On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to Gabe from Fierce Inc. about strategies to combat stress during an inflationary post Covid complex environment.
Some Conversation Highlights:
Listening time: 26 minutes
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Gabe De La Rosa
Gabe brings more than 14 years of Industrial and Organizational Psychology experience. He earned his Ph.D. in Industrial / Organizational Psychology from Bowling Green State University in 2008 and has published work in journals such as the Journal of Addictive Behaviors (an international peer-reviewed journal), and edited books such as The Handbook of Employee Engagement, which is considered an invaluable resource for organizational psychologists
Announcer: 00:00 This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live Podcast where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three-year-old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
William Tincup: 00:34 Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup. You are listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today we have Gabe on from Fierce Incorporated, and our topic today is Strategies to Combat Stress during an Inflationary Post Covid Complex Environment. It’s a lot to unpack, can’t wait to get into it with Gabe and learn from him. Gabe, would you do us a favor and introduce yourself and Fierce Incorporated?
Gabe: 01:01 Yeah, absolutely. My name’s Gabe De La Rosa. I’m the Chief Behavioral Science Officer for Fierce Incorporated. We are a learning and development organization. We help all kinds of different companies really overcome the most challenging problems that they face. The base, or the foundation, of our organization really is around work, around Fierce Conversations, which is a really important discipline created by Susan Scott, and it really has grown from there. It’s really about understanding how conversations impact, the relationship really impact the workplace, really impact all kinds of results and how they can get over that. I’m relatively new to Fierce, I come with a background in industrial and organizational psychology, specifically looking into how occupational stress impacts the way that people act at work, people stay at work, people leave work, all kinds of outcomes. There’s tons of things we can get into. But basically, essentially looking to see how stress impacts work.
William Tincup: 02:24 I love this.
Gabe: 02:24 And helping them really look at how stress impacts employees and what kinds of things that we can do to help employees really navigate this new environment that we’re in now.
William Tincup: 02:40 Well, I first became aware of Fierce, probably in the oughts at some point. Maybe it was around a new book signing or something that we used to be called it ASTD, but now it’s called ATD, and I think the folks were based in Seattle or something, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. And I just love the concept of tackling conversations rather than avoiding. The avoidance or acting like it’s not there. All the things we do in life where something’s difficult, we’ve obfuscated in some way, shape or form. I love just the premise of just like, well, let’s just head into it. It’s not going away. It shouldn’t go away. Let’s just head into the conversation. So I just love the background of Fierce and before we get into what we’re going to be talking about, which is a lot of around the research you’ve been doing, your specialty. I became familiar with an assessment, oh God a hundred years ago, called the Birkman in Houston, Texas.
03:49 And the research that was done, I believe it was on World War II pilots, if I’m not mistaken. It was basically your personality has, you normal and you under stress and then it bifurcated on like communications and all kinds of different things that would play out with you under stress. I guess the premise of the assessment was you are different under stress. Now, how you’re different plays out in a lot of different ways and it’d be good for you to know those things. That’d be kind of an awareness, but it’s also good for your team to know those things. So are you familiar with the Birkman or any of their research?
Gabe: 04:35 Yeah, I am. There’s this a lot of research and that’s a really good example. That’s one of many different examples. And I think what you did, you hit the nail on the head. It’s really about self-awareness. Awareness of A.) What you look like normally, how you interact with people, how people think you are in normal situations, and then what you feel like when stress. If you’re aware of the warning signs of stress, then you can say, Oh wow, I’m under stress right now and maybe the reason why I think this is a threatening email, or this was a threatening conversation maybe has something to do with me as opposed to the objective reality of what’s going on.
William Tincup: 05:18 Yeah, it’s-
Gabe: 05:20 That’s really key.
William Tincup: 05:21 It’s easy to blame the other person because we aren’t as aware of ourselves. I’m always fascinated by golfers, probably most athletes in this sense of they know their body really, really well. I don’t know my body that well, but they know them really well. I remember Tiger Woods talking about he could tell when his pinky was just, he had to tweak one little thing in his pinky to the inch. I’m like, I just don’t pay attention. And it’s not that I don’t pay attention, I’m not that aware. I haven’t tuned or dialed in to that awareness. And I think as we relates to stress and mental well being, et cetera, it’s kind of tuning and fine tuning and dialing in to understand yourself. And I’ll give you an example of the Birkman that you’ll find fascinating. So when I ran an ad agency [inaudible 00:06:25] years ago, my business partner and I who are different polar opposites of one another, but great guys, just different.
