The Stress Doc Newsletter
Notes from the
MAR 2005, Sec.
Work Q &
[This Q & A was written originally for WorkforceOnline, where it appears
in abbreviated form.]
When a New Employee Comes On (Too?) Strong and Team Members
Complain and then Exclude: What's a Manager to Do?
Q. We added a new staff member who is quite good at her job.
However, other staff are unhappy and complain she is arrogant and talks down to
them. She is more capable and knowledgeable. Initially we chalked this up to
jealousy and presumed things would settle down. Instead, the new hire says the
others exclude and ignore her. Other department managers also have remarked
about her arrogant attitudes, but when pressed for further information they
claim they are simply repeating complaints of the staff. What could I do to
improve teamwork and interpersonal relationships?
A. So do we have a case of a knowledgeable, confident and assertive
woman setting off others' insecure "hot buttons" or do you have a stress carrier
on your hands? While I assume there's some truth on both sides, let me begin
this response as if might be a prima donna in the clubhouse? As the saga of
Randy Moss -- a brilliant football receiver yet too often an emotionally
immature and behaviorally dysfunctional individual - illustrates, too many
exceptions or second chances for a shoot from the lips (or moon from the hips)
star takes a toll on most everyone in the system. And, alas, your shooting star
will likely seriously injure team morale before burning herself out.
So what to do? It's good that you want to take the lead in problem solving.
Consider these strategic steps:
1. Start Documenting. If you haven't already done so, informally
document any new specific behaviors of concern brought to your attention
including, of course, any behaviors you observe. Conversely, any clear patterns
of ostracism or isolation should also be noted.
2. Have a One-On-One. Meet with the new employee. Share the feedback
you are hearing from both team members and how people in other departments are
aware of the tension. At this point, maintain confidentiality. Ask the
employee for her perception of the situation. She may well respond that others
are jealous of her skills and abilities. And certainly empathize with her
feelings of exclusion; ask for specific instances. While you might solicit
suggestions on improving the atmosphere, I wouldn't push hard for solutions at
this point. Let her know of your attention to start addressing these matters by
speaking individually with the other team members.
3. Have Individual Meetings. Meet with other team members. Give them a
chance to express their grievances. In addition, in these individual sessions
explore whether the person is aware of attempts to ignore and/or exclude the new
team member. Gathering this information will give you both a forest and trees
perspective and enhance your ability to intervene.
4. Selective Recruiting. After your individual meetings, try to enlist
two or three team members who will agree to a problem solving meeting with you
and the new team member. These people become the group representatives. Try to
select team members who can be somewhat objective and emotionally balanced,
i.e., can they acknowledge that at this point both team members and the new
employee have reason to be frustrated? Can they recognize that almost any
significant social-operational change can prove upsetting to individuals and
teams as a whole?
One caveat: if you discover that a team member truly has entrenched hostility
toward the new member you will likely need to mediate a joint meeting between
these antagonists. Clearly, this angry individual should not be one of the
group representatives mentioned above.
5. Mediation Meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to air issues and,
hopefully, get your recruited group proposing action steps that will help the
new person better fit into the social climate and working atmosphere of the
office. The goal is to reduce any provocative actions while validating the new
employee's strengths. At the same time, explore whether any team members are
uncomfortable with her strengths, with feeling pressured to improve their
performance, etc. Some team members may need help in adjusting to the loss of
old intimacy and to the new group dynamics.
Remind the new person that you are not looking to shut down her individuality;
designing a better working fit is your goal. Finally, help these folks identify
the key discussion/learning points that will be shared with the entire team.
6. Hold a Team Meeting. The team as a whole now has a chance to respond
briefly to the initial concerns; this should not become a bash session. The
problem-solving steps proposed should be the primary focus. The goal is some
ventilation around both issues of condescension and exclusion, acknowledgement
of change stress, further refinement of conflict problem-solving and team
building plans and, finally, group buy-in to action steps.
7. Follow-up Meetings and Training. I would follow-up with the new
employee within a couple of days to see how she weathered the team meeting. And
plan to meet with the team weekly for the next month to monitor the social
atmosphere and progress toward the goals of improved communication and
cooperation along with effective integration. Also, you might want to consider
having some communication and conflict resolution skills training as part of
ongoing team building.
