The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist
FEB 2009, No. I
Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!
Table of Contents
Shrink Rap I: "Integrating Mars and Venus Mindsets and Emotional
Shrink Rap II: [Continuation of Mars-Venus]. "Disarming Dueling Egos or
One Small Step for a Mars-Aligning-with-Venus Transformation"
Testimonials: 15th Sustainment Brigade, Ft. Hood, TX, Hampton Roads
Society for Human Resources Management
Readers: Warren Is Wonderful children's book on Autism), And
that's how the fight started...., Pharmacological Branding
Offerings: Books, CDs, Training/Marketing Kit: Email
email@example.com or go to
www.stressdoc.com for more info.
1) Shrink Rap: "Integrating Mars and Venus Mindsets and Emotional
Muscles." A soldier-spouse exercise at a predeployment offsite involving a
Mars-Venus role play triggers two observations: it is hard to play out of
character and that a capacity to integrate a Mars and Venus problem solving
style likely encourages both creativity and a capacity for a collaborative
leadership style. Three bi-hemispheric bridges are outlined for uniting
2) Shrink Rap II: "Disarming Dueling Egos or One Small Step for a
Mars-Aligning-with-Venus Transformation." A battle with his new, abrasive boss
challenges an older employee to expand his combative nature by adopting (even if
momentarily), some Venus-type problem-solving tendencies
Shrink Rap I:
Integrating Mars and Venus Mindsets and Emotional Muscles:
Three Bi-hemispheric Bridges for Inspiring Creative Problem Solving
and Collaborative Leadership
If Men Are from Mars and Women Are from Venus, according to popular
author and marriage advice expert, John Gray, in what category is a woman
soldier, that is, an individual who is seemingly guided both by the Goddess of
Love and the God of War? Before speculating, here's the reason such an issue
has grabbed my attention: I recently led a pre-deployment offsite workshop for
senior sergeants and senior officers (mostly male) as well as their spouses
(mostly female) of the 15th Sustainment Brigade. In a small group exercise,
spouses and soldiers form a three-person team. (No one is grouped with their
mate or with an immediate report.) One person presents a procrastination issue,
e.g., common place for soldiers was doing chores around the house, while the
others choose between being a Mars or Venus coach. The coaches are expressly
asked to interact with the self-identified procrastinator using a communication
and problem solving style that is outside their comfort zone. In other words,
individuals who usually advise others by giving direct advice, establishing
concrete goals along with "here's what needs to be done" action steps (those
typically but not exclusively male Martians) are encouraged to play the role of
a Venetian. In contrast, a Venus type asks questions that helps him- or herself
and the procrastinator have empathy for the latter's struggle while better
understanding some of the overt (situational) and underlying (psychological or
cultural) factors contributing to denial, delay or dalliance. And naturally,
the more naturally empathic Venetians were asked to play the role of "no
nonsense, bottom line" Martians.
Not surprisingly, for many of the soldiers as well as for many of the spouses
acknowledging and expressing a "minor" Venetian or Martian side was a stretch.
Quite often, for example, a spouse might start out in Mars mode, but soon was
reverting to those empathic questions and emotions, while most soldiers had a
hard time fighting their "TnT" -- "Time- and Task-Driven" natures. (Of course,
many women are time- and schedule-driven, and the soldier in a procrastination
zone might find his "TnT" nature sliding into sleep mode.)
The Marriage of Mars and Venus
Actually, I'm not here to address issues of procrastination. (If interested,
however, email firstname.lastname@example.org for my "how to" article on achieving
"Emancipation Procrastination.") What I am curious about is the difficulty in
being an "ambidextrous" problem solver along with the potential paradox noted in
the opening question -- is the female soldier more likely to be motivated by
both Venus and Mars energy? Actually, my interest is a variation on a theme.
It's my contention that people (of either gender) who are able to integrate and
insightfully apply -- sometimes sequentially, sometimes simultaneously -- both
Mars and Venus modes tend to be more creative and collaborative problem-solvers
than their one-sided counterparts.
