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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

MAY 2006, Sec. II

Main Essay

This essay examines the concept of "consensus" and discovers a major gap between operational means and definitional ends.  Oftentimes, many battles must be fought before diverse parties will come to the table and negotiate honestly and earnestly.  Toward this end, the Stress Doc enumerates key skills, steps and strategies for building genuine consensus.

Six Keys to Building Consensus:  Skills, Steps and Strategies

When you look up the word "consensus" in Roget's International Thesaurus, you find three socially positive terms -- "unanimity," "cooperation" and "agreement."  I can practically see these Three Musketeers marching together, arms linked in conceptual camaraderie, fairly shouting out:  "One for all and all for one!"  This "meeting of minds" invariably yields a state of "understanding" and "accord."  (Suddenly, emerging from the psychic ether is the hazy memory from the film classic, Casablanca…dramatic events unfolding inside Rick's Americain Café.  Ah, "oui," it's the stirring rendition of the French anthem, La Marseilles, collectively and defiantly sung by ex-patriots and other outcasts under the inspiration of a nationalistically "born again" chanteuse and the Nazi resistance leader, Victor Lazslo.  Of course, none of this plays out without Bogey's off-stage nod of the head blessing to the club's bandleader.)

But, alas, intruding on these scenes and notes of unity and solidarity is an oft-cited phrase associated with labor or political tension, if not strife:  to "hammer out a consensus."  Is it not possible that the harmonious end results as found in Roget's obscure interpersonal and pragmatic realities:  that rough and tumble, powerful and persistent tactics and methods are often critical for reaching genuine consensus.  A variety of demographic and socio-cultural differences -- e.g., economic class, political affiliation, power and resources, race and religion, age and sex -- as well as contrasting personality traits and information processing aptitudes make reaching genuine consensus an elusive if not painful process.  Often, for harmony to reign the hammer must rain!

Let me further define this paradoxical-like aspect of consensus.  Using a selective vantage point from Roget's, "consensus" provides an analytic or rational approach to problem solving, e.g., as noted above, a "meeting of minds" or "compact."   In the abstract, I envision a well thought out agreement that has factored in varying perspectives and interests such that all parties, despite some difference in the degree of buy-in, ultimately support the negotiated plan or settlement.  There definitely is a strong cognitive component.

However, the Oxford Dictionary appears to place consensus building in a more complex light; it's not just an intellectual exercise.  You discover that consensus is derived from the French, "consentire," meaning to feel together, to agree.  (Clearly, anything to do with feelings is not all sweetness and light.)  And the major word component, "sense" comes from the Latin, "sensus," which seems to progressively evolve -- sensation, feeling, understanding and signification.  So working out feelings must precede working out an accord:  again, the "hammer (or gavel, perhaps) precedes harmony!"   Of course, tempering the hammer with a little humor can humanize the whole process.  Maybe we can modify President Teddy Roosevelt's famous negotiating maxim:  "Talk softly and carry a big shtick!"  (Groooaan!)

An Informational-Interpersonal Matrix

For me, double-edged consensus involves the informational capacity for thinking and feeling along with the interpersonal ability to be tough and tender.  In light of the etymological pedigree of "consensus," perhaps a better word for tender is "sensitive."  Consider these two Oxford Dictionary definitions:  a) having quick and acute sensibility either to the action of external objects or to the impressions upon the mind and feelings and b) having a capacity of being easily affected or moved:  capable of indicating minute differences: delicate.

The latter polar pairing -- "tough and sensitive" -- evokes comparison with my differentiated upgrade of "TLC" -- "Tender Loving Criticism" and "Tough Loving Care."  (Hey what if we design a "consensus building style" matrix based on these two dimensions:  "thinking-feeling" and "tough-sensitive."  Such a matrix yields four basic informational-interpersonal problem-solving and engaging modes:

Tough-Thinking     =  Analyzing
Tough-Feeling       =  Confronting
Sensitive-Thinking =  Inspiring
Sensitive-Feeling   =  Empathizing

(Actually, this two x two conceptual matrix seems to call out for further development in a separate article.  Stay tuned.)

