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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

SEP 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

Shrink Rap I:  News of the Wild and Request for Stories

Main Essay:  3-D Group Combat-Intervention at the Burning Out and Burning Up 
                     Battlefronts:  Part I

Readers:  The AMA Speaks Out on Healthcare, Hollywood Squares Game Show Responses, Mother's Milk

Section II

Main Essay:  3-D Group Combat-Intervention at the Burning Out and Burning Up 
                     Battlefronts:  Part II

Testimonials:  Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC) -- Southwest and DC

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


1.  Shrink Rap.  The Stress Doc makes Iraq and a request for reader stories re: power struggles.

2.  Main Essay.  In a two parts (Secs. I & II), the Stress Doc illustrates and analyzes his most powerful stress and team building exercise and how it helps reduce tensions at the "burnout battlefront."

Shrink Rap:

A colleague/friend and I are thinking about ways of expanding the visibility of the Stress Doc through various media, including training videos, new/social media outlets, TV and who knows whatever other media mutations will be spawned by the time you read this email.
[Hey, I just was informed that my words have made it to Iraq.  (The announcements immediately follow and the article is pasted below.)  So who knows what crazy possibilities are still lurking.  Actually, some of you are aware that I have been doing "Stress, Team Building and Humor" programs -- often at pre-deployment offsites, with both soldiers and spouses -- for a number of army brigades these last three years.]
Here's the first email re: the Doc in Iraq from a good friend and mentor, and the person who first brought me to Ft. Hood, Commander Larry Phelps, 15th Sustainment Brigade, now deployed in Iraq **.
So there I was...in between meetings, caught up on updating my organizer, nothing to do for 10 minutes today.  I picked up the latest "Expeditionary Times"...thumbed through the paper.  Page 17, full page article, a lovely Jewish man in the upper left hand corner...entitled "Managing A Critical Aggressor: Case Example 1"!  Wow...aren't you the Stress Doctor to the deployed service member now!
How did this come about?  Our collaboration to get you wired in to the military was successful beyond my initial dreams!

Proud of you!  You should have MAJ Raul Marquez send you a copy!

COL Larry Phelps
Commander, 15th SUS BDE
Every Day...Better!
[** That first program at Ft. Hood was for spouses; the real catalyst was a dynamic advocate, Laurie Dunlop, a volunteer/spouse active in the 1CD Rear Family Readiness Group.]
Subject: RE: E-Times (UNCLASSIFIED)
Date: 9/27/2009


So far we've published two of your articles in our Expeditionary Times.  SSG Strain sent you the one from last week and now you have the 1st one.  We are trying to have one of your articles published biweekly...I think they  are insightful and extremely helpful.

Col. Phelps said you were trying to get in contact with me...now you have my email.  If you have any other articles you would like to share with us...send them to me and we will review and include them in our

Thank you for your support and for making us laugh while still addressing some very important issues.

Take care,


Marquez, Raul E MAJ USA 13th ESC PAO
Back to the need for stories.  Toward this end, we'd love to have anecdotes, stories (shorter is better) about workplace/power struggles, embarrassing moments that especially askew to the absurd if not outright funny.  Your privacy, of course, is absolutely respected, unless you would like to have your story published in my newsletter and/or blog.  Of course, you will receive full credit.  (Another option is to publish your story anonymously).  Anyway, I will try to publish as many stories as possible.
Thanks for your help.

Main Essay:

3-D Group Combat-Intervention at the Burning Out and Burning Up Battlefronts:
Using Discussion-Drawing-Diversity to Disarm Conflict and Build Camaraderie-Community:  Part I

Being a conference or retreat speaker and "Motivational Humorist" sounds like a lot of fun; and it usually is.  However, sometimes you are asked to intervene with a group that's under siege.  At these times, the tension and acting out of frustration between management and employees or mistrust within the diverse employee ranks is palpable and a bit scary.  And the dissension and discord has reached such degrees and decibels of intensity that management alone cannot disrupt the vicious cycle.  To work effectively with groups in such troubled settings, when you only have limited time -- whether two hours or two days -- requires helping people discuss both the overt and underlying sources of tension and conflict without the workshop regressing into a dump on the enemy or primal scream session.  Let me briefly illustrate such a contentious scenario and the 3-D Stress Busting and Team Building exercise that is my most powerful disarming and bridge building tool.

