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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

JUL 2004, Sec. I

Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!

Table of Contents

Shrink Rap I
:    Creativie Risk-Taking:  Tips and Strategies
Shrink Rap II:   A Thermostatic Approach to Communication and Leadership
Dolly and the Queen and Life

Section II

Main Essay:     
Speaker-Leader Transformation:  Art of Powerful Presentation
Heads Up:        
Center for Disease Control, Celebrity Cruise Lines et al.  
         Training Kit, Books, CD and AOL Chat


Shrink Rap -- Part I:

Sound vs. Foolish Risk-Taking:  Tips and Strategies

A freelance writer recently emailed after reading my article on Creative Risk-Taking.  He was looking for some ideas on differentiating sound and foolish risks along with some risk-taking bullet points.  Below are key steps for "Creative Risk-Taking" and the requested bullets on wise vs. foolish risj-taking.

Here are key steps and strategies for bravely facing your "Intimate FOE" and boldly developing your potential for "Creative Risk-Taking":
1.  Aware-ily Jump in Over Your Head. 
Only by jumping into the fray can you quickly discover how adequate your resources are with respect to the novel challenge ahead.  This approach precludes a strategy that eliminates all risk in advance.  (Okay, some prep may be necessary.  As we say in N'Awlins, check to see if there are any alligators in the bayou.) You may need to encounter realistic anxiety, exaggerated loss of control and even some feelings of humiliation to confront your "Intimate FOE."  But often the reward for the risk is a unique readiness to build knowledge, emotional hardiness and skills for survival, along with evolving imaginative gifts.

2.  Strive to Survive the High Dive. 
There's no guarantee when grappling with new heights or depths, but four fail-safe measures come to mind:  a) strive high and embrace failure -- failure is not a sign of unworthiness; consider failure the gap between a future ideal and your present reality; it's a transitional space that fosters growth rather than absolute mastery.  Of course, for failure to motivate progress, also vital is distinguishing those fine lines among high expectation, vision and hallucination; b) develop a realistic time frame - remember, establishing a beachhead doesn't mean you've conquered the island; recognize that many battles are fought and lost before a major undertaking is won; c) be tenaciously honest - continuously assess the impact of outcomes, changes within yourself and your environment, and the rules underlying your operation, d) establish a support system - have people in your life who provide both kinds of TLC:  Tender Loving Criticism and Tough Loving Care.
3.  Thrive On Thrustration.  
Learn to be stuck between thrusting ahead with direct action and frustration while struggling with your problematic puzzle or risk-taking adventure (Rabkin).  Then let go:  an incubation vacation, in the aftermath of agitated exploration, helps hatch a new perspective.  Creativity often requires a period of relaxed attention or mindless perception along with being more problem-minded than solution-focused.  As performance psychologist, George Leonard, has observed:  It's not the path to absolute mastery, but the lifetime learning path of mastery.  (Leonard also strongly advocated training with an expert for a period of time.)  Frustration tolerance and some guidance along with persistence and patience are the keys to escaping self-imposed boxes.

Increasing bio-psycho-social pressure and a "no exit" challenge can shake the habituated, settled mind.  Thrustration may transform a dormant subconscious into an active psychic volcano -- memories, novel associations and symbolic images overflow into consciousness.  You're better able to generate fertile problem-solving alternatives.  Problems are not just sources of tension and frustration, but are opportunities for integrating the past and the present, the conscious and the unconscious, the obscure and the obvious.  Here lies creative perspective.