Of course, my supposition is not original. For example, Mihalyi
Csikszentmihalyi, renowned author and researcher in the field of "Flow"
psychology, has long-noted that "boundary crossers" -- people blending what I've
been calling Mars and Venus energy -- often elude traditional gender role
stereotyping. (And this doesn't mean you automatically become a "Boy George"
clone.) According to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, "when tests of masculinity and
femininity are given to young people…creative and talented girls are more
dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and
less aggressive than their male peers…A psychologically androgynous person in
effect doubles his or her repertoire of responses and can interact with the
world in terms of a much richer and varied spectrum of opportunities." This is
one reason I believe such a multi-faceted individual is also poised to be a more
In fact, let's examine three polar dimensions influencing creativity and the
capacity for collaborative leadership-team work from the (ad)vantage point of
the individual able to cross boundaries and build right and left-brained,
bi-hemispheric bridges between the psyches and sensibilities of Mars and Venus.
(A helpful resource is Daniel Pink's, A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers
Will Rule the Future, 2005.)
1. Be Logical and Psychological.
a) Logical. The logical or analytic individual focuses on details and
particulars, breaking the whole into component parts.
b) Psychological. The psychological or gestalt-minded person looks for
patterns and synthesizes the big picture, weaving components into a new whole.
c) Integration. For me, a singular 20th century artist, Pablo Picasso,
understood that analysis and synthesis are not in opposition. As Picasso
famously noted, "Every act of creation is first of all and act of destruction."
One interpretation, of course, is that a new perspective or an original design
requires a decisive break from familiar and comfortable ways of seeing and
conceiving. However, destruction does not always mean obliteration. If you
break a familiar whole into seemingly random or isolated particulars, and do
sufficient obsessive noodling, you may have a prepared mind. You may be ready
to generate novel and unexpected connections amongst these disconnected parts.
A quick example of a clever combination: while a columnist for "Online Psych" I
paired my psychotherapist title with a penchant for humorous writing and voila…a
new professional moniker -- AOL's "Online Psychohumorist" ™.
And this integrative mode doesn't only enhance a capacity for creative design;
it also impacts "emotional intelligence." Let me paraphrase the philosophy of
the 1960s counterculture, Wizard of Oz-like fable, The Phantom
Fantasy and imagination suggest how the world might be. Knowledge and
experience limit the possibilities. Melding the two yields understanding!
2. Be Assertive and Ask Questions.
a) Assertive. When giving advice, an effective Martian is clear, concise
and to the point. And when expressing a personal point of view, he or she uses
"I" messages as opposed to "one up/one down" and blaming "You" messages. Such
an adult-to-adult exchange is predicated on ownership of thoughts and emotions
as well as responsibility for communication and behavior. For example, rather
than declaring, "You need to do it this way," effective assertion discards an
all-knowing or authoritarian tone: "This is what has worked for me" or "This is
what I've experienced." Of course, especially in hierarchical relationships,
the authority figure might say, "This is what I want or need (or expect)." In
fact, tactful assertion is particularly wise in superior-subordinate contexts if
you want the junior party to have a sense of empowerment, to display initiative
and not feel like a pawn in the relationship. The best leaders know the
greatest threat to leader, mission and team success is when team members are
afraid of or apathetic about giving genuine upward feedback. (This is why the
Brigade Commander wanted a second role play exercise to examine the barriers
subordinate soldiers and officers face in communicating honestly and directly
with those of higher rank. While this last sentence for some may seem puzzling,
based on my work with the 1st Cavalry and 4th Infantry Divisions at Ft. Hood,
TX, when operational conditions allow, today's volunteer army values individual
initiative and real dialogue within a team framework more than subservience or
blind and mute loyalty.)
