Dec 08 No 1, Sec 1
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Sep 08, No 1, Sec 2

The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

OCT 2008, No. I, 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

Shrink Rap I:  Psychology and Passionate Art of Quick Performance Turnaround

Shrink Rap II:  The Art and Science of Active Listening:  CPRS Method

Readers:  Grid's Appreciation, Bread Crumbs,

Testimonials:  40Plus

Offerings:  Books, CDs, Training/Marketing Kit:  Email stressdoc@aol.com or go to www.stressdoc.com for more info.

Section II

Main Essay:  Transforming Crisis “Danger” into Dynamic “Opportunity”

Reader's Response:  Merger Wedding


Section I:

1) Shrink Rap I:  "The Psychology, Reworking and Passionate Art behind Quick Performance Turnaround."  Criticism on a performance evaluation captures the Stress Doc's attention and leads to some strategic adaptations.

2) Shrink Rap II:  "The Art and Science of Active Listening:  CPRS Method."  The Doc's CPRS method provides skills and strategies for reviving communication in endangered relationships.

Section II:

1) Main Essay:  "Transforming Crisis “Danger” into Dynamic 'Opportunity.'”  Three frameworks of crisis challenge the all-is-lost lay conceptulization.  In addition, three creative crisis tools are highlighted and an "out-rage-ous" vignette illustrates concepts and tools in action.  [Due to length, entire essay is an attachment.]

Stress Brake I:

The Psychology, Reworking and Passionate Art behind Quick Performance Turnaround

No matter how many times I've gone through this tango, when it happens I feel like my partner has abruptly walked away leaving me dazed on the dance floor feeling exposed and rejected:  "I tried so hard…wasn't I good enough?"  Actually, I'm referring to critical feedback from township employees after a recent three-hour training program:  some people felt there was "not enough stress coping skills" provided; one evaluation write-in labeled the training "a big gripe session"; and another person even said I was "boring."  Me…boring!!!  And while there were several positive comments, I expect much stronger reviews.

From a more rational perspective, I can place some of the comments in a larger context:  several people didn't want to partake in this HR-mandated training, mandated because of several workplace incidents between employees of different cultural-ethnic groups.  (Depending on your perspective the interpersonal-cultural problems involved either insensitive and hostile humor or political correctness run amok.)  And HR acknowledged they hadn't really explained to employees why the training was being held.  So the evaluations may reflect some displacement of frustration and confusion.  However, both a bruised ego and my performance-driven nature won't allow me to put aside the comments.

And yet, I must basically do just that.  Less than an hour after scanning the evaluations I'm repeating the program with another group of forty.  (The HR person sent out evaluation forms at the eleventh hour.)  Feeling decidedly deflated, I even wondered about the quality and intensity of my stage energy and focus.  Basically, I'm cycling between a depressed mood and anxiously waiting in the wings, fists clenched, just wanting the bell to sound.

Finally, the HR Director does the introductions.  (The second group had a brief email heads up regarding the workshop purpose.)  I then do my opening routine and, as the presentation unfolds, come to realize that, without forethought or full consciousness, I have made some small yet significant shifts in my presentational substance and style.  And the program turns out to be smash, at least based on immediate post-workshop oral feedback from participants and the HR Director.  What happened?  Why such a difference?  Consider these Four Keys for a Quick Performance Turnaround:

1.  Take Time for the Pain.  While initially fearing being psyched out, in fact staying with the painful feedback, once in performance gear, actually fired me up.  I sensed a determination to make whatever corrections would be necessary to connect with and wow the audience.  It's a two-fold challenge:  high performers, to use a baseball metaphor, must have an ability to put a blown save behind them. The next night they are back on the mound, expecting to throw their best stuff.   At the same time, these pros mine the one or two nuggets of useful data revealed by an unsuccessful outing.  As noted author, 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."

2.  Edit, Edit, Bullets, Bullets.  I was wounded by the "boring" comment.  (You know the old saw:  "Vanity thy name is Gorkin.")  After briefly licking my wounds, I came out with my mind racing.  I intuited that a turnaround key was shortening my lecture points to the essential informational bullets and moving quickly into the interactive exercises.  Less background material meant it was easier for folks to sort the "hands on" tools from the theory.  People were not going to have time to feel bored.  I also replaced a more conceptual model and somewhat intimate group exercise with a quick, one-on-one, giving and receiving criticism role play.  Some of the previous dissatisfaction may have been triggered by too much vulnerability.  In fact, in the first program, during an exercise report back segment, one group did not feel safe to share their discussion points because of the presence of a particular manager.  In summary, a consequence of my pain and frustration was risking letting go of the familiar presentational progression; I was ready to cut, run, mix it up and shoot from the lip.