4.  Design for Error and Opportunity.  (See below.) 
Risk-Taking List:  Key Pointers

Is the question deciding what's a realistic or a foolish risk or should the question be what qualities constitute being a realistic or foolish risk-taking individual (on a particular project)?
I lean toward the latter perspective.  If you train yourself to be a vital risk-taker, it will be easier to differentiate the quality or nature of the risky situation .  You'll also find it easier to assess your preparedness for the risk ahead.
1) Don't gamble on your last dollar; in other words, be wary of going for "broke."
2) Try to do even a small test run or experiment to get a better feel for the risk-taking landscape.  However, narrow or rigid control and need for perfection are not conducive to the entrepreneurial and exploratory spirit.  Conversely, grandiosity and mania can also create a false sense of invulnerability and omniscience.
3) If you don't have a safety net, at least have some sources of TLC -- "Tender Loving Criticsm" and "Tough Loving Care" -- whether trusted and objective family members and friends or a coach before, during and after the risk-taking venture for guidance, support and assessment purposes.  A risk-taker is not afraid to get ideas from others.  He or she may not accept or use all of them but is open and works hard to sort the wheat from the chaff.  (See experiment option above.)
4) Know that often many battles are fought and lost before a major undertaking is won.  In other words, if you are not ready to make a substantial commitment in time, energy, willingness to handle blows to ego, commit money, develop patience, etc. perhaps you are not ready to take a substantail risk.  Also, be tenaciously honest with yourself:  know when you need to come up for air or TLC.  Successful risk-takers often have experienced burnout and they have a better instinct for self-preservation or, at least, knowing when to bail out of a bad risk situation.
5) Strive high and embrace failure -- failure is not a sign of unworthiness; consider failure the gap between a future ideal and your present reality; it's a temporary/transitional space that usually fosters new learning and eventual growth as opposed to final victory or absolute mastery.
6) Learn to see and work with frustration and obstacles as a possible future spur to creative problem-solving, to further improving your risk-taking plan or project.  Again, it's important to be able to take an incubation vacation, that is, to let go, to not always be consciously focused on your riaky project.  This incubation vacation often helps you get out of your box, to generate a new or fresh perspective.  Since a successful risk-taker must be flexible and be able to respond efficiently and effectively to new contingencies, generating (or being open to) new and novel perspectives is vital for risk-taking.
7)  Design for Error and Opportunity.  Innovative and risk-taking individuals and organizations are more attuned to a range of possibilities than to fixed or ideal goals.   These systems prefer the risk of initiation and experimentation to preoccupation over deviation or imperfection.  Having the courage to flounder through a sea of novelty and confusion often yields new connections, long-range mastery and an uncommon big picture.  A narrow, safe course creates the illusion of achievement and short-lived control.  Of course, limited predesign means opportunity for errors.  In open people and systems, startup misplays are vital signs for self-correcting and self-challenging feedback.

Remember, errors of judgment or design do not irrevocably consign one to incompetence; they more likely reveal inexperience or immaturity, perhaps even boldness.  Our so-called "failures" can be channeled as guiding streams (sometimes raging rivers) of opportunity and experience that so often enrich - widen and deepen - the risk-taking passage…If we can just immerse ourselves in these unpredictable yet, ultimately, regenerative waters.  
In other words, if you've done the above preparation, there are few foolish risks.  There may be more or less painful learning curves.  And, of course, when risk-taking...Practice Safe Stress!


Shrink Rap -- Part II:

[Ed. Note:  This article is co-authored by Joan Marshall, Pres. Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), Montgomery County, MD and Mark Gorkin.}

A Thermostatic Approach to Communication and Leadership:
A Metaphor for Aligning Messages, Understanding, and Behavioral Responses

"My employees just don't seem to understand what I say to them.  Are we speaking the same language?  When I make assignments or give them goals, they give me back work that's different than what I had asked.  The work is late, incorrect, or sloppy.  What's wrong with them?"

Have you sung these lyrics before?  You are not alone.  Whose fault is it anyway?  Where do we place blame?  Maybe neither party is solely responsible; maybe it's a matter of reaching a different level of understanding between you and your employees around:  a) setting and sharing goals, b) establishing realistic operational baselines and mutual expectations, and c) the overall process of communication.  And often adding to the challenge of productive manager-employee relations is the fact that many of us have some issues with authority:  a) whether it's enacting the various roles and responsibilities of being an authority figure or b) whether it's dealing with the issues and emotions related to control and dependency when a subordinate.  Not surprisingly, when these issues infiltrate our mindsets effective communication may break down:  "Message sent is not message received."  Why is that?

We can tell you why and what you can do about it.  We have a method that we think will increase understanding and cooperation with your employees.  We call our method, "Thermostatic Leadership" or "Thermostatic management."  To illustrate this approach let's return to our opening concerns and questions:  "I made myself clear.  Why aren't my employees doing what I need them to do?"  First a key premise:  People come to the workplace from varied demographic and geographic backgrounds bringing an array of ethnic-cultural values.  Individuals also carry around personal and professional expectations often shaped by the individual's work and organizational history.

