The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist (tm)
June 1998, No. 1
Here is your free Stress Doc Newsletter. Twice a month I include original or favorite
essays and articles from my various online and offline writings, including my weekly Humor
From the Edge and AOL/Online Psych columns.
Today we'll grapple with a favorite topic -- Conflict. At times we can't live with it;
yet life without it is unreal, less honest and, often, devoid of passion. Get some tips on
"Active Listening" and "The Art Of Listening," along with some
creative conflict resolution skills, including one of my Wise Old Rabbi classics.
Also, scroll past the essays to find information on my speaking and training schedule,
the library of articles on my award-winning website - www.stressdoc.com - and any
Please forward this letter to interested friends, colleagues and family members, or
send along their email addresses. (Also, if you don't wish to receive the newsletter,
email me - firstname.lastname@example.org .) If you'd like free subscriptions to Humor From the Edge
(email me) and/or to "The Death and Dying" Newsletter, click here, www.death-dying.com Welcome To Death &
Dying...Where Life Surroun... (See, this newsletter will make you die laughing ;-)
Listening, Learning and Leading Technical Skill and Motivational Art
by Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc"
There are several ways to enhance listening effectiveness, especially in an emotionally
charged exchange. A fundamental technique is "Active Listening" with its four
components: 1) Clarifying. Asking the other party to provide more information, to
elaborate upon their statement or answer specific questions, 2) Paraphrasing. Repeating
the other's message in the person's words or your own words, to affirm that "message
sent is message received," 3) Reflecting Feelings. Inquiring about or acknowledging
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 have some frustration with the decision. Care to discuss it?" 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, eye
contact and physical distance - will facilitate more accurate reflection. And, 4)
Summarizing. Reviewing and pulling together such problem-solving elements as mutual
agreements, outstanding differences - factual as well as emotional - action plans to be
executed, time frames and follow-up.
Yet effective listening is not just a technical skill. It is also an art form and a
motivational bridge for learning about team members, modeling being a leader and,
ultimately, sharing leadership with others. Here are three listening and leadership
concepts I strive to uphold in decision-making and dealing with conflict: ** Demonstrating
an understanding of people's positions and predicaments, pains and passions ** Reducing,
whenever possible, the obvious status and power differential between yourself and other(s)
** Enabling people to accept gracefully their vulnerabilities, errors and imperfections.
And, if I can recognize any humorous aspects or stimulate some laughs by poking
good-natured fun at myself, at my partner in conflict or, even, our power struggle...so
much the better. Let me illustrate through my work with a small department of the Peace
Corps. Tensions were increasing between a new senior staffer and a veteran regarding
qualifications and promotion issues. And both were angry with the Director for her
inability to resolve their conflict. Almost everyone in the office was walking around on
"ego shells." Upon the recommendation of two staffers whom I had previously
trained, the group reluctantly agreed to hire me as a consultant.
The Director, herself, did some Organizational Development work. Her pride was a bit
wounded that an outside specialist was needed to tackle the in-house conflicts. The
Director had announced that she wouldn't stand in my way, but she wasn't going out of her
way to help me, either. (Not surprisingly, the intractable interpersonal issues were
taking a toll. She was pretty burnt out.) Nonetheless, the Director was true to her word.
She didn't sabotage my interventions which, gradually, started paying dividends.
One day, the Director acknowledged that laughter had returned to the halls. She then
invited me into her office for our first one-on-one discussion. The Director immediately
commented that I was "a really good listener." This had not been an easy step
for her, especially in light of the competitive issues. I wanted the Director to know how
"big" I felt her acknowledgment was. I pounced on the "good listener"
compliment. After thanking her, I said, " You know, a high school French teacher
helped me develop that skill. This was when I was down on myself, my life, including
school and French class. The professor, Monsieur Gaston, during class unexpectedly
addressed me: 'Monsieur Gorkin, I don't understand the problem...You have such intelligent
looking ears.' So to achieve some balance between form and function (and to prevent future
public humiliation) I guess I developed my listening skills." Well, the Director
smiled broadly, then thanked me.
My personal anecdote had achieved the three aforementioned "listening and
leading" objectives. First, I empathically acknowledged my own history with depressed
moods and difficult periods. Second, using her compliment to poke fun at myself made me a
humble winner. And finally, by helping the the Director save face, she could accept my
support and eventually return to her rightful active leadership position.
In summary, by practicing "Active Listening" along with the "Art of
Listening" you just may transform listening into a dynamic process of learning,
leading and laughing.
The Mastery of Jealousy
by Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc"
Once there was a ten year old Jewish boy, Hershel, who lived in the old country with
his mother, father and eight year old sister, Sarah. Sarah did better at school than her
brother, and Hershel was always picking on his sister. The parents no longer knew what to
Hershel's parents finally decided to have a family meeting with the wise old Rabbi.
Near the end of the meeting, Hershel, wanting attention, interrupted his sister and
declared, "I'm a lefty and lefties are special." The Rabbi studied Hershel, then
asked if Hershel would list for homework all the ways he picks on his sister. At the next
family gathering, after reading Hershel's extensive list, the Rabbi took the boy aside and
said, "Hershel, lefties are different. But do you know which boys are truly special?