Of course, putting into practice and gradually evolving competence and confidence in employing these four modes is easier said than done.   When it comes to understanding or responding to motivation, behavior and events, you must be:
a) flexible -- know that you can make sense of multiple perspectives and that you have more than one problem solving/engaging mode in your bag of negotiation tricks and techniques,
b) integrated -- have the capacity to draw on all modes (in varying degrees) simultaneously and
c) contextual -- realize what mode or modes are better-suited to variations in people, time and place.
Knowing when you should be more tough than sensitive or tender, knowing when to balance emotion and expression with reason and restraint, knowing when to help someone grieve or when to challenge people to seek greater heights, and understanding how to model "tough loving care" involves an ongoing, if not steep, learning curve.

Finally, the Oxford Dictionary provides three basic definitions of "consensus" relevant to the purposes of this article:
1) harmony, cooperation or sympathy especially in different parts of an organism
2) group solidarity in sentiment and belief; general agreement or accord
3) collective opinion:  the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned.

Clearly, to arrive at a collective judgment worthy of "consensus" requires working hard and (at least relatively) long for contending and often contentious parties to operate genuinely and effectively from the same playbook.  With the above semantic distinctions and the four mode ("tough-sensitive" and "thinking-feeling" dimensions), informational-interactive model as a conceptual backdrop, consider these "Six Skills, Steps and Strategies for Building Consensus":

1.  Avoid “One Right Way” Thinking and Egoal Posturing.  Clearly, “my way or the highway” or authoritarian-induced like-mindedness, for example, group think, is the antithesis of genuine consensus.  By definition, consensus means each party ideally has his or her say; each party expresses their real thoughts and, especially, their true feelings, about the issue on the table.  Conversely, if the individual or group “hot button” issue or the big gorilla in the room remains in the shadows, then genuine consensus building is not possible.

 Alas, sometimes the gorilla in the room is the boss.  This “know it all” individual is driven by egoals.  In other words, what fuels the fury and fire is not the declared goal but a person’s egotism or narcissism.  This person must be center stage or the micromanaging director while others are merely pawns and props.  Obviously, such an individual has morphed into an egorilla!  (And speaking of egoal fury and fire, I must sound a note of skepticism around glorifying the phrase, “You’re fired,” especially when extolled by Donald Trump, the egorilla incarnate.)

Of course, there are times when the experience and expertise of an authority (it’s nice when the these components come together) yields an understanding of the issue or a long-range problem-solving vision that needs to be acknowledged if not acted upon.  Still, as a friend and owner of a “treescaping” business reminds me, there is room for meaningful negotiation.  During a team meeting, Michael will share his overall project goals and objectives.  He then asks for serious input and action plans from his crew on the best ways to reach objectives and timelines.

 However, not all manager-types are so enlightened.  Sometimes, for a group process to proceed, a prima donna must be deflated a bit.  Here’s an example.  During a stress program for US State Department Managers, one participant was skeptical of the need for this workshop.  While discussing signs of stress, this pompous manager haughtily declared more than asked, “What if you don’t have any stress, what do you call that?”  My immediate retort to Mr. Bluster:  “Denial!”  The ensuing laughter was my green light to continue.

 But achieving consensus is more than just the absence of a negative.  It often requires building cognitive bridges or networks among contrasting if not seemingly contradictory positions.  As the acclaimed novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald observed, “The test of a first rate intellect is the capacity to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.  For example, one should see things as hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.”   And bridge building during difficult negotiations may well involve engaging powerful and painful emotions.

 2.  Accept Fact of Loss to Achieve Emotional Growth.  If you are not the all-powerful emperor and others’ viewpoints must be seriously weighed and to varying degrees incorporated then, as The Rolling Stones once opined…”You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”  However, if you can deal with issues of loss and the related emotions and you can be open to reexamining problem-solving assumptions and premises or can place issues in a different person-situation context or framework, then “You just might find you get what you need.”

Of course, during this struggle to reach consensus, loss comes in a myriad of shapes, sizes and hues.  Some examples:

a) feeling at a loss, that is, confused or a general sense of feeling bereft or vulnerable,

b) feeling a loss of control or feeling out of control, whether of external events or internal emotions (your own as well as the others’ emotions),

c) the loss of an ideal, a hope or a dream,

d) the loss of identity, that is, the loss of one’s purpose, position and place, including workspace, as well as change in roles and responsibilities and a sense of power, and

e) loss of face or feelings of rejection and isolation, alienation and abandonment.

