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.