Those who are ambidextrous." Hershel was confused, and the sage continued.
"Hershel, my father was ambidextrous. He wrote with his right hand and played the
violin with his left."
The Sage, now, hardly had to ask if Hershel wanted to be ambidextrous. The Rabbi said,
"Hershel, it's your tough lefty side that picks on Sarah. How could you be
ambidextrous, or do 'right' by your sister?" After some confusion, Hershel asked,
"You mean be nice to her?" The Rabbi assured him not every time, but after he
acted tough or lefty with Sarah he needed to do the opposite."
After reviewing some right-minded strategies, they agreed to keep their plan a secret.
A few days later, Hershel's mother visited the Rabbi and exclaimed, "I don't know
what you said to Hershel, but he's sure behaving differently."
In the impasse of jealousy, the Rabbi found Hershel's passion for recognition and
mastery. To be ambidextrous - now that was "truly special" and really worth
Just remember...Practice Safe Stress!
by Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc"
As a workshop leader, I'm often questioned or challenged. I don't mind being put on the
spot. Actually, in a weird kind of way, I get excited. I'm up for the intellectual and
psychological confrontation; maybe adrenalin is my mental testosterone. However, I am
concerned when others get caught in the crossfire or the joust of dueling egos. For
example, I was leading a two-person role play exercise for a federal government agency
that was reorganizing. One role play dyad involved a rather good-looking gentleman in his
late 50s and a woman no more than half his age. In the role play, the gentleman is to try
and help his partner grapple with an actual problem: with the agency's reorganization, the
young lady is being transferred to another department. She is upset both with the loss of
the familiar - tasks, colleagues and friends - and because her commuting time may now
double or triple.
In the feedback segment, the suave-looking fellow raises his hand and, with a somewhat
self-important tone, comments, "I didn't really have my heart in this exercise."
Glancing at the woman, I catch a fleeting but perceptibly pained expression. Looking at
me, she exclaims, "I thought he was sincere." In the pregnant moment, a
face-saving reply spontaneously generates. Turning to the fellow and the audience, I
playfully observe, "Gee, you know this guy broke a lot of hearts when he was
younger." Well, our male lead cracks up laughing, and the audience, including our
female protagonist, follows suit.
When I share this vignette, people often ask: "How did you come up with that
response?" My answer can only be speculative; events transpired so quickly. But here
are some of the variables that I was processing: a) the age-difference between the
players, b) the striking appearance of the gentleman, c) his too detached or self-centered
statement, d) her pained look, and e) my own empathy for the young woman when a belief
(about her partner's intentions with respect to her plight) is contradicted; also, I
suspect she's feeling duped or somewhat exposed. So my psychohumorist goals are manifold:
to help our female player in distress save face while lancing, with a subtle thrust, Senor
Suave from his high horse, yet still allowing for a gentle(man's) landing. And the psychic
swordmanship is double-edged: while appealing to his vanity and former conquests, that is,
stroking his ego, I'm also lightly exposing his egocentric manner and "too cool"
Psychohumorist Tip: Try unusual or unexpected observations and interpretations of
events. First, this will surprise the parties involved. And, if you've captured some
understanding of the setting, actions and/or motives, then you just may relax or disarm
defenses. It's safer to acknowledge our foibles when they are playfully teased out with
laughter. So seek the higher power of humor: May the Farce Be with You!
(c) Mark Gorkin 1998 Shrink Rap Productions
"The Stress Doc Letter" features and functions:
1. Psychohumor Writings. To provide you the best of my past and current online and
offline writngs, including Humor From the Edge columns and America On Line/Online Psych
special topical essays, e.g, <A
HREF="aol://4344:972.docwork.1255066.562088752">The Stress Doc Interview @
Online Psych</A> and <A
HREF="aol://4344:972.olpny3.1264502.565460680">Make Your Resolution A Habit
With Help From Online Psych!</A>. For those not on AOL, if you'd like a copy of
these popular series, just email - email@example.com. Or check out my website -
www.stressdoc.com - or my AOL/Online Psych Page - Keyword: Stress Doc, <A
HREF="aol://4344:972.doc.1264535.556723207">The Stress Doc @ Online Psych
My writings now appear in Perspectives, the electronic magaine of Mental Health Net.