Significant loss or involuntary change invariably stirs up a range of strong emotions from helplessness to a sense of rage.  In fact, you may need each of these emotionally charged extremes to challenge you to:  a) let go of the seemingly safe, comfortable and familiar and b) grapple with exploring, practicing, integrating and accepting the new.  For example, you may need some rage to break out of a state of paralysis.  At the same time, you need to embrace and work through feelings of fear and sadness to engage the enraged and troubled beast within.  Tempering rage with sadness (that is, acknowledging the reality of loss or change) may well enable you to transform raw aggression into focused anger.  Remember, many more people shoot themselves in the foot than go “postal.”

In terms of consensus, upon achieving a state of “focused anger” you may be ready to declare, openly or silently, “I may not like all that has happened (or is happening), but how can I make the best of the situation?”  Or, “how can I negotiate effectively?”  In addition, once past a feeling of injury, injustice or insult, you can also consider what works best for the team or the collective, not what is only in my self-interest.  You begin replacing a zero sum game perspective (with just one person on top) with a “win-win” mindset.

And finally, “letting go” can evoke anger and fear, especially when letting go of a longstanding foundation – sometimes physical, more often psychological – that actually may be more brittle than believed.  Think of a marriage that on its face has been civil though, in actuality, has been slowly yet steadily corroding from lack of honest communication, especially emotionally intimate sharing.  Or even if somewhat solid, a “taken for granted” routine of comfort and familiarity may have ossified the marital foundation, constricting one or both party’s range of motion and emotion.  Now facing a meaningful change or having to grapple with a new position – whether actual or conceptual – can stir vulnerable feelings of being engulfed in uncertainty or the unknown.  Still, as

I once penned:

 Whether the loss is a key person, a desired position or a powerful illusion each deserves the respect of a mourning.  The pit in the stomach, the clenched fists and quivering jaw, the anguished sobs prove catalytic in time.  In mystical fashion, like Spring upon Winter, the seeds of dissolution bear fruitful renewal.

 For me, consensus means forging partnerships out of the painful, the purposeful and the possible!

3.  Affirm Values, Modify Expectations.  When I ponder the word “values” in an ethical context, the “4 H” pillars of “honesty, hard work, humanity and humility” come to mind.  Though these pillars are not so rigid.  For example, on occasion, a friend of mine needs to tell “white lies” to her mother afflicted with mid-stage Alzheimers.  Despite the presence of a daily visiting home aide, the widowed mother (her husband died two years ago) needs frequent connection with her daughter.  When away for the weekend, my friend will check in with her mom by cell phone, but might say she’s busy working in her garden for the next two days.  Knowing her daughter is  “in town” seems to attenuate the separation anxiety in the mother.  So the value of honoring her mother’s humanity takes precedence over absolute honesty.

 Still, values have an enduring quality – the eternal verites.  In contrast, expectations seem more momentary and malleable, especially when based on recent experience.  (Though, for example, detecting a pattern in another’s behavior may turn an expectation into an assumption or belief.)  Your expectations are formed or influenced by some subconscious and conscious (though not necessarily objective) assessment of the relevant personalities and situational, historical or contextual factors that come into play as you contemplate issues of both predictability and desirability.  That is, expectations involve both what you think will happen and what you would like to happen.  Not surprisingly, the latter can bias or confound the former:  you see what you want to see; you become comfortable with your assumptions; you select arguments that reinforce your preexisting belief or position while tuning out, dismissing or minimizing information or opinion to the contrary.


Value Research

 However, let’s not overlook the fact that many values or moral principles are not irreversibly set in stone…other than, perhaps, “The Ten Commandments.”  For example, even though the notion of gay marriage is still plenty controversial, compared to even five years ago, many more Americans are open to some form of civil union for same-sexed couples.  And even cherished values can be situation dependent.  In his best seller, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell highlights “The Good Samaritan” research experiment.  To quickly summarize, missionary students about to give a presentation have been distracted and then are told they would soon be late for their class.  While heading to the classroom, most of these subjects walked past a research confederate posing as a student moaning in pain behind a nearby bush.  Only a small minority actually stopped to aid the student.  So time (and, perhaps, performance) pressure were enough to compromise the values of altruism and assisting the afflicted even among supposedly the most compassionate.