In the 90s, I helped defuse a racial and generational time bomb in a federal govt. agency.  Under the pressure of reorganization, if not elimination, a federal division was physically relocated from a relatively new office complex in the suburbs to the dark, dank basement of the Dept. of Commerce in Washington, DC.  Job insecurity and rumors were running rampant, especially for the senior employees, as their craft was starting to be phased out by computer graphics.  Minorities, women and younger workers began moving into positions once mostly filled by the "dominant" culture.  Not so surprisingly, fear and frustration turned into rage and retaliation.  One group started pulling up and sharing KKK websites.  In return, a second group began playing Louis Farrakhan tapes.  And the federal government was starting to hemorrhage tens of thousands of dollars in grievance procedures.  An outside Project Manager told top management it was time for the Stress Doc ™.  After some preliminary meetings with management and the union, two one day "Managing Stress & Conflict and Team Building" programs were held with half of the sixty person division in each program.  And through a mix of dynamic and real exercises, constructive and challenging large group dialogue, group role play along with the abovementioned 3-D team exercise the aggressive acting out stopped, along with the grievances.  (It probably didn't hurt that by this time I had already been a Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service.  I definitely was battle-tested!)

The BLUF (Bottom Line Under Fire):  The Project Manager observed that our intervention "saved the federal government hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in grievance procedures."

3-D Stress Busting and Team Building Exercise

So just what constitutes this Team Discussion-Drawing-Diversity ("3-D") Exercise and what makes it such a potent critical intervention -- stress busting and consensus-community building -- tool?  And how does it impede the vicious cycle and turn it into a virtuous one?  While the 3-D instrument is not exactly "real life" it does deal with real issues; and it's far from being abstract or hypothetical.  It is not simply a venting session or a mind game.  However, it does resonate with some of the less obvious meanings of the word "consensus":  the exercise provides participants an opportunity to have a "meeting of the minds" by verbally and visually drawing out (instead of acting out) "feeling(s) together."  Its essence in ten words or less:  shared angst and laughter through group discussion and art therapy.

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.  (The question can be modified to suit the specific client's needs, for example, "What are the obstacles to more effective team coordination?")  This is the easy part.  The groups 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.  Anticipating participant uncertainty if not angst, especially around the drawing segment, I provide a clarifying example.  Years ago a burnt out CEO of an engineering company was running his company into the ground.  Actually, he was hardly running the company; more likely he was off flying his small airplane.  Things were getting a little bizarre, when, finally, he hired a Vice-President who anxiously called me for some stress and team building help.  In our workshop one of the groups drew a picture of a menacing creature, calling this big stalking dinosaur a "Troublesaurus."  All the little people in the plant are scattering in fear.  However, one person, bigger than the rest, is totally oblivious, has his back to the dinosaur with his head in the clouds while watching planes fly by.  Helps you get the picture, doesn't it?

While some are immediately excited (especially upon learning that they will be using colored markers and flipchart paper), even with the above illustration, usually a number are confused; some people are more than a tad ambivalent or resistant:  "What's he talking about…turning individual stressors into a team image?"  Or these familiar refrains:  "I can't draw" or "Drawing isn't my thing!"

Oh, and to add to the confusion, I try to maximize diversity in the composition of the groups, demographically -- gender, race, age, etc. -- and the groups are diversified 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.

Safe and Subtle Steps for Turning Danger into Opportunity

At first glance there appears to be divided or uncertain common ground among the array of participants and perspectives.  Still, a look through the proverbial optimist-pessimist glass reveals conditions ripe for turning a seemingly confusing and conflicted exercise into a camaraderie- and community-building laboratory.  So how do you get this disparate collection literally and figuratively working on the same page?  Consider these "Five Steps for Turning 3-D Danger into Opportunity":

1.  Making 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 reveal more than anticipated.  And the process of group sharing and drawing out feelings further encourages this openness.

Second, I quickly attempt to defuse people's performance anxiety about drawing, especially drawing in public.  (Providing broad-tipped colored markers and large-size easel paper makes the task seem a bit more child-like and playful.)  I emphatically state that I'm not looking for artistic wizardry, but for images and visual symbols that convey a feeling, a message and/or tell a story.  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 figures!"  (Go ahead; groan now.  We'll see who has the last groan!)

Actually, I use humor to reduce drawing anxiety throughout the exercise.  For example, during the transition from the discussion to the drawing segment, after all groups have markers and flipchart paper, I announce the "final drawing instructions.  Just remember what your fourth grade art teacher likely said.  She probably said, 'Have you thought about music?'"  As the laughter subsides, I affirm that she most likely proclaimed, "Use the whole page, make big images, and use lots of color."  Then I add:  "And be Out-Rage-ous!"

