A shortlist of phrases your boss can say that will push you right into panic mode:
‘I got it. Thanks.’
‘Can we talk in my office, please?’
Everyone will admit to sometimes worrying about the state of their employment, whether they think they’re doing a stellar job or a lackluster one. While a bit of angst is to be expected, if you find yourself constantly over-analyzing and fretting over everything your manager does, doesn’t do, says or doesn’t say–you might be tumbleweeding into a dark place.
Career coach and co-founder Jill Tipograph explains this habits is a defense mechanism for people who are trying to make sense of a situation that feels like no path will lead to a successful outcome. “When a request comes from the manager, the employee starts to internally raise questions about how to plan or shape the deliverable,” she continues. “At first it seems like normal work stress, but in an environment where the employee does not feel safe to openly ask those questions of the manager, or perhaps tried to ask the questions and was shut down from that line of inquiry, the downward spiral of over-analyzing begins.”
So how do you … cut it out already? Here, the pros share their valuable insight:
Channel your stress in a different way
Have you ever attempted to reason with a toddler? More often than not, the only way to calm their fears is to direct their attention toward a new toy, task or, well, shiny thing. Though it might not seem like an effective technique, say, for an adult—Tipograph explains it can be quite effective. Because you’re flinging yourself off the ledge, you need a better source to pour this energy into. “You need to create a strategy to channel this energy to actual work product output, getting the work done, while at the same time addressing this information gap that is causing your stress,” she explains. “Cycling through these thoughts, is what keeps people from falling asleep or distracts them from time they need to spend getting important things done.”
What are some examples? Writing, exercise, meditation, chatting with a trusted friend who won’t let you talk for yours are great starting points.
Confirm with your manager
Ever have one of those days where you’re spending more time researching what to do, instead of doing it? Or second-guessing every left move, so you backtrack, make a right and doubt yourself again? This usually happens when you’re assigned a project that has many question marks dangling above it. Tipograph explains whether you’re confused about the scope, the deadline, the facets or any of it, take a breath and pause. Set aside five minutes on your manager’s calendar and walk through it one more time. “Play back to your manager very quickly, the exact work you will get underway on immediately, and list out your open questions with your suggestions formulated,” she suggests. “If the manager never responds, simply work on the core elements first, and then proceed to the enhancements that remain unclear.” By approaching a project this way, you save yourself hassle and headaches, and can begin to put your nose to the grind.
Resolve any uncomfortable situations
Much like being left out of the party list to a wedding you thought you’d be invited to, when your boss doesn’t include you on a meeting—you might raise an eyebrow. And then, of course, spend hours trying to figure out if you’re being fired or if they simply don’t respect your opinion. Instead of worrying, Tipograph says to well, ask to be included on future opportunities.
Or, if they took an angry tone with you in a brainstorm or discussion, address how you feel ASAP. “Do not let it fester in your mind. Find the courage to ask, privately, if he was having a bad day, in general, versus starting to probe if it was related to you personally,” she continues. “In a virtual meeting environment, it is possible that something upsetting distracted her/him and it was unrelated to you or your work.” However, if it was directed at you, ask that he find a way to give you negative feedback in a one-on-one versus team setting, as you can then ask questions to better understand how to approach a project in stronger manner.
Identify your triggers
Is it when you’re passed over for a promotion? On Fridays, when your manager has one foot out the door at noon? Or perhaps when everyone is meant to come together to collect ideas, and yours feel discounted. Whatever the trigger, knowing which ones can send you into a spiral will help you alleviate their weight. Tipograph says when you’re able to pinpoint the cause, you’re making a big improvement personally and professionally. “Reigning in the tendency to overanalyze may make you realize that your negative frame of mind is because you are stressed about something, unrelated to management, and are simply aiming your thoughts at your manager rather than those more generalized concerns; which is unhealthy for you, and unfair to your manager,” she explains. “As you can learn to recognize when you trigger this behavior and redirect yourself, you will find it easier in the future to shorten the cycle of over analysis.”
Learn to validate yourself
Part of the reason we ask for second opinion—on what we’re wearing, on our cover letter, on how the pasta sauce taste—is we need validation. But here’s the kicker: you probably already know you’re doing just fine. Mentor and business coach Christine Agro recommends creating a checks-and-balance with yourself, where you try to understand why you’re overthinking your boss’s actions. Is it because of their actions—or your insecurities? “When we look for others to tell us that we are good or doing a good job, our power rests in their acknowledgment. Learn to find value in the work you do and the person you are, and chances are, you’ll stop overanalyzing,” she says.