Returning to the concept of "tactful assertion," during a discussion or even an
argument, one might say, "I disagree" or "My data says otherwise" rather than
"You're wrong" and "Do you really believe that!" Or a constructively assertive
individual states, "I have a problem with (or "I don't appreciate") this action"
rather than "It's your fault" or "You screwed up." Of course, when someone
points a blaming, "You're driving me crazy" finger there's a particularly apt
and most humble observation, albeit a "You" message: "You're really giving me
way too much credit!" ;-)
b) Ask Questions. While being healthfully assertive often involves both
declaring your boundaries along with tactfully yet purposefully directing
others, asking questions from a Venus perspective is an attempt to get inside
another's head and heart. Daniel Pink calls this a "women's way of knowing:
feeling empathy and sympathy for others, taking the viewpoint of one who speaks,
[that is, not only have you walked in another's shoes, but you also feel the
bunions], seeing personal experiences and first-person stories as important ways
of learning, and embracing an ethic of caring." Conversely, communication
substance and style more martinet than Martian, for example, "WHY DID YOU DO
THAT," is less a question and more an accusation.
Whether female or male, asking a Venus-oriented question means you really want
to understand and/or learn from the other person. Do you think a recipient of
this reaching out might feel affirmed or valued? As the sociologist and
philosopher Ernest Becker surmised in his 1960s classic, The Denial of Death,
"The greatest human need is the desire to feel important." Asking a good
question is a vital informational, motivational and relationship-building tool.
c) Integration. In the realm of advice-giving, you can infuse assertive
substance with some Venetian style simply by engaging in indirect advising,
i.e., just ask a "leading" question: Try replacing "I think you should be doing
…" with "Have you thought about doing…?" or "What do you think about doing…?"
With a little practice you too can become, "My Favorite Martian!"
And, in general, when you can combine being "self"-oriented (by assertively
"Doing your own thing") with being "community"-oriented (by cooperatively "Doing
our growing thing") then, according to the Thomas-Kilmann Inventory of Conflict
Resolution Styles, you are engaging in a "Collaborative" method of problem
solving. And two key components of meaningful collaboration: a) directly
stating your needs and desires, frustrations and concerns (Assertive/Mars mode)
and b) asking questions of the other party to encourage or support him or her in
also genuinely sharing real needs and desires, frustrations and concerns (Asking
3. Be Resolute and Reflective.
a) Resolute. According to Webster's Third New International
Dictionary, resolute means "having or characterized by a decided purpose";
one is "determined." There is "an object to be attained" or "an end to be kept
in view." An inhabitant of Mars "resolves" to turn intention -- "what one
proposes to do" -- into intent -- "a more deliberate and clear formulation" --
of said intention. However, the best problem solvers have learned from
experience that Martian will-power and persistence is necessary, but not
necessarily sufficient, especially when trying to bring fresh eyes or an
innovative approach to a challenging intention. Actually, one often needs to
hit the proverbial problem-solving wall to experience a state of "thrustration,"
that is, you need to be "torn between thrusting ahead with direct action and
frustration as you have not yet put together the pieces of the puzzle." This
heightened state of tension temporarily suspends the logical left hemisphere and
may turn your right hemisphere into a psychic volcano; with prior preparation
and practice, unexpected visual and holistic images and ideas often start
percolating in dream-like fashion from the depths of your subconscious.
However, the "Aha" moment may not yet have arrived. You still may need an
b) Reflective. Whether it's an individual striving for creative
synthesis or a group grappling with genuine give and take and collaborative
consensus, a period of "R and R" may be required. Whatever the problem solving
scenario, a natural resting time and place, apart from everyday distractions for
"Retreat and Reflection" is critical. (While I call my haven for creative "R
and R" "The Cave," John Gray, the Mars-Venus author, notes that men often
temporarily shut down, lick wounds and destress by escaping into their caves.)
Clearly, reflection involves deliberating upon external demands and obstacles as
well as on effective and ineffective problem-solving tools, skills and
strategies. But "R and R" especially is set aside for contemplating your
emotional state, along with the new inner rumblings propelled by a state of "thrustration."