3.  Bring On the Passion.  Cutting back the lecture and hitting the bullets helped punch up and animate my delivery, especially as I was feeding off the energy building through engagement with the audience.  We were motivating each other.  However, my intensity was seemingly rubbing at least one gentleman the wrong way.  He suggested I take it easy, and then made a couple of other subtly disparaging comments before finally saying, "Now don't get stressed."

Of course, he was being a provocateur, trying to boost himself at my expense.  Hey, bring it on.  I know wise guys.  In fact, one of my stated goals in life:  to be a "wise man and a wise guy!"  Actually, this kind of test fires my brain.  My response:  "If I was under stress it was 'good stress.'"  (We had talked earlier about good stress creating an optimal level of challenge and focus thereby generating a sense of vitality and contributing to peak performance.)  I then reframed my behavior as being "passionate," and reflecting my strong belief in the subject and of "walking the talk."  Personalizing the interplay with an audience member (without taking it personally) makes it easier for a presenter to speak from the head and the heart.

I even injected a little provocative humor by asking the group, "What's the first word that comes to mind when you hear "passion"?  With a little encouragement, someone called out "sex."  Then my rejoinder:  "We know what the "s"-word for passion is in the DC area…Or what it used to be.  It used to be "Senator" but then Bill Clinton ruined my joke!"  Definitely gets a mix of laughs and groans, further relaxing the room.

Actually, the "s" word for passion is "suffering," as in the "Passion Play."  And I shared how in one workshop a participant free associated to the word "passion" with "Rosa Parks."  Obviously, a powerful buzzword on a program related to cultural diversity and conflict.  Speaking your audience's language is an interpersonal bridge.

Finally, allowing myself to be challenged by an audience member and engaging in some playful and passionate repartee, established another level of audience connection.  Many people enjoy a bit of razzing of a speaker or leader, bringing him or her a little more down to earth or, at least, reducing some of the status distinctions.  (This is why many effective leaders, Abraham Lincoln, being an obvious example, engage in self-deprecating humor.)  But the most important reason for engaging an antagonist or potential disrupter:  the audience wants to know that the authority can handle this challenge or competition effectively and non-defensively.  Ultimately, such interplay strengthens both the confidence in the presenter and the trust and safety level in the room.

4.  Make Time for Positive Problem-Solving.  I typically close my programs with a signature "Team Discussion/Team Drawing Exercise."  The exercise divides the large group into teams of four or five, and asks the teams to "Identify Causes of Workplace Stress and Conflict."  The teams have about ten minutes for discussion and then ten minutes to transform the discussion points into a group picture.  The images are invariably "out-rage-ous," that is, the process of drawing sinking ships and sharks in the water or stalking, fire breathing dragons, helps people draw out their angry feelings, instead of acting them out.  (Email stressdoc@aol.com for more information about the exercise.)  The exercise also involves both a "gallery walk" and a "show and tell," with each group discussing their picture's issues and symbols with the entire audience.

Due to time constraints, however, the first program ended with my encouraging attendees to use the stress factors identified in the drawings to stimulate problem-solving discussion during their regular team meetings.  For the second outing, I knew to leave time to do follow-up problem-solving during the program.  Especially in organizations or divisions where there is a good bit of existing tension, when you just illustrate the stressors and sources of conflict and don't follow with group brainstorming of positive strategies and recommendations, there can be a sense that the exercise was too negative or that the organization is left hanging.  That is, the shortcomings of the organization are being highlighted while the strengths are overlooked.  And a common refrain:  "Great, we know the stressors…but what are we supposed to do about them?"

And while some believe allowing attendees to identify and vent their frustration with workplace stressors is "being negative" or encouraging a "gripe session," in fact, when management demonstrates a willingness to listen genuinely to employees' concerns, a first step toward increasing trust has been taken:  management is not afraid of hearing some "bad news."  And in the second program, the HR Director announced she would be starting volunteer, employee-supervisor focus groups to implement problem-solving ideas generated in the workshops.  Clearly, having an ally helps the turnaround cause!

In summary, four keys to recovering from substandard performance and generating a quick turnaround have been identified:  1) Take Time for the Pain, 2) Edit, Edit, Bullets, Bullets, 3) Bring On the Passion and 4) Make Time for Positive Problem-Solving.  Absorbing the negative evaluations helped generate a rapid learning curve and a transitional space that facilitated closing the gap between aspiration and current position.  And perhaps the most important consequence of these keys was the induction of a powerful role shift -- from presenter to orchestra leader.  Now I was consistently helping other people bring out their best music!

Stress Brake II:

The Science and Art of Active Listening:
The Stress Doc's CPRS Method

There are several ways to enhance listening effectiveness, especially when engaged in a complex or emotional exchange.  A fundamental technique is "Active Listening."  Here's an acronym to help transform less than attentive or self-centered listening into clear, concise and compassionate communication.  Are you ready to revive a give and take relationship; are you ready to be an assertive and empathic communicator; are you ready to practice CPR and S?

