3 ways to Slack effectively under stress

Posted on Mar 18, 2019


Have you ever regretted a direct message you’ve sent at work?

Before becoming a life coach, I spent 12 years in the tech industry. In that time, whether I was writing C++ code for pilot training software or building a start-up’s first Product department, I read countless emails (Lotus Notes, then Outlook, then Gmail) and direct messages (Windows Messenger, then Lync, then Slack) from many bosses. Most of those communications were no big deal, just everyday stuff to which I easily responded. But some of them, on some days, freaked me out big time.

What I didn’t realize at the time? It didn’t have to be that way.

The next time you read a DM and notice yourself tensing up, use these 3 methods and respond skillfully.

1. Practice literal listening.

What did Boss literally say?

It’s always a smart move to make Boss’s job easier. We try to anticipate what Boss needs before she even asks, and we pride ourselves on reading between the lines. But with all this guesswork, could we be missing something? How often do we make the wrong assumption and waste time?

Literal listening is taking in the words the person says (or types): no more, and no less.

Focus on the words the person actually says (or types): no more, and no less.

Here’s an example Slack conversation, with and without literal listening.

Stressful reaction

Boss: “How close are you on [that thing I asked you to do]?”

I should be done by now. She obviously thinks it shouldn’t take me this long. Maybe I shouldn’t be doing [my current task]? I just have too much on my plate! Doesn’t she understand that?!

You: I’m so sorry, I’ll get on that right now. I think maybe later today??

Skillful reaction

Boss: “How close are you on [that thing I asked you to do]?”

Okay, she might be nicely saying that she needs it ASAP, but she didn’t say that. So, focusing on her actual words, how close am I? Hmm… I probably have 2 hours of work, but I’m planning to do it Friday morning.

You: I expect to have it completed and to you Friday afternoon. Will that work?

2. Assume positive intent.

Have you ever noticed how we tend to read digital messages with a negative slant? In an article published in the Academy of Management Review, scholar Kristin Byron writes that “receivers often misinterpret work emails as more emotionally negative or neutral than intended.”

You have the option to view any communication as negative, neutral, or positive. To assume positive intent is just as it sounds: assume the sender has a positive purpose, one that has your and the company’s best interests in mind.

Stressful reaction

Boss: Where are you?

Where am I supposed to be? Omg did I forget about a meeting? She must be pissed. She probably think I’m irresponsible, or worse — that I don’t care about this job!

You: I’m at my desk working on [this task, whose urgency and importance I am now inflating to earn your appreciation.]

Skillful reaction

Boss: Where are you?

I wonder if I’m supposed to be somewhere? It’s so kind of Boss to reach out to me when she realized I wasn’t where she expected. Or maybe she wants my help with something? I love that she appreciates my talents!

You: I’m at my desk.

3. Ask mindful questions.

How often have you had a question and decided not to ask it? Maybe you think you look smarter by not asking. Maybe you think it’s better to pretend you’re already up-to-speed, and you’ll hope a peer can fill you in later. We wouldn’t want our team members to fake understanding, so why do we so often fall into this trap ourselves?

Ask your questions. And ask them mindfully — not from a place of stress and fear, but from the peace that follows literal listening and assuming positive intent.

Ask questions mindfully — not from a place of stress, but from one of peace.

Here’s our final example, pulling all 3 techniques together.

Stressful reaction

Boss: Can you get me [these metrics]?

Great, now I have to drop everything and pull these numbers. I don’t even know why she needs them. Doesn’t she realize I’m busy? I’m never going to get my work done with all of these interruptions!

You: Yeah

Skillful reaction

Boss: Can you get me [these metrics]?

Can I get them? Yes!

I am great at compiling metrics! Boss trusts me.

Now, I don’t want to assume too much. She didn’t say she needs them right away. If I can focus on my current task, I can finish this up, plus have time to get her these metrics before I head home.

You: Yes. I can send them around 5 tonight. Will that work for you?

Let’s recap

To recap, the next time you get a DM from your boss, or that coworker who tends to stress you out, try this:

  1. Practice literal listening. Hear the words the person says (or types) — no more, no less.
  2. Assume positive intent. Assume the sender has a positive purpose, one that has your and the company’s best interests in mind.
  3. Ask questions mindfully — not from a place of stress, but from one of peace.

Practicing these 3 strategies will help you feel way less anxious at work. And when you feel calm, everyone wins, because you’ll be communicating clearly and effectively.