A Personal Story

Let one of the authors, JM, share a real-life example:

Several years ago I worked for Paul Sigas in Human Resources at a major computer company.  It was part of the culture for people to socialize with one another, maybe even to become friends.  I was working for the company for four years; in fact I grew up in this company.  It was a great fit for me.  My boss hired Sigas to come in as my manager.  Sigas is a straightforward, tell it like it is kind of person.  I didn't care as I was doing my work and doing it well.  We were getting along, time was moving on, and Sigas let me do my job.

One day, knowing that Sigas and his wife were new to the area, I decided to invite them to my house.  It would be a good opportunity for each of us to get to know one another more casually; perhaps in a somewhat more intimate setting.  When I asked Sigas he said, "NO, I don't do that.  I don't fraternize with employees!"

I was taken aback.  I thought that was odd and his response was a bit abrupt.  Shortly after that I wondered if he thought I was trying to get on his good side.  People at this company get together all the time.  It was not too much later that Sigas invited my family to dinner at his house.  I wondered about the change; why was it now okay to "fraternize."  I didn't get the answer then but with newfound understanding I can answer it now.

Recently, I asked Sigas about it and his answer didn't surprise me.  He said the culture of his former employer established a definite boundary between the professional and the personal.  He had brought that expectation with him:  co-workers don't socialize with one another.  I had thought he was wrong for not accepting my invitation.  He had thought I was out of bounds for asking.  Neither one of us were wrong.  The misunderstanding was based on the divergent perspectives from our varying organizational experiences. 

This example illustrates how expectations derived from past experience definitely color and shape our positions, preferences, and possibilities:  believing can affect seeing as much as "seeing is believing."   And adding to this psychological and communicational complexity, the sources of our beliefs or the reasons why we hold onto them so strongly are not always fully conscious.   One person's world is turning one way; someone else's world is moving in another direction or at a different speed.  Not surprisingly, a collision can ensue when the two try coming together, especially if there isn't some baseline of understanding or a basis for some common language (or the ability to apply the brakes when things are going downhill fast).  Returning to our supervisory relationship, there needs to be an interactive method for gaining control of this communication and leadership process.   And this is where our model kicks in:  to help you generate mutual understanding and buy-in from your employees.

Thermostatic Leadership/Management Defined

We call our model Thermostatic Leadership (TL) or Thermostatic Management (TM).  The essence of TL/TM is the ability to set and adapt a communication-performance setting (with monitoring mechanisms and feedback loops) based on:  a) your knowledge and the perceptions and understandings of others and b) your employee's perception and understanding of you.  The thermostat analogy seems apt.  The thermostat is an instrument that adjusts the temperature of a room.  If it is too cold, the thermostatic setting can be moved up and warmer air streams out.  If the room becomes too warm, the thermostat can be lowered.  If it is just right, it is left alone.  Take for example several people living in the same house.  These folks discuss, negotiate, and decide what the temperature setting should be.  People set rules (or at times make correct or incorrect assumptions) about who can adjust the thermostat.  Sometimes the process is not democratic but is based on who pays the bill.  Many thermostats even contain programming features so the temperature is raised and lowered according to the pre-set program.  

In some public auditoriums the thermostat is under lock and key.  No one can adjust it, but if enough people are too cold, they will complain.  The "boss" comes in with the key and raises the thermostat.  If the temperature is not adjusted to meet people's comfort level, they will protest.  Now some self-sacrificing souls may appear to be adapting to the uncomfortable ambient conditions, but will actually slow down their work efforts.  Other individuals may choose to leave and/or not return.  For example, if you were a restaurant owner, this latter scenario would not be good for business.

TL/TM in Action

Let's demonstrate how the thermostat and its adjustment can be used in communicating with your employees.  Returning to the "dinner invitation" scenario, perhaps it could have unfolded differently had Sigas used "Thermostatic Leadership" to improve the communication and to reach a better understanding.  He could have said, "At my former company we did not socialize with our employees.  Here that may be the custom.  Let me think it over and see if I'm comfortable making some adjustments.  I'll let you know by Thursday."

Here's another option.  Instead of this manager saying, "No I don't do that," (which, without further elaboration, can be taken as superiority-driven and controlling) Sigas could have acknowledged that he was uncomfortable with JM's request.  In other words, based on her company experience the author's thermostatic-socializing setting was at variance with Sigas' socializing/intimacy comfort level.  Either way, a clearer announcement of his thermostatic baseline would have increased JM's understanding and lessened the likelihood of her taking Sigas' position personally.  This supervisor's decision had been based on his value system, his comfort level, and his past set of circumstances; it had nothing to do with the author or the professionalism of her request.

