Never at Home!


Never at Home!

  • By Ian Bradley
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This title refers to the silent motto of many of my executive coaching clients who refuse to talk at home about work, especially work problems. Oft cited reasons include:

I don’t want to burden my wife

He’d never understand anyway.

I’d be seen as whining

It’s too complicated to explain.

Of course, there is a nugget of truth in each comment, however, there is a way around each objection as well.  More importantly, my experience as well as the research research demonstrate that social support is a crucial element of coping with stress. Telling someone, especially a family member, about what is bothering you at work sets in motion an entire sequence of positive events.

Firstly, the very act of speaking demands that you organize the material that otherwise is probably just floating around in your head a farrago of events, emotions and fearful outcomes.   Speaking takes this often hopeless mess and converts it into a coherent narrative.  You, the listener to your own dialogue, are the first beneficiary of this preliminary organization.

Speaking to someone also objectifies the issue. In other words, you move from being embedded in the issue to a position of talking about IT. This objectification further aids clarification.  However, it also buffers your self-esteem because it construes the problem as something other than you.  You are talking about it rather than you and it being a common entity.

Thirdly, speaking about that critical boss or the overly demanding client gets the problem, at least temporarily, out of your head.  Rumination, or what happens when you keep a problem in your head, produces bad outcomes. It rarely results in productive problem-solving.  More seriously, rumination gradually warps reality so that your imagined worst-outcome moves from an hypothesis to a certainty the longer you ruminate.  Verbal expression breaks this closed-loop and opens the way for change.

Discussing the problem at the family dinner table does something else. It educates kids about the world of work.  As a university professor dealing with young people, I am continually impressed by their creativity and enthusiasm, however I worry about their knowledge of the world of work.

I see many young people sweating over career choices that are limited to doctor, lawyer, engineer or unemployed. Talking about work -the office politics, the stresses and the successes -helps prepare our kids for the world they will all eventually enter. Examples that illustrate that job happiness relates as much to the climate of a company as the job title the person has is an important educational step.

These points and others were covered in my recent radio interview on job stress. Here is an excerpt from the interview.