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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

MAY 2009, 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

Stress Doc Q & A I:  Strategic Confrontation of a Company CEO [A response to a question from Workfoce Online]

Stress Doc Q & A II:  What is Humor Therapy?  [A response to a question from silkwise.com]

Shrink Rap I:  A “Four ‘C’-ing” Method for Inspiring Trust, Laughter and Creative Collaboration

Section II

Main Essay:  The Psychology and Art behind Quick Performance Turnaround (published in PARAGRAM, the Oregon Paralegal Assn. newsletter)

Testimonials:  Federal Asian Pacific American Council, National Weather Service/National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Readers:  Economic Stimulus Package..., Encouraging Notes from the Career Transition Battlefront

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


1) Stress Doc Q & A I:  "Strategic Confrontation of a Company CEO" [A response to a question from Workfoce Online].  Steps are presented to help an HR Dir. deal with a problematic CEO who is being enabled in his dysfunction by the head of the company.

2) S
tress Doc Q & A II:  "What is Humor Therapy?"  [A response to a question from silkwise.com]  Humor Therapy is the capacity to perceive and laugh at the absurdities and irrationalities and the flaws and foibles in ourselves and in everyday life.  The Stress Doc draws a range of sources -- from Helen Keller to charlie chaplin -- to flesh out the answer.

Shrink Rap I:  "A “Four ‘C’-ing” Method for Inspiring Trust, Laughter and Creative Collaboration."  Based on his successful program, "A Leader's Greatest Gift -- Inspiring TLCs," the Stress Doc illustrates how Trust, Laughter and Creative Collaboration are built upon Four "C"s -- Conflict, Communication, Connection and Change -- and how the TLCs process evolves from Integrity to Intimacy to Interactive Imagination.

Main Essay:  "The Psychology and Art behind Quick Performance Turnaround" (published in May PARAGRAM, the Oregon Paralegal Assn. newsletter).  Experiencing some critical nad humbling feedback, the Stress Doc makes some rapid and targeted adaptations that lead to meaningful and ego-massaging results.

Stress Doc Q & A:

[This Q & A first appeared in May 2009, Workforce Online.   Here's a reader's note:

Loved your response to the HR vice president about the demoralizing CEO!

DB, CalPERS, Office of Governmental Affairs]

Strategic Confrontation of a Company CEO

Q.  I am the HR Director at a small company.  I have been asked by the head of our small company to counsel my boss, who is the company CEO, about his tendency for insulting employees and making racist comments in e-mail messages.  The same CEO has made derogatory comments about me, and retaliated against some employees (including firing) who have brought his defects to light. Morale is extremely low, from district managers to the corporate office, yet our company has never done better financially. As a result, our company's directors don't want to change CEOs.

How do I handle his request for me to counsel my own boss?

A.  Before tackling this CEO "stress carrier" (and you know the definition of a stress carrier…"someone who doesn't get ulcers just gives them!") you have to have a serious sit down with the company head.  Two questions jump out:  why is the head of the company accepting the CEO's dysfunctional behavior and why is he not having the counseling session?  Of course, we can speculate on the "head" (case) motives, and again two stand out:  he (or she) is confrontation averse and/or he and the CEO are buddies.  Another question comes to mind:  what is your relationship with the company head?  Do you have enough experience to judge his integrity?  This is vital as you must obtain substantive assurance (perhaps in writing) that the company head (or the board of directors) will give you protection from any retaliatory behavior by the CEO?  (Is the company head aware of how far this CEO has taken retaliation when feeling threatened?)  The company head and company board must understand that employee discontent with treatment from a specific manager or supervisor is the biggest cause of employee's leaving a company.  That is, profits probably won't stay up if morale stays low and people eventually change ships, which is what they will likely do once the economic climate starts to improve.

