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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

MAR 03, Sec. I

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

Table of Contents

Work Q&A:        Dealing with a Provocative Employee
Main Essay:      Jumping Into a High Stakes Audition:  Part III (stand alone essay)
"Top Ten" Strategies for Surviving and Winning
          Training Kit & Book; AOL Chat
:           Hallmark Sayings--Not
Sect. II 
Main Essay:       
Jumping Into a High Stakes Audition:  Part 1 (Sec. II)
Taking the PESI Challenge
Medical Office Humor

Sect. III  
Main Essay:       Jumping Into a High Stakes Audition:  Part II   (Sec. III)
                          Where the Hired Mouth Meets the Road Show
          Top Bumper Stickers of 2003                         


Workplace Q & A:

Dealing with a Provocative Employee:  A Young Supervisor's Challenge

Hi Mr. Gorkin!

I discovered your website during a "panic" phonecall from my daughter, the new manager of an upscale clothing store in Florida. While she was relating her last few days at work I booted up my HP pc and keyed into Google, "managing difficult people." And there you were, thank you.

I read aloud your categories and also made a few suggestions as to tactics my daughter might try. May I briefly describe her plight and humbly ask you for a suggestion to handle this matter?
Daughter: 25 years, BFA, has worked in a plethora of situations and locations from Banana Republic to a publisher in Florence to the U.S. Senate. She is outgoing, intelligent, hard-working, and what can I say--an absolutely beautiful person.
The Problem: 19 year old public school dropout (at 15 years) employee at shop in Florida. She actually MAKES UP stories about Daughter and tells them to the few other very young sales people, e.g., "She said I dress like a slut." "She said I look like a slut." She has sabotaged sales by going over to my daughter and saying rude things, bumping into her, messing merchandise and other anti social behavior.
When the store owner confronted my daughter with the "slut" story she could not believe her ears. She told him that she actually thinks the girl looks very cute but besides that it is not her own personality to be disrespectful or nasty to others.  The owner told the girl she had better pay attention to her work.  Which she doesn't. The owner also asked Daughter if she's certain she can manage.
Daughter likes owner and his wife. She likes the shop as well as managing.  My suggestion to her is to bring the Miss Trouble a Coke/candy and have a little talk: how can we create a cheery environment for our customers? How can we work better together?  And blah blah blah.  I'm only a mother, after all, and fear violence and feel danger from the young girl.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely, E

Stress Doc Reply


Thanks for the note.

While your daughter may try the "make nice" approach, my biggest fear is you are trying to bribe off a bully and I'm not sure that will work.  This disturbed/angry woman may well be jealous of your daughter, e.g., of her accomplishments, life experience, etc.  (On some level she may well feel like "a slut."  We often accuse with what lurks inside.)  She may have a sister with whom she is competitive or angry. She may be having a crisis in her own life.  (She also might have some kind of drinking or drug issue.)

But this is what disturbs me the most:

The owner told the girl she had better pay attention to her work, which she still doesn't do. The owner then asked your daughter if she's certain she can manage.

This owner is the one who doesn't know how to manage.  He's basically minimizing the antisocial behavior; sounds like he doesn't want to have to hear/think about personnel issues.  The real key is whether your daughter finds out if he can change his behavior, even more important than if the girl changes hers, as he's the one with the power and decision-making authority.

Assuming the buying her a cup of coffee and chatting approach doesn't work, I would have your daughter first go to the owner and say the problem is continuing.  Tell the owner the constructive conversation she (daughter) will be having with the girl, outlining the problematic behavior that your daughter is witnessing/experiencing. Hopefully, the owner will support your daughter having this constructive conversation.  Your daughter explains how she wants to clarify possible disciplinary steps if this girl does not change her behavior.  Actually, your daughter should be documenting in writing this woman's behavior.  Hopefully, she and the owner will now be on the same page.

Now, your daughter should talk to the girl in a concerned and very frank way.  Have your daughter ask the girl if she sees a problem in her behavior.  Does she deny her actions?  Have your daughter ask the girl if she is frustrated with any of the daughter's actions as supervisor?  She can carefully question the girl if there are any issues in the girl's life -- inside or outside work -- troubling her right now.  (But she should not try to play Miss Junior Psychologist; your daughter needs to stay in her supervisor role.)  Eventually, your daughter has to let the girl know she will be evaluating her performance; she will be recognized and rewarded for good performance (using Organizational IRAs:  Incentives, Rewards and Recognition and Advancement Opportunities); documented and experience consequences for unsatisfactory performance; including being placed on probation.

Being a manager means periodically having to deal with "difficult people."  Your daughter needs to understand this; if she (or you) are feeling why should she have to be dealing with such a (fill in the b-word)...that's the life of a supervisor.