 So what’s my point?  Basically, I’m trying to show that there’s no absolute formula for how values and expectations may play out in a consensus building process.  Clearly, what’s enduring and what’s momentary may do battle; so too is there warring potential between selfishness and selflessness.  In fact, the latter battleground brings me to a consensus building value I wish to highlight:  Balancing giving of yourself and giving to yourself.  As noted previously, letting go is a critical component for perceiving anew and for thinking in novel or imaginative ways.  Yet, you want some moral or quality standard in which to compare past and present beliefs, behaviors or actions and to assess any difference in value or worth.  You want some foundation for calculating the degree of risk in being open and you want some solid footing before making that leap of faith.

 Remember, you can sometimes bend your values without truly compromising or breaking them.  While some pejoratively equate being flexible with a flimsy spine or just blowing in the wind, for me, at it’s best flexibility means grappling artfully with complexity in a firm and fluid manner.  Sometimes, when you can modify or let go of expectations, if not your beliefs, you may be in for a wonderful surprise.  As Albert Camus, Nobel Prize-winning author, noted:

 Once you have accepted the fact of loss, you understand that the loved one

obstructed a whole corner of the possible pure now as a sky washed by rain.

(For an example, continue reading.)

 4.  Clarify or Catalyze a Common Need, Interest or Perception.  What’s the old expression, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step?  Well the process of searching for consensus among contentious parties has a similar quest-like start-up quality:  you must find or forge initial common ground.  Can members of a group potentially possessing different facts and beliefs, experiences and resources, tools and methods, as well as goals and values find a sufficient and mutual negotiation starting point?  A starting point may range from a shared concern or broad goal to a common enemy or barrier.  And if you do establish a joint conceptual base camp, can you stimulate sufficient mutual problem-identification so that genuine and effective group problem solving can be launched?  And once launched, can the big boulders and those entangled and thorny bush-like obstacles invariably encountered along the problem-solving path be negotiated and ultimately surmounted or chopped down to size?

 Sometimes a person must “reframe” or reconfigure how an issue is being defined, evaluated or conveyed in order to help the parties consider a new and common perspective.  Such a perceptual shift may be necessary for antagonists to take that first step into a problem-solving arena conducive to give-and-take work and imaginative play.  Reframing definitely has potential as a creative problem-solving tool.  Let me provide several reframe illustrations, from the humble and conceptual to the imaginative and applied.  For example, the 20th century French author, Edmund Rostand, upon turning 75 caught his visage in a mirror.  While gazing at his reflection he declared:  "Mirrors just aren't what they used to be!"  While Rostand’s comment is delightfully absurd, his self-effacing humor illuminates a sagacious self-acceptance.  No egoal motivation observed here.

 And Mark Twain, while calling it wit, cleverly illustrated the surprising (and often amusing) essence of reframing:  Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas, which before their union were not perceived to have any relation. 

Reorganizing, Reframing and Phoenix-Rising

 And when you can reframe both content (data or messages) and context (the psychological, communicational and/or physical environment or conceptual envelope), you can help all parties transcend bitter divisions by, ironically, transforming a funeral into a festival.  Consider this real life example.  About fifteen years ago, I was consulting with a federal court that was automating their record keeping process.  Management had not solicited much input from employees directly impacted by the technical changes, especially involving a key administrative form.  The employees were not just anxious about an uncertain future but were also angry for being bypassed in the decision-making and implementation process.  In the employees’ minds their professional status and experience were being ignored or discounted.  And not surprisingly, there was passive group resistance to the change. 

Memos and motivational exhortations were having minimal effect when I experienced that "out of the box" moment:  In a meeting with top management I noted that we missed the boat on the front end, but I believed we could get back on.  However, we had to stop simply defining employee behavior as resistance to change.  We needed to appreciate and truly understand their sense of loss of control and even a loss of identity.  We needed to grasp the reality that a new learning curve often generates anxiety, for example, perhaps, a questioning of one’s self-confidence and competence, especially when already feeling discounted.  Once I recognized their state of grief, achieving a starting point was possible:   "Let's have a forms funeral."  (Clearly I had gone beyond the box; this was definitely an “out of the coffin” epiphany.)  Suddenly, we now had a forum in which a common reality could be acknowledged and emotional intensity be appropriately shared.  This proved a lot more creative than a traditional group-gripe session.  We gave employees a public forum for: a) mourning the loss of the old data processing system, b) expressing frustration with management's unilateral process and c) articulating concerns about the upcoming changes.  This group grieving enabled folks to gradually and more objectively recognize the limitations of the old and the productive potential of the new.  Now all levels in the organization acknowledged that the whole had to be part of the problem and part of the solution.