Who sets the thermostat?  What happens when the employee sets the thermostat?  Try empowering your employees; give them permission to set the thermostat.  Of course, the employee's general and situation-specific experience, quality track record, and maturity levels will come into play when considering and/or negotiating the degree of discretionary decision-making.  Demonstrated levels of "authority, autonomy, and accountability" - the "Triple A of Professional Responsibility" - are key components in determining an interactive thermostatic setting process.  Perhaps your employees don't have full control of the thermostat but they can make adjustments (and then get your feedback).  Naturally, in a healthy supervisor-employee thermostatic process, there needs to be mutual feedback channels.  Over time and with trust both parties can participate.  Ultimately, the power (and responsibility) is in the manager's hand; but in most circumstances there should be opportunity for the employee to negotiate, if not independently set, the thermostatic and output standards.

People have varying levels of comfort/discomfort with such issues as relationship authority or interpersonal familiarity in the workplace.  Using Thermostatic Management ideally allows both parties (or all relevant parties, e.g., team thermostatic settings) to potentially influence adjustments and to achieve the correct or consensus-driven setting.  The thermostat can be used to establish workable levels of closeness or distance, degree of employee independence in decision-making, etc.  Ask your employees where the thermostat should be set and to maintain open communication when it needs to be raised or lowered.

How to Start the Process

You can start by setting the thermostat at 70 degrees and then discuss what that means to each of you.  Create an expectation that your report will give you feedback.  Both parties need to buy into the thermostatic process.  If the employee doesn't come back, does that mean he or she is comfortable with the setting?  Initially, we don't suggest making this assumption.  One approach for being on the same thermostatic page is achieved by saying, "If you don't come back to me, I will assume you are comfortable with the setting."  Even better, perhaps, build in a routine checking-in time.  This should make it easier, for example, for an employee to come back and inform you the assignment will not be completed on time.  It certainly can make a difference in your stress level.  It's easier to "Practice Safe Stress" when the employee gives you feedback regarding problems with the initial thermostatic/task setting or his projected time line a few days ahead of the due date as opposed to giving you an eleventh hour heads up.  

If a deadline is missed or the assignment was not started, there is thermostatic error.  Try to determine the problematic factors in an objective and non-judgmental manner.  (Just the term thermostatic error seems to involve less "I'm right, your wrong" finger-pointing.  Remember, "To err is human….")  Of course, being non-judgmental does not negate the need for people taking responsibility for acknowledging the critical factors contributing to operational error or the need for modifying obstacles to a desired outcome.  Was your initial temperature setting objectively realistic?  Was their genuine buy-in on the setting?  It's time to go back and review the settings.  Make sure that all parties agree on the thermostatic baselines and contingencies for modification.  Examine, clarify, and provide the instructions for the assignment.  Does the employee truly understand your expectations?  Ask him/her to repeat back the instructions and to paraphrase the procedures if and when running into problems with the assignment.  

There are times when managers must exercise their right to engage in one directional communication.  An example would be when the employee's safety is at risk.  The manager in this case sets the temperature and whether the employee likes the feel of it or not, he or she can't change it.  Perhaps at a later or safer point, dissatisfaction can be expressed and the manager and employee can re-start the thermostatic process.

Also, when a team is working towards a common goal, there must be consensus and good enough buy-in.  If one person does not agree on the temperature setting, hopefully, he/she can adjust in the interest of working as a team member.  The employee can put on a sweater and still be productive within the team.  Obviously, achieving team consensus through a thermostatic process will involve both one-on-one and small group negotiation, including at times working with positive allies and disarming negative cliques.  Clearly, a process factor to be weighed is the investment of upfront time.  Even though a thermostatic leadership or management process may take more time, whether in a one-on-one or in a team setting, why should a manager consider this procedural paradigm?  By involving your people early on in the thermostatic process you will gain the most employee buy-in to and understanding of the company's mission as well as your specific goals and objectives. Your employees will more likely believe they are part of the big vision and daily operations.  They will have more meaningful input along with a greater sense of control in their job performance and job satisfaction.  And the benefits are not all high task.  Don't be surprised if you and your employees reach new levels of comfort and trust.  Now wouldn't that be really cool!


