Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Live ’09 with more frugal values
It’s time we stop instant gratification and preach patience
Stress for Success
December 30, 2008

Brace yourself: 2009 may be even more financially challenging than 2008. Given that our collective American values got us into this mess perhaps we should identify which ones and replace them with values to help us get through it and avoid the same mistakes in the future.

Here are some values that drove our profligate behavior in recent decades and new ones with which to replace them:
* Greed Þ moderation
* Instant gratification; spend now! Þ patience; save more!
* Materialism Þ generosity

A thesaurus search for "moderation" finds: restraint, self-control, and temperance. "Excess" is its antonym.

In which ways are you personally excessive? Do you eat or drink too much? Are you a shopaholic? Does your excess fail to satisfy you in a day or a week? It may be time to consider decreasing yours significantly.

But first you must decide if you actually value moderation. Identify how restraint could benefit you - and not just financially. For example, if you’re an over-spender does this create tension with your significant other? If so, controlling your spending would benefit both your bank account and your relationship.

When tempted to buy something unnecessary ask what you value more, the item or your relationship, the item or your bank account. Consciously comparing how much you prefer one thing over another prioritizes your values. If you buy the item consciously admit that you currently value the item more than your relationship or your bank account.

The infamous American need for instant gratification has skyrocketed along with advertising, intensifying with each new generation. We forget that our grandparents accumulated their possessions after a life time of saving for them.

Instead, many in financial stress today were tempted by the soaring real estate values that made them feel rich. Those who refinanced their homes taking out and spending cash on stuff now have lots of stuff and a home that' s worth less than their mortgage.

We need to get back to the novel idea of buying only that for which we have cash. However, the convenience of credit cards makes this hopelessly outdated. But you can stay on a disciplined budget and enjoy the convenience of credit cards.

Decide how much you can afford to spend monthly after your rent/mortgage is paid. Withdraw that amount of cash divided it into four weekly envelopes. When you get gas, for example, use your credit card. Then transfer that amount of cash from a spending envelope into a checking account deposit envelop to cover the charge when it comes through.

Finally, imagine a world where generosity is valued more than materialism. People literally giving the money they’d otherwise spend to someone who needs it. Or being more generous in spirit: volunteering, taking time to listen to someone who needs to be heard, or visiting a lonely neighbor.

These idealized, if not always actual, frugal American values could have avoided this financial mess. They can still get us back to basics reminding us of what’s really important in life. And it isn’t stuff.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Positive life values can ease demands on time, energy
Stress for Success
December 23, 2008

During the holiday season it’s easy to be in a constant rush: to shop, cook, clean, attend parties, not to mention work. The barrage of ads for a multitude of gifts and holiday preparations becomes a blur. The jam-packed weeks exhaust you.

To more easily navigate these conflicting demands for your time and energy it’s important to be strongly steeped in your positive life values.

Your values, your ideas about what’s right and wrong, are well established during your 20s and serve as your decision-making and problem-solving compass. Having them guide your choices makes life far less stressful than allowing the prevailing wind to dictate your actions. They help you plot a course through your stressful world with greater clarity and purpose that’s in alignment with your authentic self.

Your values also determine your character and affect everything you do and everything you are. For example, a store clerk gives you too much change. If you value honesty over money you'll return it.

To reduce your stress you need to have not only a clear set of values but also an unwavering commitment to them. According to the authors of "Stress: Living and Working in a Changing World," by Manning, Curtis and McMillan, to live authentically you must:
* know what your values are
* cherish them
* declare them
* act on them
* act habitually on them

They believe that "arrested development" occurs when you fail to complete any of these five requirements.

So consciously choose which of your values to let predominate. Here’s a sampling of some to consider:
Acceptance of others as they are Achievement Appearance
Arts Career Creativity
Education Enjoyment Environment
Fairness Family Fitness
Honesty Leisure Love
Loyalty Quiet time Money
Nature Personal growth Physical health
Personal power Privacy Recognition
Respect for self/others Relationships Risk taking

For example, if you typically value quiet time but have a house full of guests for Christmas perhaps you can consciously allow yourself to let the values of family and relationships prevail while your guests are with you. It’s not that you toss out your other value; it’s simply a choice of which values to accentuate.

Or ahead of any potentially stressful event, identify which values you want to honor. For instance, you know you and your nemesis will attend the same Christmas party and your typical reaction to each other is competitive and defensive. By repeating a mantra to yourself over and over affirming the values you want to display you can handle the encounter more as you want vs. reacting defensively. “I respect him and accept him as he is.” The more you recite this to yourself before and during the party the more you’ll act in accordance with these values.

So look ahead to the stressful challenges that await you. Consciously choose the positive values you’d like to guide you through each and program yourself to exhibit these. The more you do this the more your behavior aligns with your values; the more you’ll live authentically.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Learn to be an efficient worrier over financial stress
Stress for Success
December 16, 2008

Financial stress triggers basic survival fears so it’s normal to worry excessively and experience symptoms like:
* insomnia
* digestive problems
* increased alcohol/drug consumption, etc.

The mind is absolutely connected to the body. So, to limit these and other negative consequences you must control your mind.

Become an efficient worrier by not worrying about what’s beyond your control. For instance, I still look at our monthly investment statements but if I start stewing about the state of our retirement funds I’ll stop. Wall Street's ups and downs are beyond my control so why obsess about them?

Or worrying about your mate’s stressful sleeping habits is also beyond your control, so don’t go there.

Instead, try these ideas to stop invasive and anxious thoughts. These only work if you use them habitually.

Redirect your thinking:
* Thought stopping: when you hear the rumblings of stressful thoughts think or say out loud, “Stop!” Repeat it over and over until you successfully stop the undesired thoughts.
* Affirmations: replace stressful ruminations with thoughts that carry you toward your positive goal. For example, for the goal of finding additional income think, “I’m finding financial opportunities.” Habitually replacing stressful thoughts with affirmations, over time, gives you more personal control, while directing your mind to look for (and find) those opportunities.

Redirect your emotions:
When stressed you’ll always react emotionally. Anger and fear, Mother Nature’s survival emotions (and “sub-emotions” like irritation, loneliness, etc.,) are present to the degree you’re stressed. They mostly operate out of the amygdala region of your brain, which also triggers your physical fight/flight response putting strain on your body and emotions. This explains the above symptoms.

Medical scientist Dr. Nick Hall reports that discomfort with negative emotions, especially anger, correlates with increased susceptibility to some cancers and immune system dysfunction like rheumatoid arthritis. He advises stopping the “chemical pinball game in the brain areas that are engaged in emotions,” by shifting your focus away from your feelings at the moment of their escalation. For example, if you’re stressed by job losses where you work he recommends finishing this incomplete statement three times in context of what’s upsetting you: “I am glad that …”
* “… I still have my job”
* “… my spouse still has hers”
* “… I still have an opportunity to be useful to my employer.”

Noting what you’re glad about in the very situation that’s driving you to the edge gives you more power and the stressor less.

Finally, in this same vein, list your “I’m gratefuls” each morning upon awakening. Given this financial mess you could be grateful for:
* Your health
* Your strong relationships
* The beautiful weather
* No hurricanes this year

The economy will do what it’s going to do. It’s certainly beyond your control. How you handle it is within your control. Even though these ideas change nothing in the tangible world, they change your internal world, which will determine how you handle this crisis, therefore its possible consequences.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

There’s general unease and growing chronic stress in America
Stress for Success
December 9,2008

The distress around America over our collective financial future is palpable. Even if you aren’t personally suffering from our economic ills you almost certainly know others who are.

Here are three ideas to help manage your anxiety while navigating these uncertain times.

First, with the ongoing nature of this fiscal unraveling those who are most affected are experiencing chronic stress (elevated stress that lasts for months), which places significantly more physical and emotional strain on them. If this goes on too long they can expect more illness and even possibly disease development, which they’d largely be unaware of. So it's vital to take better care of yourself to mitigate the damages of stress.

For example, if you've lost income and find yourself with extra time it's far wiser to invest your energy into not only looking for new income but also into health-enhancing activities like exercising, spending more time with your family and volunteering vs. channel surfing with depressed thoughts rumbling around your brain. (The latter is almost impossible to eliminate but can be controlled by spending far more time on healthy pursuits; more on other ways to limit your worrying next week.) See this as an opportunity to accomplish things you’ve been meaning to.

