By recognizing that people have different needs, you can prevent work stress

Nobody gets up in the morning with the thought of making it a bad day. Patricia Antersijn, director and co-founder of Process Communication Netherlands, is convinced of that.


"Yet it often happens that people have a bad day, and the number of burn-outs and work-related complaints continues to rise. Stress in the workplace is a major cause of this," says Antersijn.

Using the Process Communication Model (PCM), she helps professionals detect stress patterns in themselves and others at an early stage and thus deal with them better. 

The founder of PCM, Dr Taibi Kahler, discovered that stress is very predictable and visible at an early stage. The model he developed works with six personality types we all have in us: from the 'Thinker' and the 'Persister' to the 'Rebel' or 'Imaginer'. Each personality type has its own needs, and shows through different signals when stress is present. "When you are stressed, your needs are not being filled," explains Antersijn. "And when your needs are not filled in a positive way, you start asking for them in a negative way. Think of a child who doesn't get his way, and starts whining. But with adults, the signals are a bit more subtle at first, until stress really takes over."  

Stop whining 

"When I am stressed myself, I start making very long sentences, for example," Antersijn continues. "Someone else might start pleasing, or just bite off extra. So everyone gives his or her own signals. And the sooner you recognize them, the sooner you can do something about the stress. This is important, because stress can have major consequences. If we are not comfortable in our own skin, we are less resilient, tired and more easily irritated. This affects our work as well as our mental well-being. Burn-outs and other work-related complaints often start with stress," she points out. But if an employee is complaining a lot, there is probably no point in simply telling them to stop whining. "It works better to look for what that person needs," says Antersijn. 

PCM is a valuable tool for finding out needs and managing stress, explains Antersijn. A key principle of the model: do not treat the other person the way you want to be treated, but the way the other person wants to be treated. In short, connect with the other person and find out what works for both of you. In terms of stress, she says it is important to realize that everyone regains energy in a different way, for example after a busy day. "One person likes to go to see friends after a day full of meetings to recharge, while someone else is much more in need of sitting on the sofa with a good book and having some time to themselves." So learning to manage stress well also involves knowing and managing your own needs.

Managers can also do a lot to prevent stress in others or invite someone to come out of stress mode. Antersijn: "Suppose you regularly chair a meeting. Then you can naturally address all the different personality types you have in the room. For example, start by saying how nice it is that everyone can attend, thus responding to the needs of people for whom it is important to be seen. Next, name how long the meeting will last, what topics will be covered and approximately how much time you will take for each topic. This is nice for colleagues who need structure. For other colleagues, it can be good to build in humor or at the end to name concrete action points that emerge from the meeting. So there are plenty of ways to meet another person's needs through very small interventions. This creates a pleasant working atmosphere, avoids questions afterwards and reduces the risk of stress." 

Not everyone is the same 

Facilitating very practical matters can also help reduce stress and make employees function better. "A great example that I often cite revolves around a creative employee who had a seat in a fairly crowded office garden," Antersijn says. "He was sitting at a table with several colleagues and very little work was coming out of his hands. When asked during a conversation what could be done to help him function better, the workplace also came up.” 

The employee then asked if he could spend some of his time alone in a room at the back of the office, a place where not many people sit down. Antersijn: "He loved being alone every now and then and being able to work without stimuli. And then suddenly gold came out of his hands. So you see how, as a manager, you can facilitate employees to function better and experience less stress by paying attention to their different needs. Not everyone is the same. We all know that, but in practice it is often difficult to do something concrete about it. PCM offers those tools, and it all starts with awareness. So instead of being annoyed by a colleague's behavior, ask yourself: what need is behind this? And can I make a positive contribution to that?" 

Read more about Positive communication skills with PCM
Patricia Antersijn - 5 April 2023
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