Why we all just need to take a collective deep breath

Have you ever been a part of a group mediation session with 140 people, most of whom you’ve never met? As of last week, I can say I have!

Surprisingly, this was not at a yoga retreat, but at a networking event. More specifically, it was at the second-annual YP Summit, presented by CCUA (Cooperative Credit Union Association), a trade group of credit unions based in Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

YP stands for Young Professionals, and the YP Summit is a networking and professional development event catered toward credit union professionals under 40. This year, CCUA teamed up with the Maine Credit Union League as well to have more representation of credit unions in the New England area.

I’ve had the pleasure of attending both YP Summits – last year’s was held in the Seaport area of Boston while this year’s event took place at Service Credit Union’s Portsmouth, NH headquarters — and what I really love about them is that the content provided isn’t specific to just credit unions. That’s not to say the content is not relevant to us; in fact, it’s relevant to many industries. This year’s agenda included a session on how to thrive in a hybrid workforce, a communication workshop led by a therapist, and an interactive roundtable that had speed-dating style discussion topics ranging from career goals to cute pet stories.

While all the content was fantastic, the communication workshop really stood out to me, as communication can make or break any relationship, including your relationships with your coworkers. Here are my five biggest takeaways from the YP communication workshop, led by therapist and consultant Aly Bullock.

Being passive aggressive can sometimes be worse than being aggressive

When dealing with conflict, our possible reactions can be lumped into four major types: passive, aggressive, passive aggressive and assertive. While most people may not want to be seen as aggressive in the workplace, being passive aggressive can sometimes be even worse, as by saying one thing yet doing another, you are creating distrust with others. Instead of indirectly expressing negative feelings, tackle them head on – in an appropriate manner.

Practice “DEAR MAN”

The best way to get across your thoughts and feelings, without potentially causing irreparable damage? Try practicing “DEAR MAN.” DEAR MAN is a communication technique that stands for

Describe: What are the facts of the situation, without opinions or interpretations?

Express: “I feel ___ when ___.”

Assert: How you will tell someone what you need.

Reinforce: How will you reward the other person for responding well to you?

Mindfulness: What is the goal of your interaction?

Appear Confident: Focus on your posture, eye contact and tone of voice (friendly but firm).

Negotiate: What are the limits of what you are willing to accept?

For example, let’s say a coworker is not doing their share of a group project, and is taking credit for your work and ideas. A DEAR MAN response would sound something like, “At our team meeting yesterday, you told the group about how much hard work you put into our presentation. I feel that it’s unfair for you to say that, when you have not put in as many hours as was initially agreed upon. I would like for you to start pitching in more. I enjoy working with you, and I would like for us to continue to be able to work together on projects. If you are overwhelmed or need help understanding something, please let me know.” Said with a smile, this interaction can go a long way, and does not need to feel confrontational.

Meanwhile, a passive approach would be to continue putting in the hard work, and letting the coworker receive praise for it, while a passive aggressive approach would be to not so quietly complain to everyone except the coworker at fault. No one wins in either situation.

Don’t just imagine the worst case, imagine the best case as well

We all tend to jump to conclusions, but when we do, it’s usually the worst-case scenario. Why not include the best case, too? When faced with the unknown, instead of catastrophizing and jumping to conclusions, think about a positive reason something might be happening, as well as what the most realistic reason might be. This can help prevent “all or nothing” thinking. For example, let’s say you learn that everyone on your team was invited to a meeting, except you. It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that you might be in trouble, or even getting fired. But what if they’re in there planning a party for you? Most likely, neither is the case, and you probably just got left off the invitation by accident.

Look at the whole picture

Instead of attempting to read minds, look at the evidence at hand – if you’ve had a history of positive reviews and steady raises, chances are, you are not getting let go. Include the positive when making assumptions, and you’ll reduce your anxiety while also changing your entire way of thinking!

Just breathe

When all else fails, stop what you’re doing and take a few deep breaths. It sounds cliché, but it works. At the YP Summit, we practiced the 5-7-9 method: Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 7, breathe out for 9, and repeat this at least 3 times. We closed our eyes and did this several times throughout our afternoon session as a group, with some light meditation as well. It sounds really weird, and it was, but it felt great! In fact, we all rated our anxiety on a scale of 1-10 at the beginning of the sessions, then did two more check-ins after several deep breathe moments, and I’m fairly certain I wasn’t the only one who saw mine go down a few notches.

The YP Summit not only gave us some great pointers on workplace communication and dealing with anxiety, it also reinforced the importance of stepping outside your comfort zone. We all have busy lives, and going to conferences and networking events may be overwhelming for even the most extroverted of us, but it’s worth it. So, take some of the conversation and anti-anxiety techniques you hopefully picked up from this article, and bring them to a networking event near you!

Anna Baskin

Anna Baskin

Anna Baskin is content manager at Service Credit Union, the largest credit union in New Hampshire, with 50 branch locations in NH, Massachusetts, North Dakota and Germany. Before joining the ... Web: www.servicecu.org Details