And no less a mind than Abraham Lincoln recognizes this essential link:
"Reflection and emotion are inseparable, the dynamic symbiosis between what we
think and feel."
c) Integration. Melding "resolute" and "reflective" yields a head-heart
state of being "receptive." Such a state allows for the pondering of and
playing with unexplored and unexpected as well as disconnected and simmering
psychic fragments. You are open to new procedures and possibilities. Being
"receptive" means laying the ground for those novel connections, that is,
initially catching the "Aha" moment and eventually seeing the "big picture" and
detecting "broad patterns."
But you're still not finished. That creative moment usually needs to be
transformed into a consolidated model or "receptacle." Once again, your
"receptive" mode needs to be infused with "resolute" and "reflective"
time-space-energy to design a conceptual or metaphoric container or crystal that
ingeniously and holistically brings together as well as structures the seemingly
discordant elements. To summarize, there is "the sudden marriage of ideas which
before their union were not perceived to have any relation" (to borrow renowned
19th century American author and comic, Mark Twain's definition of "wit").
However, as we've seen, before the sudden or unanticipated conjunction,
frequently there is a stormy and protracted head-heart engagement along with
requisite time for "R and R." So consider this Stress Doc mantra: "Take an
"incubation vacation" to hatch a new and enriched, imaginative and real-world,
Mars and Venus perspective.
Shrink Rap II:
Disarming Dueling Egos or One Small Step for a Mars-Aligning-with-Venus
The focused and flexible integration of Mars and Venus energy, substance and
style poses many challenges. Even if the goal is not deep-seated personality
alteration, behavioral change, itself, can be daunting. However, especially at
times of conflict or crisis, the tension and confusion generated just may spur
some unprecedented, if not original, problem solving activity. As the pragmatic
19th century philosopher and "father of public education," John Dewey, observed:
Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It
to invention. It shocks us out of sheep-like passivity, and sets us at
contriving…Conflict is the sine qua non of reflection and ingenuity.
So consider this morale-ity tale of how an old Martian-type, under sufficient
interpersonal duress, (you might say in a state of "thrustration"), gradually
armed with some "emotionally-intelligent" communication tools as well as some
spouse-delivered "tough love" -- a Mars-Venus concept if there ever was one --
became: a) more psychologically savvy, b) less driven by wounded pride and
rigid resolution, c) strategically receptive to adult-to-adult communication and
d) accepting of a new and vital company role.
The Murray Story
Let me tell you the story of Murray, a salesman with a mid-sized company in New
York City. My parents' friends, Murray and Lorraine, were visiting when I
happened by. An experienced and successful salesman, Murray was fuming. The
old company president had recently retired and put his abrasive, domineering
son-in-law in charge. Murray, a classic "Type A" competitor (and former WW II
Platoon Sergeant), wasn't taking orders from anyone, especially from "some jerk"
half his age.
After listening to Murray's harangue, the young boss seemed inexperienced and
anxious. I suggested Murray tell him that, "I miss the old man, and while I'm
not always crazy about your leadership style, I must admit you're keeping me
sharp." Murray, of course, exploded: "Forget it. I wanna murder this kid.
I'm not doing anything that gets him one up on me!"
Two weeks later, I again bumped into Murray. He was still quite disgruntled.
This time, Murray dismissed me with a backhanded sweep when I recalled my
strategy. Two weeks went by when Murray's wife, Lorraine, unexpectedly called:
"Mark, you won't believe this. Murray finally did what you suggested... and it
worked." Not only had the young boss eased up on Murray, but he put Murray in
charge on long-range planning and sales. (Lorraine shared that Murray, before
the overture, had grown increasingly depressed. I can just imagine Lorraine
saying, "Enough already," and threatening Murray with eviction if he didn't do
something. Obviously, the timing and tone of her intervention proved critical.)