06:35 One of the things we learned is, took the test you learn about yourself and then you’d also learn about yourself as it relates to other people. And one of the things I learned is that I make decisions really quickly, not necessarily great decisions, but I process information, I make decisions quickly. And my business partner is very reflective, very, very smart, would investigate and ponder and reflect and seek other kind of data points and then make conclusions. And what we learned about each other in that, just that simple kind of example, is that I was creating stress for him because I wanted him to make decisions like I made decisions and he was creating stress for me in much the same way. So what we learned after kind of unpacking that is I would tell him, okay, here’s what I think. And then acknowledge, okay, I know you need your time to do work your process, get back to me.
07:45 But then I would find myself, I’m not stressed about that anymore. He’ll do his work, his process, we’ll come back together at one point and we’ll then reconcile whatever we have to do in that decision. So I wasn’t creating stress for him, he wasn’t creating stress for me, but it was only because we had an instrument that then helped us unpack those things. Not just about our own awareness, stress, but also how we created stress for others.
Gabe: 08:18 Yeah, that’s an excellent example. You really summed it up well there. Really understanding deep down who you are and who you’re working with and how people operate can be super, super helpful. And really it just shines the light on what we at Fierce Conversations really value is having that conversation. When you have that conversation, you put all that emotional baggage that you been holding on inside, put it out there and you can come to an understanding. It’s not always easy, it’s not always amazingly happy. In the end, it works out.
William Tincup: 08:58 Oh my God.
Gabe: 08:59 It’s example.
William Tincup: 09:00 It’s incredibly liberating because again, as you said, you take the emotion out of it. It’s just like, okay, he could have easily said, you make decisions too quickly, and could have been kind of emotional thing. Or I could have said, you’re too slow. It could have been an emotional thing. We didn’t do that because we had the conversation. You process information in the way that’s personal to you, that makes sense for you. And we’re probably going to come to the same conclusion in a lot of these things, but we’re going to come about it in different ways and different doesn’t mean better. And I think that’s one of the things that I had to learn about myself is making people this false construct of they have to behave like I have to behave. And I think that’s a part of learning in a work setting, is that no actually people behave the way that they’re going to thrive, the way they feel like they’re going to thrive.
10:02 And you’ve got to actually understand and decode where they are as opposed to where you want them to be. And so enough about the… I know we’re going to get to stress level bunch, but I just want to give you some backstory on my relationship with stress with COVID. And again, I think we talked ourselves into a recession, but COVID, okay, so you’ve got that stressor then you’ve got the stress of some type of financial instability. How should we be dealing with stress at work? What is the advice that you give to your customers around unpacking stress and getting people to having more productive and more balanced and better wellbeing at work?
Gabe: 11:01 Yeah, that’s a huge question there. So in the light of COVID, like I said, we don’t know if we’re going to have a recession, we definitely got inflation. I mean-
William Tincup: 11:11 Yeah, we definitely have got that. Yep, that’s for sure.
Gabe: 11:14 Going to fill up my gas tank, I’m a hundred percent sure we have inflation.
William Tincup: 11:19 I filled up the other day for 361 and I felt like I hit the lottery. Literally.
Gabe: 11:26 That’s a lot of mile.
William Tincup: 11:29 You feel like they’ve pushed you over to this break. I literally stopped the car. I saw 361, I turned around, I’m like-
Gabe: 11:37 Turn around. Yeah.
William Tincup: 11:38 Yeah, I got to go get this before it changes tomorrow. Anyhow… But yes, we definitely have inflation. A hundred percent. That’s real.
Gabe: 11:49 A hundred percent. And that, depending on your employees level of financial security can be a stressor in and of itself.
William Tincup: 12:01 Yeah, good point.
Gabe: 12:01 So for people who are really financially insecure, that can be probably the most stressful thing that you can even imagine, especially when you’re talking about filling up your gas tank, for example. That’s how they get to and from work. When that becomes more expensive than the money that they’re actually planning on getting at work for that day, that’s a difficult decision. But I digress. So the type of advice that I give is really, number one, give resources to manage the stress because the stress is increasing and the stress can create problems for the employee and for the organization, period. What do those resources look like? Typically, what we recommend is really, like we mentioned earlier, education around the stress response cycle. Really just what is stress, what does it look like when people are stressed? What does it feel like when people are stressed so that they can really understand that. So, that’s key.