8. Fail Safe. If any of this sounds daunting or if the process breaks
down, for example, the new employee (or any employee, for that matter) refuses
to participate in this intervention, then meet again with the recalcitrant
individual. Firmly state your intention to document formally unprofessional
behavior that negatively impacts either work productivity or productive team
relationships. Of course, this supervisory step also applies to any team member
engaging in exclusionary behavior.
If your organization has the resources, call in an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
counselor to help guide the process. (You might want to avail yourself of a
coach from the get go.) Or if needed, hire an outside conflict mediator. If
your goal is to: a) help this employee be productive in her work and working
relations and b) have an effective - task-focused, inclusive and cooperative -
working team then these steps become an investment by management in group morale
and cohesiveness, as well as retaining a potentially valuable employee. And in
today's litigious society, such an intervention may preempt possible grievance
procedures. All in all, steps to help one and all…Practice Safe Stress!
The Stress Doc captures the first four of ten strategic concepts, tools and
techniques for energizing and exciting the performance-learning experience.
Jumpstarting and Energizing Your Presentation and Your Audience: Part I
Thoughts of a Conference Speaker and New ASTD Member
I recently attended a local ASTD (American Society for Training & Development)
event that had some sobering news for us who love doing live training:
organizations continue the exodus to virtual learning, and the numbers of
students are increasing. While this may be old news for many, as an independent
speaker and trainer/workshop leader and a very recent ASTD member, the statistic
certainly got my attention.
My first thought was to argue back: no virtual learning can replicate the
atmosphere and the dynamic climate, more specifically the energy, if not
electricity, that's generated when I'm sharing, challenging and bantering
purposefully and spontaneously with a live audience. And perhaps most powerful
is when through planned interactive exercises I turn the show over to the
collective. Now I feel like an orchestra leader helping players bring out their
best music. And this high-energy state can be generated with an audience of 30
as well as 300.
While my platform experience began in a university setting and then later as a
traditional government agency and corporate trainer, in recent years I have
increasingly been asked to jumpstart a conference or to provide some closing
fireworks. And gradually, I've discovered that many of these "auditorium" or
"ballroom" performance techniques and structures work effectively in smaller or
more intimate training and workshop settings (And the converse also applies.,
i.e., workshop/training methodology make my keynotes more effective.)
Increasing the dynamism of our performance presence and the concomitant power of
the learner's experience may not reverse the trend of web-based education.
However, this performance-learning equation will surely help fortify in our
customers' and trainees' minds the unique contributions of face-to-face
Based on this evolutionary trial and error process, I believe we can rapidly
capture people's attention and keep them on the performance edge with a dynamic
mix - let's call it "The Right Stuff" - of substance and style, and structure
and strategy. You can often "surprise" and "amaze" an audience not accustomed
to a training or workshop experience that is head provoking and heart-pumping
(without reliving a military basic training-type experience), interactive and
inspiring, "real life" and FUN!
Risking the charge of self-promotion (please recall the old saw: "Vanity thy
name is Gorkin") let me share one recent testimonial based on a 2-½ hour Stress
and Change Workshop from the Director of Administration of a DC-based media and
communications firm, Susan Pedersen Productions, that conveys such unexpected
enthusiasm by the customer:
I have been employed by the same communication coaching firm for the past
nine years. We have had staff retreats before. However, this year's retreat
was by far the best. Mark Gorkin, "The Stress Doc," is amazing. We laughed,
joked and displayed our artistic abilities all while learning how to work better
as a team during the difficulties of office change. My employees can't stop
talking about how great the retreat was. What an awesome way to teach your
employees how to manage stress and change.