Key Components of "Active Listening":
C.  Concern and Clarification

a. Concern.  The best way to start an engaging conversation is to give someone undivided verbal and nonverbal attention.  Relaxed yet alert posture, eye contact, modulated voice tone, etc. are essential for effective listening.  (Naturally, as the communication begins to flow, there's more room for a wider array of facial expressions, bodily gestures and shared laughter.)  As much as possible, the active communicational receiver wants not just to get the sender's message, but desires to better understand the person and their situational context.  And asking questions that gives the other party a chance to speak their mind (and if desired, to also speak from the heart) defines "concern."  Yet showing empathy doesn't mean there isn't room for difference.  As I like to say, "Acknowledgement does not necessarily mean Agreement."  That is, a communicator can both listen attentively and respectfully and after taking in the message share his or her differing and even troubled perspective.

b. Clarification.  Clarification involves asking the other party to provide more information, to elaborate upon a statement or answer specific questions.  A clarification attempt is not an inquisitorial, "Why did you do that?"  It's more a recognition that something is not clear; perhaps the listener has some confusion and desires more information, again, for better understanding.  And clarification should not be the springboard to a harsh or blaming "You"-message and/or a dismissive judgment, e.g., "You're wrong" or "You don't really believe that, do you!"  A much better response is, "I disagree," "I see it differently" or "My data says otherwise."

P.  Paraphrase and Pause

a. Paraphrase.  Paraphrasing involves repeating the other's message in the person's words or in your own distillation, to affirm, "Message sent is message received."  Sometimes, especially if a sender has conveyed a significant amount of information or complex instructions, it's wise to say, "I know I just said a lot.  Would you paraphrase back what you heard?"  Again, the motive is not to catch the other but to have both parties on the same page.

b. Pause.  In a "T n T" (Time- and Task-driven) world, communicators often feel they have to cram in the info as time is limited.  Providing people with a lengthy, seemingly endless laundry list almost assures that key issues and ideas will be lost in the verbiage.  Learning to pause, to segment or chunk your message helps the receiver catch the gist without fumbling the ideas, intentions or implications.  (The communicational analogy might be writing concisely, using short and to the point paragraphs.)  Momentary breaks from the back and forth also allow the parties to ponder and posit new possibilities.  Now active listening may morph into creative listening.

R.  Reaction vs. Response and Reflect Feelings

a. Reaction vs. Response.  Reactive listening usually occurs when you feel threatened or angry and then immediately engage in a counterargument (covert or verbalized).  Unbiased or flexible listening has ended.  Upon sensing an opening, for example, perceived inconsistency or irrationality in the message, you reject or talk over the message and basically dismiss the messenger.   Or, some end a contentious listening process with a quick and reactive retreat:  "You've hurt me" or "You made me upset" and the receiver vacates the communicational field and avoids an honest exchange.  (Clearly, if one party is being abusive, and it does not feel safe to voice your position, then retreating is a wise strategy.)  In contrast, a response often blends both head and heart and involves the use of an "I" message:  "I'm concerned about what I'm hearing" or "I sense there's a problem.  Is my assessment on target?"  An “I”-message response is the opposite of a wildly emotional or knee-“jerk” reaction; it takes personal responsibility for both receiving and giving feedback.  Shifting from blaming "You" messages to assertive and empathic "I"s transforms a defensive reaction into a reasoned response.  So "count to ten and check within."

b. Reflect Feelings.  To reflect someone's feelings means to lightly or kindly ask about or to acknowledge overt or underlying feelings that are attached to the other party's communication.  A tentative or tactful approach is often best:  "I know you are on board, still it sounds like you may have some frustration with the decision.  Care to discuss it?"  Sometimes you may not know what the other is feeling.  Instead of trying to guess or saying, "Gee you must be angry," if you want to comment, better to say, "When I've been in a similar situation, I found myself becoming…"  And then pause; give the other person time to respond or not.  Also, especially regarding the emotional component of messages, both listening and looking for verbal and nonverbal cues -- voice tone and volume, facial and other bodily gestures, for example, lowered head and eyes or arms crossed over the chest -- will facilitate more accurate reflection or discretion.

S.  Strategize and Summarize

a. Strategize.  Strategic listening takes active listening to a next level.  The goal is more than awareness and empathy.  Now you want to invite the other to engage in a mutual, problem-solving dance. Common and disparate, structured and spontaneous ideas and emotions as well as goals and objectives are freely shared, akin to a brainstorming.  Though in this strategic interplay questioning for understanding and for triggering imaginative possibilities is encouraged.  The purpose of such strategic back and forth is "synergy" -- a sharing-listening-sharing dialogic loop yielding an expanded understanding:  the consciousness whole is greater than the sum of the communicational parts.

b. Summarize.  Finally, you are ready to review and pull together such problem-solving elements as mutual agreements, outstanding differences -- factual as well as emotional -- broad strategies and action plans to be executed (including the responsible parties), time frames, ongoing monitoring or interim report back and follow-up procedures.  And depending on the communicational context, a written summary is often advisable.

