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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

JULY 2006, Sec. I

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

Table of Contents

Section I

Work Q & A:
   Conflict Intervention Strategies for Avoiding Workplace Negativity
  Dept. of Justice/Leadership Institute
         What popular song or poem best depicts BURNOUT??
Heads Up: 
      S. Central PA Library, Assn, Estrin Legal Edu., Intl. Personnel
                         Management Assn, Dept of Justice, Natl. soc. of Prof. Engineers

Section II

Main Essay:
     Why Being Contrary May Be Cognitive, Cool and Creative
       Phone Consultation/Coaching, Training/Marketing Kit and Books

Overview:  Sec. I

1) Work Q & A:  The Stress Doc posits three factors contributing to negative workplace conflict:  a) Denying the Situational Context, b) Overlooking Personality Disturbance, and c) Relying On Insufficient communication Skills.  He also reveals the "hidden secret in conflict" and closes with three strategies that respond to the above negative conflict factors.

Overview:  Sec. II

1)  Main Essay:  A word association exercise used in a workshop on "Getting a New Hip Replacement" has the Stress Doc reflecting on the power of oppositional or contradictory thinking.  Seven "cognitive, cool and creative" dynamics are examined, including how reconciling or integrating opposition becomes a tool for challenging habits and assumptions, taking on "sacred cows", making fine discriminations as well as generating imaginative perspective and innovative problem-solving.


Work Stress Q & A

The Stress Doc posits three factors contributing to negative workplace conflict:  a) Denying the Situational Context, b) Overlooking Personality Disturbance, and c) Relying On Insufficient communication Skills.  He also reveals the "hidden secret in conflict" and closes with three strategies that respond to the above negative conflict factors.

Conflict Intervention Strategies for Avoiding Workplace Negativity

By Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, the "Stress Doc" ™

How can workplace negativity be avoided during conflict resolution?  Or are we being unrealistic?

Three factors often turn workplace conflict into negative energy and dysfunctional behavior and communication:
a) Denying the Situational Context -- a larger environmental or situational context that is seen as threatening by those directly affected by the bigger or background picture but is perceived in a more benign manner by the powers that be, e.g., management not appreciating how anxiety-producing reorganizational or merger rumors can be for those basically out of the feedback loop and the planning process,
b) Overlooking Personality Disturbance -- a level of employee personality disturbance (disruptive behavior seen during a time-limited period of stress) or personality disorder (disruptive behavior based on bio-psychosocial traits and chronic dysfunctional behaviors or conditions, e.g., going through a divorce, addiction patterns, undetected depression, etc.) in which management lacks awareness of the personality dysfunction or chooses to ignore the same.  For example, no one wants to confront an abusive senior partner who is a rainmaker for the law firm. And
c) Relying on Insufficient Communication Skills -- attempting conflict intervention with empathy, confrontation and negotiation skills that are not adequate to the systemic, interpersonal and/or individual problems at hand or in your face.  Here's an example:  An HR Director putting off a department head's request for staff conflict mediation.  Despite the presence of chronic interpersonal problems, the HR Director wanted the department to go ahead with the already planned, organization-wide classroom style Covey Training.  Alas, "a penny wise and a pound foolish."  A year later I was brought in because of several incidents of workplace verbal and sexual harassment.

Before outlining some strategies to address the above tension-inducing trifecta, let me provide a definition of conflict that highlights the inevitable and necessary connection between conflict and angst.  Conflict involves the differences and resultant tensions between two or more people or systems over the conceptual and operational nature of facts, methods, goal and values.  It also is the struggle over resources and status differences involving these four key areas.  However, conflict is truly double-edged.  While this struggle may sometimes be on the edge of danger, it also has the potential for unprecedented learning and relationship building opportunity.  In fact, I've posited "The Hidden Secret in Conflict":

S is for Status Quo
With real conflict you cannot do business as usual.

U is for Underlying Motives
Conflict surfaces underlying feelings, issues and hidden agendas.