William Tincup: 13:15 [inaudible 00:13:15] what we gave the stress response cycle. I’ve heard that once. I think it was at [inaudible 00:13:19], but I don’t know if a layperson would know what that is.
Gabe: 13:25 Yeah. Thank you for that. So what I mean by the stress response cycle, it’s really there’s something in the environment. Let’s just keep with the gas example. You just paid a hundred dollars to fill up your tank and then that activates something in your own biological psychological system. So biologically, oh, maybe I’m sweating, maybe on my palms are sweating, maybe my mouth is dry. So those are things that we can pick up on. Psychologically, there’s a feeling that you get, maybe it’s regret, maybe it’s anxiety, something like that. And those emotions, those feelings lead you to a type of behavior. And maybe the behavior is, okay, I’m going to drive less or… that’s one example… Another one’s, Oh, I’m feeling this anxiety, maybe I need to do something and exercise about it. Anyways, those behaviors lead for further reinforcement of either you’re going to get higher or lower stress because of those behaviors. That’s why it’s called basically a cycle. I know. Does that make sense there?
William Tincup: 14:44 Absolutely. Hundred percent.
Gabe: 14:46 Awesome. So yeah, it’s really getting employees to understand that and then giving them the tools really basic, really easy to understand techniques, methods that they can use to really mitigate the impact of stress. For example, debrief-
William Tincup: 15:08 So stress is going to happen, it’s just how do you limit or how do you diminish the impact of stress?
Gabe: 15:17 That’s exactly it. How do you mitigate it? How do you diminish it? And that’s one area. There’s tons of different techniques that we use. Meditation, mindfulness, proper exercise, those types of things. And they can be useful for, as you mentioned, for the mitigation of stress, just assuming that it’s going to be there. Now, where Fierce sort of adds additional ammunition for the employee and employers to overcome this is really to help them A.) identify what’s stressing you out, right? So what we’re doing now is we’re offering, using wearable technology, really helping people to understand when is it that I’m most stressed? What was happening during that interaction? Why was it stressful for me? And track-
William Tincup: 16:12 Are you looking at causal relationships?
Gabe: 16:15 Yeah. So essentially we’re looking at what’s causing you to have elevated heart rate. What’s causing you to have basically cardiovascular signs of stress. And when we figure that out, then we can identify, okay, are there some things that we can use, basically the discipline of Fierce Conversations to not only to just mitigate these stressors, but to actually attack these stressors head on. So if it’s a meeting that happens every week or an interaction that you have from time to time with a certain employee, we track, we figure out what those things are and we help to actually train people to have the conversations that are needed to either reduce or eliminate that stressor there.
William Tincup: 17:12 Well, I love that this is similar to homeopathic medicine. It is you’re not treating the symptom, you’re treating the cause, but you got, in order to understand the cause, you got to unpack, you got to identify it, you got to get to the cause, and you can treat reasonably, you can treat the cause. And in you all’s case, you treat the cause with conversations that then bring them back to education, awareness, resources, et cetera.
Gabe: 17:43 That’s exactly correct. And I really like the analogy of homeopathic medicine as opposed to only treating the symptoms as opposed to only trimming the top of those weeds, you’re pulling the roots.
William Tincup: 17:59 Right. Wait, yeah, you’re stressed out, you can take a Xanax. Yeah, sure. And again, no hate for folks that take Xanax, I took it for years, but the idea is it’s not dealing with the underpinnings of what’s causing that. And so I think one of the things I wanted to ask you about why [inaudible 00:18:22] is myth versus truth of consumption of stress, meaning are there some human beings, there’s some people within the organization that can just consume stress more or in a different way or better than others?
Gabe: 18:43 The answer to that’s absolutely yes. There are some people who can tolerate stress more than others, and I’ll back it up a notch. Going back to that stress response cycle, there are people who, when the objective environment says gas is at $800 a gallon, they don’t actually see that as stressful. They naturally cognitively think about it in a different way. Oh, this is what it is. So it’s not really a stressor. So that’s one thing as well. So A.) It’s how do you interpret your objective environment? And then B.) Once you interpret that, what do you do with that information? So those are two things that really impact how someone’s going to respond to stress.
William Tincup: 19:32 A nurture versus nature question, is that something that you can train yourself to be better at? Or is it something in your DNA and it just is what it is?
Gabe: 19:46 That’s a really good question. And this is one of those things, classic psychology here where it’s a little bit of both.
William Tincup: 19:53 Of course. It’s a yes.