 Initial common ground was forged when a symbolic funeral was able to be both an arena for reaching closure and a forum for giving and accepting critical feedback.  Shifting the conceptual playing field from employee resistance to mandated top-down memos to the need for bottom-up expression of grief and appropriate articulation of grievance laid the groundwork for management-employee consensus.  Thinking and acting out of a reframed coffin context helped heal wounds and helped generate a sense of mutual appreciation and respect.  A more cohesive and responsive Organizational Phoenix rose from the administrative ashes of unilateral decision-making.

 5.  Create a Diverse Big Picture.  One disadvantage of grappling with and going through a consensus building process is that it takes time.  This process also demands patience, perseverance and frustration tolerance.  Varying and contrary points of view need to be raised and acknowledged even when agreement seems elusive.  Especially when there is time pressure, or when the conflict is sharp or evokes interpersonal tension, beware bailing out through premature compromise or a too easy solution.  With conflict-avoiding compromise, even if you are not totally giving in you are basically abandoning your true thoughts and feelings as well as giving up on the process of negotiation.  Majority rule is often another technique for short-circuiting the back and forth, working through engagement essential for building genuine multi-party buy-in.  And finally, as will be soon evident, these shortcuts may actually compromise the potential for creative problem solving.  (Of course, the exception to process deliberation is an emergency situation where unilateral and/or rapid decision-making is usually the rule.) 

 A key aspect of successful consensus building and sustained buy-in is having the different parties feel safe enough to bring up genuine issues and even highly charged emotions.  Not only does this encourage addressing meaningful, high priority problems (at least eventually; sometimes you start small or safe and consensus build from there), but also that lip-service agreement or groupthink will be avoided.  This foundational problem solving process helps sustain buy-in during implementation and follow-up.

 And when people finally start being open and real, now, for the first time covert thoughts and feelings are coming to the surface.  Suddenly there is unexpected or undeveloped data to work with.  Such a scenario definitely impacts the quantity and quality of problem solving.  Trying to integrate diverse data and synthesize a novel perspective often challenges the parties to come up with a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.  For example, one is compelled to construct a large philosophical or political tent under which diverse voices and positions can gather and communicate, and maybe even cross-pollinate.  For this to work, the mind may have to expand around unfamiliar conceptual territory.  Problem solvers often require a new way of envisioning discordant voices or connecting seemingly ill-fitted pieces of the puzzle.  Maybe these diverse elements simply simmer and stew together yielding an unexpectedly tasty gumbo.  Or struggling to forge new relationships among these diverse elements yields an “Aha!” generating, “out of the box” big picture.


The Stress Doc’s Big Picture Exercise

 Speaking of big pictures let me illustrate such a consensus building process through my signature “team discussion and team drawing” exercise.  While not exactly “real life” it does deal with real issues; and it’s far from being abstract or hypothetical.  It is not simply a mind game.  To return to our opening depiction of the word “consensus, the exercise provides participants an opportunity to have a “meeting of the minds” by verbally and visually drawing out their “feeling(s) together.”  The large audience is divided into small groups (four-six people) and the groups are tasked (usually for ten minutes) to discuss the sources of or factors contributing to stress and conflict in everyday workplace operations.  This is the easy part.  Participants are then informed they will have another ten minutes to come up with a group picture – a stress icon, a storyboard, a Dilbert-like cartoon – that turns their individual stress factors and perspectives into a picture with a unified theme.

 While some are immediately excited (especially upon learning that they will be using colored markers and flipchart paper), usually a number are confused; some people are more than a tad resistant:  “What’s he talking about…turning individual stressors into a team image?”