1. Establish trust and create an environment in which employees feel safe providing you feedback.
2. Set the thermostat with you and your employees' being aware of differences in backgrounds, personality, and experiences.  Acknowledge the differences.  Ask: Can you help me understand your thinking, that is, can you help me better grasp your thermostatic preferences, comfort, and discomfort levels, etc.?
3. Reduce the potential for personality and gender (or race, age conflict, etc. issues).  For example, consider asking:  Does my being female (or male) affect our ability to communicate in any way?  If so, how so?
4. Allow for startup vulnerability and learning curve anxiety when trying to institute a thermostatic process.
5. Flexibly use your "authority figure" personae.  What do your employees expect from you as the "authority figure."  Despite being the authority, whenever possible try to achieve an adult-to-adult communication exchange rather than a superior to subordinate mode.  (See #1. above.)
6. Use discipline, reward, and a process of communicating/thermostatic setting and negotiating that both you and the employee find workable, mutually motivating, and that leads to successful outcomes.  Build in periodic check-in points for monitoring comfort and output levels.
7. Be open to employee input and you and your employees will begin to dismantle bricks from that wall of misunderstanding, fear, and non-productive distance.  (Most people don't always expect "agreement"; they do, however, want some "acknowledgement" that their message has been received.)  If your employees think you are listening and not dismissing them, you begin to establish trust.  People feel it's safe to disagree or challenge constructively the authority.  Constructive engagement means employees are not devaluing or disrespecting your position but are confronting your take on issues and problems, procedures and/or solutions.  The payoff for this openness and the subsequent mutual thermostatic setting exchange is a greater sense of supervisor-employee partnership.



Subj:   Dolly and the Queen
From:  cora_bez@yahoo.com.au

Queen Elizabeth and Dolly Parton die on the same day. They both go before the angel to find out if they'll be admitted to heaven. Unfortunately, there's only one space left that day, so the angel must decide which of them gets in. The angel asks Dolly if there's some particular reason why she should go to heaven, whereupon she took off her top and said, "Look at these, they're the most perfect breasts God ever created, and I'm
sure it will please God to be able to see them every day for eternity."

The angel thanks Dolly, and asks Her Majesty the same question. The Queen took a bottle of Perrier out of her purse, shook it up, and gargled. Then, she spit into the toilette and pulled the lever.  The angel said, "OK, your Majesty, you may go in."

Dolly is outraged and asks, "What was that all about? I show you two of God's own
per! fect creations and you turn me down. She simply gargled and she got in, Would you explain that to me?"

"Sorry, Dolly," said the angel, "but even in heaven, a royal flush always beats a great pair."

Subj:   Life
From:  MDodick

1. Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me for the path is narrow. In fact, just f**k off and leave me alone.

2. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a broken fan belt and a flat tire.

3. The darkest hour is just before dawn. So if you're going to steal your neighbor's milk, that's the time to do it.

4. Sex is like air. It's not important unless you aren't getting any.

5. Don't be irreplaceable. If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted.

6. No one is listening until you fart.

7. Always remember you're unique. Just like everyone else.

8. Never test the depth of the water with both feet.

9. If you think nobody cares whether you're alive or dead, try missing a couple of mortgage payments. (trust me on this one)

10. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes.  That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their  shoes.

11. If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.

12. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

13. If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.

14. Some days you are the bug; some days you are the windshield.

15. Don't worry; it only seems kinky the first time.

16. Good judgment comes from bad experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

17. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket.

18. A closed mouth gathers no foot.

19. Duct tape is like the Force. It has a light side and a dark side, and it holds the universe together.

20. There are two theories to arguing with women. Neither one works.

21. Generally speaking, you aren't learning much when your lips are moving.

22. Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it.


Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, is a keynote and international/Celebrity Cruise Lines motivational speaker, psychotherapist, syndicated writer, and author of his new book, Practice Safe Stress:  Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression and The Four Faces of Anger:  Transforming Anger, Conflict and Rage Into Inspiring Attitude and Behavior.  He was the keynote speaker for the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM)--Maryland state chapters at their 2004 Leadership Conference.  The Doc, AOL's "Online Psychohumorist," is a training and OD Consultant for numerous companies, associations and government agencies.  Interviewed by the BBC and Biography magazine, Mark has a multi-award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com .  The site was selected as workplace resource in a National Public Radio feature on "Bad Bosses."  For more info, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 202-232-8662.

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2004
Shrink Rap Productions