January 6, 2011

When Pressure Comes

Hmmm, I had a very interesting night, filled with little vingettes of dreams.  Nothing horrible, nothing scary, just weird little dream sets where I was either an observer or a part of the action.  I thought about what this might mean, how these dreams may have meaning to me, and this is what I have come up with:  pressure, and the need to either avoid it or handle it.

We all deal with pressure of one kind or another.  It may be personal (like in a person exerting his or her will upon you), situational (work, family, church commitments) or circumstantial (unfortunate events that happen, accidents, etc.).  Pressure seems to be everywhere, and learning how to handle it is important for every fairminded, and diligient Christian.  We don't want to bend to pressure nor do we want to fall to it's force.  We need to accurately read what is the root cause of it, and then deal with it proactively.  Most of us, myself included, tend to wait until pressure is turned on, the heat is scorching our feet, before we do anything at all.  I think part of our attitude towards pressure is: one, that it is always there so we just have to live with it; two, there is enough junk in our lives at the moment, so pressure will just have to wait; and three, we cannot possibly be more overwhelmed then we are at present, so pressure will be dealt with when the time is right.  This approach is faulty at best, and never really does anything to defeat the pressuring voices nipping at our heels day and night.  The only way to defeat pressure is to handle it head on.  And, the funny thing about pressure is that rarely is it critical or necessary in the first place. 

Pressure (the symbol: P) is the force per unit area applied in a direction perpendicular to the surface of an object. (http://www.wikipedia.org/Pressure)

Pressure is usually a signal that someone else has lost control and they are seeking your help to gain it back.  This is a second-hand type of manipulation, and often it is suggested for a good reason.  The number one reason we succumb to pressure is out of guilt.  We feel bad for the person who is pressuring us, and we give in to their requests to help, to step up, to serve, etc.  We do it to alleviate someone's suffering or pain without considering the reason why they are in that position to begin.

I admit this is the case with me, and has been for years, though I have learned to say no quite well.  I still feel guilty though and in doing so allow some of that pressure into my life.  I learned how to be assertive many years ago.  I was made to attend an Assertiveness Training Course back in 1982. I didn't want to go, and I didn't want to become assertive.  I didn't really like assertive people back then.  In fact, I still don't.  I was a very young girl, in college, but taking a break by working full-time.  I had my first dose of real pressure when I was forced to work in a tough situation with some pretty tough (great manipulators) and very forceful people.  My boss was ex-Navy, and he could tell you what to do just like he did when he was responsible for yeoman on his boat.  He shouted and tore you down, verbally, until you did exactly what he wanted.  Of course, this kind of behavior would not be allowed today, but back then, it was pretty common.  I left this company after a year, returned to school, and then found myself working for a different type of manipulator/controller.

My second real-job put me face to face with a co-worker who liked to have things done "her way."  If you didn't do it exactly as she wanted, she yelled and screamed in your face.  She threw things at you, stomped around, and generally wrecked havoc on the office.  Again, this behavior would not be tolerated by anyone today, but back then, she got away with it.

My third job put me face to face with a man who not only verbally abused his employees, but who could manipulate and guilt them into doing most anything.  He was a terror, and the other employees in the company would avoid him like the plaque.  I had to deal with this person too, and for three years suffered under his verbal temper.  It was difficult at times, and generally unpleasant to work with him.

My last job before returning to college full-time was with the same company as job 3.  This time, I worked with a woman boss who had some personal problems that overflowed into her work life.  Up to this point, my issues with my bosses had been temper, verbal abuse, and general posturing (aggressive behavior).  This time I had a sympathic boss who had serious issue with her own identity and an addiction problem.  I was guilted into doing things because I felt very sorry for her, and wanted to please her.

I use these experiences to demonstrate how people use pressure to get other people to do what they want.  Often they are allowed to use this type of aggressive pressuring as part of their work behavior.  Thankfully, many companies, in an effort to counteract any discrimination, no longer allow these tactics to be used in business.  There is a much better approach now, though much discrimination still exists under the surface of political correctness.

Over the course of time, I have had to deal with personal pressure, situational and circumstantial pressure.  I think of these three, the easiest pressure to deal with (for me anyway) is circumstantial pressure.  This is the kind of pressure that comes on due to illness (yourself or a loved one), an accident, or some unfortunate thing that just happens to you.  You don't see it coming, and it just hits you broad-sided.  This is one type of pressure where you have to act quickly, think on your feet, and generally just do what needs doing because you know that it is temporary, that it needs addressing immediately, and that you simply have to do the job regardless of whether it suits you or not. 

The pressure that I struggle with most is personal, and then situational.  I don't like personal pressure, and this is the kind we deal with most often in our daily life.  This is the family member who whines and begs you for something (mostly your time) or the committee member at church who just has to have you on board (though there are dozens who could do the work, she only wants you).  You can fill in the blank with any other type of person who tries to get you to subscribe, to join, to show up, to call, to do any kind of action irregardless of your interest, your availability or even your willingness to do it.  People who pressure other people into doing things think they are being concerned, demonstrating care or even paying you a compliment.  They don't see their actions as assertive or aggressive.  They just think they are doing the job, and doing it well.