Dynamic Performance-Learning Experience Top Ten
Consider the first four of ten strategic concepts, tools and techniques for
energizing and exciting the performance-learning experience:
1. Quickly Capture People's Attention. In contrast with or in addition
to the oft-used method of starting a program with a light-hearted joke, that may
or may not be contextually specific to your audience, consider these techniques
for confounding expectations and generating surprising attention - an intimate
mind game and a dramatic story:
a) Interactive Mind Game. While presenters frequently show an amusing
cartoon to begin on a light note, try going beyond the easy laugh for a more
dramatic and engaging effect. For example, I may open a stress workshop by
suddenly announcing with authoritative tone: "Okay, you are back in school,
have a tough professor (pointing to myself), you're about to take a tough final
exam…" and then I will either pass out a "Shoe" cartoon or show it as a power
point slide. One of the key human-bird-like characters, Skyler, an awkward
teen, is about to take an exam. He's studied all night; he's psyched: "Okay,
what's the first question? Name? Name who? Name what? His face and body
increasingly distorted by stress. Then…"Oh, my name. Come on Skyler, get a
The situational recognition is universal and the group laughter just as
predictable. Immediately, a startling and slightly larger than life encounter
has been created between presenter and audience. No passive spectators here.
Nothing like a surprise quiz to grab and focus people's active attention. And
to signal that this program may be far from commonplace.
b) Dramatic Opening. A complement to the surprise quiz is a personal and
professional story. I share how being a very imaginative yet, alas, very
impractical Social Work doctoral student at Tulane University contributed to
becoming a stress expert. (Being practical and the motto of N'Awlins - "laisez
les bonnes temps roulez" - may be a contradiction in terms. My name for the
American in Cajun Paris daze: "When academic flashdancing whirled to a burnout
tango!" But there was a silver lining: I became an expert on stress and
Okay, so I do try for a little humor…but it's of a personal nature. Audiences
often connect with an authority that can do some light self-directed poking or
can laugh at his or her own flaws and foibles. Most important, though, the
personal sharing sets the stage for a brief yet intense story about my first
post-burnout stress workshop with a truly battle weary group -- VA Hospital Head
The dramatics come in as I describe the pressures these professionals faced --
lack of resources, frustrations with administration and doctors, problems with
staff, patients and family members, etc., along with my oral painting of the
palpable tension in the workshop boardroom: "You could cut the tension with a
knife." And then I imitate the military precision-like introductory bursts:
"Walker, W-14, Thompson, W-16, Jones, W-20."
And as quickly as the drama builds, it's suddenly broken, albeit with nervous
laughter as I parrot the nurses two favorite survival sayings: "Do your eight
and hit the gate" and "Nine to five and stay alive."
2. Up the Temperature of Your Warm-up Exercise. Personally, most
workshop warm-ups range from the mundane to the inane; they are much too fluffy
and tepid, if not actually timid. Maybe it's my clinical social work
background, but I believe participants are ready for more meaningful and even
intimate sharing. The critical factor is their feeling safe and not personally
exposed. And as previously indicated, an opening that mixes surprise, drama and
a little humor greases the desire and opportunity for tension release.
For example, here's an interactive warm-up that doesn't have to be limited to a
stress program - my "Three 'B' Stress Barometer Exercise": "How does your
'Brain,' 'Body' and 'Behavior' tell you when you're under stress?" (This
exercise might be useful when training employees to integrate new and
challenging operational policies and procedures.) Through small group
discussion (four-six/group) a "Three 'B''' stress signal list is generated.
Again, everyone can relate and participate. And the universal nature of stress
reduces the barriers to some personal disclosure.
Of course, sometimes you do encounter resistance. I recall a pompous State
Department Manager challenging me with a sneer, "What do you call it if you
don't have any stress?" My immediate one-word reply to Mr. Bluster: "Denial!"
Actually, there's plenty of opportunity for humorous banter. For example, I'll
play off list items read by the group recorder. When eating as a stress smoke
signal invariably comes up I'll gently break in: "Be honest, when anxious how
many of you sometimes eat more?" Many hands are raised. Then I follow with:
"Are there any folks who under stress lose their appetite and eat less?" Upon
seeing a few fluttering hands, my immediate reply: "And we hate those people,
don't we!" The communal laughter is palpable.
Finally, a robust, widely identifiable warm-up exercise means early on you are
engaged in some nascent team building: while some may be paddling more
furiously than others, everyone is in the familiar stress boat.
