Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Let go of need to control and you’ll let go of stress
Stress for Success
August 31, 2010

Believing you have insufficient control is one definition of stress, like the office worker whose knuckle cracking colleague drives her nuts or the parent who becomes angry over the children’s messy rooms.

The employee blames her colleague for keeping her from concentrating thereby assumes he’s causing her stress. The paradox is that the bulk of her stress is her fixation on wanting him to stop his irritating habit.

We all tend to want to control those who bother us. But that’s our stress. Get it? Instead, for example, the parents must stop wasting their time wishing their kids were tidier and change their approach. They could impose logical consequences if their rooms remain messy, which is within the parents’ control.

Given this, then, control freaks must live highly stressful lives! They often attempt to control people and situations that are inherently beyond their control, thus the paradox.

But we’re all control freaks one degree to another. Like passive people who loathe taking the initiative and exercise their control by associating with those who are more than happy to take charge.

Who’s your control freak? Someone who tells you how to live your life or spend your money? These unwanted authorities can be irritating to those on the receiving end if not downright intimidating.

Could these control freaks be acting out their own fear of the unknown, as Pasadena psychologist Ryan Howes contends? Their unsolicited advice is an attempt to combat their feelings of powerlessness like not being able to prevent an accident if the driver does something wrong. Psychologist Steven Reiss of Ohio State University says, “The backseat driver is an individual who has a strong need to feel influence, and they’re always looking for ways to express that need.”

Where does this need for control come from? “If you grew up in an environment that was kind of chaotic, it’s almost a defensive sort of reaction,” says Jerry Burger, Santa Clara University social psychologist. “We’ve seen this in homes where a parent has an alcohol problem, for example – those children develop a need for control themselves.”

Other control freaks can trace their tendency to a specific, traumatizing life event, like mine: eye surgery at the tender age of 2 ½ after which I was tied to the crib 24 hours a day minus the 15 minutes of relief when my parents were allowed to visit. At some level of awareness I made an unconscious decision to never be out of control again!

Decades ago I worked very hard to diminish my need to control others. What helped was accepting and acknowledging what’s within my control and what’s beyond. Everything about everybody - their personalities, tendencies, habits – are beyond my control. If I want a different outcome with someone I must change my approach. For example, I could assertively ask the person to change. Or I could tolerate what they’re doing. But if my goal in changing me is to get them to change I’m still barking up a stressful tree; more on this next week.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html. Email her to request she speak to your organization at jferg8@aol.com.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

We’re better off if doctors take care of themselves
Stress for Success
August 24, 2010

When treated by your physician, especially for something serious, you want her or him to be alert and functioning on all cylinders, right? But what if your doc is seriously stressed out and unlikely to take care of himself? Does that mean you’ll suffer, too?

The medical journal The Lancet reported, “The emotional well-being of doctors is a major index of the quality of the health-care system as a whole.” This is a bit scary since this is also a profession with higher suicide, burnout, alcohol and substance abuse rates. “The baseline physician is walking around fairly burned out,” says Professor Dan Shapiro, chair of the department of humanities at Penn State College of Medicine. “We teach doctors that they have to be self-denying.” Besides, stress management isn’t taught in med school because physician stress isn’t recognized.

Dr. Suzanne Koven in a Psychology Today article says that doctors have a plethora of career-specific stress to deny, which can and does work against good mental health, such as:
* Those who get into and through medical school are likely competitive and perfectionists.
* Expectations within the field include toughing it out during difficult professional situations like exhaustive surgeries or very long hours. Shockingly, “a large majority of doctors in residency training say that they’d keep working if they had vomited all night, saw blood in their urine, or experienced extreme anxiety.” On occasion ignoring symptoms may be harmless but as a lifestyle over the years a physician can find herself in dire, physical and emotional shape.
* Other strains include long hours, sleep deprivation, medical school debt that pushes them to work harder, fear of being sued and of not performing perfectly, endless paperwork, meetings, etc. All of which can create chronic stress making them vulnerable to illness and disease development. In one survey 20% of medical trainees rated their mental health as “fair to poor.”
* Many have enormous workloads with great responsibilities while not practicing good stress management nor eating healthfully.
* To make a living, they have to see more patients in less time, defeating the reason they came into medicine. They’re chronically rushed and probably not focusing on patients as carefully as they should. “They’re like air traffic controllers with too many planes in the air,” Shapiro says.
* Shapiro points out that 75% of American health-care dollars goes to treating chronic illnesses leaving docs spending significant time caring for people who remain ill. This must be very frustrating and a serious contributor to burnout.