Secondly, much of stress reduction, regardless of the source of your stress, is to focus on what's within your control and to cope with what's beyond, a subject I’ve addressed many times in the five years of this column.

Regarding the state of the world economy and your place in it, make your first stress reduction step to identify what’s within and beyond your control.

What’s beyond your control includes:
* the direction and the duration of the financial pain, including what happens with the stock market
* the government's, your employer’s and anyone else’s response to it
* job losses
* etc.

Divert your focus away from the above and onto what’s within your control including your:
* reaction to all of the above, which includes your spending and saving habits, how aggressively or not you look for new work, how you spend newly found time
* worrying and possible resulting illness or stress symptoms like insomnia
* reaction to a probable increased workload if you still have your job
* etc.

Problem-solve on what’s within your control by identifying your options and choosing a strategy to address your issues.

Lastly, what can you learn to avoid such monetary stress in the future? If you had too big a mortgage you’ve learned (hopefully) that you need to live below not above your means, to save more money, and/or to cut your credit card use. What will you do differently to avoid being in this position again?

Who knows, we may look back on this meltdown as ultimately good for us. It may get us back to basics – like spending less that we make! In the meantime, protect yourself from the ravages of chronic stress by taking better care of yourself than you normally do.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Be assertive, but think first
Stress for Success
December 2, 2008

To be assertive or not to be assertive, that’s often the question.

Too frequently those who’ve been historically passive go from challenging virtually nothing to confronting almost everything. But it’s important to pick and choose your battles. Some aren’t worth fighting. Consider the dilemma over whether or not to speak up during political conversations.

It’s certainly possible to carry on respectful political dialogue; it's just difficult with many people. When you’re with others who are voicing their political views determine if it’s worth it for you to counter with your own different opinions by identifying your goal. Depending upon the circumstances, you may choose to remain quiet or to speak up. Let your goal guide you.

If your objective is to present an opposing belief, then jump in. To do this assertively you must respect the others’ rights to believe as they do. Listening well communicates this respect. If your intent is to convince the other person how wrong they are and how right you are, good luck.

No matter the situation, to assert yourself use assertive formulas to help you think before you speak. They’re clumsy at first but once you become proficient they become effortless to use.

To request behavior change:
1. Describe the other person' s unacceptable behavior
2. Explain the negative consequences of it
3. Request behavior change for the future

E.g., You have employees arguing over politics and your goal is for them to keep it out of the office:
When you discuss politics in the office and disagree your voices get louder attracting customers' attention (step one.) This can be uncomfortable for them, which is unacceptable to me (step two.) Please keep your political conversations outside of the office and on your own time (step three.)

Surface manipulation:
1. Describe what you perceive as manipulative behavior
2. State your interpretation of it
3. Ask if you're correct

E.g., You’ve stated a political view and your conversational partner looks at another person and rolls her eyes with a slight nod in your direction. Your interpretation is that she’s communicating, “How ignorant is he?” You could say:
Sue, I just noticed you rolling your eyes after I stated my opinion. It seems to me that you may think that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Am I right? (If you ask you’d better be ready for her response!)

When you expose someone’s manipulation they’re less likely to try it again with you.

Here’s a modified example for this formula. Your customer seems to be complaining in a manipulative way by saying, “You’re employees were here cleaning yesterday and they actually vacuumed behind the doors.” Your response could be, “It sounds like what you’re really saying is that they usually don’t. Is that right?”

Assertiveness training is full of formulas that help you think before you speak. At first they take a minute or more to fill out, which suggests that you should take at least that much time to think before you speak up, especially in potentially sensitive discussions.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Let’s get back to the basics for this Thanksgiving week
Stress for Success
November 25, 2008

Even if you have less economic security to be grateful for this year the best things in life are still bountiful and mostly free, like loving relationships, motivating work and hobbies, and enjoying nature. You can lower your stress by noticing these more often and being consciously grateful for them on a daily basis.

But this is difficult for some who’ve had to tighten their belts lately. We’re so used to buying what we want when we want it. We take our historic affluence for granted.

But spending doesn’t make you happier. In fact, the more stuff you have the more you want. Besides, psychologically you habituate to all of it, you become accustomed to it. Your must-buys only motivate you for a short time. No matter how wonderful something is at first, like winning the lottery, if it becomes a constant, you habituate to it. So don’t long for what you had yesterday. It wasn’t as good as you thought anyway.

Those who are either losing their homes or fear that they might would welcome only having to cut their expenses. Everything is relative. It’s more difficult to focus on what you’re grateful for when you’re not sure where you may be living next month -- but it’s even more important that you do because of another human tendency; to focus on what’s wrong in your life. This propensity helps humanity survive. However, focusing too much on what’s stressful tightens the blinders you wear through life, which limits your ability to see beyond them where some of the best ideas for solving life’s problems exist. You can loosen those blinders by seeking greater emotional balance between worrying excessively about what’s frightening you and appreciating what you have.

So let’s get back to the basics this Thanksgiving week and focus consciously and frequently on what you have to be thankful for. Look around you and count the people and experiences that give you joy and comfort.

I’ve asked several people recently what they’re grateful for and their answers include the obvious of family, friends and health along with:
* Food on the table for this week
* A sense of humor to cope with what’s going on around us that’s beyond our control
* Just being able to get out of bed in the morning
* Beautiful weather
* Less traffic
* A functional car and cheaper gas
* Having a service business that doesn’t have merchandise that’s not selling
* Great music
* A husband who not only does all of the cooking but who cooks so well (that one’s mine)

So, I’m going to prepare for our Thanksgiving guests, whom I love, and keep them on my mind as I clean our house and finish the little touch-ups that one does before the guests arrive. It gives meaning to these menial tasks. I’ll also look forward to and be grateful for my husband’s wonderful dinner.

And I wish the same for you, Happy Thanksgiving.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Be assertive with those who talk behind your back
Be honest, appropriate and direct in dialogue
Stress for Success
November 18, 2008

What would you do if a co-worker insulted your work behind your back? If you’re mostly passive you’d probably complain to an ally and say nothing directly to the back-stabber. If aggressive you’d likely get in that person’s face and confront him about it. Neither of these approaches typically works well and both strain the relationship.

How would an assertive person handle something like this?

Two hallmarks of assertive communication are being:
* direct; not blunt, but respectfully direct
* goal-oriented; before charging in to directly confront him she’d first figure out her goal. Is it to request that he speak directly to her? Is it to defend herself from his insults? Knowing her positive goal facilitates being direct in her communication.

Let’s say her goal is to hear directly from him about his problem with her work so if something does need to change they can discuss it and come to an agreement about it.

To assertively address this she could use the “Feedback Statement,” an excellent technique I learned from the groundbreaking assertiveness book, “Your Perfect Right” by Emmons and Albertti. It helps you say almost anything to almost anyone. Its approach honors the definition of assertiveness: standing up for yourself in a way that respects the rights of others; being direct, honest and appropriate in expressing your feelings and opinions.

It has three steps:
1. Describe the situation you’re referring to (without judging or labeling it)
2. Say how you feel about it (optional)
3. Say what you’d like to see done about the situation, the problem solving step.

She could say to him:
Jon, I understand that you have a problem with my work on the XYZ project (step one.) I’d appreciate hearing directly from you about what you’d like to see different so we could decide which changes, if any, need to be made (step three.)

To be effective she’d also need to assert herself nonverbally. After all, it’s not what you say but how you say it that’s important. Here are some assertive nonverbal communication habits that would enhance her credibility.
* Direct and appropriate eye contact
* Congruency between words and nonverbal behavior
* Confident stance: shoulders back, chest out, head up
* Hands in powerful position: in pockets, down by sides, held together behind back or in front
* Even vocal tones
* “I” language, e.g., “I think this is unfair,” vs. “You’re unfair,” a “you” message
* Goal-oriented words
* Direct questions and answers
* Excellent use of listening skills

She’d further assert herself by:
* asking directly for what she wants (her goal)
* being tactful and honest
* having concern for others’ feelings but not ruled by them
* believing strongly in personal responsibility -- she’s not responsible for him nor is he responsible for her
* being willing to nip problems in the bud and positively confront others and negotiate fairly with them

Next week I’ll share other great techniques that can help you assert yourself more effectively.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Be more assertive and avoid aggressive language, behaviors
Stress for Success
November 11, 2008

Historically, females have been socialized to be passive people-pleasers while males to be aggressive achievers. Balance between extremes is almost always a healthier way to live therefore being overly passive or aggressive is unproductive, not to mention stressful.

