a badge he was wearing – the badge of an EMT. In addition to his day job as a software developer, this fellow is an emergency medical technician. To excel at such a responsibility, calmness is essential. He said that nothing that happens at work comes close to the urgency and intensity of the situations he experiences as an EMT.
He then described a meeting he attended at work where people were really going at each other, griping, shouting, finger-pointing, the works. After the meeting someone asked him how he remained so calm amid all this nastiness. His response, he told me, was “Easy, no one is choking, no one is bleeding, no one is gasping for breath, and no one is trying to punch me.” Indeed, for him, the stress at work was nothing.
His description reminded me of a similar situation I once experienced at a client organization. At the request of the IT director, I was facilitating a discussion with a team that was in a state of extreme stress. As a result of a major reorg – you know the kind – the team size had been slashed. Meanwhile, customer demands continued unabated. These people were frazzled and they looked it: worn out and worn down, as if they were close to the limit.
As everyone else vented, though, one fellow in the group looked totally at ease. When the session was over, I asked him if I could speak to him privately. “How is it,” I asked him, “that you seem so relaxed when everyone else in the group is pulling their hair out?”
“Simple,” he told me. He said he’d only been with the team for a few months. Previously, he explained, he’d been at a company where things were much worse. More customers, more demands, a much heftier workload. “These people don’t know how easy they have it,” he told me, grinning.
Could it be that the best way to learn to cope with stressful circumstances is to have had prior experience with even more stressful circumstances that put the current situation in perspective? Not that I’d ever wish this on anyone. But I can’t help but wonder.