In the spirit of walking the talk, here's a succinct summary of the "Keys to Active or CPRS Listening":

-- verbal and nonverbal attention, empathy and acknowledgement with room for difference
-- clear up confusion and foster greater understanding without passing premature judgment

Paraphrase -- two-way repeating or distilling of the message so that "message sent is message received"
-- take time to chunk your message, allowing the other to get the gist and ponder possibilities

Reaction vs. Response -- "count to ten, check within" to respond with assertive "I"s not blaming "You"s
Reflect Feelings
-- tactful questioning or sharing acknowledges self/other and invites emotional reflection

Strategize -- generate mutual listening-sharing loop for both idea generation and insightful imagination
-- review and record agreements, unresolved differences and future problem-solving steps.

Readers' Submissions

Sep 29, 2008

Hi Mark,
Remember grid555?????  LOL  just wanted to say I always enjoy your articles and try to take the time to read them all.  STRESS....not a four letter word but rather a magnetic (negative and positive) six letter word...the trick is in managing it.

My life has really changed from being an unemployed CPA..to someone very ill...to someone disabled ..to someone who has taken a for ever in life change of directions.  
Hubby ran off with another woman, LOL...what a hit to the ego and after all my pain (stress) I said, "From this day forward I'm only going to follow my passions in life."  I have now started on a part time basis my own dog training business and it is taking off faster than I can even imagine !!!!!!!  (Here is the name of my business: "Dog Time 2 Smiles")

Mark, your not going to believe but in a small way you helped me find this road and (helped me) survive to get here.  Thanks !  Hope success keeps coming your way.

Subject:  Bread Crumbs
From:  Pcorell@hopsteiner.com

[Ed note:  Better late than never.]

On the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, there is a ceremony called Tashlich.  Jews traditionally go to the ocean or a stream or river to pray and throw bread crumbs into the water.  Symbolically, the fish devour their sins.  Occasionally, people ask what kind of bread crumbs should be thrown.

Here are suggestions for breads which may be most appropriate for specific sins.

For complex sins..........................Multigrain
For ordinary sins..........................White Bread
For particularly dark sins...............Pumpernickel
For twisted sins............................Pretzels
For tasteless sins.........................Rice Cakes
For sins of indecision....................Waffles
For sins committed in haste..............Matzoh
For substance abuse....................Stoned Wheat
For use of heavy drugs..................Poppy Seed
For committing auto theft..............Caraway
For timidity/cowardice...................Milk Toast
For erotic sins..............................French Bread
For silliness, eccentricity..............Nut Bread
For not giving full value..................Shortbread
For unnecessary chances.............Hero Bread
For warmongering.........................Kaiser Rolls
For dressing immodestly...............Tarts
For causing injury to others...........Tortes
For lechery and promiscuity..........Hot Buns
For promiscuity with gentiles.........Hot Cross Buns
For racist attitudes.......................Crackers
For sophisticated racism...............Ritz Crackers
For abrasiveness..........................Grits
For dropping in without notice........Popovers
For overeating..............................Stuffing
For impetuosity............................Quick Bread
For indecent photography..............Cheesecake
For raising your voice too often......Challah
For pride and egotism...................Puff Pastry
For sycophancy, ass-kissing.........Brownies
For laziness............................Any type of loaf
For trashing the environment..........Dumplings

and my personal favorite:

For telling bad jokes/puns..............Corn Bread

Wishing you a sweet and healthy New Year!


40Plus Career Transition Center of Greater Washington, DC
[Managing Transitional Stress, Loss and Conflict with Wit and Wisdom]

October 16, 2008

Mark - thank you for taking your time to speak to us as part of the Monday Morning Speaker Series at 40Plus of Greater Washington. I anticipated the wit and humor but was not expecting how thoughtful and profound your advice was. You have a way with words that was very compelling and encouraging for our membership. I received many comments afterwards in appreciation of your message. In several talks now at 40Plus you have helped many people improve their lives, and we appreciate your long-term friendship. Thank you! David Powell, for 40Plus.  
David Powell
Conservation/Natural History Research
1425 17th Street, N.W. # 701
Washington, D.C. 20036
Telephone (202) 387 1680

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).  Email for his monthly newsletter showcased on List-a-Day.com.  For more info on the Doc's speaking and training programs, call or email the "Stress Doc":  301-946-0865 or stressdoc@aol.com .  And to view web video highlights of a Stress Doc Keynote, go to http://www.stressdoc.com/media_downloads.htm

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2008
Shrink Rap™