Even though aggressive people are more likely to get their way they often feel guilty afterward. Plus, they also suffer hidden consequences called the “20 second payback.”

This is a term coined by Synectics of Boston, MA. In videotaped research they discovered that when a person in a meeting or working on a team perceived himself to have been stepped on it took that person on average 20 seconds to get even for the affront. Their payback might be to sabotage their opponent, resist him, etc. They may not actually get even within 20 seconds but at some level of awareness have decided to at some point. In other words, aggressive people may win the battle but they often lose the war.

In assertive vocabulary, being aggressive means standing up for yourself in a way that you violate the rights of others. It’s often confused with assertiveness but there’s a huge difference. Assertive people respect the rights of others. Aggressive people don’t put much thought into others’ rights. Instead, they’re overly focused on getting their own needs met.

Aggressive verbal and nonverbal behaviors include (although the higher-up a person is in an organization the more subtle these traits may be):
* Invade others’ space
* Use of touching to intimidate
* Daring non-verbal behavior like an aggressive stance
* Hard eyes that bore into their “opponent”
* Forceful voice, possibly loud
* Racist, sexist, ageist language
* Exceedingly focused on the goal and not enough on the people-side of interactions
* Overly direct and blunt
* Use of vocabulary to intimidate
* Abusive language, threatening tone and words

Because aggressive people are so goal-focused they tend to assume that when you get what you want it’ll be impossible for them to get what they want. They see life as a win/lose game with little appreciation for the win/win mentality. Their competitiveness finds them with the need to be right, to win and to score points.

Other tactics used by many aggressive people include:
* Exaggerate, e.g., “I’m sick & tired of being the only one who does anything!”
* Name callers, “You’re a slob.”
* They may threaten you, “If you bother me again, I’ll make your life miserable.”
* Demanding of others, and may use fear to get what they want
* Freely use blame with frequent use of “you” messages, “You’re not a team player.”

Aggressive people working to become more assertive are generally met with greater receptiveness, versus passive people moving toward more assertiveness are met with greater resistance because others want them to remain submissive.

In either case, to become more assertive, which definitely lowers stress, you have to make a conscious effort to do so. It pays off through better relationships, higher self-esteem and more control over your life, therefore lower stress.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Being too passive too often decreases your control in life, therefore raises your stress
Stress for Success
November 4, 2008

Women have progressed significantly on the road to assertiveness over past decades by going against many beliefs we, far more than men, were taught to buy into, such as:
* You should never hurt anyone's feelings.
* You should always be polite.
* Don’t be selfish.
* Never toot your own horn, etc.

Yet, some things haven't changed much at all. 2005 research found that girls still receive these messages as evidenced in two fascinating videotaped research experiments that aired on ABC’s 20/20 in 2006. In each the test subjects were either one or two boys or one or two girls ages 9 – 11. The researchers said that the results broadcast represented how virtually every child reacted.

In the first experiment children were given a glass of lemonade that had no sugar but rather salt added to it. When the girls took a sip they grimaced and said, "Gee that’s good. Thanks." The boys gagged dramatically and said, "Why did you give me this? It's terrible!”

In the second experiment the children were given a gift-wrapped-box. In each was a pair of socks and a pencil. Virtually every little girl upon opening hers remarked, "Thank you, I could use a new pair of socks." Virtually without fail the boys opened up theirs and exclaimed, “What a stupid gift!"

When asked why they said that the lemonade was good virtually every girl said, "I didn't want to hurt your feelings.”

These girls were just acting out their socially encouraged role by deferring too often to other's needs. Oprah has said, “When you don’t stand up for what you need, you slowly strangle your spirit.”

If you strangle your own spirit you won’t get many of your needs met, either. You’ll live in greater frustration, therefore stress, and react in indirect ways to get what you want. Strategies include passive-aggressive manipulation, hinting, and suffering.

You can generally spot a passive person a mile away. I've heard multiple interviews with prison inmates who in describing their vulnerable targets they describe passive behaviors:
* Poor or averting eye contact
* Slumped and pulled-into-yourself posture
* Protective stance, appears compliant and hesitant
* Pouting, crying
* Beat around the bush conversationally
* Fidgety, playing with face, hair, earrings, neck-tie
* Head down
* Tentative, soft, small voice, poor projection
* Hedge phrases (“sort of,” “maybe”)
* “Silent words” (deep sighs, banging pots and pans)
* Tag phrases (following a statement with, “don’t you think?”)
* Indirect communication; hint about what you want/need

Passive people are often overly concerned with what others think about them. They’re excessively apologetic, need be liked so try to please others.

To be taken seriously passive people must start by taking themselves seriously. Whichever beliefs that block them from doing this can be identified and challenged by using the “repetitive why technique,” covered in last week’s column.

In the next two weeks we’ll cover the aggressive position followed by assertive skills anyone can use.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Challenge unassertive beliefs
Stress for Success
October 28, 2008

Being assertive lowers your stress partly because it enhances your self-esteem, especially within your most important relationships. If it’s sometimes difficult for you to act assertively, it’s because you have inhibiting beliefs. Uncover and challenge them and you’re more likely to successfully assert yourself.

Human behavior is driven by corresponding beliefs. For example, if I’m your supervisor and believe that people cannot be trusted, I’ll probably exhibit micromanaging behavior. The same goes for behaving assertively; assertive beliefs drive that behavior

No one is truly assertive all of the time. At times you may act aggressively or passively. No matter what your behavior, it's driven by your matching beliefs, such as:

Passive beliefs drive passive behavior:
* I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.
* I shouldn’t be bossy.
* It’s rude to say “no.”
* I shouldn’t disagree with authority figures.
* You’re more important than I.

Aggressive beliefs:
* I’m the boss!
* It’s my way or the highway.
* I’m more important than you.
* I know more.
* It’s important to win!

Assertive beliefs:
* I respect and value everyone.
* I work for inclusion, open communication and creative problem-solving.
* Everyone’s rights are as important to them as mine are to me.
* It’s better to set appropriate limits than to mislead people.
* I’m not responsible for others’ emotions.

To respond more assertively to challenging situations identify your underlying, hindering beliefs using "the repetitive why technique." Here’s how it works:
* Ask “why” you did something; then ask “why” again for each successive answer.
* E.g., I just agreed to do something by 3:00 but know I can’t get it done.
o Why did I just agree to do it when I know I don’t have the time?
ü Because he always helps me out.
o Why must I always repay someone even when I know I don’t have the time?
ü Because it wouldn't be nice not to.
o Why wouldn’t being honest be nice?
ü Because it might hurt his feelings.

In this example, the underlying beliefs of saying no isn’t nice and it may hurt someone's feelings are the beliefs that must be challenged.

One way to challenge them is to speak directly to the person about my fears and perhaps he'd dissuade me of them. Another way is to convince myself that if I promise to do something I know I can't deliver it’ll make me look bad and put him into a worse situation than had I been honest from the beginning.

To change repeatedly challenge your largely irrational beliefs with more rational ones. After each time you wanted to respond assertively but didn’t, identify the blocking beliefs and challenge them. Little by little you’ll loosen the grip of your unassertive beliefs. When you discover that the world doesn’t fall apart after you’ve asserted yourself you’ll develop more courage to stand up for yourself more frequently as time goes on. It’s such a freeing and powerful feeling and so worth the risks!

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Be more assertive to lower stress
Stress for Success
October 21, 2008

Without question, one of the best ways to lower stress in all areas of life is to become more assertive. But don’t confuse this with being more aggressive. There’s a significant difference.

The definitions I use for the four communication styles that exist along a continuum are:
* Passive: not standing up for yourself, or standing up for yourself so ineffectually that your rights are easily violated
* Aggressive: standing up for yourself in a way that violates the rights of others
* Passive-aggressive: the indirect expression of anger or frustration; it appears passive and non-hostile but you sabotage the other person
* Assertive: standing up for yourself in a way that respects the rights of others. You’re direct, honest and appropriate in expressing your feelings and opinions

Notice that these definitions depend upon whose rights are being honored. To be assertive you have to buy into the philosophy that other people's rights are just as important to them as yours are to you. When needs collide the assertive assumption is that you'll negotiate in a way that helps everyone get their most important needs met and their rights respected, which is easier said than done.

