Consulting tip: Eustress on the consulting project

By | June 5, 2013

Management consulting is a stressful job. Traveling in a middle seat. Creating presentations from an empty, white PowerPoint template. Working with a new team. Meeting new clients. Learning on the job. Crunching data in a hotel room.  Harness the Eustress on the consulting project.

Dr. Hans Selye (1907-1982) was a pioneer in the field of researching stress. In fact, he is the one who coined the term “stress”, “distress”, and “eustress” (good stress). At his height, he had 40 lab assistants, worked with 15,000 lab animals and authored 1,000+ research papers largely on the topic of stress.  Heck, that sounds kind of stressful.

Nowadays, it is commonly accepted that stress can be damaging, both physically and emotionally. When someone is rude, underhanded, or just sinful – you can feel your blood boil.  The Mayo Clinic cites it as a risk factor for heart attack. No one likes stress, right?

Eustress (good stress). I am a big believer in good stress. It pushes us to be more productive, creative, and provide better client service. It gets us moving and motivated.

According to Selye’s research, stress is destructive if we cannot overcome it. Only by harnessing it, adapting to it, resolving it, do we actually benefit from it psychologically. Interestingly, your body – hormonally – does not know the difference between good and bad stress. Instead, it is entirely your perception of the stress that matters.

What can you do to create more eustress? Some things that work for me.

Scope aggressively. Define the problem narrowly enough so that the work can be done with the project time frame.  Don’t blindly say “yes” to the client. That will get you in trouble. Set up the project so that the problem gets solved and the client is happy,

Don’t worry about the small stuff. Focus on the customer and what she wants to achieve. In Lean principles, it is critical-to-quality (CTQ) that defines what is valuable – because that is what the customer is willing to pay for. Focus on the big idea. Everything else is fluff and not worth stressing about.

Think win-winAs I described in the post about Networking, gotta think about the project as a win for the client, win for you, and a win for the team.

Build trust, give trust. Andy Stanley, pastor and leadership speaker, talks about the choice you make daily when people disappoint you. You have a choice of filling that gap (e.g., late to a meeting) with either suspicion or trust.  He argues that you need to trust.  Great podcast you can listen to Trust or Suspicion.

Remember that projects end. One nice thing about project work is that it ends. No matter how much dislike the project, client, or even your manager . . . hang in there.  It will change soon enough, and you can reinvent yourself on your next project.

Answer 3 questions. One of my mentors said that you should always ask yourself 3 questions to keep your career on track:

  • What am I doing? (content of the project)
  • How well am I doing it? (performance)
  • What have I learned? (learning)

Using this a simple example, you can see that all projects have their plus/minus. Rarely is it all good, rarely is it all bad. Perhaps this can help you re-orient your thinking and feeling about the project.  Help you to convert the lead distress into gold eustress.

3 Questions

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