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The 3 Most Stressful Things About Getting Promoted — And How to Deal With Them Dr. Janna Koretz
Azimuth Psychological

Getting that long-deserved promotion is a great feeling. But when the realities and pressures of a new role set in, going to work can become extremely stressful.

Below are the top three most difficult issues you may run into after receiving a promotion, and some techniques based on psychological science that you can use to help overcome them.

Self-Doubt

One of the hardest things to navigate through a promotion is self-doubt. Our insecurities and anxieties about our performance make the transition to a new role exceptionally hard.

So how can we accurately assess how we are doing at work? How do we challenge our own self-perceptions to find out what’s really true?

While we very often don’t realize it, we are consistently misinformed by our own incorrect perceptions. This happens far more often than you think. What’s worse, we make many important decisions based on these incorrect perceptions.

These tricks our mind plays on us are called cognitive distortions. Once we begin to identify our own misperceptions, we can learn how to correct them.

Identifying and fixing your cognitive distortions is key to becoming a good critical thinker and decision maker. Cognitive distortions are also a major contributing factor to mood issues like anxiety and depression.

By identifying your own distortions, and ultimately replacing them with more accurate thoughts, you will be able to think more clearly, make better decisions, and find it easier to control your mood.

Here are a few examples of some of the most common cognitive distortions:

Catastrophizing

Assuming the worst and getting stuck there: “If I don’t get this promotion, I won’t get the raise or the status I need, and then I’ll lose my house and my wife will leave me. Then I will have nothing.”

Emotional Reasoning

Believing your emotions are telling you the truth: “These number of people up for this position makes me feel worried about the future of my career. I should start looking for other jobs.”

Mind Reading

Presuming that you know exactly what others are thinking: “Jeff is being passive aggressive, what a dick. He used my coffee creamer on purpose to annoy me.”

Self-Serving Bias

Attributing successes to personal skills and failures to outside factors: “I didn’t get the promotion because the COO doesn’t like how social I am at the office.”

Fallacy of Fairness

Believing everything should be fair, and feeling angry and resentful when it isn’t: “I’ve put in the work! It’s only fair I get the money.”

The process of identifying and improving cognitive distortions takes practice, but is relatively straightforward.

  1. Start with things that upset or annoy you. Come up with several events at work or in your personal life that you think may be causing your negative feelings.
  2. Search for the facts surrounding each event. What actually happened? What is the evidence for this?
  3. Think up a more helpful “replacement thought”. By reframing the event and your reaction to it, you can approach the problem in a more productive and less upsetting way.

Here’s an example.

Scenario

You have been feeling anxious and upset about a pending promotion, which you are not sure you are going to get, but really want.

Ask questions about the situation

What am I most upset about at work? Why am I upset about it? What implications does it have for me and/or my future?

Identify the problem thought

If I don’t get this promotion, I won’t get the raise or the status I need, and then I’ll lose my house and my wife will leave me. Then I will have nothing.

Search for facts and generate a replacement thought

Promotions can be difficult to get (fact). I’ve been told it can take upwards of 2 to 3 years to advance at this level (fact). I feel upset and worried about the implications of not getting this promotion (acknowledge emotion), but I know this is a hard process (fact). I will come up with a plan B to ensure that I can keep my house and my family happy (fact).

Give it a try and see what replacement thoughts you can come up with for your problem thoughts.

Managing People

Most of us are terrible communicators. Not because we mean to be, but because we’ve never actually been taught how to do so effectively.

If you’ve received a promotion that has increased the number of people you’re responsible for managing, all that communication can be difficult, complicated, and exhausting. You’re also probably in more frequent contact with the big bosses higher up the chain, which will require you to learn and adapt to their demands too.

Below are a series of communication techniques that will make your interactions easier, and can help improve your relationships both with your team members and with higher-level executives.

Observe, Don’t Judge

Similar to how you should assess your own perceptions, it is important to always be fact finding via observations and questions with your logical brain, trying to keep emotions and automatic thoughts and judgements at bay. Automatic thoughts about others occur when we don’t gather the data necessary to correctly make a good assessment.

Serve Up a “Compliment Sandwich”

In order for this to be successful, the “compliments” must be genuine and extremely relevant to the criticism. Most people are not all bad and with some thought, it is possible to find something you do genuinely appreciate or admire about the person. Once acknowledged, the other person will be more open to hearing your critical feedback.

Own What Is Yours

Taking responsibility for what you have done wrong or mistakes you’ve made is hugely helpful. It shows the other person you’re willing to acknowledge and change what they don’t like, which makes it more likely for them to do the same.

Be Honest

Telling the truth can help reduce pent up feelings of resentment or anger and can also lead to more effective problem solving.

Find the Right Time

If you don’t feel like you’re in a good place to resolve a conflict or talk about something effectively, don’t. Take time to cool off, think about things, and then come back to the conversation.

Talk Face-to-Face

From a communication perspective, technology is terrible. People project their own feelings into the tone of emails and texts. Phone is better, but face to face is always best. You can read non-verbal cues and tone which help you understand whats going on with the person, and you can also more accurately express how you feel.

Stay Calm

Your calmness is contagious. Help keep emotions down, present information in a neutral way.

Explain Yourself

People are more likely to hear you and accept what you’re saying if you explain the rationale behind it.

Celebrate Strengths, Tolerate Weaknesses

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and it can annoy you. But if you can tolerate them and look past anything that is interfering, it will help focus on what they can do well, and will remind you that they aren’t all bad.

Make Specific Requests, Not a Vague Demands

Demands make people defensive because they will feel you’re taking away their autonomy in a large domain. Instead, be clear to request specifically what you would like. For example, instead of saying, “I wish you’d stop being so rude,” try saying, “I would like you to speak to your peers with more patience and a more even tone.” Specific requests are also measurable, which is important for performance review.

Be a Mirror

People want to be heard. By paraphrasing what you think you are hearing them say, they will be less likely to become defensive and will also have the opportunity to clarify what they meant if you repeat it incorrectly, which can avoid escalation.

Increased Responsibility

There is no way to escape stress at work entirely, especially when you’re transitioning during a promotion. So the ideal scenario is to figure out how to effectively manage the stress so it impacts you less.

One of my favorite coping mechanisms is sensory tools. Sensory tools are any objects or places that invoke a strong sense of sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch. When sensory tools are used, you become completely focused on the sensation because of its strength, which shifts your mind away from your cognitive distortions, interrupting your negative emotions. It is essentially an intensive mindfulness exercise.

Here are some examples of sensory tools that are subtle enough to do at work.

Touch

Try putting oranges in the freezer and holding them at your desk or during a meeting. You can also use those instant ice packs, or a frozen washcloth — if anyone asks, you can just say you’re icing an injury.

Taste

You can carry around small packets of salt or pepper, and dab them on your tongue to get an intense burst of flavor. You can also buy individually wrapped sour or spicy candy, which can have a similar effect.

Smell

Travel-sized perfume or cologne rollers (or even scented hand sanitizer) can fit easily in your bag. You can also buy tiny candles to leave around your home or office, which often smell powerfully even when not lit.

Sight

Carry meaningful pictures in your wallet, or put them in a desk drawer to look at.

Sound

Load up music, ambient noise, sounds of nature onto your phone or computer and plug your headphones in.


If you practice using all of these tools, your transition into your new role will be easier, more fluid, and more fun. Let me know your experiences, and any other approaches that have worked for you. And, if you’re in the Boston area and you need someone to talk to about navigating your upcoming or recent promotion, feel free to get in touch with us — our psychologists specialize in the unique mental health needs of individuals in high-pressure careers.