Why did the Murray gambit work? Let's analyze this conflict resolution process:
Need To Grieve
In order to let go temporarily of his dominance-submission mindset, Murray had
to release his rage then, ironically, "hit bottom." Murray was still grieving
the company changes and likely displacing some anger for the departed "old man"
onto "this kid." Until one is at a loss and in sufficient pain, new approaches
are often rejected. Cumulative pressure can be an ally; so too Lorraine's dose
Play Up Or Open UP
Did Murray play up to the new boss! While initially feeling humiliated, I say
Murray took the high road. First, he did express genuine frustration with the
changing-of-the-company-guard. And, while Murray fell more wounded than
"sharp," by cutting the "win/lose" cord the real challenge and opportunity was
unleashed: transforming Murray from grizzled salesman to the company's elder
Position Vs. Interest
Initially, these ego-driven men were trapped in their self-defeating power
positions. Each was depriving not just the other, but themselves. Clearly,
this inexperienced boss (and the company as a whole) needed an ally and an
institutional resource with historical and "big picture" perspective.
It was in his interest to rely on Murray. It was also in Murray's interest to
provide mixed feedback that could be received as a begrudging (hence more
believable) compliment. Recognition helped defuse youthful anxiety and
aggression. And, Murray's initiative was certainly paid back with "interest."
Finally, while Murray would not admit it, I'm sure he enjoyed the role of mentor
-- a one-up position.
No need to worry about this process fundamentally changing Murray. When I saw
him again, and mentioned hearing that things were better at work, Murray didn't
give an inch. His only reply: "Yeah, the jerk's finally off my back!"
Obviously, once a Martian…but at least Murray knows he has the potential to
visit Venus when absolutely necessary. My hope is that this article motivates
you to assess Mars and Venus preferences and proclivities. Also, see if you can
break out of your psychic comfort zone and explore new planetary possibilities.
Remember the pay-off: developing, integrating and insightfully applying Mars
and Venus mindsets and emotional muscles leads to more creative and
collaborative problem-solving. And with persistence and patience, it's
definitely a winning recipe for helping you…Practice Safe Stress!
15th Sustainment Brigade, Ft. Hood, TX
[Predeployment Offsite on "Stress, Communications and Team Building" for 70
Officers and Spouses]
Feb 23, 2009
I am not 100% sure what the CG (Commanding General) intends for his offsite, but
he certainly expressed some interest in your services (stress mgmt, team bldg,
conflict resolution techniques) for the 13th HQs offsite starting 29 MAR.
Boss, with your permission, I can work this piece with Doc and offer you some
proposals. At a minimum, I would recommend that we plan on the "drawing
exercise" and the role play skits. BOTH of these are very revealing!
Mark...what a great time you facilitated. I especially am appreciative of the
time you carved out to mentor and observe/interject with the spouses. Simply
outstanding feedback from all of them!
COL Larry Phelps
Commander, 15th SUS BDE
SUPPORT THE ACTION!
Hampton Roads Society for Human Resources Management
["Jolt of CPR -- Being Creative, Passionate & Risk-Taking" Program for 40 SHRM
attendees; program was CEU approved by HR Certification Institute]
February 3, 2009
What a way to jump start 2009. Our chapter members thoroughly enjoyed your
presentation titled "Does Your Team, Department or Organization Need a Jolt of
CPR?" Following the presentation, various compliments came in which I would
like to share with you and those interested in knowing our perspective:
"Very provocative, well done, creative; he took risks and was nice
(compassionate) toward all."
"Interaction was very enjoyable."
"Great rap! The Besty Boys are in Trouble!!"
"Fun, engaging program."
Your presentation brought encouragement and inspiration and gave everyone the
tools they needed to overcome obstacles and develop allegiances within their
workplaces. In applying the principles taught...workers would evolve and become
motivated -- synchronized, imaginative and more productive.
Thank you for taking the time to share with us your knowledge.
Kris M. Manwaren, PHR
Director of Programs
P.O. Box 62523
Virginia Beach, VA 23466-2523
An online friend and colleague has given birth to a book specifically for
children diagnosed with Autism and Asperger's. Knowing Annette, it is a labor
of love. Info below re: purchasing the book.