MHN is a not-for-profit organization devoted to mental health information and education
resources online. They are located at: www.cmhc.com/
2. Special Projects Updates. New or special projects that are flying around or about to
be (or have been) launched:
a) I am now leading a twice a month "Shrink Rap and Group Chat" on
AOL/Digital City - Washington. It's an online stress support group. We discuss your
personal concerns on stress and wellness, relationship and family issues, loss and grief,
career transition, creativity and psychological growth, etc., the 2nd and 4th Mondays of
the month, from 9-10pm EDT. Next session: Monday June 8th. Here's the link: <A
HREF="aol://4344:363.gorkin.5732839.568857121">Chat with the Stress
This group replaces the Frequent Sighers Club which never quite got off the ground. (I
still like the name.)
b) Team Building Series for Aeronautical Charting and Cartography/Dept. of Commerce
commenced on June 5th. A number of peer facilitated groups will be launched in the next
two months. This follows a highly successful Stress and Conflict Management all day
workshops. For more info, call Melissa Hartman, Special Projects Manager, (202) 482-3026.
c) Rebuilding the Fire: Transforming Burnout into Your Creative Career-Life Path;
continuing series for Fairfax County Government, VA, Metro-Area Re-employment Project: for
Displaced Federal Employees. Part I: June 18th; Part II: June 30. For more info, call:
Marilyn Manno, (703) 324-7390.
d) These comments from Sally A. Johnston, Program Manager, Navy Civilian Employee
Assistance Program (703-413-0755) on last month's Practicing Safe Stress presentation: We
were tremendously pleased that you were able to schedule a second "repreat"
program when the first session filled to capacity...As a clinician and trainer myself, I
was very impressed with the manner in which you incorporated a muiltitude of learning and
training techniques to reach every participant. The way in which you were able to get the
group down to their "feeling" level was artful and non-threatening. Well done!
3. Stress Doc Calendar. To provide an up to date speaking and workshop calendar - what,
where and when. Of course, if you know of an organization or a conference that needs a
dynamic, thought-provoking and fun-filled program, my motto...Have Stress? Will Travel: A
Smart Mouth for Hire!
Speaking of speaking, some upcoming events:
a) On June 8th and 9th, two half day programs on Rebuilding the Fire: Transforming
Burnout into Your Creative Career Path for the Eastern Association of Colleges and
Employers Annual Conference. Call Ron Lambert, SAIS, for more info - (202) 663-5710.
b) On June 10th, all day program on Humor in the Workplace for the National Institutes
of Health. For more info., call Joyce LaPlante, Division of Workforce Development, at
c) Here's a heads up for folks in the Metro-Washington Area. Will be leading a workshop
for New Beginnings called, 12 Keys to Purpose, Passion & Play on Sunday June 14th from
1:30-4:30. Discover the Doc's Four Faces of Anger Model and matrix for the integration of
love, work, play and wholeness. For more info, Carol Randolph, (301) 924-4101.
d) On June 23rd, leading an all day Practicing Organizational Safe Stress workshop for
Human Resources Center/Naval Sea Systems Command. For more info, call Chaprella Collins,
4. Online Coaching/Training. To promote my Coaching for Consultants and Entrepreneurs
Special Announcement: I am starting a Multi-Media Coaching for Consultants Program: **
developing, delivering and marketing workshop programs online and offline ** humor/speech
writing services and website design with the CyberDoc ** online consultation and
participation in chat group
For information on the products and instructional services, email me at Stress
Doc@aol.com. With questions, call (202) 232-8662 or mail me at:
Mark Gorkin Stress Doc Enterprises 1616 18th Street, NW #312 Washington, DC 20009-2530
5. Award-Winning Website. To remind you that there is a lot more material on my award
winning, USA Today Online "Hot Site" website. It's also just been acclaimed a 4
Star, top-rated site, by Mental Health Net, the largest review guide of mental health,
psychology and psychiatry resources online today. Go to www.stressdoc.com or <A
HREF="http://www.stressdoc.com/">STRESS DOC HOMEPAGE</A> . Also, check
out my AOL/Online Psych Page, <A
HREF="aol://4344:972.doc.1264535.556723207">The Stress Doc @ Online Psych
</A> or Keyword: Stress Doc. Over 100 articles are arranged in 15 different
Stress Doc Bio and Philosophy Stress and Burnout Managing Anger with Authority Power
Struggles: Dyads-Systems Depression/Teens, Parents... Cyberaddicts Anonymous Good Grief
Searching for Love Career Transition Humor: Art and Science Creativity Unbound Achieving
Peak Performance Spiritual Exploration Readers' Submissions
6. Readers' Platform. Please submit questions, comments, criticisms, cutting edge
information as well as stories about how you've used humor to help relieve a client's,
family member's or your own stress. I will gladly print your offering and credit you
completely. (And thank you for using your spellchecker.)
Mark Gorkin, "The Stress Doc," Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a
nationally recognized speaker, workshop leader and author on stress, reorganizational
change, anger, team building, creativity and humor. He is also the internet's and the
nation's leading "Psychohumorist." The Stress Doc is a columnist for the popular
cyber-newsletter, Humor From The Edge . Mark is also the "Online Psychohumorist"
for the major AOL mental health resource network, Online Psych and Financial Services
Journal Online -- http://fsc.fsonline.com/fsj . And he is an offline writer for two mental
health/substance abuse publications -- Treatment Today and Paradigm Magazine. His motto:
Have Stress? Will Travel: A Smart Mouth for Hire! Reach "The Doc" at (202)
232-8662, email: Stress Doc@aol.com, or check out his "Hot Site" website:
http://www.stressdoc.com . (The site was selected as a USA Today Online "Hot
Site" and designated a four-star, top-rated site by Mental Health Net.)