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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 trust!

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"

Sec. II

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 law firm

Readers:        Wisdom Quotes, Being Postally Correct

A. Offerings:

1. Training/Marketing Kit:
Want to strengthen your ability to lead or market a stress workshop or any kind of speaking/training program?  Consider the Stress Doc Training/Marketing Kit, which includes both "how to" manual, 20-minute highlights video, and articles, as well as the opportunity for phone coaching.  For more info
: Training/Marketing Kit http://stressdoc.com/kitbook.htm or email.

2. "R & R" (Rap & Relaxation) CD:

(a) Relaxation-Visualization CD (10-minutes); with three Shrink Raps™ and two of the Stress Doc's classic articles:  "The Four Stags of Burnout" and "The Stress Doc's 'Top Ten' Stress Tips."  (Total time:  55-minutes.)

Price:  $15

3.  Stress Doc Book:

From Stress Brakes and Shrink Rap to Safe Stress and Cool Moon Cats:
The Wit and Wisdom of the Stress Doc
, Stress Doc Enterprises, 1995

A 90 page compilation of my former syndicated radio essays, pioneering songs in the field of psychologically humorous rap music -- "Shrink Rap" Productions - a creative visualization poem and other humorous lyrics/poems. "Stress Brake" radio essays are short (300 words), fast-paced and witty, covering such topics as stress, burnout, anger and conflict resolution, time management, creativity, men's and women's issues, romantic relationships, codependency, etc. (They make excellent fillers for newsletters.)

Price: $20 (which covers priority postage and handling)

Make check payable to:  Mark Gorkin

Send check to:

Mark Gorkin
Stress Doc Enterprises
1616 18th Street, NW  #312
Washington, DC 20009-2542


4. Chat Group:

Stop by my AOL/Digital City Shrink Rap (TM) and Group Chat DC Debate Tuesdays, 9:30-11pm EST DC Support Chat (Alas, only for AOL members.)

Work Stress Q & A:

Trying to Manage the Unmanageable Manager

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!

Shrink Rap:

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 Story"

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 ingenuity.

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 something.)

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 Shrink Rap and Group Chat.  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