The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist
DEC 2003, Sec 1
Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we
Table of Contents
Training Kit; CD & Book; AOL Chat
Work Q & A: Trying to Manage the Unmanageable Manager
Shrink Rap: Defining Conflict and the "Murray Story"
Main Essay: Safe Stress for the Holidays: 4 "F"s of Holiday Friction
Heads Up: GWSAE Article (See Stress Doc "top ten" sidebar on
conquering bad habits), EAPA Annual, HHS/Program Support Center & Carr Maloney
Wisdom Quotes, Being Postally
1. Training/Marketing Kit:
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the Stress Doc's classic articles: "The Four Stags of Burnout" and "The Stress
Doc's 'Top Ten' Stress Tips." (Total time: 55-minutes.)
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Work Stress Q & A:
Trying to Manage the Unmanageable
I work for a fairly large and successful company. I've only worked with this
company for a few months but I am not blind to the fact that my manager is not
someone who should have the title. She's only been the manager of our store
since September of 2003 and has had one staff leave due to her behavior. I
really enjoy my job and believe that I do it well. There are times when she'll
praise me and has made statements to the effect of "I love working with you,
your like a ray of sunshine." Then there are the moments in which I no longer
seem to mean that much, or the work that I am doing goes
unnoticed and she rants & raves.
She makes our entire staff feel insufficient, inferior to her, etc. She blames
us for things that are beyond our scope of knowledge and control. She demeans us
in front of customers...so much so that customers have made comments while
shopping at our store in another district! While on the phone she stated: "I
don't know why I bother hiring anyone? I feel like I'm working by myself." She
said that with one of our employees standing right next to her.
She talks badly behind our backs (to other staff members), she's a huge control
freak and instead of showing us how to effectively do our work she does it for
us and expects us to remember what she did. I asked her for help recently and
she refused, and then when I had a problem and she had to help me anyway. She
acted as if it was a huge waste of her time and that I had done something wrong.
I love my job and enjoy doing it, when my manager isn't around! I know that it
doesn't and shouldn't have to be this way. Complaints have been made to our
district manager but I don't see any effect. When the District manager comes to
our store she's only going to see what our manager wants her to see. I'd
confront our manager but I'm afraid to speak with her. She assumes we're friends
when really I can't stand her and want a whole lot of nothing to do with her!
I'm also afraid that if I do she'll find a reason to let me go. I'm thinking my
best bet is to look for another job. Your opinion would be greatly
Stress Doc Reply:
Thanks for the thoughtful note, G.
Before looking for another position (while still updating your resume), I'd
suggest a few things, despite my not having great confidence in the
suggestions. First of all, your manager is probably struggling with
considerable startup anxiety as a manager. See if you can muster some empathy,
e.g., can you relate to when you've been a raw beginner? Of course, this
manager is reluctant to acknowledge or take responsibility for being a "stress
carrier" (one who gives ulcers, not gets them). This dragon lady seems to have
some serious emotional-personality-interpersonal conflicts in addition to a lack
of management experience and/or skills. Her up and down, ranting behavior may
be part of her disorder. The negatives may not truly reflect how she feels
about you. She may need to displace her anger/angst onto someone when under
stress. Of course, I don't know how much she can change without some serious
counseling or supervision. Nonetheless, here are some suggestions. (Also, see
the "Shrink Rap" essay below on a classic power struggle between a more senior
employee and his younger boss.)
1. Explore an
Informal Leadership Role.
I suspect she does value you, even if it's inconsistent. Perhaps you can play
an unspoken mentor role as her frail ego and anxiety, I suspect, won't allow her
to reach out consistently for help. Try to empathize with the challenges of
taking over a store. Acknowledge her concern about not getting enough support.
Perhaps you can approach her about ways that people can be more supportive of
her goals for the store. Maybe you can even suggest your holding a team meeting
to get ideas from the group about strengthening team motivation and
productivity. (You might even suggest she not be present at first as people may
speak more freely.) Ask her if you can solicit input from participants about
how the group can work more effectively and efficiently. Also, will she allow
others to give feedback on her strengths as a leader and on skill and style
areas that need strengthening? If she's in anyway receptive, you might outline
your perception of some of her leadership "strengths" while noting that how she
expresses her concerns will influence employee motivation and buy-in.
Of course, if you don't feel comfortable playing this role, you can always
suggest a team building consultant be brought in to help analyze and improve the
team functioning. Or, if neither of these ideas feel safe, then proceed to #2.
2. EPA Option. If the above intervention is impossible and if there's an
EPA (Employee Assistance Program), speak to an EPA counselor. Sometimes they
can begin a quiet intervention process, maybe having more clout with your
District Manager. Or the counselor can begin to plan some strategy with HR.
Also, if more than one of you speaks with EPA or HR, that might have some extra
clout. Again, these parties can bring in an outside consultant. This is often
my entry into a dysfunctional organizational system.
3. Be Prepared to Grieve. If management above your manager basically
chooses to ignore the problem, and your manager continues her state of denial,
then you may have no recourse but to move on. When the level of leadership
dysfunction reaches this magnitude, you really can't just ignore it or adapt,
not for long anyway. This hazardous work environment will take a toll on your
mind-body health, morale, self-confidence, etc. So it is better to bail sooner
than later, with a healthy ego intact.
Of course, both anger, frustration and helplessness can be stirred. Why should
you have to be the one to leave when the destructive party remains entrenched?
Alas, unfairness, absurdity and abuse still rule in too many organizations. So
you may need to do some grieving; actually, it sounds like you have started.