Respecting your own and everyone’s rights helps keep you assertive through difficult situations. Here’s a sampling of basic human rights. You have a right to:
* Express your own opinions and feelings
* Be treated with respect
* Refuse requests
* Have your own priorities
* Meet your needs
* Make your own decisions
* Be listened to and taken seriously
* Ask for what you want
* Not assert yourself
* Change
* Get what you pay for
* Make mistakes and be responsible for them
* Be successful
* Be left alone, etc.

When you behave passively you allow others' rights to be more important than your own. You cave in to them. If you're aggressive your energy goes into making sure you get what you want without concern about others getting what they need. Being passive-aggressive means you’re too indirect to assert your needs so communicate in a hidden way, like through sarcasm. Being assertive is standing up for your rights while respecting others'.

For every right there's a corresponding responsibility that we often forget in our rights-oriented society. For example, to be respected your responsibility is to act in respectable ways, which includes treating others with respect and honoring your word, etc.

Your choice of reactions -- from passive to assertive -- brings about different results. Identify your goal in a given situation and determine which of these four styles is most appropriate. Sometimes being passive may be your wisest choice. For example, someone speaks disrespectfully to you in a grocery line. Your goal is to avoid hassling and to remain calm so you ignore her (it’s an assertive choice to appear passive). This choice helps you accomplish your goal.

To become more assertive you need to challenge unassertive beliefs that drive your unassertive behavior; the topic for next week.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of Inter Action Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Play devil’s advocate when interpreting your anger issues
Stress for Success
September 30, 2008

Do you know someone who' s "enemy-based," someone who’s hyper-vigilant and distrustful? They look for and find enemies where there are none. They interpret nonverbal behavior as hostile when there is no such intent. They frequently react to life’s situations with anger, cynicism and aggression.

But they see their reactions as justified. For example, hotheads in traffic are often enemy-based blaming all those rotten drivers for a myriad of sins. Given that they probably enjoy the high of their own adrenaline they feel little motivation to curb their hostility.

Here’s why they may want to challenge their suspicious interpretation of life's events:
Research published in Circulation found that men who explode with anger are at greater risk for strokes.
The UC, Berkeley Wellness Newsletter reported that a 2002 study found that postmenopausal women with heart disease had strong hostility as an independent risk factor for a second heart attack or death.
Medical scientist Dr. Nick Hall reports that discomfort with negative emotions, especially anger, correlates with increased susceptibility to some cancers and immune system problems like rheumatoid arthritis.

Excessive anger -- over real and imagined offenses -- is bad for your health let alone your relationships.

If you frequently believe that you’re mistreated, first and foremost learn to play the devil's advocate with your interpretation of events.

For example, your spouse washed the laundry but the brown pants you wanted to wear weren't included and you blow up over it. To put into perspective how upset you "should" be ask yourself, "How important will this be in one year that my brown pants didn't get washed?"

Or rate how important the upsetting event is on a scale of 1 to 10. Then rate the intensity of your emotional reaction. Getting the pants washed you decide rates a two in importance but your outburst was a seven, which shows that you're entirely too angry about it.

Or your boss reprimands you and you assume “she’s always out to get you." How can you know if you're looking for trouble or if she’s really unfair?

Focus specifically on what she criticized. For example, she said your report was late. Well, were you late? If so, then at least that part of the reprimand was legitimate.

Next, listen to your response. "She never gets on anyone else’s case for this." Challenge extreme words such as "always." Identify, if you can, at least one time when she reprimanded someone else for this, which proves that she doesn't "always" come down only on you. If there truly is no evidence then maybe she does treat you differently. Why?

Give permission to those whom you trust to challenge your perceptions when they think you’re being “unreasonably” distrustful. Look for factual evidence of differing interpretations to assess more accurately what’s going on.

Gradually, by playing the devil's advocate with your interpretation of perceived offenses you’ll see exceptions to your suspicious assumptions, which may lead to the awareness that you’re looking for trouble more than you realize.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Making friends the best medicine
Stress for Success
September 23, 2008

"One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do.
Two can be as bad as one.
It's the loneliest number since the number one."
Opening lines to Three Dog Night's “One”

These wise lyrics acknowledge that you can be lonely alone as well as within a relationship. Untold numbers of lonesome people rush into relationships to get rid of their isolation only to find themselves as unhappy as when they were by themselves.

And the sense of isolation can be bad for your health.

Last year researcher Stephen Cole of the University of California, Los Angeles, and his colleagues published findings "that showed people who scored in the top 15% of the UCLA loneliness scale exhibited increased gene activity linked to inflammation and reduced gene activity associated with antibody production and antiviral responses. These patterns … were specific to loneliness not to other negative feelings such as depression," according to Scientific American Mind, June/July 2008.

In another study, Cole analyzed a variety of lonely people and found that their stress hormone cortisol wasn't suppressing the genes associated with inflammation as intended making them more vulnerable to serious illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. He also found in recent animal studies that cortisol receptors stopped working in rhesus monkeys that were socially stressed.

Unrelated research has shown for quite some time that "the impact of social relationships on life expectancy appears to be at least as large as cigarette smoking, hypertension, obesity, and (the) level of physical activity," according to Dr. Robert Sapolsky author of "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers.

Think about the enormity of this!

Sapolsky refers to additional research that "lonelier, more socially isolated individuals had less of an anti-body response to a vaccine in one study; in another study people with AIDS had a faster decline in a key category of lymphocytes; in another, lonely women with breast cancer had less natural killer cell activity." People experiencing bereavement, even if historically they've not been lonely are also vulnerable.

No doubt, it's difficult if you're feeling abandoned to force yourself to go out and connect with others. But it’s the natural antidote to loneliness and it’s what you need to do.

British researchers have demonstrated that the healing power of friendship has close to the success rate in dealing with sadness of antidepressants or cognitive therapy.

Tirril Harris, Ph.D., of Guy’s, King’s and St. Thomas’ schools of medicine in London reported in the Journal of Psychiatry that chronically depressed women were either randomly assigned a volunteer who acted as their confidante, or were placed on a waiting list for a “befriender” volunteer. Among the women who met with their volunteers regularly throughout the year 72% had a remission in their depression compared with 45% in the control group.

To combat your loneliness, whether you’re in a relationship or not, it’s vitally important to connect with others through volunteering or by spending more time with supportive family and established friends. Allow the healing power of human connection to help wash away your solitude.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Creating a life of contentment doesn’t have to involve marriage
Stress for Success
September 16, 2008

In the early ‘90s when I conducted training for CareerTrack Seminars, I was talked into presenting a new program titled, “How to Find and Keep a Mate.” Astonishingly, hundreds of people, predominantly women, attended each workshop. They seemed to mostly want a formula for literally finding a partner. But the key to finding a mate is to live your life to the fullest and in so doing you’ll meet like-minded people, a much healthier strategy than bar-hopping.

Historically one was thought to be incomplete if they were single, at least for women. So, many single women - and some men - were on a constant quest for the perfect partner. After all, married-couple households had been the norm making up 80% of all households in 1950.

But, how times have changed!

According to the US Census Bureau today only 50% of households are married-couples. Singles are the fastest growing demographic and soon will become the majority. They make up 42% of the American workforce, 40% of homebuyers, and 35% of voters.

Social historian Stephanie Coontz told Psychology Today, "Marriage is not the gateway to adulthood anymore. For most people it's the dessert -- desirable, but no longer the main course." Singles are a lot less desperate than before, as evidenced in a recent Pew Research Center survey: 55% of 3,000 singles reported that they aren’t in a committed relationship and for now aren’t interested in seeking a partner.

Ironically, after generations of women trying to get men to commit to marriage, polls show that men are becoming more amendable to marriage just as women are becoming more cautious. Because women still do more of the household chores and child care, they’re increasingly unwilling, as Coontz says, "to put up with something that violates their sense of fairness."

Historically, marriage was necessary for survival but it no longer is. Today, singlehood is a much more viable option, again especially for women due to greater opportunities for financial independence and reproductive freedom.

Surprisingly, most of us will spend more of our adult lives single than married. So, it’s time to update our perception of living solo.