C is for Clarification
Conflict challenges people to take a stand and be more real.

C is for Creative Synthesis
Conflict does not just produce opposition; it can stir creative problem solving and consensus.

E is for Empathy
Conflict enables you to walk in your adversary's shoes (or at least understand why he or she has bunions or calloused feet).

S is for Spontaneity
Conflict can release spontaneous and genuine emotions, including healthy anger, thereby clearing the air and helping people let go of "the tried and no longer true."

S is for Strength
Conflict can strengthen a sense of trust and ultimately build more supportive and more productive, i.e., stronger relationships.

The hidden secret in conflict is…SUCCESS!

Strategies for Positively Engaging Conflict

1.  Harnessing Input and the Situational Context.  During times of conflict make sure all relevant parties get necessary information and also have the opportunity for meaningful input if not actual decision-making authority.  For example, with organizations going through transitional stress and conflict, I've used structured group exercises (including a team discussion and team drawing exercise) that have yielded both acclaim and significant cohesion building steps and structures.  People feel safe to express real fears and frustrations, but in a format that has them working together, laughing, and being creative all while enhancing a sense of camaraderie, both with their work group and with the larger organizational system.   When people feel like pawns, much behavior gets acted out, often passive-aggressively.

2.  Professionally Dealing with Personality Disturbance.  When there is significant personality dysfunction, it is best to call in an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Counselor or a consultant trained to deal with both conflict mediation and with psychiatric assessment and referral.  In addition, you may need a consultant who can help the team deal with the post-traumatic effects of a "chronically negative" employee or supervisor.  Also, when a chronic "stress carrier" has been tolerated, there is a need for repairing the relationship between a leader and his or her staff.

3.  Developing Effective Communication Skills.  While some problems will ultimately require the services of a conflict mediation specialist, here are three common sense communication skills that will not add fuel to the conflict resolution fire.  In fact, for the manager, these tools might just lower the boiling points of the contentious parties:
a) Embrace The Four "P"s.  Try to connect to another person's "Pain and Passion, Purpose and Power" (or lack of power).  People will feel you are trying to understand them, to "get them" in the best sense of the term.  Whenever possible, strive for an adult-to-adult exchange.
b) Reduce Status Differentials.  Try not to lead with a power trump card.  Develop the ego strength and the courage to ask the other party if he or she has a problem with the project, the team or with you (the supervisor).  Helping others express their frustration, even their anger (but not abuse), gives a message that says, "I want to hear and understand (and I also value) your ideas, even your/our differences."  A humble approach can be especially effective when multi-cultural differences are proving barriers to listening, understanding and effective negotiation.
c) Avoid All or None Thinking and Blaming.  Can you hear the difference between these two-word declarations:  "You're wrong!" compared to "I disagree"?  The first is dismissive while the other recognizes this proposition:  "Acknowledgement is respectful and it doesn't necessarily mean agreement."  Learn to avoid blaming "You" messages:  "You made me upset," "It's your fault,"  "You shouldn't think that way" and, especially, "You really disappointed me!"  While often finger pointing and judgmental, "You" messages actually transfer power and responsibility to the other party; indiscriminate use of "acc-'you'-sations" often paints the "ab-'you'-ser" as either helpless or a victim or as defensively hostile and out of control.

Better to use "I" messages:  "Here's what I'm concerned (or frustrated) about" or "Here's what I need (or my preference)."  "I" messages take personal responsibility.  Assertive "I"s help people grasp where you are coming from; your boundaries are more clean and clear.  And when you demonstrate an "I" foundation, even when there is conflict, people are more likely to trust you.  People feel more confident that you won't defensively lash out, plot revenge, fall apart, crumble under pressure or abandon the resolution process.

Finally, sometimes you can blend "You and "I" messages in a manner that reveals both humility and strength:  "You might be right…I need to think about this further.  I'll get back to you in two days."