3. Create Some Uncertainty, If Not Anxiety. Within the first ten
minutes, the above opening has defied convention and expectations if not
generated some edginess or significant surprise. To review, the mechanisms are:
a) opening with an unconventional mind game ("You're back at school, facing a
b) providing a dramatic roller coaster story (of the VA Head Nurses) that evokes
some tension and then provides some sudden release (through nervous laughter)
c) moving participants into a moderately revealing and risk-taking "Three 'B'
Exercise" before they are ready or, perhaps, before they realize that their
emotional disclosure shields are not in their customarily snug self-protective
This dynamic start has most people on the edge of their seats. They are
processing some unsettling ideas and emotions. While often energized by the
openness and the sharing, many are also feeling edgy if not a bit vulnerable.
Your audience is being primed for receptivity to task-focused information and
supportive interaction that will heighten self-awareness and help participants
regain a sense of control.
In addition, you're creating a powerful relationship-building window: there's
no stronger bonding agent between presenter and audience than stress relieving
laughter. (An image of a gifted dance instructor helping nervous neophytes have
good-natured laugh at their missteps, flaws and foibles comes to mind.) And
laughter doesn't just help others release and relax. People are more open to a
serious message when it's gift-wrapped with humor!
Actually, this association is key. Participants will move to the edge, follow
your lead even if a bit skeptical, tolerate some uncertainty and, even,
gradually "let go" if they feel safe and have sufficient trust in your
confidence and conviction. People will further venture out of their comfort
zone if they sense you have a purpose and plan for expanding their skillset and
for restoring cognitive-affective equilibrium to their learning space.
4. Boredom Proof Lecture with Concision and Variety. I don't know if
it's my short attention span or that I quickly tire of hearing myself talk, but
I consciously employ two attention sustaining strategies that also limit
rambling and help sustain the speaker-listener connection:
a) Deliver Compact and Vivid Learning Bites. Whether a simple or a
complex concept, it gets broken down into manageable chunks of information. As
the article's "Dynamic Top Ten" illustrates, I'm forever developing lists,
stages or acronyms to make data more tangible and accessible, memorable and
retrievable. (Of course, this doesn't mitigate the fact that most folks living
in Washington, DC, including yours truly, should be mandated for a Twelve-Step
Recovery class - Acronyms Anonymous.) And whenever possible I wrap my
presentation abstractions in vivid everyday language.
As an example, let's take my concept of "The Four Stages of Burnout." Consider
my opening descriptor of "Physical, Mental and Emotional Exhaustion": "Do you
ever find you're still holding it together at work, but as soon as you get home
it's right for the fridge…get out the Ben & Jerry's or the light beer, put on
the tube, hit the sofa…and you're comatose for the rest of the evening? Or is
it just me? (Almost by definition, just posing a relevant question in the midst
of information-based lecture by itself becomes a thought-provoking tool of
I use references that can be readily visualized, such as having one hand tied
behind your back (and the other tied to a cell phone). Or a pithy rhyme - "a
case of the brain strain." Both techniques enhance personal identification and
help sustain student energy and focus. People now need to discover the second
stage - "Shame and Doubt."
b) Break Up the Monologue. Inject change of pace in the delivery
process. As indicated, a communicational shift can commence simply by asking a
question, which then might lead to a significant deviation from the expected
path. For example, after noting how increasing pressure and doubt may manifest
in worry over whether colleagues, friends or family members sense there is
something wrong"…I'll suddenly ask, "What about this smoke signal? It's one of
my favorites." I then proceed to let out decidedly audible, exaggerated sighs.
Now with some nervous or knowing audience laughter as a backdrop, I declare:
"Okay, let's have a good group sigh." Trust me, I often discover audiences
ready to audition for The Mormon Tabernacle Choir of Perpetual Sighing. Again,
levity along with physical release tempers the heaviness in the room while
So even within, actually, especially within, this portion of the workshop, i.e.,
"The Four Stages," that has the longest lecture component, I'm breaking up any
"talking head" tendencies. Whether engaging the whole audience or having a tug
of war with an audience member using an imaginary rope, participants rarely have
time to tune out or glaze over.