If you’re single and not completely satisfied with it, consider:
buying your own home, which encourages you to progress as an independent person versus waiting for marriage to happen. It also increases your financial independence as your equity grows (it will grow again, right?)
pursuing all that engages your curiosity and gives you pleasure and joy and doing whatever helps you create a full and meaningful life
traveling more
furthering your education
developing lots of friendships with women and men. There are more single people than ever to connect with and enjoy.
getting your quota of touch, and not necessarily romantic. Everyone needs human connection.
that marriage doesn’t cure loneliness. Creating and living a meaningful life does.

So, whether you’re married or single, create the life you want to live rather than wait for something better to happen.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Don’t use cell phone before bedtime and other tidbits
Stress for Success
September 9, 2008

Here’s one last article with tidbits of health information. Hopefully, you’ll find something helpful for you or a loved one.

Don’t use cell phones before bedtime: Recent studies are again warning that cell phone signals can alter brain waves, which can interfere with sleep.

Neuroscientist Rodney Croft and colleagues at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia found a sudden power boost in volunteers' alpha brain waves when the researchers switched on the cell phones strapped to their heads (the subjects didn’t know when that was). Croft believes this may be explained “by the mind concentrating to overcome the electrical interference in brain circuits caused by the pulsed microwave radiation from cell phones.”

And sleep researchers at Loughborough University in England found that after being on the cell phone for 30 minutes, people took nearly twice as long to fall asleep as they did when the phone had been off or in standby mode. The scientists think this represents the time it takes the brain to relax after being agitated by the phone’s electrical field.

James Horne, one of the study's authors, however, cautions that the effects are harmless and less disruptive to sleep than half a cup of coffee. He wonders, though, "With different doses, durations or other devices, would there be greater effects?"

The elderly should talk to teens for better health: Working out in a social setting with younger people seems to be especially helpful for the elderly. Psychiatrist Sharon Arkin, of the University of Arizona, runs a clinical program in which Alzheimer's patients exercise with college students. She found that this stabilizes cognitive decline and improves patients' moods.

Drink pomegranate juice for prostate health: The American Chemical Society recently reported that pomegranates are rich in an antioxidant called ellagitannins, which when metabolized turns into compounds known as urolithins, which find and destroy prostate cancer cells. Although further study is needed, researchers are hopeful that the fruit may play a vital role in treatment.

Eat flaxseed for hot flashes: A small preliminary study from the Mayo Clinic suggests that flaxseed can help with hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms for women who aren’t on hormone replacement therapy (HRT). The study participants ingested 40 grams of crushed flaxseed daily and reported a 50% reduction in the frequency and severity of hot flashes, improved mood and a decrease in joint or muscle pain, chills and sweating. Flaxseed is becoming a natural and effective alternative to HRT.

Use your sense of smell for instant relaxation: Pamela Dalton, a sensory psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, says to pick a distinctive odor then pair it with a peaceful meditation. After a few sessions, the odor itself will trigger a relaxed state, even when you’re not meditating.

Use other common scents for other purposes:
Peppermint to increase brain activity to help wake up in the morning
Jasmine to facilitate sleeping
Lavender for relaxing
Vanilla after you’ve eaten to avoid eating sweets (otherwise it can make you hungry)

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Think fast! Quick ways to improve health, outlook
Stress for Success
September 2, 2008

I’m always looking for interesting ideas to improve my own health and life. Not all work but many do. Here’s a sampling of what I’ve run across recently in my reading. Hopefully, you’ll find something that you can use.

Think faster: To improve your mood has it ever occurred to you as it has to Emily Pronin of Princeton University to speed up your thoughts? From her research she discovered that, "Even if you're having negative thoughts about yourself, you're better off having them fast. People are happier when they race through those thoughts rather than when they think each slowly."

Pronin and psychologist Daniel Wegner of Harvard can't explain why thinking faster is better. "We may be thinking so fast … our thoughts can't wander to dark places," Pronin speculates, and it may also explain our addiction to nicotine, caffeine, and anything that speeds us up.

They recommend trying the following to improve your mood:
Rapidly relate a story to someone
Quickly scan newspaper headlines
Play charades
Do jumping jacks or other faster moving exercises

In 60 seconds:
Come up with your top 10 dream vacations
List the 15 favorite people in your life
Write 20 three-letter words
Say 30 words that begin with "M"

Perform more acts of kindness: in 2005 Stanford University psychologist Sonya Lyubomirsky tested whether there was a connection between acts of kindness and a sense of personal fulfillment. She assigned students to do five weekly "random acts of kindness” of their choice, “anything from buying a Big Mac for a homeless person to helping a younger sibling do school work.” Everyone reported greater happiness, and those who performed all five acts in one day were the happiest. Previous studies have found that altruistic people tend to be happy, but her study was the first to establish that good deeds actually cause an increase in well-being.

Why? It seems it’s because when you do something nice for someone else you feel like what you’re doing is more important. Plus, you’re appreciated by others, and some will reciprocate the kindness back to you.

Keep yawning: When I was in junior and senior high school I yawned dozens of time during virtually every period. I assumed it was because I was so tired, as evidenced by my sleeping through most of my classes. But Evolutionary Psychology reports that the reason we yawn is to cool the brain. The movement of the required facial muscles increases blood flow, which draws heat from the brain. Inhaling through your mouth to yawn brings cooler air into the lungs and lowers the temperature of blood in the brain by convection. Cooling your brain keeps you mentally alert (I wonder why it didn’t work for me.)

Do yoga if you have asthma: It was reported at an American Physiological Society meeting that doing 20 minutes of yoga, three times a week for six weeks improves breathing capacity, which, of course is great for asthmatics.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A cup of black tea really works wonders
Stress for Success
August 26, 2008

According to Psychology Today (October 2007) caffeinated tea is good for your health, because of the medicinal properties of flavonoids. Here’s how:
§ Green tea inhibits inflammation, bone erosion, and joint damage from rheumatoid arthritis. Its “EGCG” combats free-radical cell damage, activates a protein that protects healthy cells so is believed to fight cancer. EGCGs’ powerful anti-inflammatory properties may also treat inflammatory bowel disease. Green tea may also protect men’s livers from alcohol’s damaging effects. Finally, EGCG mitigates sunburn reaction, therefore protects against skin cancer.
§ Black tea seems to increase bone mineral density and reduce the risk of many cancers by acting as a Cox-2 inhibitor to suppress cancer cells. If you can drink five cups a day it also lowers total cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol. Black tea helps lower blood pressure and helps you recover from stressful events by reducing cortisol levels and diminishing blood platelet activation.
§ Drink both green and black tea: Catechins found in both teas, although more concentrated in green tea, protect against build-up of amyloid deposits implicated in Alzheimer’s and other age-related neurodegenerative diseases. Both also improve glucose tolerance in those with borderline diabetes. Because they’re rich in fluoride they protect against cavities even better than fluoride itself while strengthening teeth. Added to chewing gum, green tea extract protects gum tissue and stimulates salivary glands. Catechins also boost fat metabolism and calorie outlay, therefore are good for weight control.

Weight gain: Did you hear about Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego’s study that found obesity is contagious? 12,000 people were followed for more than 30 years. Researchers found that the chance of becoming obese was greatly increased if siblings or a spouse gained weight. Scientists theorized that people may become more accepting of fat if someone they respect gains weight. To fight the battle of the bulge, don’t allow others’ weight to determine yours.

Get enough sleep: research from Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley, kept adult volunteers awake for about 35 hours. They found through MRI scans that sleep deprivation impairs the rational prefrontal cortex’s control over the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center. Subjects became moody, understandably fatigued and had greater difficulty making logical decisions.

Breathe for relaxation (from Yoga instructor Shakta Kaur):
§ Blow your nose.
§ Sit in a comfortable, cross-legged position and close your eyes. Focus on the point between your eyebrows. Rest your left hand on your left knee.
§ Raise your right hand to your face with the palm facing left and pointing straight up.
§ Close your right nostril by pressing gently with your thumb. Inhale a long, deep breath through the left nostril and hold comfortably for 10 to 30 seconds.
§ Exhale through the left nostril and relax.
§ Do this for three minutes.

Always look for ways to improve your health and life. There are thousands of helpful tidbits of information around. All you have to do is look for and try the ones that are pertinent to you.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Try natural healing methods next time you reach for pill
Stress for Success
August 19, 20008

Americans are notorious for getting physicians to prescribe medications for virtually anything that ails them. Our pill-popping culture looks for the quick fix rather than natural healing.

