The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psyumorist (tm)
Shrink Rap II:
Two Communicational Tools Providing Perspective, Patience and
Message and Mantra for Transforming Reaction into Response
Increasingly, research is showing a direct
correlation between employee productivity, business profitability, and the
degree to which employees feel their employers are concerned about their
personal and professional welfare. (See The 2010 AMA Handbook of Leadership.)
For example, in the groundbreaking work, First Break All the Rules: What the
Greatest Managers Do Differently (Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman) five
of the twelve core elements (listed in their order of importance) “needed to
attract, focus and keep the most talented employees” involve feedback,
recognition and relationship building:
4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good
5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
11. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
Clearly, to both motivate and help people positively relate, interpersonal
communication must reflect such critical factors as awareness, clarity, empathy,
mutuality and timeliness. And in today’s hyper-speed digital (HSD) world, with
info scan increasingly trumping attention span, people want simple and easy to
apply, yet also savvy and strategic tools for bridging the communicational
divide. In addition, honest, open and emotional connection, not just simply
passing along information, are especially critical when parties are grappling
with psychologically charged issues related to loss, change and uncertainty
and/or conflict-laden cultural climates, e.g., employees who have gone through
major reorg or RIF (Reduction in Force) and are wondering about if not waiting
for the next “frightsizing” axe to fall.
With this in mind, as a writer and speaker, increasingly I provide an audience
with concise psychological and communication concepts and tools – from aphorisms
and acronyms to pithy poetic pearls – with a verbal (and sometimes
visual-theatrical) design that, hopefully, make them easy to use and hard to
forget. In an increasingly “do more with less,”
hyperactive-distracted-overextended and over-cluttered mind-field, the ability
to create “sententious” messages, messages “full of significance (and style) and
expressed tersely” becomes a vital art form.
Two Communicational Tools Providing Perspective, Patience and Presence
For example, try these two communicational
techniques to trump a knee-jerk “reaction” with a firm yet flexibly focused
1. Differentiate Blaming “You” vs. Responsible
“I” Messages. “You’re always late,”
“What’s your problem?” or “You made us look bad.” “You” messages not only
assign blame or are judgmental and often global (e.g., “You never”), but they
deny any responsibility on the part of the person making those “acc-you-sations.”
(And a chronic “acc-you-ser” risks becoming a blameaholic!)
Actually, even worse, these accusing “You”s often facilitate a transfusion of
power: the “acc-you-ser” is increasingly becoming a puppet and is
enabling the so-called antagonist to pull all the strings.
So, instead of “You’re making me mad” or “It’s your fault,” how about, “I don’t
like what’s going on between us. Here’s what I don’t appreciate (or) this is
what has me frustrated, concerned, uncomfortable, etc.” Then specifically,
clearly and concisely state your “I”-message concern, e.g., “I prefer being
asked or questioned about my reasons for doing XYZ rather than being confronted
by assumptions. I need for us to talk about what’s going on!”
The shift from blaming or judging involves: a) asserting one’s own beliefs and
perspective and, when necessary, firmly yet respectfully setting limits on the
use of “You”-message fault-finding, b) setting boundaries on a party not
respecting one’s physical or psychological space, c) evolving a perspective that
is less focused on the other person’s “faults” (that is, an intrapersonal
position) and more concerned with developing an interpersonal, “How are
we together generating this situation and what can we do about it?”
problem-solving approach, and d) acknowledging and taking responsibility for
one’s actions and feelings by using “I”-messages, including stating likes and
dislikes, and concerns and irritations.
Such an emotional-communicational shift means being authentically
“self”-centered in contrast to being narcissistically ego-driven. Remember, a
healthy “I”-communicator strives for real and respectful, responsible and
responsive give and take between the parties. (Email for my article “The Four
“R”s of PRO Relating.”) The narcissist invariably sees life through a “black or
white” or a “right or wrong” lens, though these may even have rose-colored
tinting. This personality inevitably needs to be in a “one-up” or “in control”
position. And when the surprisingly sensitive narcissist feels his or her hurt
is triggered by an alleged provocateur, then launching the old blamethrower
is excusable, if not perfectly justified.
Quickly Bringing the Impact of “You” vs “I” to Life
Of course, a “blameholic” can consciously or not try to disguise weakness or
immaturity with a Mr. Bluster mask and manner. Still, the difference between
affirming “I” responses and offensively defensive “You” reactions is
transparent. For example, imagine you are in an argument, perhaps over politics
or whether a movie was worth seeing, and the other party suddenly tires of the
logical back and forth. Consider the impact of each of these two-word
declarations. Can you hear and feel the difference between “You’re wrong” (said
with a judgmental tone) as compared to “I disagree” (declared with energy and
conviction; or perhaps with a tad more tact, “I see it differently”)?