No doubt, a conflict resolution process can place all parties on a slippery edge.  However, you have a better chance of not falling into negative problem-solving energy and patterns by recognizing both the diagnostic and intervention importance of such factors as the Situational Context, Personality Disturbance and Effective Communication Skills.  And when you also understand the potential for SUCCESS in conflict you just may enable one and all to…Practice Safe Stress!

Two Testimonials

Department of Justice/Leadership Institute

[2-hour workshop for Training Directors]

June 29, 2006

Hi Mark,

Today's workshop was a huge success!!  Thank you again for your insightful and inspiring presentation.  Everyone enjoyed the morning session and said they had a lot of fun.  A couple of people indicated an interest in having you do a workshop for one of their projects.

I have reviewed the evaluations-you got 5.62 out of 6.00 for the overall

What they liked most about the workshop.

-          The exercises!!
-          Humor, enthusiasm of instructor and group activities.
-          The group energy.
-          Mark is very outgoing.  Really hit the "Mark."
-          Everything.
-          His level of energy and enthusiasm.
-          The humor!
-          Song at the end.
-          The instructor and the presentation.
-          Lighthearted approach to tough topic.  Great teambuilding session.  Wonderful   

What they liked least.

-          The session was too short. 
-          Would have liked more on stress reducers or techniques to deal with daily
           stress.  (from someone who has never had any "stress" training)
-          Everyone in ATF needs this class.

Additional comments:

-          Wish we could have more sessions like this!
-          Need to do this more often.  Great class!
-          Great fun!
-          More time for class.  Would like something to happen for the better out of this
-          Fun and entertaining course!

Thanks again-from all of us.

Denise Stanford
Training Manager, Leadership Institute
Office of Training and Professional Development
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
(202) 927-0256
denise.stanford@atf.gov <mailto:denise.stanford@atf.gov>

Pennsylvania Library Association/South Central Chapter

[Half-day program at Annual Meeting]

June 5, 2006

East Shore Area Library
4501 Ethel Street
Harrisburg, PA  17109

Dear Mark,

Have you noticed the uncharacteristic waves of calm and peals of laughter emanating from South Central PA libraries?  It can only be because of you.

On behalf of the committee members on the South Central Chapter of PaLA, I want to thank you for your wonderful presentation at Thursday's workshop and annual meeting.

Your presentation was funny, energizing and inspiring.  Asked to write about the best aspect of the presentation, participants noted your enthusiasm and energy; humor; fast-paced non threatening activities; and practical suggestions on how to approach stress.

High on the list of favorite aspects was the chance to interact with colleagues -- "sharing and talking with colleagues and finding common points."  Participants found the interactive activities instructive and memorable.  One participant noted, "I usually hate audience participation but this was great!"  Another wrote, "Lively -- good to brainstorm with fellow sufferers!"

Most people are surprised that librarianship can be so stressful.  Thank you for taking our problems seriously while providing an afternoon of laughter, along with tools for a lifetime of improved stress-coping skills.

Very truly yours,

Linda Moffet
South Central Chapter of PaLA

717-652-9380 x-3144


Readers Submissions

Subject:  What popular song or poem best depicts BURNOUT??
From:     Robert.Sue-Ho@buckshosp.nhs.uk

Dear Sir:

I am doing class presentation and I want to incorporate relevant music.  One question: What popular song or poem best depict BURNOUT??  (or not so popular??)

[See my "Burnout boogie" lyric below.]

I thought I would share some quotes I have since found on the web and asking around:


Albert Camus: “Without work, all life goes rotten, but when work is soulless, life stifles and dies.”