Finally, I would obtain buy-in from the company head for some executive/communications/diversity coaching for the CEO.  Assuming you get satisfactory assurance (and if you don't then I would think twice about meeting with the CEO alone; I might opt instead for a three way meeting with the CEO and the company head) then consider these steps:

1. Challenge and Reassure the CEO.  If possible, have the CEO meet in your office.  Psychologically this will be self-empowering.  Let the CEO know that the head of the company strongly suggested the meeting.  Then inform the CEO that you and the company head (there is strength in numbers) value his contributions to the company success (note specific strengths).  Also, share that you appreciate how, as a leader, he wants to hold people accountable, and you understand his frustration when people do not meet company performance expectations.  (Hint, hint.)  However, you and the company head both are concerned that some of the CEO's actions are hurting his status as leader and potentially are hurting the overall position of the company.

2. Get Specific.  Ask the CEO if he recalls imparting any insulting or racist comments in emails?  If he denies the deed, if at all possible be prepared to present such emails or have some documentation re: time and place regarding hostile or racist remarks.  (I would not bring up your experience with the CEO in this meeting.  Don't give the CEO ammo to question your objectivity.)  Let the CEO know he is putting himself and the company in legal jeopardy with such insults and racist comments.

3. Ask for Feedback and Have a Plan.  How does the CEO respond to your constructive confrontation?  If he is defensive or in denial, then you have to let him know that you will be reporting this fact back to the company head.  If he is open to your comments, solicit his ideas on how he can express his frustrations or concerns with people or business operations in a more constructive and substantive manner.  I would also let the CEO know that the company is prepared to provide voluntary executive/communication/diversity coaching (and will make it mandatory) if problems persist.

4. Follow-up Meetings.  I would schedule a three-way meeting with the CEO and company head to make sure everyone is on the same page, after you've had a report back with the company head.  And then have a follow-up meeting in two to four weeks with you and the CEO to monitor progress.

If you follow these steps, I believe you will demonstrate your professionalism and will determine whether the CEO's behaviors are amenable to change.  And if the CEO resists this intervention, then the ball is in the company head/company board's court, where it belonged all along.

Stress Doc Q & A II

A response to a question from silkwise.com:  "What is Humor Therapy?"

Humor Therapy is the capacity to perceive and laugh at the absurdities and irrationalities and the flaws and foibles in ourselves and in everyday life.  As the pioneering humanist, Helen Keller observed, "The world is so full of care and sorrow, it is a gracious dept we owe one another to discover the bright crystals of delight hidden in somber circumstances and irksome tasks."  Actually, tragedy often begets merriment and mirth.  As the film genius, Charlie Chaplin, noted:  "The paradoxical thing about making comedy is that it's precisely the tragic which arouses the funny.  We have to laugh due to our helplessness in the face of natural forces and in order not to go crazy."

First we know that laughter is good medicine.  Laughing with gusto, according to humor expert, Dr. David Frye, "is like turning your body into a big vibrator giving vital organs a brief but hardy internal massage."  Others have likened hearty laughter to "inner jogging."  Laughter releases calming and feel good chemicals like endorphin and dopamine.
Next there's a real connection between mastery and laughter.  As psychiatrist, Ernst Kris, observed:  "What was once feared and is now mastered is laughed at."  And as the Stress Doc inverted: "What was once feared as is now laughed at is no longer a master."  (And not being able to leave well enough alone, "What was once feared and is now laughed with...likely becomes a mistress or lover.)

But perhaps most important, humor therapy helps us not take our triumphs or failures all too seriously, to keep us down to earth.  As Freud noted, healing humor is like having a parental or inner voice that encourages our success while gently tolerating our failures.

And finally, when you can get groups of people to share flaws and foibles (e.g., as I do in my "Share an embarrassing moment" exercise) then clearly humor therapy helps us realize we are in a boat that reflects our common humanity despite individual differences.  And this kind of support, humility and laughter I liken to having a life jacket to survive stormy seas of change and a protective vest to blunt slings and arrows of critical aggressors.  My humor therapy mantra mirrors the title of my book:  Practice Safe Stress!