The consistent group facial expressions (and occasional gasps) when an audience
member helps me act out this contrasting two-word scenario reveals the verbal
and emotional impact. And quick analysis is illuminating. “You’re wrong” no
longer is dealing with the specific issue but is actually dismissive of the
other individual. In contrast, “I disagree” is predicated on the other’s
position or points of argument, that is, the “I”-response is respectfully
problem-focused while a “You”-reaction is often judgmental, win-lose, and
Finally, I believe a reactive “You” message tends to be one-sided, driven by
“right or wrong” presumptions: “all head” (e.g., a coldly intellectual remark
or a rejoinder dripping with scarcasm, e.g., “I’m just sure you could not
have done anything else?”) or “all heart” (e.g., a wounded or weepy, “feel sorry
for me,” outburst or lament). In contrast, a “responsive” “I”-message combines
both “head and heart.” An “I” perspective typically attempts to perceive,
understand and integrate multiple perspectives, that is, tries to construct a
meaningful assessment of one’s own along with the other’s deeds, needs and
intentions. And next is another memorable technique for achieving this
2. Consider a “Reflective and Responsive” Mantra. The standard advice when
you’ve “had it up to here” with someone and want to verbally explode or simply
lash out is, of course, “Count to ten.” And while I see some merit, for me the
cautionary counsel falls a bit short. In the heat of battle, if thrown off
guard, I can just imagine myself methodically counting, “1-2-3-4,” then suddenly
shifting gears, flying through 5 through 9, and at “10” blurting out, “You
bozo!” (Even the Stress Doc is susceptible to that “You”-ruption every once in
a while; though the words of French novelist Andre Gide from his book, The
Immoralist, often helps me silently, if not serenely, place people and
positions in perspective: One must allow others to be right; it consoles
them for not being anything else!)
Actually, to be less reactive, all you need is some of those well-developed
multi-tasking skills to transform the old saw into a new aphorism. (As an
aside, while the younger generation is particularly adept at multi-tasking, I
suspect folks of any age who primarily hyper-speed through life may have some
initial difficulty being personally reflective and psychosocially attentive.)
Anyway…my poetic mantra: Count to ten and check within. That is,
while you are counting (and centering yourself or trying to calm) down, ask one
or more of these questions, which may also slow the countdown: “What am I
feeling right now?” Am I attributing all my hurt or anger to “the other”; am I
about to vent with a blaming “You”? Is it possible that some of my outrage
reveals that my own “hot button” or emotional baggage issues have been pushed,
triggered or stirred? Am I confronting my” Intimate FOE: Fear of Exposure?”
Here’s an example of a self-inventory process, though, admittedly, one several
years in the making. A heated exchange followed by quiet discussion enabled my
partner to finally realize that my behavior was not equivalent to the immature
actions of her ex; my actions were not really firing up her emotional cauldron.
It was her own low boiling point, worn down by an erosive and divisive marriage,
helping to trigger her impatience and anger with her present partner. (Though,
of course, I certainly bring some of my own stuff to our intimate interaction.)
The real “hot button” was her self-regret, shame and rage for not being strong
enough to leave sooner a mostly dysfunctional “thirty year” relationship. And
when this “separation/being on my own” fear constricted her options, there were
some irreparable consequences for the children, the adults, and the family as a
whole. However, having the courage to face your sadness and remorse softens the
anger and rage that otherwise turns inward and/or gets acted out onto others.
And this deeper awareness should help a dyad’s interaction be less defensive and
After completing this rapid internal audit, if still confused or frustrated
while in the heat of battle, then build upon the mantra: Count to ten and
check within…when in doubt, check without! Alas, my poetic addition may
be a tad ambiguous. So let’s clarify some possible interpretations of check
a) check outside yourself; ask the other to clarify his or her message,
e.g., “I’m not clear about what I’m hearing”;
b) check or set limits on a hostile communicator, e.g., “I don’t mind
feedback, even critical feedback, but hostility and condescension are not
acceptable! Let’s try again,”
c) check in with an open mind, that is, without bias, making every effort
to consciously suspend your assumptions and prejudgments; e.g., “I must admit
I’m not neutral in this matter, but I will attempt to listen with an open and
If issues remain troubling upon “checking within and without,” remember, you may
momentarily retreat yet still be palpably real and paradoxically present. You
may checkout to check in: “I’m way angry right now, and don’t want to
put my foot in my mouth (or your butt). I’m not running out; I’m taking a
timeout. I want to think about this, and I will get back to you first thing in
the morning. From my perspective, we are not finished.” Clearly,
strategic-reflective retreating is not giving up but stepping back in order to
cool down, lick wounds, reevaluate, perhaps talk with a “stress buddy,”
integrate head and heart, gain new perspective and strategy, and then
responsibly reengage. (Of course, there are times, especially in the instance
of child abuse, when an aggressor-predator-enabler has clearly earned
“You”-focused confrontation, condemnation and, if warranted, incarceration. For
example, see Penn State’s and Syracuse University’s potential criminal scandals
Hopefully, you now have two new, quick application tools for bridging the
communication divide and for helping all parties…Practice Safe Stress!