I’ve consulted with nutritionist Dr. Ava Fluty, ND, Med., CNHP and Yoga therapist and RN Debbie Padnuk for advice on some natural approaches to common physical problems.

Dr. Fluty believes that digestion plays a major role in disease. When yours doesn’t function well you may want pills for indigestion, acid reflux or constipation. But by improving your digestion these disorders can resolve themselves.

The most important key to digestion is enzymes, which are extremely sensitive to heat. Cooking food at above 188 degrees destroys most of them. To get the benefits of food enzymes you must eat more raw foods. Avocados, papayas, pineapples, bananas, and mangos are all high in enzymes. Brussel sprouts are the richest source. Based on this, I’ve switched from my oat bran and blueberry muffins to a fruit smoothie for breakfast.
Someone with digestive problems may also experience constipation (low fiber and low water) and usually high cholesterol. Dr. Fluty recommends drinking more water, eating more fiber, and getting more exercise. If you consume fiber pills instead of eating vegetables she suggests that you consider the expense. You need 20 to 35 grams of fiber daily and fiber pills don’t contain much so you end up taking several, which is costly. Instead eat more:
§ Broccoli (one medium spear equals 5 grams of fiber)
§ Spinach (three cups equals 10 grams of fiber)
§ Asparagus, beans, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, garlic, kale, okra, and whole grains
§ Foods high in pectin like apples, carrots, beets, bananas, cabbage and citrus fruits

Even though recent studies have downplayed drinking eight glasses of water daily, if you’re regularly constipated you almost certainly need more water. Instead of taking a stool softener, drink a couple of glasses of water around the time you normally have a bowel movement for a better and natural way to “get you moving.”

Now let’s consider advice from Debbie Padnuk about headaches, shoulder and neck pain, and constipation.

If you have headaches or neck and shoulder pain, focus on how you breathe. Soft belly breathing, slow and unforced breathing focusing on extending your belly as you inhale and contracting it as you exhale, helps use the muscles intended for breathing more efficiently and avoids overusing the neck and shoulder muscles that increase tension. Soft belly breathing is also useful for digestive health by increasing blood flow and energy to abdominal organs.

To relieve constipation try the yoga “wind-relieving pose!” Lie on the floor with one leg extended, and the other knee in toward your chest. Hold and take four to five slow, deep breaths. Repeat on the other side. This is also great for relief of tightness in the lower back.

Effective natural healing methods are less expensive and have no side effects. Also importantly, they increase personal control, which automatically lowers general stress; something that pill-popping simply can’t do.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Assert yourself when faced with harassment by co-worker
Stress for Success
August 12, 2008

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten,” is a great quote from the book “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” by Dr. Susan Jeffers.

For example, if you’re repeatedly on the receiving end of harassment or bullying and do nothing to stop it, you’ll get more of it. If you want it to cease you must change your reaction by asserting yourself with your harasser or reporting the behavior to your supervisor.

Another great quote is, “I train people how to treat me.” By doing nothing about the inappropriate behavior you’re actually encouraging it. Your passive reaction makes you complicit while you train the other person to harass you.

Nobody needs to tolerate abuse in the workplace today. There are laws to protect you in not only reporting harassment but also to protect you from retaliation as a result. (Although, you’ve heard of whistle blowers who are supposed to be protected from reprisal and aren’t.)

Retaliation is adverse treatment that occurs because someone opposes unlawful workplace harassment. (Protection from bullying, however, isn’t covered by anti-harassment law.) Examples include being assigned to a lesser position or less desirable work, not invited to meetings or not included in discussions pertinent to your job responsibilities.

Even though filing a harassment complaint is protected by law and you should follow your organization’s policy, consider first addressing your harasser. This isn’t always advisable but is generally less stressful than going through the complaint process. Learn to stand up to the harasser and nip the objectionable behavior in the bud. Don’t put up with it time and again.

Follow these assertive rules to make confronting the harasser more successful:
When speaking to the harasser, speak for yourself only. Avoid saying, “We’re all tired of your behavior.” Assertively confront the person on what she specifically did to you personally.
Use preventive assertion: speak to the harasser when no problems are occurring right now. Say something to prevent her from repeating her offensive behavior.
Use an “understanding assertion.” This gives the harasser the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he honestly doesn’t know that his behavior is offensive. To help minimize his defensiveness before describing his offensive behavior begin with:
“You may be unaware that …” Or,
“I’m sure you mean no harm, but …”
To request that he stop the offensive behavior, use the “behavior - feeling - request” formula.
o “When you call me ‘babe’ (behavior), I feel angry (feeling). Please don’t do that (request).”
o “When you tell dirty jokes (behavior), I feel uncomfortable (feeling). Stop doing this (request).”

It’s also very import to document everything that happens in case you decide to file a complaint later. Be specific about:
What was said/done by whom toward whom?
When did it happen?
What was your response?
Who else witnessed each event?

Train others to treat you with respect and give yourself greater control in these stressful and abusive situations.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Sexual harassment and bullying cause stress in the workplace
Stress for Success
August 5, 2008

If you’re over 50, you can remember when sexual harassment wasn’t even a term. Workplace “shenanigans” ran the gamut from funny to felonious. Once made illegal through Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 confusion about what constituted sexual harassment reigned partly because women and men perceive “joking” so differently causing distress for some.

For example, a male colleague gained a noticeable amount of weight and his co-workers teased him by saying, “Hey buddy how about another cheeseburger?” Women in the same circumstance might say to their female coworker, “You look great,” while talking about her weight gain behind her back.

This example doesn’t judge right or wrong. It just spotlights a gender difference. And when teasing takes on a sexual note, watch out!

There’s still confusion about what’s off limits in today’s workplace. But, as I have covered in past weeks, once employees understand what the law says it becomes much easier to discern if their own behavior crosses that shifting line.

Sexual harassment means unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when it explicitly or implicitly affects:
§ An individual’s employment including raises, promotions, reprimands, etc.
§ Unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance
§ Creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment

The law applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

Consider that:
§ The target and harasser can be male or female and don’t have to be of the opposite sex.
§ The harasser can be the target’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a coworker, the employer’s agent, or a non-employee. When the harasser has authority over the target it’s called “quid pro quo” sexual harassment and the law takes it more seriously. When the harasser doesn’t have greater authority it’s considered “hostile work environment” sexual harassment.
§ The victim doesn’t have to be the person actually being harassed but could be anyone, an observer, offended by the conduct.
§ The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.

Sexual harassment is a crime that’s about power and control. So it makes sense that as women gain greater professional authority complaints against them will increase. In 2007, a record number, nearly 16% of documented cases, were filed by men, a number that has almost doubled in a decade.

Workplace bullying, such as ostracizing coworkers, spreading gossip, and insulting people about their job performance or private life, is even more stressful and prevalent than sexual harassment and not covered by anti-harassment laws. Targets of bullying feel angrier, more stressed, and are more likely to quit their job. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), 37% of US employees have been bullied at work verses eight to 10% who’ve been sexually harassed. Psychologist Gary Namie, director of WBI, thinks the lack of legal consequences is one reason. “Bullying situations are (also) minimized as mere personality conflicts,” Namie adds.

Next week we’ll look at how you can reduce your stress by taking control when you’re the target of harassment or bullying.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Unwelcome behavior that’s impactful, abusive is grounds for termination
Stress for Success
July 29, 2008

Sam has been telling off-color jokes for decades. His colleagues have always laughed at them -- until recently when one complained to his boss. Apparently, the colleague, who’d always laughed at Sam’s jokes in the past, has a daughter who recently married someone of the race about whom the joke was told. Sam was informed by his boss that if it ever happened again he’d lose his job.

Sam now needs to understand the anti-discrimination law to avoid future complaints. Last week I covered two components of it:
§ The “harasser” must be exhibiting a behavior, not just an attitude. “He intimidated me,” isn’t a behavior but rather an opinion. “He blocked my attempt to leave,” is a behavior.
§ The behavior must be unwelcome by either the target or an observer.

Here’s what the rest of the law says.