Just remember prize-winning author Albert Camas' words of wisdom:
Once we have accepted the fact of loss we understand that the loved one [or
loved position) obstructed a whole corner of the possible pure now as a sky
washed by rain.
(Look over my Work Stress Q & As for more support:
Q&A: Work & Love.) So give intervention the best shot and if that doesn't
work...time for new exploration. To good support and good adventures. And, of
course...Practice Safe Stress!
Here's a classic power
struggle between two hardheaded and ego-driven individuals. Both in their own
way are covering up vulnerability and insecurity. See how the Stress Doc and
his ally come to the rescue.
Defining Conflict and the "Murray
When you read the word
"conflict," what's your first association: anger, tension, avoidance or power
struggle? What about diversity and creativity or honesty, intimacy and
organizational growth? Conflict ... we seemingly can't live with it; we surely
won't survive without it.
Let's start by defining it. Conflict is the friction that builds when two or
more people clash over facts, short-term goals, enduring values and the status
of their relationship(s). It's also the struggle over resources and methods for
defining and achieving these contested facts, goals, values and status
positions. But conflict is not just functional; for the pioneering American
educator and philosopher, John Dewey, it was also inspirational:
Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It
instigates to invention. It shocks us out of sheep-like passivity, and sets us
at noting and contriving... Conflict is the sine qua non of reflection and
Clearly, conflict is vital for today's "lean and mean" times. It can be the
imaginative and interactive energy source firing purpose, passion and the
sharing of power three key "p"s for productivity. Conversely, all "all or none"
conflict resolution style or climate means one person or group is on top and in
control; the other party is perceived to be incompetent, subordinate, dependent,
or powerless ... and/or a threat to the established order.
This "win/lose" concept of conflict is forged by an aggressive nature, cultural
socialization or from extremism in the pursuit of the Coach Lombardi ideal:
"Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." Also, unresolved emotional hurt
or humiliation breeds mistrust, which often compels this "dominant or defeated"
ideology. Yet, even long-standing or rigidly competitive behavior, if not basic
beliefs, can change dramatically with creative intervention and good timing,
i.e., "strike when the ego is hot!"
Disarming Dueling Egos
Let me tell you the story of Murray, a salesman with a mid-sized company in New
York City. My parents' friends, Murray and Lorraine, were visiting when I
happened by. An experienced and successful salesman, Murray was fuming. The old
company president had recently retired and put his abrasive, domineering
son-in-law in charge. Murray, a classic "Type A" competitor, wasn't taking
orders from anyone, especially from "some jerk" half his age.
After listening to Murray's harangue, the young boss seemed inexperienced and
anxious. I suggested Murray tell his that, "I miss the old man, and while I'm
not always crazy about your leadership style, I must admit you're keeping me
sharp. Murray, of course, exploded: "Forget it. I wanna murder this kid. I'm not
doing anything that gets him one up on me!"
Two weeks later, I again bumped into Murray. He was still quite disgruntled.
This time, Murray dismissed me with a backhanded sweep when I recalled my
strategy. Two weeks went by when Murray's wife unexpectedly called: "Mark, you
won't believe this. Murray finally did what you suggested... and it worked." Not
only had the young boss eased up on Murray, but he put Murray in charge on
long-range planning and sales. (Lorraine shared that Murray, before the
overture, had grown increasingly depressed. I can just imagine Lorraine saying,
"Enough already," and threatening Murray with eviction if he didn't do
Why did the Murray gambit work? Let's analyze this conflict resolution process:
1. Need To Grieve. In order to let go temporarily of his
dominance-submission mindset, Murray had to release his rage then, ironically,
"hit bottom." Murray was still grieving the company changes and likely
displacing some anger for the departed "old man" onto "this kid." Until one is
at a loss and in sufficient pain, new approaches are often rejected. Cumulative
pressure can be an ally; so too Lorraine's dose of reality.
2. Play Up Or Open Up. Did Murray play up to the new boss! While initially
feeling humiliated, I say Murray took the high road. First, he did express
genuine frustration with the changing-of-the-company-guard. And, while Murray
fell more wounded than "sharp," by cutting the "win/lost" cord the real
challenge and opportunity was unleashed: transforming Murray from cider salesman
to company statesman.
3. Position Vs. Interest. Initially, these ego-driven men were trapped in
their self-defeating power positions. Each was depriving not just the other, but
themselves. Clearly, this inexperienced boss needed an ally with historical
perspective and the big picture.
It was in his interest to rely on Murray. It was also in Murray's interest to
provide mixed feedback that could be received as a begrudging (hence more
believable) compliment. Recognition helped defuse youthful anxiety and
aggression. And, Murray's initiative was certainly paid back with "interest."
Finally, while Murray would not admit it, I'm sure he enjoyed the role of mentor
-- a one-up position.
No need to worry about this process fundamentally changing Murray. When I saw
him again, and mentioned hearing that things were better at work, Murray didn't
give an inch. His only reply: "Yeah, the jerk's finally off my back!"
In conclusion, while often frustrating, the tension and struggle inherent in
conflict sows its own seed for innovative resolution and growth. Are you ready
to reap the creative pass in the impasse?
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The
Stress Doc" ™, an
international/Celebrity Cruise Lines speaker, training consultant,
psychotherapist, syndicated writer, and upcoming author of Practice Safe
Stress: Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression.
Mark, recently interviewed by BBC Radio, has a multi-award-winning, USA
Today Online "HotSite" --
www.stressdoc.com -- cited as
workplace resource in a National
Public Radio feature. As AOL's "Online Psychohumorist," ™Mark runs his weekly
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(c) Mark Gorkin 2003
Shrink Rap Productions