Pressure Management: A Closer Look at Stress, Conflict, and Workplace Performance

The HRM Guide from Human Resource Management states that stress in the workplace is difficult to measure. The National Business Group on Health indicates that, while stress is the most commonly cited reason for leaving jobs, 48 percent of US employers state that stress is affecting business performance. Only a few companies – five percent —    appear to be addressing the concern.

Birbeck College’s Organizational Psychologist Dr. Rob Briner says this points to “the need for a fundamental rethinking of the way in which stress is measured at work.”

This “rethinking” can be facilitated by distinguishing between stresses associated with insufficient skills and resources — time, skills, resources, and money — and those associated with relationship tensions, such as emotional reactivity, and vengeful conduct such, such as that which is described as “lateral violence.”

If we distinguish stress associated with insufficient resources from pressure driven mistakes, we can address the latter more constructively through relationship skill development that focuses our attention on pressure management.

Stress, as it is often discussed, appears personal. Pressure, however, may more easily be seen as relational. Regardless of how “unhealthy” someone may feel as a result of stress, they can learn to be more relational and thereby perform better. When conflicts of interests prevail, they appear as tensions between individuals. Pressure exists before conflict, which is why pressure management is not really the same as conflict resolution. Relational pressures that may surface as arguments and disputes can appear first as conflicting interests.

Research suggests that body language may comprise most of our understanding of one another…. So why do we fight over words? When we hear something that we disagree with, we are predisposed to reply with contrary words that oppose and separate, laying the groundwork for conflict.

Aikido, “the martial art of peace,” is the study of compassionate conflict resolution. It teaches one to respond openly to pressures in an accepting manner, and in accord with one’s basic needs. One learns to act from one’s center in a grounded manner. Aikido also transforms conflict by changing one’s own responses, not by attempting to change the attack or the source of pressure.

Imagine how gently sloped beaches create peaceful waves by generating deep-water flows in opposition to the sea’s incoming power, which would otherwise crash on the rocky shoreline. Aiki means “blending energy.” Its elements include grounded, centered attention that extends from the core to receive pressure in a physical attack. These principles have profound application to how we think and speak under pressure. It may not always be true, but relationship is often described as a martial art.

Somatic attunement is the self-awareness developed through sensing inwardly. Self-awareness training can develop the elements of Aikido, including one’s natural abilities to ground and center when under pressure, so that they may be applied in situations involving verbal pressures. Somatic attunement reveals common predispositions to responding to pressure that we all live with, knowingly or not. Accessing body wisdom reveals new options that apply as well in word wars. It could take years to figure this out by arguing.

Since the studies on stress management are not very optimistic, relational pressure management training may be a more effective pursuit. They hold the potential for skill development and performance enhancement even under stressful conditions.

Scales for Pressure Management and Workforce Performance
The following questions can assist managers in shifting attention from stress management to pressure management training in order measure and address the more accessible relational tensions that lead to mistakes, repeats, layoffs and resignations:

1. How much of your work product needs to be redone because it is substandard?

2. How much of this repeated work is necessitated because of insufficient skills, tools, or resources?

3. How much of this repeated work can be attributed to stress caused by strained relationships?

4. How much are strained relationships costing your organization?


Evaluating stress measurement questionnaires. HRM Guide from Human Resource Management

Watson Wyatt/National Business Group on Health 2007/2008 Staying@Work report) (–watson-_fcv38odt.html, 2/14/08)

Lateral Violence in Nursing,, American Nurses Association

Brains in the Belly: Think twice under pressure. J. Green

©2010 by Jerry Green

Jerry A. Green, JD is a mediator and management consultant in Sonoma County, California. He teaches somatic attunement applying elements of Aikido to verbal conflicts in arguments and disputes, and the author of an online course at

Additional information about his work is available at Greener Mediations.


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