 Oh, and to add to the confusion, I try to maximize diversity in the composition of the groups, demographically – sex, race, age, etc. – and also organizationally by mixing management and line staff, white and blue collar or military and civilian personnel, etc.  And I especially try to place representatives of various departments (in reality often isolated from each other) in the same work team.  At first glance there appears to be little common ground among the array of participants and perspectives.  Still, another look through the proverbial optimist-pessimist glass reveals conditions ripe for a consensus-building laboratory.  So how do you get this disparate collection literally and figuratively working on the same page?  Consider these steps:

1) Make It Safe.  First, I inform participants that, “This is not true confessions.  Share at the level at which you feel comfortable.”  (In paradoxical fashion, I believe this injunction reduces anxiety and actually frees people to share more than anticipated.  And the process of group sharing further encourages this openness.)

 Second, I quickly attempt to defuse people’s performance anxiety about drawing, especially drawing in public.  I emphatically state that I’m not looking for artistic wizardry, but for images and visual symbols that convey a feeling and message.  For example, sinking ships and sharks in the water represented a major reorganization experience at a naval base.  With operational icebergs looming large, one group depicted an officer rearranging desk chairs on the Titanic.

 Finally, I inform participants that, “We are not going to get too uptight about the drawing exercise:  Stick figures are fine!  I myself am a graduate of ‘The Institute for the Graphically-Impaired.’”  Hmm…maybe I’m into a new and playful synthesis of the verbal and visual:  “Shtick figues!”

 2) Allow for Multiple Sensory Channels and Comfort Levels.  This discussion and drawing exercise gives people room to participate based on comfort levels and skill confidence.  Some members primarily focus on the verbal brainstorm; others get into generating visual imagery and/or coloring.  While exercising both sensory channels excites a number of individuals.  And perhaps most important, once you get people to open up and share, no matter the level, something fundamental occurs:  by identifying so-called individual perspectives or differences, some common or overlapping issues if not universal themes are discovered.

 3) Overcome Confusion and Resistance through Group Dynamics.  A number of people become confused or anticipate having difficulty transforming their stress issues into a visual image or thematic picture.  Sometimes these folks begin to withdraw or voice skepticism about the exercise.  However, the positive problem-solving power of the team almost always quickly emerges:  as soon as one person comes up with a visual image or metaphor that all can see or relate to, (e.g., “going through a reorg feels like walking a tightrope without a safety net”) then the clouds recede and all team members can come out and play and contribute.

 4) Generate Big Picture Metaphor Power.  In addition to helping overcome project resistance by envisioning a common starting point, a visual metaphor (e.g., a company or division being compared to a five-ring circus) allows team members to free associate and build bridges from their individual experience to a shared and/or more specific group perspective (e.g., often team members can relate to feeling like a juggler overwhelmed by the number of balls in the air).  Now the individual diverse threads are working together on a common loom, eventually producing a unique tapestry whereby the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  Coming up with a big picture vision (akin to a “big tent” philosophy) has the potential for allowing diverse individuals to identify with and buy-in to a common and larger perspective.

 And the inverse applies:  grappling with diversity can motivate higher order conceptualizing and synthesizing.  I recall a study of small group problem-solving involving seamen on a submarine.  The most diverse groups predictably achieved higher levels of creativity in their problem-solving strategies and solutions.  Reconciling diversity and seeming contradiction resists easy answers.  However, as a result of this challenge, if the team sustains this complex problem-solving effort multiple resources and myriad plans may come to fruition.  Invariably, the group breaks out of comfortable assumptions or habitual behavior patterns to imagine new connections among disparate elements and to evolve a fresh consensus-building big picture.  (Do you recall the “out of the coffin” strategic intervention and the organizational morale rising from the “Forms Funeral” ashes?)

 6.  Cultivate Communal Gain through Sharing and Pain.  The best description of consensus I’ve encountered is, “Everyone gives up a little to benefit the common good.”  And I would add “the common goal.”  This perspective encapsulates the preceding five “skills, steps and strategies”:

1) egos are sublimated; there’s no one right way

2) by definition, each person has to let go to some degree of their initial position

3) but because the expectational and emotional shift or sacrifice is not absolute or one-sided, basic values usually remain intact

4) through the reframing or reclassification of the problem and mutual negotiations the parties have achieved common or agreed upon starting and end points

5) this diverse yet integrated vision, that creative “big picture” in which participants invest belief and buy-in, becomes the new conceptual and community marketplace and the new goal standard.

