Motivated by a post from my friend and my own experiences with work pressure, I was tempted to write something about it. For a lot of people, it’s important to understand pressure.

Usually, people are not so bad that they intentionally pressurize others. Things always start with a push and that push becomes a pressure eventually.

We are living in a time when pushing oneself to be more, to do more, to achieve more is very common. If you can run 5 kms a day, you push yourself to run 8 kms a day. If your team delivers 1000 lines of code everyday, you push them to do 1500 lines of code everyday. If you are selling 50 switches every month, your manager pushes you to sell 70. If your revenue is $20 billion, you push yourself to make it $25 billion.

Nothing wrong here. It’s good. Pushing is a necessary ingredient for the “more” recipe. If your team member is just idling and not starting his work, a slight push may get him started. If your product has high number of bugs, a slight push may motivate people to find innovative ways for reducing bug count. Whatever your sales figures are, a push on the sales people may make them more efficient or creative and get your better sales.

So, pushing is not necessarily bad. If there is room for “more”, it usually gets you more. However, if there is no room for more, or if one is not able to find room for more? What happens then? That’s when push becomes pressure. And that’s a very very bad thing. Because when there is pressure, you don’t get even as much as you were getting originally.

When a team working at the peak is pressurized, the productivity falls. It may still achieve “more” in short term but not without a cost. Development teams that are pushed beyond their limits write crappy software. Creativity goes for a toss. Also, such teams may see more attrition.

Pushing is like a knife. An adept can put it to wonderful use but in the hands of a monkey, it can cause a havoc. So, it’s very very important for us to understand the difference in pushing and pressurizing. Pushing should be a tactic and not a habit. Used as a tactic, it works for you and used as a habit, it works against you.

Unfortunately, neither our education system, nor our corporate training teaches us how to use this tool. We all are part of a network where everyone is pushing one another, either directly or indirectly. Yet, how well do we understand or use it?

What are your insights with push and pressure? When did it work for you and when did it work against you?