If the girl's behavior doesn't change (or even if it does), then your daughter (having established this plan with the owner) will go back to the owner and update him on the course of events since her frank talk with the girl.

If the owner doesn't really support any or all of the above, I think your daughter, no matter how much she likes the job, should be looking to work elsewhere.  This owner is the real problem and his dysfunctional manner will only guarantee more serious problems in the future.  Basically, it says he tolerates this girl's bullying behavior and does not support his good managers/employees.  And, yes, this indifference by an owner or manager are how problems can and do escalate into dangerous interpersonal situations.

If the company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which means the company provides a few counseling services free as a company benefit, I would suggest your daughter avail herself of these services.  She will get help in how to have these assertive interactions with both owner and problematic employee.  (In her constructive engagement with the employee, she might even suggest the girl make use of EAP services).

If there is no EAP, this would be an excellent time for your daughter to take initiative, seek out some short term counseling from a therapist knowledgeable about authority dynamics and workplace issues.  In a relatively short time I bet your daughter can strengthen her assertiveness skills; a great investment if she wishes to continue in the managerial role at this store or elsewhere.  Actually, strengthening our assertiveness skills is just a great gift we all deserve to give ourselves.


Main Essay:

[Ed. Note:  While the last segment of a three-part series, this is a strategic synthesis and can be read as a stand alone essay.]

The Stress Doc pulls togethers psychological and technical concepts and skills gleaned from a recent, parts powerful and parts painful learning curve.  These strategic tips just might help you conquer that next high stakes audition.

Jumping Into the High Stakes Audition:  Part III

"Top Ten" Strategies for Surviving and Winning

You don't have to lead three one-day seminars in three cities over five days.  You don't have to prove your self a training expert in "Anger, Conflict Resolution & Difficult People."  Nor do you have to face the challenge of an intense startup-learning curve, i.e., prove you can capture high evaluation numbers or go home.  And you don't have to be extremely motivated to want to be hired as a consultant for a nationally visible company.

But when financial pressure, publishing and marketing dreams as well as self-esteem fantasies and fears are added to audition angst…we're talking about one potentially hyper-combustible performance mix.  And there's surely a fine line between being ablaze and being burnt out.  (And believe me, I've gone over the edge more than once.)  Yet, ironically, sometimes the latter (burnout) sets the stage for the former (a new flame):

For the Phoenix to rise from the ashes
One must know the pain
To transform the fire to burning desire!

The critical question:  Will my performance overall burn steady as red-hot charcoals emitting nurturing heat, interspersed with unpredictable keen crackling, while being captivatingly luminous?  Will others gather round, add their own fuel or help fan dying embers, thus building and sustaining mutual, symbiotic and synergistic ebb and flow amongst performance parts and the whole?

Or being so absorbed in my passionate enlightenment, will I fervidly consume my own resources while ignoring my needs and the needs of those around me?   Will I deprive myself of replenishing fuel and inexorably implode?  Now the only remnant of the once fiery, all-powerful (or was it hypomanic) performer is a mere smoldering shell.  His final epitaph:  Bunt out at the (high) stake!

Of course, when it comes to facing that exciting, red-hot audition many back away.  The flame or the fame does not mesmerize all; not all are energized by the performance challenge of breathing both fire and focus.   Some are afraid of heat exhaustion; others are fearful of being shamefully scarred or burned.  It is long, hard work to understand, let alone achieve, the capacities to blaze brightly and gently glow.

Conversely, if you seek the fire mostly to inflate an ego or fuel egoal-driven fantasies and are hooked on a high-risk quick fix, then akin to a flaming meteor you will quickly extinguish and likely be lost in that starry night.  But if you understand that it is the path of mastery, more ideal than goal, that exceptional performance is an unending commitment, an infinite learning curve, and a lifelong quest then you are ready to "know the pain; to transform the fire to burning desire."  Consider this hard-earned and humble offering:  "The Stress Doc's 'Top Ten' Strategies for Surviving and Winning the High Stakes Audition."

[Rest of the article/newsletter is an attachment.]

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™,
a psychotherapist, an international speaker and syndicated writer, was recently interviewed on BBC radio.  The Doc is now a "Motivational Humorist" for The DC Improv Comedy Club as well as America Online's "Online Psychohumorist" ™ running his weekly "Shrink Rap and Group Chat" on AOL/Digital City.  See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com (recently cited as a workplace resource in a National Public Radio feature on "Bad Bosses").  Mark is also an advisor to The Bright Side -- www.the-bright-side.org -- a multi-award-winning mental health resource.  Email for his monthly newsletter recently showcased on List-a-Day.com.  For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 202-232-8662.

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2003
Shrink Rap Productions