The Vicious Cycle – Helping Teams Overcome Stress


All of us have, a backup style. Most of the time we operate in our normal, what comes natural temperament style, but stress can push us to our backup style and the deeper the stress the more away from our natural style we can drift.


A person's primary backup style is simply his or her predictable, unconscious shift of behavior to more extreme, rigid, and nonnegotiable forms. Backup behavior is usually counterproductive for the person using it and it's extremely  hard for other team members.

Each temperament has it's own backup style, but to keep things simple they usually can be categorized into two forms: Fight or Flight. About half of the population decides to attack or become very autocratic (that's Fight) and roughly the other half of the population seeks to avoid the situation or simply gives in (these are Flight).

People of one temperament can rub people of another temperament the wrong way. There's even more possibility for this when one or both are operating in their backup style. When one person is in backup they tend to push others into backup and a vicious cycle of increasingly antagonistic jabs and problems occur in the team.

There are several things you as a leader need to do to stop this unproductive and harmful cycle:

  • Understand your team member's backup styles. Once you understand their temperament and then the accompanying backup style, you will more easily recognize when a team member is under stress. That's the time to move in and find out the underlying cause. You also need to know your backup and recognize when you are operating in backup and how it's negatively affecting your team.
  • Get it out in the open. When you recognize the stress, make sure you talk privately with the team member and use empathetic questions to get the stress or problem out in the open. Don't let it sit there and fester. It can destroy your team from within. The problem may be that your temperament and the team member's temperament are clashing, If this is true. . .
  • Learn to be Flexible. You as the leader can learn to flex your style enough to do what is appropriate for the immediate situation. It's not manipulation but a way to  help a team member out of their backup. If you are a "Flight" person and your team member is a "Fight" person, at the moment of stress you need to put aside your own temperament style, and recognize that every time you want to give in your team member wants to fight and that may well be the answer to the issue. Flexibility is temporary, it does not mean giving up your goals. It means working toward your goals in ways that are more comfortable to a person who is wired differently than you are.

You can relieve stress and team discord by simply recognizing back up styles and how they work. You can also consciously "flex" your style with sensitivity, integrity and competence and see mutually beneficial team outcomes that will lead to better performance and happier people.


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