The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist
Fight when you can
flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!
Table of Contents
Training Kit & Book; AOL Chat
Heads Up: Dr. Michael Hurd
Newsletter; Keynotes, Workshops & Retreat
Shrink Rap: Stress Doc's Tips on
Main Essay: Five Team Building Strategies for Post-Enron
Readers: A Tibetan Approach;
Rules of Life
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 and articles and the
opportunity for phone coaching. For more info: Training/Marketing
Kit or email.
2. Stress Doc Book:
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.)
$20 (which covers priority postage and handling)
Make check payable to: Mark
Send check to:
Stress Doc Enterprises
1616 18th Street,
Washington, DC 20009-2542
3. Chat Group:
Stop by my AOL/Digital City Shrink Rap (TM) and Group
Chat DC Support Chat, Tuesdays, 9:30-11pm EST DC Support Chat. It's a
dynamic, lively, at times witty and always warm, thoughtful and supportive problem-solving group. We
raise questions and share our ideas, hopes and experiences with each other.
a) Tips for Rebounding from Psychic Trauma to appear in Dr
Michael Hurd's Newsletter; for more info: Bob Yesbek; LRpress001@aol.com
2. Live Programs: Some Like It
It's been a lively July & August with smash hits:
a) Practice Safe Stress
Keynotes & Workshops:
1) Florida Public Personnel Assn Annual Conference (200 attendees, HR
managers/professionals, in Orlando);
2) Dept. of Defense Population Health and Health Promotion
Annual Conference (300 attendees, two workshops, Occupational/Preventive Medicine Officers
(physicians and nurses, health promotion coordinators, etc. in Baltimore)
3) Delawana Inn:
Popular family resort in Northern Ontario, CA (40 guests)
b) Organizational Retreat:
Daylong Conflict Resoultion/Team Building Retreat for User Support Branch of Natl. Institutes of
References upon request.
In response to a request from the Florida
Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the Stress Doc provides some timely
"Netiquette" tips for communicating electronically with transforming emails into
Doc's Tips on Internet Etiquette:
How to Avoid Being an E-Messaging Stress Carrier
today's 24/7, "do more with less" technology-driven world few organizational processes
seem more critical than timely - effective and efficient - communication with colleagues and
consumers, whether in the office or across the globe. Along with cell phones, e-mail and
Instant Messaging (IM) are increasingly the hub of this near and far-flung informational network.
Of course, telecommunication is not just an information carrier but also a relational one. And
absent this awareness, a lack of "Netiquette" can make the Internet communicator a
"stress carrier" as well. (And you know the classic definition of a "stress
carrier": "a person who doesn't get ulcers, just gives them!") Alas, the
negative potential is not one-sided: dysfunctional messaging can boomerang and even damage the
Before playing virtual "Miss Manners" with electronic
messaging "do"s and "don't"s, let me share a brief cautionary tale of the
trouble one may sow when impulsively launching a message that's more missile than missive. An
experienced Washington, DC "think tank" professional believed he was directing a personal
e-mail tirade to a particular antagonist. He hit the wrong send button and his message went
out worldwide to nearly a thousand colleagues. Shortly thereafter, prompted by his department
chief, he was in my office to get his "anger problem" under control.
With this e-mail vs. e-missile story as context, some constructive
1. Tone It Down. Don't put obvious anger, especially
"justified" anger that has a self-righteous quality in an e-message. And don't be
fooled by your skills as a writer. Inappropriate wit can be toxic. When you can't
process facial expressions, voice modulation and body language, it won't take an overly sensitive
reader for the "scarcasm" to jump off the screen. (And please go lightly on the use
of caps and bolding. It's more than emphasis; after a while it's SHOUTING!)
The most compelling communicational context for your message becomes the belligerent box staring
your recipient in the face. A useful toning tool: replace assumptions and judgments with
tactful questions and propositions.