Shrink Rap I:

TLCs Leadership-Partnership Synergy:  A “Four ‘C’-ing” Method for
Inspiring Trust, Laughter and Creative Collaboration

I recently led a play-shop in Houston for the annual conference of the Federal Asian Pacific Americans Council (FAPAC).  This is the third consecutive year that I’ve been asked to present, so I had to come up with a different program.  And I have:  “A Leader’s Greatest Gift:  TLCs – Inspiring Trust, Laughter and Creative Collaboration.”  My concept of leadership involves a complex partnership between leaders and team members, that is, effective leaders (both formal and informal) inspire “Trust, Laughter and Creative Collaboration” and help cultivate successful teams.  These leaders-partners enable the team to grapple genuinely with conflict and change, thereby generating a group process that emphasizes both individual creativity and interactive community.  For me, the common slogan, “There’s no “I” in team,” falls short.  My preference: “There’s no “I” in team but there are two “I”s in WINNING.” For me, the “I”s are both literal and metaphorical.  The two “eyes” (poetic) and “I”s (literal) signal:  a) being able to both look forward and reflect back (as well as learning from past experience and, especially, from error) and that b) a team is composed of "individuals” – leaders and partners – who engage with “integrity.”  And a winning – purposeful, passionate and playful – team often has a leader who inspires trust and laughter as well as group imagination and innovation.

But why choose these three words; and why the particular sequence?  Let’s examine two critical viewpoints – integrative process and underlying pieces:

1. Definitional, Psychological and Communicational Process.

a) Trust
“Assured resting of the mind on the integrity, veracity, justice, friendship, or other sound principle, of another person; reliance (Accurate and Reliable Dictionary/Online).” Trust reflects a level of consistency and predictability in a relationship.  Actually, trust establishes a foundation of integrity and reliability – both within a person (can I trust myself?) and between individuals (can we trust each other?).  Ultimately, over time, action speaks louder than words; still, infuse your relationships with these “Four ‘R’s” and I suspect the trust level will increase:  be “Respectful, Real, Responsible and Responsive.”  (My next essay will tackle these four “R”s.)

b) Laughter.  Shared laughter, especially when reflecting merriment, self-acceptance or an appreciation of life’s absurdities (as opposed to status-driven putdowns), both reflects and encourages a greater level of empathy, camaraderie and a sense of “we are in this together.”  (“Not only can I walk in your shoes…but I can feel your bunions.”)  For the individual, a capacity for laughter may strengthen a feeling of self-trust and empowerment.  As psychiatrist and student of humor, Ernst Kris noted:  “What was once feared and is now mastered is laughed at.”  And as the Stress Doc inverted:  “What was once feared and is now laughed at is no longer a master!”

In addition, shared laughter often greases the group problem-solving wheel:  “People are more open to a serious message when it’s gift-wrapped with humor” (Stress Doc).  Group laughter of the healing (laugh at our own flaws and foibles), humanizing (helps us appreciate our common humanity with different others) and harmonizing (we are all in this together/fellow sufferers) or “higher power humor” variety often reflects a shared language and sensibility while fostering a feeling of intimacy.

c) Creative Collaboration.  And finally, a collaboration that is creative goes beyond simply working together.  Actually, collaboration involves give and take communication that works hard at discerning individual differences in needs and perspectives.  Reconciling this difference of substance and style, structure and strategy into a more complex and rich amalgam is the essence of synergy, that is, a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.  Taking time and grappling with conflict among the parts and partners through communicational and relational honesty, through imaginative spontaneity and analytic depth, often yields an original and productive process and product.

So TLC Leadership generates an engagement process from integrity to intimacy and, finally, to imaginative interaction and possible innovation.