There's a real high burnout factor here. Then people get discouraged, and maybe they get disgruntled and move away.
Juice Newton

Burnout is nature's way of telling you, you've been going through the motions your soul has departed; you're a zombie, a member of the walking dead, a sleepwalker. False optimism is like administrating stimulants to an exhausted nervous system.
Sam Keen

A society in which vocation and job are separated for most people gradually creates an economy that is often devoid of spirit, one that frequently fills our pocketbooks at the cost of emptying our souls.
Sam Keen

So many teen films are overproduced and people are going to burnout on the subject.
Kirsten Dunst

If one examines major developments in art over the last 150 years or so, one would certainly be hard put to avoid extremely articulate and ornate plaints and riffs on the idea of eschatological burnout in the relation of means and ends.
Brian Ferneyhough

To my knowledge though, I don’t know of someone employing caregiver burnout as a diminished capacity defense in a homicide case yet.
David E. Kelley

I had never heard of caregiver burnout raised as a possible temporary insanity or diminished capacity defense, so it sort of caught my fascination a little bit and off we went exploring the idea.

David E. Kelley (born April 4, 1956) is an American television producer. Born in Waterville, Maine, he attended Princeton University and Boston University School of Law and initially worked as a lawyer in Boston. But in the 1980s he became involved with screenwriting. Initially, he wrote several episodes for the L.A. Law, which he later produced as well, and later created Doogie Howser, M.D (with L.A. Law creator Steven Bochco), girls club, Picket Fences, Chicago Hope, The Practice, Ally McBeal, Boston Public, and The Brotherhood of Poland,

Kelley's shows are renowned for their whimsical, occasionally surreal comedic touches, as well as moments of seriousness. Kelley married actress Michelle Pfeiffer in 1993. They have two children, a girl adopted by Pfeiffer before the marriage and a son.

We don't have enough people going into those fields and there is a high burnout rate in some health care professions, so it is very important that we get more people into the pipeline right now.
David Obey

Leadership is an active role; 'lead' is a verb. But the leader who tries to do it all is headed for burnout, and in a powerful hurry.
Bill Owens

You can try to cope with the situation by working harder. But, that will only make you angrier and eventually lead to burnout.
Bob Weinstein

The Burnout Boogie

Well I got the burnout boogie
My mind just wants the snooze
Well I got the burnout boogie
Guess it's time to sing the blues.

(Chorus)     'Cause I'm all burnt out
                 And I'm full of self-doubt
                 All I want to do is shout
                 And baby, just get the hell out.

Now the boss says, Do this project!"
And you know I'd like to please
But I'm feeling like a reject
And I'm down upon my knees.

Well I got the burnout boogie
So I guess I must refuse
Well I got the burnout boogie
Man, I need to take a cruise.


Now I'm starting to get bitter
And no longer give a damn
I'm afraid I just might hit her
So man, I better scram.

Well I got the burnout boogie
And I've had it with the grind
Well I got the burnout boogie
I'm about to lose my mind.


Now I'm getting kinda desperate
My life is just a mess
Well I gotta get more separate
And then I can confess.

Well I got the burnout boogie
But I hope you'll understand
Well I got the burnout boogie
'Cause my butt has just been canned.


I guess my head needs shrinking
'Cause I'm getting like a grouch
And I'm doing too much drinking
Just vegging on the couch.

Well I got the burnout boogie
But I've finally paid my dues
Well I got the burnout boogie
And there's nothing left to lose.

'Cause I'm all burnt out
But I'm past the self-doubt
All I want to do is shout
'Cause baby...I got the hell out!

(c)  Mark Gorkin  1992

Shrink Rap Productions

Heads Up:

Recent Programs [testimonials upon request]
1.  South Central PA Library Assn.; half-day workshop on stress, team-building and humor
2.  Estrin Legal Education; Houston and Phoenix Conferences; Kickoff on "Emancipation Procrastination"
3. Intl. Personnel Management Assn (IPMA) Annual Conference; Closing Keynote on Blending Individual Imagination and Team Synergy:  Tools and Techniques for High Performance and High Morale; Wash, DC
4. Dept. of Justice/Leadership Institute; 2-hour workshop managing stress, team-building and humor; Wash, DC
5. Natl. Soc. of Professional Engineers (NSPE); Practice Safe Stress Workshop, Boston, MA

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