2. Evasion May Be Worse than Invasion.
Most of us can relate to the frustration or helpless feeling of having dozens and dozens of
unanswered e-mails in our mailbox and the fantasy of pressing some guilt free, "delete
all" button and eviscerating in one stroke those invasive, demanding e-creatures.
the solution is simply accepting our right to set limits. Replying briefly (an art form worth
developing) or sending a message that notes your full plate and your intention to respond in full by
a specified later time allows you to exercise some control of your work schedule and the
communication process. (Limit setting is definitely an "emancipation
procrastination" technique. E-mail me for my procrastination-busting article.)
is dysfunctional, however, is when organizational personnel avoid face-to-face conflicts or problem
solving by dumping their frustrations or criticisms into an e-mail or telephone voice message.
(Especially with the latter, be careful. One supervisor replayed an employee's angry phone
message to other managers. The employee had a legitimate gripe; how he expressed it was off
base. Not surprisingly, the rumor mill cranked up and people in the office started asking the
aggrieved employee if he would be "going postal?" The employee soon starting looking
for a new job.)
The irony with the "e-mail as avoidance strategy" is oftentimes the
antagonist is just down the hall or in an adjacent building. This is why I sometimes refer to
"e"-mail as "escape" mail. And it's also why I believe electronic
communication has contributed to the atrophying of interpersonal-interoffice conflict resolution
3. From Avoidance to Annoyance. One of the fastest and fastest
growing dimensions of e-communication that is quickly becoming both an etiquette and efficiency
problem is Instant Messaging. While occasionally it's fun having friends and family pop in
unexpectedly, personally, it's mostly a disruption from the task at hand. The most mannered
have a sense of boundaries; they knock before barging in by providing an option to receive or not.
In addition, the propensity for error is definitely increased when one is attempting to negotiate
several IMs simultaneously. Maybe it's just my being a Type A New Yorker at heart, but doesn't
it bug you when folks act as if you have nothing better to do than await their precious IM response
while they multi-task?
4. Are You Being Demanding? Some folks who are
comfortable and efficient (not just evasive) with e-mailing send messages frequently.
Sometimes they are verbose as well. If communication expectations are not clarified early on,
the receiver can perceive the sender adding a covert "I demand communication" message.
The receiver may become annoyed if feeling pressured to respond in kind.
This high volume
e-mailer can become a "stress carrier" if he or she lacks both "emotional
intelligence" and etiquette. Before becoming impatient with a receiver's lack of
response, the sender needs to consider: a) the volume of e-mail (and other projects) the
receiver is already handling and b) whether the receiver is "out of e-pocket," e.g.,
traveling without a laptop or in an all day training session.
5. Provide Sufficient
Lead Time. With the immediate, if not instantaneous, aura of electronic messaging one
might think it's a useful 11th hour communicational medium. This can be a seductive fallacy,
one that keeps all decision-making parties on edge. First of all, will the person actually
read the e-mail? More to the point, in an overcrowded mailbox will the message even be
noticed? (If technology can give us spermicide, how about spamicide?) Also, how many
times have you been informed that a recipient's box is full and cannot accommodate your message?
Make Good Use of Subject Line. In light of the possibility of overload, a clear and
informative e-mail "subject line" is often essential for an important message to be
noticed. For example, when e-mailing my Webmaster at his workplace (where he is an IT
Officer), I make sure my name, a succinct message descriptor and the word "Important"
appear in the subject line. The key, of course, is not to cry, "Wolf," when it comes
to terms like "Important" and "Urgent."
As many organizations have come
to appreciate, when you really want people to get vital info, at times you may have to go low
tech...with a (follow-up) hard copy!
In conclusion, no doubt the Internet is a revolutionary
addition to our communication arsenal on multiple levels - cultural, informational and relational.
However, as "The Grandfather of the Internet Age," Marshall McLuhan, noted a half-century
ago, "The Medium Is the Message." And without "Netiquette" awareness and
practice you can be just a click away from sending the wrong message - by disrupting office
coordination and cooperation and damaging your hard-earned reputation. Wise words to help us
all...Practice Safe Stress!
