The unfortunate fate of the sinking of the ship, Titanic, was caused by the nine-tenths of the iceberg that was below the surface of the water. Similarly, at work, it’s often not what you see but what you can’t see that usually causes your work stress level to rise to dangerous levels. 

As a mental healthcare professional, I see many execs who are stressed out and approaching burnout. However, they often miss the real reason for their suffering. They confuse CAUSE and EFFECT. Let me explain through an example. 

One of my clients is an account manager at a large advertising firm. He was very busy at work, writing reports, attending meetings, being micromanaged by his supervisor and attending to his clients, some of whom just focus on what’s wrong with the product. And to top it off, he never seemed to be able to get around to starting some of the creative stuff he was excited about because he knew it would improve client service.

So, he complained about how stressed he was, how he often had to work overtime without compensation and how his demanding clients were starting to really irritate him. He told me these issues were the CAUSE of his problems. But if you look closer, you find another story.

When I asked if he had talked about some of these issues with his supervisor, he responded with the usual suspects:

  • I don’t want to rock the boat
  • They will get upset with me
  • They may fire me
  • I can’t afford to lose my job at this time   and
  • Where else will I find work now?

When I discussed these fears with him, he admitted that he had no evidence to support these fears. These fears were causing him to avoid dealing with his concerns. I told him his AVOIDANCE behavior was the true CAUSE of his work stress – not his boss, his clients or his work environment. I labelled his Avoidance behavior his Mental Blind Spot because he had difficulty recognizing it. It was this Avoidance that stopped him from negotiating some changes in his work with his boss.   

This is quite common yet most people don’t recognize it because they are so focused on the immediate problem, the work they are given, the demanding client, the exhaustion they feel. But you start to significantly reduce your stress level when you dig deeper and get to the root of the problem. 

I guided him to start taking baby steps to slowly but deliberately extricate himself form this situation. Firstly, he had to set a foundation in case the company rigidly resisted his suggestions. I helped him update his resumé. He began to list his biggest strengths and assets to future clients. He began to quietly search for other openings and possible side hustles that he’d really enjoy.

I informed him that the EFFECT of avoiding confrontation and not setting healthy boundaries with his clients was keeping his head down, working harder, feeling more stressed and heading toward burnout. That really got his attention as he has a friend who had a heart attack secondary to burnout.

Secondly, we then strategized smart ways for him to negotiate with his supervisor for more support and how that would allow him to start contributing his innovative ideas to better satisfy his clients instead of continuing with outdated, inefficient methods. One way to influence his supervisor was to emphasize the point that if he allowed him to do this, the company would attract bigger clients.

After teaching him a method to manage his FEAR-AVOIDANCE Blind Spot, he began approaching his supervisor with new ideas for change. It took a little persistence and patience, but to his surprise, he was allowed to implement some of his creative ideas. This allowed him to improve his position with the company while also improving his own appreciation of his true worth. This made him less afraid of broaching the subject in the future.

So, the next time you are talking about reasons you are so stressed at work, pause and ask yourself this one question:

“Am I talking about the CAUSE or the EFFECT?”

Most of the time it will likely be the EFFECT. You will then have to go searching for the true CAUSE. And I have found that if the same CAUSE comes up repeatedly, it may well be your biggest Mental Blind Spot