2.  Allowing for Multiple Sensory Channels and Evolving Comfort Levels.  This discussion and drawing exercise gives people room to participate based on comfort level and skill confidence.  Some members primarily focus on the verbal brainstorm; others are into conjuring 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 and talking out so-called individual perspectives or differences, invariably some common or overlapping issues if not universal themes are discovered.  People are more ready to move onto the same drawing page.  In addition, an initial perspective may take on new shading and hue through verbal-visual give and take.

3.  Overcoming Confusion and Resistance through Group Dynamics, Ego and Targeted Support.  As noted, 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 to which all can see or relate (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.

Certainly, some groups take the exercise as a test of their cleverness and problem-solving powers.  I recall a trial attorney commenting how he and his litigator peers (those "verbal swordsmen") took the exercise as a personal challenge, especially the visual component.  This team was competing with me, the provocative authority, as much as with the other drawing groups.

Still, occasionally, a group becomes stuck during the drawing phase.  I will approach and, after hearing some of the stress issues already identified, may volunteer a couple of possible broad visual metaphors.  Once I used this process for a teaching point with people who were preparing for a job layoff.  After sharing a couple of images, I quickly walked away.  I was confident that their brainstorming process had been jump-started; and, in fact, the group demonstrated it was up to the task.  Later, though, during the post-exercise analysis, I underscored the group members' reluctance to ask for help.  This behavioral characteristic obviously can inhibit success on a job search. 

4.  Generating 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 individual-group perspective:  most can relate to feeling like a juggler overwhelmed by the number of balls in the air; or the inverse may apply - going from an individual juggler to being caught up in a circus atmosphere.  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 at least some of the metaphor or theme.  This often facilitates buy-in to (or, at least, a willingness to work with) a common and larger perspective.

5.  Transforming Barriers into Bridges.  When I determine that there is considerable tension in the room and management appears defensive or is not ready to hear some "bad news," I may add an "extra credit" component to the exercise.  I challenge the small teams to illustrate how the sources of stress and conflict or "barriers" to productivity, good communication and cohesiveness may also yield new opportunity.  Significant change in the organization is an obvious example of how a potential "barrier" may also be a "bridge."  Or, I ask the group to identify both the sources of stress and the sources of support in the workplace.  I remind people of a quote by the novelist, F. Scot Fitzgerald:  "The test of a first rate intelligence 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."

One of the most double-edge -- critical and celebratory -- pictures I've witnessed was created by a group of administrative assistant-type university employees.  In this work setting, overall, there seemed to be palpable friction between employees and management.  The exercise group (four women) drew a picture of a man dressed in a fashionable uniform sporting a "First Prize" badge pinned to his chest.  The "barriers to bridges" transformation fully emerged in the subsequent "Show and Tell" segment (more shortly about "S & T").  As part of their post-team discussion-drawing "Show and Tell", the spokesperson explained that their picture represented a team that had been having communication problems with a micromanaging leader (who was male).  The group's task was to produce uniforms.  One of the members had heard of a corporate contest for the best designed uniform.  The women persuaded their manager to let them enter the contest and asked the manager to trust each woman to best utilize her expertise without prejudging their efforts.  One woman selected the best fabric, another chose the fanciest buttons and epaulettes.  A third did the pattern design and measuring and the fourth the sewing.  The manager was to be the runway model in the contest.

The message and moral was clear:  when a manager loosens up on the controls and lets his people demonstrate their talents, employee motivation and the quality of the work will speak for itself…and all will celebrate.  In fact, when addressing the larger audience, the team presenter emphasized that these "designing women" didn't need to be in the spotlight.  They were happy to help the manager "look good," in all senses of the phrase.

[See SEP 2009, No. I, Sec. II, Part II for continuation of article.]


Reader's Submissions:

Subj:  The AMA Speaks Out on Healthcare

From:  Pcorell@hopsteiner.com

The American Medical Association has weighed in on Obama's new healthcare package. The Allergists were in favor of scratching it, but the Dermatologists advised not to make any rash moves. The Gastroenterologists had sort of a gut feeling about it, but the Neurologists thought the Administration had a lot of nerve. Meanwhile, Obstetricians felt certain everyone was laboring under a misconception, while the Ophthalmologists considered the idea shortsighted.