Protected groups: The unwelcome behavior must be aimed at a person because they’re a member of a protected group (age, color, disability, gender, religion, national origin, and race.) For example, employees obstructed a disabled coworker’s parking space, which could be considered harassment if they did it because she’s disabled. If they blocked another’s parking space but not because they were a member of a protected group it may be disrespectful but not legally considered workplace harassment.

Hostile or abusive: Another requirement is that both the target of the unwelcome behavior and a reasonable person must perceive the conduct to be hostile or abusive. The reasonable person standard was included in the law to compensate for the fact that not everyone interprets behaviors the same way. The courts created this standard against which to evaluate unwelcome behavior.

For example, an adult woman and man, whose families are personal friends, greet each other in front of their workplace with a friendly (versus a sexual) hug. Would a reasonable person consider this to be offensive, unwelcome, hostile or abusive? Probably not so it wouldn’t be judged illegal harassment.

Also considered is the severity and pervasiveness of the offensive behavior. Unless one-time unwelcome behavior is sufficiently severe, it must be pervasive or repetitive to qualify as workplace harassment.

Is the following unwelcome behavior severe or frequent enough to be considered harassment?
§ Arthur got drunk at a professional social gathering and made a pass at Tanya. The next day he apologized to her. He told her he was very embarrassed that he got so drunk and that his behavior was so disrespectful. From then on, he treats her courteously and respectfully.

Arthurs’s behavior probably isn’t enough to qualify as harassment unless he repeats it.

Intent vs. impact: Finally, the law doesn’t care about the “harasser’s” intent but rather the impact his/her behavior has on the target and his/her workplace. Regardless of intent, the behavior will be judged on its impact upon the work environment. “I didn’t mean anything by it” isn’t a valid defense.

Be forewarned and think before you act.

Next week we’ll look at bullying, which is pervasive but not covered under anti-harassment legislation, and sexual harassment.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Know meaning of harassment in your working environment
Stress for Success
July 22, 2008

One person’s joke is another’s insult. Where I see harassment you see teasing. So where’s the line between legal and illegal workplace behavior?

It’s difficult to know because much harassment is in the mind of the beholder, putting organizations at risk in our litigious society. What your employees don’t know can hurt you so it pays to educate them to know where that line is, especially during heightened stress when complaints of harassment increase.

The world renowned anthropologist, Margaret Meade, best explained the confusion over what constitutes illegal harassment. She found that in all societies she studied that experienced significant social change each created new taboos to discourage once acceptable behaviors. And who could argue that America hasn’t experienced huge social changes in recent decades? We prohibited newly determined unacceptable behaviors into anti-discrimination laws.

But what is harassment?

The dictionary definition is "to disturb, torment or pester on a persistent basis." By this definition, we’ve probably all harassed someone (just ask younger siblings). If you’re truly joking in a good natured way and someone who’s offended asks you to stop, you’ll likely stop because your aim isn’t to disturb. Those who continue intend to harass.

To clarify what illegal harassment is let’s break down the law, which states:
Unwelcome or unsolicited speech or conduct based upon race, sex, religion, national origin, age, color or handicap that creates a hostile work environment or circumstances involving quid pro quo.

“Speech or conduct” means that what’s offensive must be a behavior versus an attitude or opinion. For example, “she’s creepy” is an opinion not a behavior. Identify specifically what she’s doing behaviorally that you perceive as creepy. Is she staring? Using threatening words? Behavior can be caught on videotape. “Creepy” cannot be but what she’s doing that leads you to label it as creepy can be.

The offensive behavior must also be unwelcome by the target OR by observers! Even if the target of the behavior is comfortable with it you may have customers or others who are offended. This throws the door wide open for complaints!

Requiring that the behavior is unwelcome puts some responsibility on the offended person to tell the “harasser” that his/her behavior is offensive. (The more serious the behavior the less responsibility the law puts on the target to report it. The less serious the behavior the greater is the expectation that the target says something directly to the harasser or to a supervisor.)

For instance, let’s say that you’ve told a racist joke over the telephone. A coworker in an adjacent cubicle overhears you and is offended. The aggrieved would be more expected to directly confront you or report the joke to management. This one incident alone may not be sufficient to qualify as workplace harassment, but once you’re told that the joke was offensive, the next racist joke you tell at work becomes illegal.

Next week I’ll describe other provisions of the law. In the mean time, think before you speak or act. And be aware of who’s around you.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Harassment reports on rise at workplace
Stress for Success
July 15, 2008

Jake (not his real name) realizes that he can be aggressive and overbearing at times. He admirably works at calming himself before interacting with those who easily push his buttons. However, he’s not aware that when he’s stressed he automatically reverts to his natural tendencies -- aggressive behavior. (This is true of everyone.)

HR directors tell me that in times of heightened stress, such as exists today, both those who are likely to harass others are more likely to do so, and those who are more “sensitive” to disagreeable behavior are more likely to perceive it as intentional harassment. This becomes a headache for HR departments because even a verbal complaint about harassment (versus a formal one) can mean many, many hours of investigative work to discern if the objectionable behavior constitutes either workplace or sexual harassment.

Everyone has enough work stress the way it is; we certainly don’t need the additional stress of harassment.

And harassment complaints are increasing. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) fiscal year 2007 data, allegations of discrimination based on race, retaliation, and sex (which includes not only sexual harassment but also, for example, pregnancy discrimination) were the most frequently filed charges (followed by age, disability, country of origin, and religion.) Additionally there were double-digit increases from the prior year (race up 12%, the highest since 1994, retaliation up 18%, the highest since 1992, sex/gender up 7%, the highest since 2002.) These increases may be due to a greater awareness of the law, changing economic conditions (read stress), and increased diversity and demographic shifts in the labor force.

In 2007 the EEOC received 12,510 charges of sexual harassment, 16% of which were filed by males. The vast majority of these were settled and almost $50 million was recovered for those pressing charges (this doesn’t include litigation cases.)

The EEOC also received over 82,000 private-sector job discrimination charges in 2007, the highest number since 2002. They recovered $345 million in monetary relief for job bias victims. The agency also negotiated nonmonetary relief such as employer training (thanks for keeping me busy), policy implementation, reasonable accommodations, and other measures to promote discrimination free workplaces (www.eeoc.gov.) Workplace harassment is expensive and stressful.

“Corporate America needs to do a better job of proactively preventing discrimination in addressing complaints promptly and effectively,” said commission chair Naomi C. Earp. “To ensure that equality of opportunity becomes a reality in the 21st century workplace employers need to place a premium on fostering an inclusive and discrimination-free workplace for all individuals.”

I’m often called into workplaces where a harassment complaint has either been expressed or filed or to proactively avoid future problems. Since much harassment is in the eye of the beholder, there’s a lot of confusion about what actually is and is not legal harassment. However, it’s fairly easy to educate employees regarding what is and is not acceptable behavior in today’s workplace.

In following articles I’ll address how to tell if someone’s behavior is “harassment” and what drives true harassment behaviors.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

When change comes, be part of the solution
Stress for Success
July 8, 2008

Job loss among government employees, construction workers, real estate personnel and others due to the real estate slump and Amendment One is creating untold numbers of stressed out families. Losing your livelihood is a hugely stressful change.

And today change happens faster and faster. Just like people anticipating a hurricane, some spend their energy freaking out while others busily go about preparing, so too, do those worried about losing their jobs respond differently. Some responses minimize the problem while others exacerbate it.

It’s perfectly normal to “freak out” over the unknown. There are four emotional stages in reacting to your change you’ll need to move through:
Stage one: emotions from anger to fear, resignation to excitement
You need training, support, to talk with others who’ve experienced the same change, an empathic listener, and an understanding of the “why” of the change.
Stage two: denial
You need greater awareness of the change, to ask questions about it, identify where you can increase your control.
Stage three: overt or covert resistance (more missed deadlines, absenteeism, etc.)
You need conscious awareness of your resistance, of the possibilities of the change and of your options in dealing with them
Stage four: acceptance and adaptation, seeing the opportunities inherent in the change and looking for ways to take advantage of them
You need problem-solving and goal setting

Making a conscious decision to be part of the solution versus part of the problem helps to move through these stages more quickly. Problem-behaviors that perpetuate resistance include:
Excessive blaming and complaining about the changes
Sabotaging those whom you hold responsible
The overt/covert resistance listed above
Customer service slips

Solution-oriented behaviors include:
Avoiding all of the above
Looking for ways to make changes work
Continued exceptional customer service
Being friendly and positive

A technique to move from being a part of the problem to the solution is found in Mark Sanborn’s “Mastering Change” videos. He uses the Chinese idiogram for “crisis,” which has two symbols, one for danger and one for opportunity. Regarding your change, identify the potential dangers and opportunities of it. Then develop a strategy to avoid those dangers and to take advantage of the opportunities.