Taking Kaleidoscopic AIM: Designing a Matrix for “Cognitive-Communication”
The article, “Taking Kaleidoscopic AIM: Designing a Matrix for
“Cognitive-Communication” Consciousness,” provides a matrix for
"Cognitive-Communication Consciousness." Because it involves a matrix, I will
need to attach the entire article. At this point, I have just sketched the
model; I have not explained it in detail. My goal is to develop a model that
will help a communicator be better prepared as a thinker and message
developer-deliverer to, “Ready…Aim…Fire!” not “Ready…Fire…Aim!” Despite being
in the gestation phase, I hope it may pique your curiosity. As always, I would
love to hear any impressions and ideas.
P.S. Here’s some of my motive for writing this article: In our “Hyper-Speed
Digital” (HSD) world, the medium is not just shaping the message but also the
messenger, along with the mentality of over messaged-stimulated masses. One
obvious example: attention span appears to be shrinking across the age
spectrum. However, I’m also noticing overdrive speech patterns, especially for
the generations who have grown up with the Internet and Social Media (that is,
Internet Natives in contrast to us older Generational Slugs, actually, Internet
Immigrants, according to Nick Bolton technology blogger for the New York Times
and author of I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works, 2010). People just
seem to talk faster, (also louder), as if they are racing to get their words in
(or heard) before the other party’s ever restless radar is distracted elsewhere
or simply tunes out. (See attachment for entire article.)
In our “Hyper-Speed Digital” (HSD) world, the medium is not just shaping the
message but also the messenger, along with the mentality of over
messaged-stimulated masses. One obvious example: attention span appears to be
shrinking across the age spectrum. However, I’m also noticing overdrive speech
patterns, especially for the generations who have grown up with the Internet and
Social Media (that is, Internet Natives in contrast to us older Generational
Slugs, actually, Internet Immigrants, according to Nick Bolton technology
blogger for the New York Times and author of I Live in the Future & Here’s How
It Works, 2010). People just seem to talk faster, (also louder), as if they are
racing to get their words in (or heard) before the other party’s ever restless
radar is distracted elsewhere or simply tunes out. (Or perhaps it’s just my
hearing that’s slowing as, in my sixth decade, I more consciously ebb and flow
between moving smartly and purposefully as per my foundational New York/East
Coast mode and mentally meandering “out of the creative closet” and into my
“American in Cajun Paris,” “N’Awlins/Big Easy” mode.)
In addition to the speech rate, I’m also aware of multi-generational
hyper-tendencies – individuals frequently blurting out the first thing that
comes up. I was going to say “comes to mind,” but I think certain cerebral
circuits are being bypassed: people are simply “shooting from the lip.” More
and more, especially when engaged in intense discussion or disagreement, my
sense is that people are reflexively following their own silent and internal
convoluted command: Ready…Fire…Aim! There’s too much electronic,
scattershot, “shoot first, ask questions later” messaging. Once feeling
provoked or disrespected, you’re gunning for or putting down perceived
antagonists or competitors; inflating one’s self-importance at another’s expense
may or not be premeditated. For example, while you expect some testiness (and
testosterone) in a Presidential Primary Debate, Mitt Romney’s “$10,000
bet/challenge” in reaction to Rick Perry’s repeated criticism, instantly becomes
a “shoot from the lip” classic.
Children's Hospital -- Wisconsin
[Two-hour Keynote on "Managing Stress/Burnout and Building Team Morale," for 150
allied health professionals]
Dec 21, 2011
The feedback I received from the several that I spoke with was that they all
received good and useful information for their daily work on their unit in the
hospital. People were positive and upbeat as they left the conference, as it
brought people together on common ground of the feelings of burnout. This is a
topic that is the "elephant in the room" and it was helpful to be reminded that
the "elephant" needs attention and to be tamed on a regular basis.
The conference helped me on a personal level, by both identifying my own
feelings of burnout, and freeing me up to explore all the possibilities for
dealing with that burnout. I have since had conversations about burnout, after
sharing my own feelings, that have been helpful for myself and others.
Sometimes it just helps to know "it comes with the territory" for the job fields
that we have chosen and that as long as we can survive it, burnout can be
energizing as well as draining!