A Final Caveat
And speaking of glazing, I can't leave this section without commenting on the
way many trainers break up their word stream: the power point slide
presentation. Of course, with certain technical or data based presentations,
graphs and pie charts or other visuals are vital. However, at times heavy slide
show reliance reflects trainer avoidance:
a) by not doing your homework, that is, not coming up with a variety of
techniques and methods for engaging your audience. Might we say such an
individual is "sliding?" and
b) whether purposeful or not, over-"powering" learners means you are tethered by
technology. Wading into an audience recedes as an option. The opportunity to
more personally interact with participants is "slip sliding away."
Surely folks want concrete tools and techniques, skills and strategies that they
can take home and apply. But people often want a learning environment and
experience that's alive and vital, that touches the head and the heart. As a
closing example, let me share a powerful moment at a recent legal education
conference in New York City. A paralegal approached thanking me for "saving her
mind, if not her life." Six months earlier she had participated in my "Kickoff"
in a similar conference on the West Coast. (I don't think she was stalking
me.) At the time she was dissatisfied with her job, but hadn't grasped the
depth of her malaise. It wasn't until she began having "so much fun" doing the
interactive exercises (despite their very real worklife focus) that she realized
something essential was missing at work and in her life. Within two months she
left her firm and found a new job. And she's "lovin it."
So let's use this story as a springboard for examining the power of purposeful,
playful and passion-generating exercises.
Part I of "Jumpstarting and Energizing Your Presentation and Your Audience"
the first four of ten strategic concepts, tools and techniques for energizing
and exciting the performance-learning experience. These were:
1. Quickly Capture People's Attention
2. Change the Temperature of Your Warm-up Exercise
3. Create Some Uncertainty, If Not Anxiety
4. Deliver Key Concepts and Applied Tools in Compact Learning Bites
Part II will conclude with the remaining concepts, tool and techniques:
5. Use a Multifaceted Crown Jewel-Communal Exercise
6. Transition from Small Group Consciousness to Sense of Community
7. Respect and Flow with Attendees' Mindsets
8. Sprinkle Motivational Humor Throughout
9. Seven "E"s of Effective Presentation
10. Poignantly Powerful, Playfully Philosophical Close
Until then, start jumping and, of course...Practice Safe Stress!
Programs [References on Request]
1) West Chester University.
Two hour Practice Safe Stress Program (stress, team building and humor) with
faculty and staff.
2) LTS Corp. Two hour Practice Safe Stress Program with contractors
placed at National Institutes of Health
March 2, 2005
7250 Woodmont Avenue Suite 340
Bethesda, MD 20814
I want to thank you for the lively, entertaining, and informative Stress
Management Seminar you presented to staff. As contractors working on-site
elbow-to-elbow with the government, there are unique opportunities for conflict
and anxiety. As your interactive session quickly made apparent, our staff
across departments were experiencing the same frustration being "guests" in
government space. The staff were very pleased with your seminar. As you so
wisely pointed out, it helps to laugh the stress away. Drawing silly [yet work
stress-related] pictures and role playing were effective techniques for tapping
into the issues in a non-threatening manner.
The next time we will try to arrange a longer session, as it was obvious no one
was ready to leave...and we didn't even provide food.
Anyway, thanks again for the masterful presentation and I hope that we can do a
follow-up in the future.
Virginia Van Brunt
Director of Health Programs
3) EstrinLegalEducation. Kickoff Speaker, Rebuilding the Fire/Designing
the Future for Paralegal Conference in New York City
4) Australian Embassy. Humor Therapy with all levels of embassy staff.
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a psychotherapist, an
international/Celebrity Cruise Lines speaker, training/OD consultant and author
of Practice Safe Stress: Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout
& Depression and The Four Faces of Anger: Transforming Anger, Rage, and
Conflict Into Inspiring Attitude and Behavior. The Doc is also America
Online's "Online Psychohumorist" ™ running his weekly "Shrink Rap and Group
Chat." See his award winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" --
www.stressdoc.com (recently cited as a workplace resource by National Public
Radio (NPR). Email for his monthly newsletter showcased on List-a-Day.com. For
more info on the Doc's speaking and training programs and products, email
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-232-8662.
(c) Mark Gorkin 2005
Shrink Rap Productions