For example, if three of 10 people in your office will lose their jobs the dangers include:
You’ll lose your job.
Strategy: update your resume, network more in the community, do Internet job searches, consider another career, get additional education, cut your spending, etc.

A possible opportunity:
Make yourself so valuable you’d be the last to be laid off
Strategy: be easy to work with, identify job priorities and offer suggestions regarding what could be left undone and how to streamline what’s left, identify gaps in service due to layoffs and propose ways to close them, etc.

To cope better with your change put your energy into problem-solving versus problem-perpetuating. It’ll lower your stress and get you through these difficult times better.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Stress for Success
July 1, 2008, Week 216
July 1, 2008

Freedom means different things to different people

Does living with relative political freedom reduce our stress?

Since the perception of control in one’s life reduces overall stress, it stands to reason that living in a country with great freedoms (control) would lessen stress, too.

For example, unlike some countries, we have the freedom to move to any city whenever we wish. Imagine if you couldn’t find work where you lived and your government wouldn’t allow you to move to another more economically promising area. This could lead to the opposite of control – helplessness, which is far more stressful. So, those who’ve lost jobs recently can at least exercise control by relocating.

For every freedom there’s also a corresponding responsibility. If you’re not willing to take responsibility for your choices then freedom can be very taxing.

Staying with the above example of moving to find employment, it would be your responsibility to do research before packing up your family for parts unknown. What are employment prospects in this new location? Is the housing affordable? What about schools for your kids? There are many questions needing answers to support a responsible choice. Those who do their due diligence would likely make a better decision thus have less stress. Those who don’t could add more anxiety to their families even though they are exercising greater control. (FYI: research places to move at http://www.who, “place finder”.)

For each freedom and its corresponding responsibility there are, of course, consequences, positive or negative. The person who does thorough research before moving to a new area is likely to experience a better outcome (consequence) than one who plows ahead without thought and ends up in an unfriendly work environment once again.

So political freedom should reduce all societies’ stress, right? Not necessarily.

There are cultures in this world, it’s argued, that aren’t ready for significant autonomy because they’ve lived most of their history without it. Some say that Russia is such a country since its masses were serfs before the communists took over. Perhaps this explains why the Russian people hold former President Vladimir Putin in such high regard, even though he diminished rights so recently won. It seems some populations prefer a more authoritarian government.

So freedom is defined differently by different people. Who’s to say one size should fit all?

This week we celebrate our version of freedom. Personally, I’d have our liberty no other way. I’m happy to have greater control over my life and very willing to accept the responsibilities of my choices and their consequences. Freedom from (too much) government interference makes us Americans, I believe, stronger and able to cope better with the massive changes taking place around us, like economic downturns. It may be difficult but we seem to recover more quickly from financial dislocation than even our European counterparts, who are more subsidized (more controlled?) by their governments through higher taxes.

So enjoy this July 4 weekend. Exercise your freedom -- or not, enjoy what it represents -- or not, overindulge -- or not. It’s your choice. Isn’t it great?

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at http://www.jackieferguson.com/ with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Stop your brain’s emotional pinball game to reduce financial anxiety
Stress for Succes
June 24, 2008

If you’ve been historically financially sound but are now experiencing economic anxiety, not only are you stressed because your security is threatened but also because things have changed

All change equals stress, even good change. It stretches your comfort zone, putting you into unfamiliar territory creating the feeling of being out of control. When faced with change it feels safer to cling to the familiar.

You can get through any difficult situation in better stress shape by learning to cope with your shifting landscape. In my program, “Coping at the Speed of Change,” my purpose is to show people how to redirect their resistance-to-change energy into problem-solving energy.

When excessively stressed, like when losing your job or home, your stress emotions of anger/fear are triggered more intensely and cloud your ability to think clearly to solve your stressor. It’s perfectly normal. The original intent of these emotions was to motivate you to take positive action. So, after investing in problem solving if your emotional energy is still like a “chemical pinball game in the brain areas that are engaged in emotions,” as Dr. Nick Hall would say, it’s time to redirect your stress energy and slow down this emotional ricocheting.

For example, if you and I are in similar financial straits, and you’re better at not blowing things out of proportion, you’ll be more alert to problem-solving options. Because I’m more stressed I’m probably digging in my heels resisting what’s going on around me. My energy goes more into finding reasons to justify my resistance like, “Management’s always looking for ways to get rid of me,” than focusing on problem solving.

Here are two ideas that can help you move from the emotional part of your brain to the more rational problem solving part:
Dr. Hall advises you finish off “I am glad …” three times in the context of what’s upsetting you. When your financial stress is sending you into the stress stratosphere, fill this in three times: “I am glad that I still have a job.” “I am glad my spouse also brings home a paycheck.” “I am glad I have always landed on my feet historically.” This should subdue your emotions, which allows you to move into the rational thinking part of your brain.
Stop blaming and complaining about what’s going on and instead force yourself to answer, “What are my options?” Ongoing blaming and complaining are red flags that you’re becoming a victim to whomever you’re blaming and whatever you’re complaining about. Victims generally see no way out of their predicament other than for someone else to change. But, to get yourself out of your financial pickle you need to take appropriate action. All that blaming and complaining do is keep your chemical pinball game going. Substitute any excessive blaming and complaining with identifying your options in dealing with your stress.

Learning to redirect your emotional stress energy and the emotional subsequent pinball game it creates will lower your financial anxiety and help you move beyond it more quickly.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Worrying about finances can keep you awake at night
Stress for Success
May 27, 2008

Financial anxiety is at or near the top of what stresses most because it’s your security – your survival – that’s threatened. You probably obsessively worry about it, lose a lot of sleep over it, or escape your financial reality through increased use of alcohol or drugs.

In recent weeks I’ve addressed lowering this stress by setting up and living within a budget, following money-saving ideas, and setting up an emergency fund. All of these suggestions can lower financial anxiety. But how can you deal with that minute to minute fear that you experience?

All stress, financial or otherwise, begins and ends with what you say to yourself about it. So if constantly worrying about finances keeps you from sleeping well, it’s your worried self-talk (your beliefs) that’s keeping you awake. To minimize this moment-to-moment stress listen to what you’re thinking, challenge it when it’s anger/fear-based, and ultimately change it to lower your stress.

Anger /fear-based self-talk simply indicates that you’re anxious. These survival emotions are intended to motivate you to take positive action to solve whatever is triggering them. Along with taking the necessary action to handle your money problems, challenge the following thought patterns:
Catastrophizing includes rigid words like, “always, never, no one, everyone, etc.” E.g., “I’ll always be alone in trying to keep my head above water!” Whenever you use “always,” stop and challenge yourself by finding evidence that it’s an exaggeration. Will you never in your entire future find a mate to share life and finances with? Your perception becomes your reality. So assuming you’ll never find a mate probably makes it more likely.
Pessimistic thinking suggests that your present financial situation is:
ongoing; it’ll never end versus it’s a temporary setback
affecting every aspect of your life including your family and professional life, not just your financial life
completely your fault

Pessimism can be more realistic than optimism, however, it depresses, therefore stresses you, keeping you from seeing stress reducing options.

Challenge pessimistic interpretations. For example, “I’ll never get out of this hole I’ve dug for myself. I’m such a loser.” Will you really go to your grave in this same financial hole? “I’m such a loser,” suggests that it’s not just in finances that you’re a loser but in life in general. Instead, remind yourself of your success in other life areas.
§ Affirm how you need to be: Consistently replace rigid and pessimistic thinking with an affirmation stating how you need to be to get your financial house in order. “I’m frugal, financially responsible, and patient in getting out of debt.”

For survival reasons, the human mind tends to drift to the negative when not focused on something. Rein it in by staying occupied and consistently replacing stressful thinking with your affirmation. It won’t make money appear but it allows you to focus on resolving your financial woes.

This too shall pass so learn from past financial mistakes. When the good times roll again prepare for the inevitable slump that’s sure to follow.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.