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" , is
an internationally recognized speaker and syndicated writer on stress, anger management,
reorganizational change, team building and HUMOR! He is America Online's "Online
Psychohumorist" (Keyword: Stress Doc.) Check out his USA Today Online "HotSite"
-- www.stressdoc.com, recently cited as a resource on a National Public Radio program about
"Bad Bosses." For more info, email email@example.com or call 202-232-8662.
Building on the broad
reorganizational strategies as outlined in Part I, the final segment examines five strategies for
the work team as nucleus for grappling positively with disruptive change, a setting for grieving and
healing and for the rebuilding of trust and productivity.
Building Strategies for Post-Enron Reorganization
of this series (SD News: JUL02) focused on five systemic structural and individual
intervention elements for surviving an uncertain reorganization or downsizing. Part II focuses
on the relationship between top management, supervisors and employees as well as departments or
branches. The article lists five strategies that illuminate how the team can become the
nucleus for grieving and healing and the rebuilding of trust by: a) recognizing the loss of
key personnel and integrating new team players, practices, emotional processing, etc., b) developing
a more inclusive team decision-making process, c) coordinating new or modified working relationships
in teams and departments and d) and interconnecting departments and divisions throughout the
organization so all have a better sense of and commitment to the newly evolving big picture.
Team Meeting Paradigm Shift. Transforming a typical supervisor-driven team meeting into a
gradual team building process doesn't require the group going on some touchy-feely retreat or
participating in some formulaic or chaotic (that is, leaderless) TQM training program. With a
little advanced coaching and group training along with some operational shifts, a team can become a
catalyst for improved coordination, morale and productivity. Consider these hands on
a) Staff Facilitation -- have staff members replace the supervisor as meeting
facilitator every 4-8 weeks (assuming the team meets once or twice/week).
b) Two Hats
Phenomenon - another shift involving both style and substance is having the supervisor or
department head wear two hats: as much as possible, in the meeting this individual is team player
first and management representative second. Surely, letting up on the authority reins may be a
challenge for some managers. However, this shift can be initially uncomfortable for other team
members as well. Employees who are used to deferring to authority or who don't want to risk
being open with ideas and beliefs will have a steeper learning curve. Also, across the
organizational hierarchy, there are individuals reluctant to assume responsibility for making
decisions and being held responsible for outcomes. Such a perceptual and procedural shift
requires trust and, like the phenomenon of trust, will evolve or erode over time.
c) Try a
Controlled and Safe Experiment -- when contemplating innovation, establishing a time-limited
pilot project often allows various parties, especially the authority figures, i.e., supervisors,
managers, division directors, etc., a sense of some control with an uncertain change process.
useful safety feature is having a team-building consultant be a facilitator/role model for the first
two or three "participatory" meetings. I recall helping an IT team at the Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) with this process. Initially, the supervisor and team members were
overly focused on my direction (and, perhaps, my approval). The analogy used was trying to
teach them to ride a two-wheeler. At first, they didn't want me to let go of the bike seat.
In fact, I wound up playfully hiding under the conference table so that the participants could not
make eye contact with me, only surfacing if I thought they were wildly off course. Gradually,
and more steadily, the group process began to cruise, this time hardly noticing my presence when I
2. Build In a Wavelength Segment. In a
"lean-and-MEAN" climate, not surprisingly, most meetings -- from team and department to
branch and division -- are short fused if not "T & T" -- "Time and
Task"-driven. So while the above recommendations open up the process, the content is
often still exclusively focused on goals and objectives, timelines and deadlines and outcomes and
return on investment issues. Which makes sense; there's a business or organization to run.
My recommendation calls for carving out ten or fifteen minutes at the end of the meeting - the
"Wavelength Segment." A group member comfortable with group process initially
facilitates the meeting. Then, as noted above, as experience and trust builds the role of
facilitator can be rotated.