I hope this e-mail finds you doing well. Copies of "Warren is Wonderful," a
book written by yours truly specifically for children diagnosed with Autism and
Asperger's is now available for purchase! This has been an ongoing project
which has finally come to fruition. Warren is a very loveable dinosaur who
rocks, lines up his toys, and says what he thinks without filtering his words.
He goes to his mom for advice on how to handle social situations. Because
children diagnosed with Autism are considered to be "on a spectrum," Ray Gulzeth,
the book's illustrator and I decided to make this book a coloring book. It is
designed to celebrate and help children learn about themselves, facilitate
discussions, and teach children they are loved "just the way they are."
To purchase copies, see:
www.WarrenIsWonderful.com (for autographed copies, you can contact me
Enjoy and thanks for reading!
Annette L Becklund, MSW, LCSW
author of "Warren is Wonderful"
Subj: And that's how the fight started.....
One year, a husband decided to buy his mother-in-law a cemetery plot as a
Christmas gift. The next year, he didn't buy her a gift. When she asked him
why, he replied, "Well, you still haven't used the gift I bought you last year!"
And that's how the fight started.....
My wife walked into the den & asked "Whats on the tv?"
I replied "Dust".
And that's how the fight started.....
A woman is standing nude, looking in the bedroom mirror. She is not happy with
what she sees and says to her husband, 'I feel horrible; I look old, fat and
ugly. I really need you to pay me a compliment.'
The husband replies, 'Your eyesight's damn near perfect.'
And that's how the fight started.....
My wife was hinting about what she wanted for our upcoming anniversary. She
said, 'I want something shiny that goes from 0 to 200 in about 3 seconds.'
I bought her a scale.
And that's how the fight started.....
I asked my wife, 'Where do you want to go for our anniversary?' It warmed my
heart to see her face melt in sweet appreciation.
'Somewhere I haven't been in a long time!' she said.
So I suggested, 'How about the kitchen?'
And that's when the fight started....
My wife and I are watching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire while we were in bed. I
turned to her and said, 'Do you want to have sex?'
'No,' she answered.
I then said, 'Is that your final answer?'
She didn't even look at me this time, simply saying 'Yes.'
So I said, 'Then I'd like to phone a friend.'
And that's when the fight started....
I tried to talk my wife into buying a case of Miller Light for $14.95. Instead,
she bought a jar of cold cream for $7.95. I told her the beer would make her
look better at night than the cold cream.
And that's when the fight started.....
I took my wife to a restaurant. The waiter, for some reason, took my order
'I'll have the strip steak, medium rare, please.'
He said, 'Aren't you worried about the mad cow?'
'Nah, she can order for herself.'
And that's when the fight started.....
Subj: Phamacological Branding
In Pharmacology, all drugs have two names, a trade name and generic name. For
example, the trade name of Tylenol also has a generic name of Acetaminophen.
Aleve is also called Naproxen. Amoxil is also called Amoxicillin and Advil is
also called Ibuprofen.
The FDA has been looking for a generic name for Viagra. After careful
consideration by a team of government experts, it recently announced that it has
settled on the generic name of Mycoxafloppin. Also considered were Mycoxafailin,
Mydixadrupin, Mydixarizin, Dixafix, and of course, Ibepokin.
Pfizer Corp announced today that Viagra will soon be available in liquid form,
and will be marketed by Pepsi Cola as a power beverage suitable for use as a
mixer. It will now be possible for a man to literally pour himself a stiff one.
Obviously we can no longer call this a soft drink, and it gives new meaning to
the names of 'cocktails', 'highballs' and just a good old-fashioned 'stiff
drink'. Pepsi will market the new concoction by the name of:
'MOUNT & DO'.
Thought for the day: There is more money being spent on breast implants and
Viagra today than on Alzheimer's research. This means that by 2040, there should
be a large elderly population with perky boobs and huge erections and absolutely
NO recollection of what to do with them.
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 email@example.com or call 301-946-0865.
And to view web video highlights of a Stress Doc Keynote, go to
(c) Mark Gorkin 2009
Shrink Rap™ Productions