Here's a sample testimonial:
"Mark was an engaging speaker who quickly connected with a diverse group. He
shared relevant information in a humorous way. Mark provided a worthwhile
presentation that was helpful and reminded us about keeping workplace stress in
And here is one from me:
"Mark was a great choice for a speaker at our recent conference -- he was
engaging, energetic and interactive. At a time when we are facing big change on
an ongoing basis, Mark's program proved to be timely and directly applicable to
the challenges in our current climate."
Children's Hospital & Health System
OFFICE OF THE CITY ATTORNEY: MIAMI BEACH
(Half-day "Stress Management, Communications and Team Building Program" for 15
Dec. 20, 2011
I would like to commend Mr. Mark Gorkin on the wonderful seminar that he
imparted to the City Attorney’s office on Stress Management. After his
presentation, people were commenting on how much fun it was.
One of the most valuable parts of the seminar were the “exercises.” One of them
reminded me that in times of conflict you have a choice not to pull the rope in
the opposite way figuratively speaking.
His sense of humor helped to make light out some of our most difficult daily
Thanks for an excellent presentation!
Maria Elia Moya Posas
Maria Elia Moya Posas, Legal Administrator
OFFICE OF THE CITY ATTORNEY
1700 Convention Center Drive, Fourth Floor, Miami Beach, FL 33139
Subj: Perks of reaching 50 or 60 and heading towards 70 or beyond!
From: D Pearson
1. Kidnappers are not very interested in you.
2. In a hostage situation, you are likely to be released first.
3. No one expects you to run -- anywhere.
4. People call at 9 PM (or 9 AM) and ask, 'Did I wake you?'
5. People no longer view you as a hypochondriac.
6. There is nothing left to learn the hard way.
7. Things you buy now won't wear out.
8. You can eat Supper at 4 PM.
9. You can live without sex, but not your glasses.
10. You get into heated arguments about pension plans.
11. You no longer think of speed limits as a challenge.
12. You quit trying to hold your stomach in no matter who walks into the room.
13. You sing along with elevator music.
14. Your eyes won't get much worse.
15. Your investment in health insurance is finally beginning to pay off.
16. Your joints are more accurate meteorologists than the national weather
17. Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can't remember them
18. Your supply of brain cells is finally down to a manageable size.
19. You can't remember who sent you this list.
And you notice these are all in big print for your convenience.
Forward this to everyone you can remember right now!
AND THE MOST IMPORTANT THING:
Never, NEVER, NEVER, Under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill, and a
laxative on the same night!
"Good friends are like stars...You don't always see them, but you know they are
Subject: When Insults Had Class
There was a verbal exchange between Churchill & Lady Astor:
She said, "If you were my husband I'd poison your tea."
He said, "If you were my wife, I'd drink it."
A Member of Parliament to Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on the gallows or
of some unspeakable disease."
"That depends, Sir," said Disraeli, "whether I embrace your policies or your
"He had delusions of adequacy." - Walter Kerr
"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." - Winston
"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great
"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the
dictionary." - William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).
"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it."
- Moses Hadas
"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it."
- Mark Twain
"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.." - Oscar Wilde
"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a
friend.... if you have one." - George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill
"Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second... if there is one." -
Winston Churchill, in response.
"I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here." - Stephen
"He is a self-made man and worships his creator." - John Bright
"I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial." - Irvin
"He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others." - Samuel
"He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up." - Paul Keating
"In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily." - Charles,
"Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?" -
"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork." - Mae West.
"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go." - Oscar
"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts.. . for support rather than
illumination." - Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
"He has Van Gogh's ear for music." - Billy Wilder
"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it." - Groucho Marx
Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™,
a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an acclaimed keynote & kickoff speaker,
webinar presenter, as well as "Motivational Humorist & Team Communication
Catalyst" known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN programs for both
government agencies and major corporations. In addition, the "Doc" is a team
building and organizational development consultant. He is providing "Stress and
Communication, as well as Managing Change, Leadership and Team Building"
programs for the 1st Cavalry Division and 13th Expeditionary Support Command,
Ft. Hood, Texas and for Army Community Services and Family Advocacy Programs at
Ft. Meade, MD and Ft. Belvoir, VA as well as Andrews Air Force Base/Behavioral
Medicine Services. Mark has also rotated as a Military & Family Life Consultant
(MFLC) at Ft. Campbell, KY. A former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant
for the US Postal Service, The Stress Doc is the author of Practice Safe
Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger. See his award-winning, USA
Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com -- called a "workplace
resource" by National Public Radio (NPR). For more info on the Doc's
"Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 301-875-2567.
(c) Mark Gorkin 2012
Shrink Rap™ Productions