Three purposes of the "Wavelength" are:
Check - this closing segment focuses on how members are relating with each other; it considers
any barriers to communication and cooperation bypassed in the "T n T" section of the
meeting. Group members are encouraged to vent appropriately frustrations related both to team
operations and between the team/department and the larger organizational environment, e.g., other
departments, executive boards, etc. Whenever possible, the manager in tandem with team reps
should push up the organizational ladder issues generated.
b) Peer Recognition - in
addition, "the wavelength" is also a time and place for recognizing individual and group
efforts that have heightened morale and/or productivity.
c) Restore Trust - finally,
perhaps most important, the wavelength is designed to restore trust, especially between a supervisor
or manager and team members. Based on my broad organizational experience there is often a fear
of speaking up (the chain of command). This fear is fueled by the prospect of being judged
negatively, being retaliated against in a performance evaluation or blocked from fulfilling one's
career path. Such restricted, if not repressive, environment does as much to stifle morale and
induce burnout while undermining initiative and innovation as any other toxic elements or hazardous
3. Plan Informal Gatherings. In a "do more with
less" environment, some organizations practically dispense with meetings; others have employees
feeling "meetinged to death." Either extreme is self-defeating in terms of optimal
team coordination and individual productivity. Consider these alternatives:
Huddle - briefly get as many team members together in the morning or just before the shift
starts. Identify any looming surprises or crises and areas of unfinished business, or whether
a team member may need extra support or backup coverage. This is a 5-10 minute "heads
up," "all on the same page" gathering. And if you add some humor -- "joke
of the morning" -- it can get the team off to a lively and cohesive start.
Lunch - each Friday, one federal government branch would have lunch together. Especially
if employee hours are staggered, having more than one opportunity to gather informally makes sense.
For other units, Friday afternoon pizza parties serve a similar function - informal "food for
thought" and laughs.
c) Chief's Cookout - twice a year the above head of the
aforementioned branch, invited team members to her house for a half-day "visionary"
cookout. (The food was real.) This mini-retreat setting helped the group maintain the
currency of their branch vision while creatively massaging vital "big picture" goals and
4. Regular Systemic Parts-Whole Integration. At some regular
interval the teams and/or departments of the division, center or entire organization need to
congregate. The purposes include:
a) Installing Windows In the Silos - management
sharing "big picture" information, to help employees and units see their give-and-take
connection or disconnection with the whole, including the larger environment, e.g., a National
Institutes of Health (NIH) center having problems getting backing for grants approval at the
Institute Director level.
b) Interdepartmental Clarification and Collaboration - allow
teams and departments to clarify roles and responsibilities in areas of overlap, identify potential
joint venture areas, and announce hot projects that may have larger appeal or impact thereby
motivating interdepartmental collaboration. And, of course, this venue will broadcast
inter-team coordination successes.
c) Matrix Teaming - from parts to whole, there must not
simply be top-down information flow unless in a state of urgency. (Remember, the urgent
must get done now, the important is negotiated and prioritized.) If time constraints or
meeting size prove unwieldy, then a matrix team comprised of a small sample of department managers,
supervisors and employees across varying units should convene for task and process problem
solving as outlined in the above "Wavelength Segment."
5. Autonomy and
Collaboration Among the Chiefs. Competing perspectives, if not conflict, among top
management or between the Executive Committee and the Board of Directors is to be expected.
Actually, it's probably needed to avoid the greed and groupthink that has been fostering
"irrationally exuberant," deceptive and criminal actions.
Too often, however,
Executives deny or cover-up their own and/or colleagues' performance inadequacies; or long-standing
personality conflicts between some of "The Big Five" (as I dubbed a federal agency Center
Director, her Deputy and the three Branch Managers) lead to communicational and problem solving
inertia. Now the status quo is triumphant. No one risks the conflict necessary to change
and rejuvenate a tired and outmoded operating system or leadership.