2.  Underlying TLC Puzzle Pieces. 
I discern four interrelated components underlying each of the TLCs concepts. These foundational components are “Four ‘C’-ing,” naturally -- Conflict, Communication, Connection and Change -- and each one is critical for "Inspiring Trust, Laughter and Creative Collaboration."  Let's see how these pieces fit and work together.

a) Trust.  The establishment of “trust” definitely involves all the “C”s.  A pattern of resolving conflict through adult-to-adult, give and take communication, for example, without one person playing an authority trump card or prematurely threatening abandonment, gradually yields a real head and heart connection.  This is a trust-building pillar.  And helping one or more parties effectively express themselves, helping them productively perform (and even accepting and learning from error) and helping others better adapt to change -- and to have attitudinal, behavioral and situational changes truly acknowledged or respected if not accepted -- this too supports the evolution of trust.

b) Laughter.  According to philosophical-political author, Arthur Koestler, sometimes laughter (along with some other surprising cognitive-emotive processing) reflects a person’s ability to mentally and vocally connect disparate or seemingly contradictory or conflict-laden ideas and suddenly get it.  For example with art appreciation we go, “Ah”; with scientific discovery one says “Aha”; and when laughing it is “Ha-ha.”  And as noted above laughter, especially of the healing and humanizing varieties, indicates a shared language and sensibility.  And this head and heart connection helps foster both trust and group performance.  For example, Daniel Goleman, in his pioneering work on Emotional Intelligence, discovered that the most effective managers generated three times more laughter amongst their troops than less talented managers.

Finally, when you can laugh at your flaws and foibles, when you can integrate Freud’s formula for healing humor – possessing an inner voice that encourages efforts and gently tolerates failure – then you are surely carrying around an invisible but nonetheless buoyant life jacket for keeping your head above water even during the stormiest sea change and are wearing a protective vest for blunting the slings and arrows of even the most critical antagonist.  And laughter is especially vital during periods of great challenge and uncertainty.  Consider this observation by the pioneering humanist, Helen Keller:

The world is so full of care and sorrow; it is a gracious debt we owe one another to
discover the bright crystals of delight hidden in somber circumstances and irksome tasks.

c) Creative Collaboration.  The relation between conflict and creativity is foundational.  As the renowned 20th c. artist, Pablo Picasso, noted, “Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.”  For me, Picasso is saying to achieve novel perspective a person must break down or, at least, challenge the conventional or habitual ways of seeing and thinking.  You might need a low threshold for “constructive discontent.”  Invariably you will be generating conflict both within yourself and between yourself and those vested in the status quo.  But grappling with such conflict and uncertainty is what fires and connects the head and heart.  As John Dewey, the 18th c. pragmatic philosopher and “Father of American Public Education” observed:

“Conflict is the gadfly of thought.  It stimulates to observation and memory.  It shocks us out of sheep-like passivity.  It instigates to invention and sets us at noting and contriving.  Conflict is the sine qua non of reflection and ingenuity.”

Finally, conflict and creativity are both responsive to and initiators of change.  In fact, major conflict often demands meaningful adaptation and major change invariably generates uncertainty and, frequently, interpersonal conflict.  And creativity – thinking “out of the box,” performing “outside the (Bell) curve” and being “out-rage-ous” (my new motivational mantra) -- is often the bridge that channels the tension and ultimately builds yin-yang synergy between conflict and change.  Or to paraphrase Nobel Prize-winning, Hungarian physicist, Albert Szent Gyorgyi’s, creative collaboration just may help partners “see what everyone else has seen and think what no one else has thought.”

Closing Summary

So hopefully, this brief essay has illuminated the process for generating purposeful, playful and passionate leader-partner relations.  And by productively engaging with “Conflict, Communication, Connection and Change,” by being a “Four ‘C’-ing” Leader, you can share a most wonderful gift.  You can inspire those TLCs – “Trust, Laughter and Creative Collaboration.”

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker and "Motivational Humorist" known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN speaking and workshop programs.  In addition, the "Doc" is a team building and organizational development consultant for a variety of govt. agencies, corporations and non-profits and is AOL's "Online Psychohumorist" ™.  Mark is an Adjunct Professor, No. VA (NOVA) Community College and currently he is leading "Stress, Team Building and Humor" programs for the 1st Cavalry and 4th Infantry Divisions, Ft. Hood, Texas.  A former Stress and Conflict Consultant for the US Postal Service, the Stress Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger.  See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com -- called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-946-0865.  And to view web video highlights of a Stress Doc Keynote, go to http://www.stressdoc.com/media_downloads.htm

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2009
Shrink Rap™ Productions