Virtual Stress

Virtual Stress

Feb 07, 2023

Over a decade ago now, Dr. John Grable and I conducted some quasi-experimental studies on stress and the office environment. After the first advisor told me he purchased brand new living room-type furniture for his office based on our work, I was a little concerned if our research results would be replicated in his environment. I was relieved to learn that the research was indeed replicable, and he and his clients were quite satisfied with the new office setting. And, other advisors did the same thing (even a firm in The Netherlands) and have had wonderful client responses.

Dr. Grable and I learned a few things.

One, research can be applied to practice in meaningful ways.

Two, we should be paying attention to stress.

Just as relevant as it was 11 years ago, stress creates a place of emotion-based and habit-based decision-making. Stress puts us in a myopic state of mind. We are not worried about the hypothetical retirement in 10-25 years, we are worried about right now. With news of global conflict, international spies, massive layoffs, market uncertainties, and eggs that are twice as expensive as they were a year ago, some level of stress is inevitable.

You will not have productive conversations with clients who are stressed. They will not remember what you told them, and they won’t act on recommendations that impact their future selves. We have seen that modifying your office environment to create more of a living room feel reduces stress. But, as you are meeting virtually, what can you do to reduce stress?

Here are some ideas to try and maybe some of the researchers out there can share some data on the impact they have on client stress.

1.     Shut down all other electronics aside from your webcam and whatever client documents you need to show clients. Take your smartwatch off, leave the phone in a different room, and close your email. As clever as we think we are, people know when we are not giving them full attention—even on Zoom.

2.    Keep your virtual background real. I have seen some incredibly realistic virtual backgrounds and some lovely company logo backgrounds. But it is still fake. Clients want to feel like you are giving them transparent information. It is a little difficult to feel completely comfortable when you can’t see what is going on behind the screen.

3.    Make the covert, overt. A therapy supervisor taught me that one and I use it nearly every day. If the client looks stressed, pause, and ask what’s going on. “Listen with your eyes” is a phrase I have adapted for myself. Look for the subtle shifts in focus, the pace of breathing, and shifting in their seat. There is still plenty to observe from a headshot view. Continuing with your agenda when you see signs of stress does no good. Stop your screen share and ask, “I wonder if something is on your mind that we should pause to discuss.” You might get a “no” because that’s an easy and protective answer. That’s ok. Keep pausing and ask about something else. For instance, “I was recently watching a show/listening to a podcast/reading a book about XYZ and it reminded me of your life stage.” Continue explaining a parallel story and pause when you see the breathing start to slow, the shoulders drop a little, and maybe the client starts leaning forward again. Then, recap what you have presented so far. “We’ve covered a lot of ground today. I wonder if we should dig a little deeper into any particular area before we move on. What do you think?”

Professional Application

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