People who pressure other people are everywhere, in your family, in your church, and in your office or workplace.  The tactic is always the same:  asking first, reminding second, and then demanding third.  Usually they justify their pressure tactic as being offered in concern, then as a way to help you, and lastly as some benefit to you.  People pressurers come in a varity of styles and strengths.  Some are low-key and some are high-volume.  Your approach and manner of dealing with this type of pressure will depend on whether the person is low-key or high volume.

Most low-key pressurers go away (or stop) as soon as you say "no."  No is the word of choice, and no will always work.  No thankyou is more polite, but a firm no works just as well.  No questions asked, no excuses, just a good old fashioned NO gets the job done.  These people may continue to protest (whimper really), but a firm NO will always cause them to walk away and seek some other person to try and pressure.

High-volume people are really good at what they do, and often, they pressure people for a living.  These are your Used Car Salesmen or another kind of person who makes their living by getting people to do what they want.  For them, it is a game and a challenge, a way to prove to themselves that they have the control and the power over other weaker individuals.  They may not say this verbally, but their behavior is such -- they live to control the situation, to dominate the sales chart, and to be the best they can be (which means better than anyone else).  They are driven for success, live for the limelight, and generally will do anything to be on top (and stay there).  Power sellers in their field, they bring strength and passion to what they do.  They are called out, singled out for their devotion to their work (or ministry), and their ability to get the job done.

The problem with high-volume pressurers is that they don't know when to turn it off.  They may excel in their work place, but at home, they drive everyone crazy.  They never shut down the power train, and they make everyone move to their pace.  It is difficult to be around these types of people because they never stop, they never slow down, they never change their mind or their focus.  Drive, drive, drive.

Power sellers and others who are driven to succeed at all costs require incredible strength to keep at bay.  For most of us, the job is just too demanding, and it is best to walk away from them.  Not engaging them in business, choosing another provider, or keeping out of friendship/relationship is the best tactic.  These people chew up the scenery and they march on (like Patton -- they drive right up the driveway to the center of the action).  Unafraid, not affected by anything, they don't take no for an answer, and will overcome any obstacle including your excuses or reasons.  If you walk away, then they will leave you be.  If you stand and try and rationalize with them, you become a target to overcome.  Walk way, walk away -- it is the only way to remain friendly and neutral when confronted with a power seller pressure person.

In my own life, I have had to deal with people like this, thankfully not regularly.  It has been hit or miss, but my approach has been faulty at best.  I think the fact that my experience is sketchy, and that I have been in and out of the fray, has been the reason why my actions towards pressure have been ineffectual.  I understand now that the key to handling pressure is to defeat it head on (with low-key people whether at home, at work, at church, or other places) or to walk away (when out gunned by a professional).  Had I done both consistently, I think I would be much happier and certainly more at ease in my own self.  Saying NO is the easiest way to defeat pressure.  Telling the co-worker that you cannot take her shift again or that you cannot sign up to parent some party is OK.  It is good to set boundaries for your own life, and it is a way to demonstrate to others that you are in control.

You've seen this before -- on walls, at work, or on a tee shirt. It is a funny reminder of what I am saying, that often pressure comes due to lack of planning (or control) on the part of another individual.  The co-worker who wants off her shift didn't plan her schedule in advance to discuss the problem with her supervisor.  Now she needs you to solve her problem.  The committee chair didn't take the time to look at the pool of candidates available to volunteer so now she needs you to step in and fill the void.  The family member didn't plan for a family gathering so now she needs you to step in an run the event.  All of these situations are avoidable, and could easily be solved if the person who instigated them took the responsibility for proper planning.  Now, not all situations can be planned in advance, and sometimes things do happen -- but in these cases, a good friend in need is worth more than gold.  A friend steps in to help during unfortunate events, unplanned emergencies, etc.  This should be the exception and not the rule.

How many situations do you find yourself in where you didn't plan on being there, but some how you got gulited into participating?  I can count a dozen or so recent examples (in my own life), and that is twelve more than what realistically should be there.

I have learned that the only one who can control my schedule is me.  The only one who can plan effectively is me.  And, the only one responsible for my schedule and my plans is, well -- ME.  Therefore, with better planning, and better scheduling, I can make sure I am taking control of everything within my domain.  I can then realistically choose to accept invitations, to fill in when asked, or step in to serve when needed.  It is only when I have my plan squarely laid out, and when I have my schedule penciled in, that I have the control to say "No Thanks" or "Sure, I'd be happy to do that."

One note:  if you are already a good planner and scheduler, keep this in mind:  it is OK to keep free time for yourself.  Sometimes we feel so empowered by our schedule, that we try and fill up every free hour of the day.  Keep time to yourself, even if it means to sit and read a book, watch TV, or take a short nap.  It is good to have down time, and not just when you go to bed at night (that is restorative sleep, not down time).  Down time is like putting the baby down for her nap -- she needs some quiet rest (and so does Mom).  Give yourself a quiet rest during the day, and say NO once in a while.  You will feel much more balanced, more happy, and generally more agreeable to friends and family if you are not pressured to perform, to show up, to do anything outside your planned and purposed schedule.

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