IT Stress: Management, Empathy, And The Kindness Of Strangers

IT Stress: Management, Empathy, And The Kindness Of Strangers

Stress makes us more likely to forget how the other guy feels, which is not good for the modern IT department.

If you manage in a group bigger than four or five people, you need to know exactly how stress is going to change the way your own team responds to each other. A new study shows that people have less empathy for strangers when they are stressed than when they aren’t. And, whether we like it or not, in big teams or departments, some of the people you manage are total strangers to each other.

The joint American-Canadian study, conducted in part at McGill University, tested both mice and humans to find that when stress hormones were blocked by drugs, both the rodents and people were more empathic. For instance, students were asked to watch someone experience the pain of holding his or her hand in a bucket of ice. They were likely to rate the pain of the person they watch as high and were likely to touch their own hand in sympathy — unless they were under stress. Then, they were far less likely to see the pain in a stranger.

So what’s an IT manager to do? Invest in a bunch of anti-stress drugs? The good news is the study also found that if the subject played a fun video game with the stranger before the test, they were more likely to be sympathetic. The researchers believe that a simple stress reducer was enough to make a person more empathic.

With increasingly dispersed IT colleagues, often working across time zones and even across oceans, your own teams are often going to be strangers. Even if they aren’t, IT workers are being asked more than ever to be part of cross-functional teams, to work more closely with “the business,” and to otherwise work with strangers.

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