Of course, when the Board
of Directors is basically a rubber stamp for the CEO and the CEO is somewhat out of touch with
employee discontent, then anger will inevitably get acted out. In one non-profit organization,
several staff members frustrated with the Executive Director asked the head of the Personnel
Committee to have the Board vote to remove the Executive Director. (A meeting between the
Personnel head, staff members and Executive was bypassed.) A split within the Board over the
Director's fate led to tension and recriminations within the Board, between the Board and Executive
Committee, between Board and staff and between Executive Director and the disaffected staff members.
Not surprisingly, both the board members siding with the Director and the loyal staff members did
not look favorably upon the staff and Personnel head that did an end run on the Executive Director.
It took six months of intense Organizational Development intervention to help all segments work
through the hurt, anger and mistrust and to rejuvenate morale and productivity levels.
conclusion, team coordination is critical at all levels/subsystems in the organization -- from the
frontline work group to the top Executive Management Committee. Try instituting these five
team building strategies: 1) Team Meeting Paradigm Shift, 2) Build In a Wavelength Segment, 3)
Plan Informal Gatherings, 4) Regular Systemic Parts-Whole Integration and 5) Autonomy and
Collaboration Among the Chiefs. Your company or agency will identify barriers to trust and
cooperation while transforming tension and conflict into productive and creative collaboration.
And, of course, these are strategies to help us all
Practice Safe Stress!
Subj: A Tibetan
From: justawandering's Guy, Dave F.
Instructions for Life in the new millennium from the Dalai Lama:
Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
2. When you lose,
don't lose the lesson.
3. Follow the three R's: Respect for self, respect for others,
responsibility for all your actions.
4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a
wonderful stroke of luck.
5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
let a little dispute injure a great friendship.
7. When you realize you've made a mistake, take
immediate steps to correct it.
8. Spend some time alone everyday.
9. Open your arms to change,
but don't let go of your values.
10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
Live a good, honorable life. Then, when you get older and think back, you'll be able to enjoy it a
12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation.
14. Don't bring up the past.
Share your knowledge. It's a way to achieve immortality.
16. Be gentle with the earth.
Once a year, go someplace you've never been before.
18. Remember that the best relationship is
one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
19. Judge your success by
what you had to give up in order to get it.
20. Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.
Sometimes we just need to remember what the Rules of
Life really are....
1. Never give yourself a haircut after three margaritas.
need only two tools. WD-40 and duct tape. If it doesn't move and it should, use WD-40. If it
moves and shouldn't, use the tape.
3. The five most essential words for a healthy, vital
relationship "I apologize" and "You are right."
4. Everyone seems normal
until you get to know them.
5. When you make a mistake, make amends immediately. It's easier
to eat crow
while it's still warm.
6. The only really good advice that your mother ever
gave you was, "Go! You might meet somebody!"
7. If he/she says that you are too
good for him/her-believe them.
8. Learn to pick your battles; ask yourself, 'Will this matter
one year from now? How about one month? One week? One day?
9. Never pass up an opportunity to
10. If you woke up breathing, congratulations! You have another chance!
Living well really is the best revenge. Being miserable because of a bad or former relationship just
might mean that the other person was right about you.
12. Work is good, but it's not that
13. And finally... Be really nice to your friends and family. You never know when
you are going to need them to empty your bedpan.
LICSW, "The Stress Doc" , an international speaker and syndicated writer, is America Online's
"Online Psychohumorist" The Doc runs his weekly "Shrink Rap and Group Chat"
on AOL/Digital City DC Stress Chat . See
his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com Stress Doc homepage (recently cited as
"comforting" resource in a National Public Radio feature on "Bad Bosses").
Email for his monthly newsletter recently showcased on List-a-Day.com. For more info on the
Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-232-8662.
Mark Gorkin 2002
Shrink Rap Productions