Gabe: 19:54 It’s a yes and a yes. Yeah, absolutely. So some people, just generally speaking, they’re just born that way. They’re easy babies when they first grow up. When something distresses them, even when they’re two years old, all mom has to say, hey, it’s going to be okay. And they’re easily soothed, right? And they grow on that. There’s just this pattern that’s just the way that they were born. That’s the way that they interact with the world in a low stress kind of way. That’s probably the Jimmy Buffett’s of the world are like.
William Tincup: 20:35 Yeah. I can’t control it then I’m not going to stress about it. Oh, okay. Well yeah, that works. It’s funny because I’ve had conversations with folks about stress recently, well probably because of the pandemic, and I’ve said, well, stress has always been in here. As long as we’ve been humans, we’ve had stress. Or in earlier times, when you were stressed out about a dinosaur eating or the inability to find food, you were stressed. There was a real stress, it was just different. Now we’re stressed if people don’t like something on Facebook. The stress has always been there. It’s like it’s a shadow of humanity. It’s just part of us. First of all, is that any of that, right?
Gabe: 21:27 Oh yeah, absolutely. So that’s why we are the dominant species and that’s why, because we have stress, we’re not the fastest. We’re not the strongest. But when we smell the scent of a predator in the air, that gets us going and we either run or we hide or we do what we have to do. And you think about it, we’re now having the same physiological response that our ancestors had to bear. But we’re having that response we’re contained, we’re in our cubicle or in our seat, we’re looking at a computer, we’re hunched over and we’re just reading an email and that’s going through our body. So there’s a lot of unused energy that’s stress, energy that’s just sitting in us and we’re just kind of letting it stew. And that’s a big problem. So that’s the thing. So A.) Stress is good. It moves us when it’s just constant and you’re not physiologically able to burn up that stress energy, that’s where a big problem comes.
William Tincup: 22:44 Is there a relationship in your mind between stress and guilt?
Gabe: 22:48 Wow, that’s a good question. And in my mind for… And this is from basic, from background in psychology, the answer is yes for most healthy individuals.
William Tincup: 23:04 Yes.
Gabe: 23:05 So yes, of course for most healthy individuals, when they found guilty, it’s a weight that they’re carrying around on them. It impacts their sleep, it makes them not enjoy things as much as they would normally. And that can continues on and on and on. There are people who are not, by society’s idea and my idea basically, they’re not healthy so they don’t feel guilt. So guilt isn’t stressful to them. Those are-
William Tincup: 23:38 Those are sociopaths, psychopaths.
Gabe: 23:40 … very small number. Exactly. But for most people, guilt is stressful.
William Tincup: 23:48 Right. So the stress also has obviously relationships with the physical being not just your mental health, but your physical health. What have you seen in conversations that you’ve had, especially as it relates to the pandemic and even after the pandemic and what we’re going through right now in terms of having those Fierce Conversations at work around, listen, there’s yet another reason to be in involved and having great conversations around stress. Yes, mental health, fantastic. Let’s have that conversation. Productivity, great, let’s have that conversation. But also physical health. First of all, what are you hearing? What are you seeing as it relates to the physical part of what stress does to the body?
Gabe: 24:44 Yeah, as you mentioned, it definitely has an impact emotionally. Definitely has an impact on your employee productivity. But on the physical body, that’s definitely where we see signs of stress. Classic is blood pressure, right? So as you get stressed out, blood pressure increases. And if you’re young, hey that’s not a big deal. But if you’re old and you have maybe arteries aren’t as well maintained as they should be, that can be a huge problem. It can lead to cardiovascular disease. So prolonged stress can literally kill you.
25:23 So that’s one thing. It can definitely impact your sleep. If you’re more stressed, you’re not going to be able to be sleeping as well. And that has tremendous impact on the rest of the body, specifically things like your brain. So your cognitive ability is going to decrease faster if you can’t sleep because of stress than if you were unstressed. Also, interestingly, that increased blood pressure that can be a result of too much stress will also impact your eyesight. So that’s a problem in and of itself right there. I keep going, but there’s tons of different things that the impacts body.
William Tincup: 26:09 It’s really fascinating to think about Fierce and Fierce Conversations has a wellness initiative to actually not just deal with the mental wellness part of it, mental health, but also the physical health as we just talked about. Gabe, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for carving out time for us today.
Gabe: 26:32 Absolutely. It’s been my pleasure. Really great talking to you.
William Tincup: 26:35 Vice versa. And thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast, until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.