Friday, June 25, 2010

Suss out your speaker stress response

Every so often, I get the feeling that I'm slogging along all by myself--no one cares, no one wants to help me, or worse, I just can't ask for help.  I feel utterly alone, but I don't seek out other people. And I get really emotional, unable to make choices quickly and sure it won't make a difference if I do.

None of that's comfortable for me--in fact, it's the opposite of the way I approach my work and life. I'm more analytical, decisive and extroverted; I'm most likely to get energy from having other people around me.  So what's going on?  What I described above is how I respond to times of great stress.

I didn't know that, honestly--I learned it when I went through a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment.  The last paragraph in the assessment essentially says, "In times of great stress, you will...."  And my reaction was, "Wow, that's stress? I just thought it was true." I think a lot of us blame public speaking for making us stressed, without figuring out how we can suss it out and fix it.

MBTI is based on a typology from Carl Jung, and my stress response (and yours) comes from what's called "the inferior function," that part of your personality that lies hidden most of the time and comes out when you're especially tired, stressed or ill.  Your preference, when stressed, is to revert to the parts of your personality that aren't dominant--in other words, you almost automatically don't play to your strengths, but switch to those aspects of your personality with which you're less familiar and comfortable. (Talk about having the rug pulled out from under you as a speaker--if you're stressed, you won't be able to count on those things you do best. Yikes!)

In a previous workplace, a team member of mine used to stress out each year over a recurring major project that involved presenting his assessment to the team. Everyone knew this was coming, and the tasks were essentially the same each year.  He was convinced he would fail and be exposed as a failure, and confided this to me.  Because we'd all gone through an MBTI assessment together and were comfortable talking about it, I asked him what his type was, and we looked up the stress description. Sure enough, it matched exactly what he was feeling at the time. 

The trick for him (and for me, once I caught on) is to recognize those uncomfortable feelings as stress, figure out what's likely to trigger it, and find ways to address the stress and get back to your real comfort zone.  I suspect many speakers who are feeling stress about a major presentation or speech find their inferior function on the rise, without realizing it.  Because there are 16 different personality types outlined in the MBTI, I can't generalize about the reactions here: They're far too varied, ranging from negativity and sleeplessness to feeling easily distracted or as if your values are under attack.  It's also important to note that you don't want to eradicate these reactions (as if you could)--they represent an important part of what makes up your personality.  I've found personally that if I can recognize those feelings as my personal stress alarm bell, I can take steps--extra sleep, exercise, delegating or putting off tasks, taking time to do something pleasant--to reduce the stress and banish the discomfort.  You also can use MBTI insights to learn your presenting style, and much more.

How can you find out more about your stress response through the MBTI?
  • Check out the Myers-Briggs Foundation website for more authoritative information, including the "Be Wary" that helps you evaluate whether information on the web about MBTI is authoritative.  For example, sites that suggest personality types are good or bad, or that claim to tell you exactly how you can make choices based on them ("Find the right mate") aren't legitimate representations of this assessment.
  • Ask your organization's human resources office if it can offer certified Myers-Briggs assessments for you or your team.  Get an assessment and have it interpreted for you from a certified pro.  I recommend getting an entire team assessed, if you can--it can allow the group to understand one another better, including how each person presents and processes ideas.  (Keep in mind, if your team works together on presentations, each one of you may have a different inherent style  and approach that you can identify ahead of time--this makes for smoother presentations.)
  • In the Grip: Understanding Type, Stress, and the Inferior Function offers far more detail on the inferior function.
Have you used MBTI for learning more about your speaker stress? Share your experiences in the comments.

Related posts:   Factor in your speaking personality type

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