 Closing Summary

 In an attempt to explore the nature of consensus building, this essay has traversed a path filled with uncertain twists and turns and unexpected side roads.  Yet despite this mental meandering we have returned to Roget’s three key synonyms for “consensus” – “unanimity,” “cooperation” and “agreement.”  Hopefully, you have a greater appreciation for the arduous back-and-forth quality of the task.  And you also realize that by bringing some integrity and imagination to the table means and ends along with facts and feelings are inextricably linked.  Six consensus building steps, skills and strategies have been illustrated:

1) Avoid “One Right Way” Thinking and Egoal Posturing

2) Accept Fact of Loss to Achieve Emotional Growth

3) Affirm Values, Modify Expectations

4) Clarify or Catalyze a Common Need, Perception or Starting Point

5) Create a Diverse Big Picture

6) Cultivate Communal Gain through Sharing and Pain

 Surely these are words and ideas not just to encourage consensus building, but also to help one and all…Practice Safe Stress!


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Practice Safe Stress tackles the "Toxic-Traumatic Trio" -- stress, burnout, and depression.  Learn practical and playful, inspiring and insightful strategies for transforming these toxins into life-affirming energy, creative focus, and goal-achievement.  Bringing a personal, professional, and organizational perspective, the book is alive with imaginative language and memorable "how to" ideas for:

§ Understanding the "Four Stages of Burnout," the "Erosive Spiral"
§ Rebuilding your fire and developing "Natural SPEED"
§ Achieving liberation through "Emancipation Procrastination"
§ Reducing conflict as a healing or motivational "psychohumorist" ™

There are satirical essays on "lean-and-MEAN" managers and on mismanaged downsizings.  Learn to "laugh in the face of layoffs" and ponder the possibility of "Van Gogh, Prozac, and Creativity."  The Stress Doc also shares his his own trials, errors, and triumphs in battling the "Toxic Trio."

Safe Stress provides many discrete "Top Ten" lists and "strategic tips" essays useful as educational/informational handouts.  To quote the Internet Newsroom:  Your Guide to the World of Electronic Factgathering:  "The most outstanding feature…is his 'psychohumor' essays.  Always witty, thought-provoking, and helpful."  With this easy-to-follow, fast-paced, and fun health and wellness guide, you'll return often to Practice Safe Stress.

b) The Four Faces of Anger:  Model and Method
Transforming Anger, Rage and Conflict Into Inspiring Attitude and Behavior

The "Four Faces of Anger" presents an elegantly simple yet intellectually powerful model that will challenge your beliefs about anger -- both regarding its range of emotion and its potential for positive communication.  The book is a dynamic blend of popular psychohumor articles, essays, case examples and short vignettes, as well as Stress Doc Q & As and even "Shrink Rap" ™ lyrics.  You will gain ideas and tools, skills and techniques for personal control, playful intervention and conflict mastery.  Learn to:

Ø Identify self-defeating styles of anger and violence-prone personalities
Ø Transform hostility and rage into assertion and passion
Ø Confront directly or disarm outrageously critics and (passive) aggressors
Ø Bust the guilt not burst a gut
Ø Prevent emails from becoming e-missiles

And finally, his years as a multimedia psychotherapist and as a Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service yield a survival and spiritual mantra at the heart of the "Four Faces of Anger":

Seek the higher power of Stress Doc humor…May the Farce Be With You!

Published:  2004; Pages:  116  [Book size:  9"x12"]

Paperback:  Price:  $20 + $5.00 priority shipping in US; $7 for shipping in Mexico and Canada; other international destinations to be determined

E-Book:  $15

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, is a psychotherapist and "Motivational Humorist" whose Interactive Keynotes and Kickoffs draw wide and "amazing" acclaim - from Fortune 100s and Federal Agencies to around the world with Celebrity Cruise Lines.   An OD/Team Building Consultant, Mark is the author of Practice Safe Stress:  Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression and of The Four Faces of Anger: Transforming Anger, Rage, and Conflict Into Inspiring Attitude and Behavior.  Also, the Doc is AOL's "Online Psychohumorist" ™ running his weekly "Shrink Rap ™ and Group Chat."  See his award winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com (cited as a workplace resource by National Public Radio (NPR).  Finally, Mark is an advisor to The Bright Side ™ -- www.the-bright-side.org -- a multi-award winning mental health resource.  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 stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-946-0865.

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2006

Shrink Rap Productions