An Interview with Gretta Brooks, CEO and Founder of SalesBoost, LLC in Dallas by Caroline Goodell, BodyMind Basics

I had the pleasure of interviewing Gretta Brooks on body awareness and workplace stress after meeting her when she was in town to address her Seattle employees on coping with their high-stress jobs. Gretta has an amazing understanding and appreciation for the role of body awareness in the corporate world. She offers on-demand hospitality sales training and writes an outstanding blog on corporate success and leadership called
The Launchpad.

CG: What did your Seattle employees have to say about the stress of their jobs?

Brooks: For the most part I think we don’t talk about our stress very much. They tend to just try and deal with it. We’ve been in the hotel business for many years and our life is just about stress, it’s what we live with. I think it helps some people want to have a cocktail at night. It causes people to want to sit around and eat bad food. It probably affects sleep. Those are the main things I think we see, but it’s interesting that my team doesn’t talk about it very much. We’re all women and we just deal with it. It is what it is.

CG: How do you handle stress?

Brooks: I get plenty of sleep and I exercise. I try and become centered, to breathe deeply and just focus. Instead of focusing on the mass of things I have to do I just do one thing at a time. Exercise has probably been the biggest game changer for me. I can handle a lot of stress when I do those two things.

I think the biggest thing for me is identifying with the fact that I’m in charge, that I can just step off and reset any time I like and that it’s as overwhelming as I choose to make it. In my anxiety therapy, I learned best practices about just acknowledging the feeling that comes on. For instance, if I’m on an airplane and I start sensing that little feeling of anxiety I’ll say ‘Ah! Yes! I know who you are, but I’m going to talk you through this, and we are going to do something else right now!’ Being more aware of your emotions and your feelings might get overwhelming but honestly, if I feel like crying I just cry.

CG: What do you think is the hardest part about the stress your employees have to deal with?

Brooks: I think when you have physical issues because of stress and have that feeling of being completely overwhelmed then often you shut down and don’t get the job done because you are in a hurry and you don’t get tasks done or you are slowing down because you become overwhelmed.

Personal lives can get super stressful and work is also a challenge. I try to help my employees understand that we’re not designed to handle as much as we can take. That’s not going to create a good life. It would be better to find a way to deal with the stress so that it doesn’t become anxious and it doesn’t become depressed and it can become something else. You’re not avoiding it, you’re recognizing it and then dealing with it.

CG: What stresses do you confront at work in addition to deadlines? Employees and managing people, conflicts…

Brooks: I’ve gone through a custody battle in my past. I’ve also had cancer and chemo. I’ve been emotionally and physically abused. So I’ve already made it through many stressful situations and learned each time how to better make it through, how to deal with that stress and when to seek help, not waiting until I am completely on the floor. And depressed. But if I ever, ever feel like that I know what my resources are and I know, OK! Time to take care of yourself. So I put myself first. Because quite honestly, everyone I know who puts everybody else first eventually becomes very upset, depressed and anxious. So you have to really gain control of your own mind and your body and that is your main job, to make sure that that is taken care of first. And the rest will take care of itself eventually.

CG: How actively do you include your body awareness when you’re stressed?

Brooks: I go through a check. I usually try to lay down, close my eyes, meditate, focus on keeping my mind clear, not letting anything in, and creating a dark place where I can tune everything out. I feel like, “Wow I’ve been really stressed out, my shoulders are up to my ears, time to bring in the reinforcements here.” I think it’s just taking care of yourself, being in tune with where the stress is, in my jaw, dropping my jaw, in my eyes. I think of moving pieces, tensing it up and letting it be for even 5 minutes.

CG: What about when you can’t lie down and take time to go through all that?

Brooks: When I’m right on the spot I try to un-close my body, I try to expand my lungs and move my chest out so it’s open. On an airplane I try to kind of rotate and start moving my body slowly in little pieces. Or clench my jaw and just release it. I’m more aware of the relaxed feelings of that after. So it plants it in my mind, ok, go back to that. If I’m standing, I just try to walk and move my body all around, swing my arms. My stress is usually in my shoulders and my lower back and I feel that if I just move, stand up straight and feel a line going through the top of my head pulling me up, I use that and then move on.

CG: What about in a confrontation? Having to give a bad review, for example. When you are literally on the spot.

Brooks: I have had to manage people for a very long time so I’ve learned how to control my emotions. To compartmentalize and say, I know the scenario, I know all the issues that can arise and I’m prepared for the worst case scenario. That’s kind of how I always deal with things. I say, What’s the worst thing that can happen? They might cry. They might freak out and run from the room. So I mentally prepare myself for any of those things. I think the calmer I am the more I am able to talk and just connect with people on an emotional level. In an organization you have to have emotional intelligence, to be able to identify, to understand where people are coming from, and what people need to hear. If I have to fire someone it’s normally not that I’m firing them because I’m mad at them. I try not to put myself in a situation where someone’s shocked and freaking out. But sometimes these things happen. For the most part I try to be honest and upfront and transparent. They may be upset but they know it’s coming from a positive place. And we always say, what can we do moving forward? I try to get them to talk about how they feel and acknowledge it.

CG: Anything else you’d like to add?

Brooks: Everyone has to bring their best self to work. I have to bring my best self and so do my team members. This is not only about what a leader does but what we all do as individuals. When each person brings their best self to work we aren’t all making each other overwhelmed.

CG: Your body is your best self because your body knows the truth.

Brooks: Yes, absolutely. I love that. When they say “Work as a team” it means what you bring to the team. I have to take care of myself so I’m not really stressed out and bring that to the table.  And my team needs to be prepared and bring their best selves really individually. To be a good team we have to all take care of ourselves.

I want body awareness to be part of our culture. Who we are and what we will do to teach, train people, to bring their best selves to work. We need to walk the walk.