Pathologists yelled: "Over my dead body," while Pediatricians said: "Oh, grow up!"

The Psychiatrists thought the whole idea was madness, while the Radiologists could see right through it. Surgeons decided to wash their hands of the whole thing, and the Internists claimed it would indeed be a bitter pill to swallow. The Plastic Surgeons opined that this proposal would "put a whole new face on the matter."

The Podiatrists thought it was a step forward, but the Urologists were pissed off at the whole idea.

Anesthesiologists thought the whole idea was a gas, and those softy Cardiologists didn't have the heart to say no.

In the end, the Proctologists won out, leaving the entire decision up to the assholes in Washington.

Subj:  Hollywood Squares Game Show Responses
From:  MDodick@aol.com

These great questions and answers are from the days when ' Hollywood Squares' game show responses were spontaneous, not scripted, as they are now. Peter Marshall was the host asking the questions, of course..

Q. Paul, what is a good reason for pounding meat?
A. Paul Lynde: Loneliness!
(The audience laughed so long and so hard it took up almost 15 minutes of the show!)

Q. Do female frogs croak?
A. Paul Lynde: If you hold their little heads under water long enough.

Q. If you're going to make a parachute jump, at least how high should you be?
A. Charley Weaver: Three days of steady drinking should do it.

Q. True or False, a pea can last as long as 5,000 years.
A. George Gobel: Boy, it sure seems that way sometimes.

Q. You've been having trouble going to sleep. Are you probably a man or a woman?
A. Don Knotts: That's what's been keeping me awake.

Q. According to Cosmopolitan, if you meet a stranger at a party and you think that he is attractive, is it okay to come out and ask him if he's married?
A.. Rose Marie: No wait until morning.

Q. Which of your five senses tends to diminish as you get older?
A. Charley Weaver: My sense of decency.

Q. In Hawaiian, does it take more than three words to say 'I Love You'?
A. Vincent Price: No, you can say it with a pineapple and a twenty..

Q. What are 'Do It,' 'I Can Help,' and 'I Can't Get Enough'?
A. George Gobel: I don't know, but it's coming from the next apartment.

Q. As you grow older, do you tend to gesture more or less with your hands while talking?
A. Rose Marie: You ask me one more growing old question Peter, and I'll give you a gesture you'll never forget.

Q. Paul, why do Hell's Angels wear leather?
A. Paul Lynde: Because chiffon wrinkles too easily.

Q. In bowling, what's a perfect score?
A. Rose Marie: Ralph, the pin boy.

Q. It is considered in bad taste to discuss two subjects at nudist camps. One is politics, what is the other?
A. Paul Lynde: Tape measures..

Q. During a tornado, are you safer in the bedroom or in the closet?
A. Rose Marie: Unfortunately Peter, I'm always safe in the bedroom.

Q. Can boys join the Camp Fire Girls?
A. Marty Allen: Only after lights out.

Q. If you were pregnant for two years, what would you give birth to?
A. Paul Lynde: Whatever it is, it would never be afraid of the dark..

Q. According to Ann Landers, is there anything wrong with getting into the habit of kissing a lot of people?
A. Charley Weaver: It got me out of the army.

Q. It is the most abused and neglected part of your body, what is it?
A. Paul Lynde: Mine may be abused, but it certainly isn't neglected.

Q. Who stays pregnant for a longer period of time, your wife or your elephant?
A. Paul Lynde: Who told you about my elephant?

Q. Jackie Gleason recently revealed that he firmly believes in them and has actually seen them on at least two occasions. What are they?
A. Charley Weaver: His feet.

Q. According to Ann Landers, what are two things you should never do in bed?
A. Paul Lynde: Point and laugh.

Subject:  Mother's Milk
From:  MDodick@aol.com

Students in an advanced Biology class were taking their mid-term exam.  The last question was, 'Name seven advantages of Mother's Milk,' worth 70 points or none at all.

One student, in particular, was hard put to think of seven advantages. He wrote:

1.) It is perfect formula for the child..
2.) It provides immunity against several diseases.
3.) It is always the right temperature.
4.) It is inexpensive.
5.) It bonds the child to mother, and vice versa.
6.) It is always available as needed.

And then, the student was stuck. Finally, in desperation, just before the bell indicating the end of the test rang, he wrote...

7.) It comes in 2 cute containers.

He got an A.

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 and Brigades, Ft. Hood, Texas and Ft. Leonard Wood, MO.  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 301-875-2567.

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2009
Shrink Rap™ Productions