For these and other reasons too many doctors are hesitant to seek medical and psychiatric care. Additionally, this is a profession that operates with an unspoken code of silence so physicians are unlikely to report colleagues with substance abuse or psychological problems so they go untreated.

It’s in all of our best interests if those who care for our medical needs take better care of themselves. Physicians with improved self-care and less stress make for better patient care and presumably healthier patients, too.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html. Email her to request she speak to your organization at jferg8@aol.com.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Passive-aggressive behavior can be difficult to handle
Stress for Success
August 17, 2010

Manipulative, passive-aggressive behavior is the most difficult and frustrating interpersonal problem for me because it’s so hidden, indirect and hurtful. Passive-aggressive behavior, including gossiping, is also the most destructive to the health of a relationship.

We all manipulate subconsciously or consciously at times. When you do so, be aware that you’re being unassertive and failing to speak directly and truthfully for whatever your reasons. It’s very stressful to be on the receiving end of this. Wouldn’t you rather upset co-workers talk to you directly versus gossip about you?

A key to understanding passive-aggressive behavior is to realize that it’s an attempt to get even with you, the aggressive part. It’s an indirect expression of anger or frustration. Apparently gossiping co-workers feel the need to discredit you and don’t have the courage to do it openly. Their method is passive.

If you’re chronically manipulated by someone, you’re almost certainly part of the problem. As in all relationships, it takes two to tango. To diminish others’ manipulation of you, take responsibility for your own complicity. Since you can’t make others change (be less manipulative) and since all you have true control over are your own choices, you must change your response --- or continue to dance the manipulative dance. How do you respond now and what could you do differently?

The main change you’ll need to make to extinguish or significantly diminish others’ attempts to manipulate you is to expose their attempts, which can feel very uncomfortable. For example, you could say a colleague who went behind your back.,

* “Jane, it’s my understanding that you’ve told others that I didn’t do my share of the work on this project. I’d appreciate it if when you have a problem with me that you bring your concern to me directly rather than to someone else. Then we can discuss it openly and resolve any misunderstandings.”

Expose hidden manipulation a time or two and she’ll be less likely to manipulate you in the future.

If the passive-aggressive person is a customer or a boss with whom you’d be unlikely to be so direct, here’s another idea. Your customer says,
* “Your employees were over yesterday and they actually did a good job!”

Doesn’t it sound like he’s really saying that they usually don’t do a good job? To clarify the customer’s hidden message you could say,
* “Dave, it sounds like what you’re really saying is that they usually don’t do a good job. Is that right?”

Whenever you expose manipulative behavior you’ll need to be prepared to deal with what the person has to say. If he admits that, “no, they usually don’t do a good job,” you could address it by saying,
* “That’s unacceptable. Tell me what they need to do better.”

Passive-aggressive behavior is very difficult for most of us to handle well, especially when the relationship is one of love or of power. Learn to surface it in a non-defensive manner to create an opportunity to resolve any underlying issues. Then and only then can you know what you’re dealing with.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html. Email her to request she speak to your organization at jferg8@aol.com.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Spread the word: Productive gossiping a skill
Stress for Success
August 10, 2010

In the 1980s I read about and followed good office politics advice: listen to (virtually) all gossip but spread none. This kept me in the loop but not as a backbiter that “gossiping” implies. When you’re out of the loop - by choice or by exclusion - you miss out on valuable information needed to “play the game.” This includes greater awareness of your organization’s informal network, especially important in organizations that practice poor communication.

Because evolutionary psychologists believe gossiping is an innate human trait enhancing survival, consider it a social skill versus a personal weakness. And seek a balance. Avoiding all gossip because you believe it’s always destructive will isolate you. But blabbing everything to everyone is also undesirable. To balance gossiping:
* Know when to say nothing by;
* Asking if spreading the rumor will hurt your team;
* Avoid making yourself sound like the hero when you share information;

Consider these tips to benefit you and your team and lessen the damage:
* “The Local Media Rule” is a concept I use in harassment training but it also applies to whether to pass on gossip. If what you spread about someone were to show up in your local media or your company’s newsletter (not to mention Twitter or Facebook) would it embarrass you? If so, don’t spread it.
* Be tactful. Rather than saying, “Our new boss knows nothing about leadership,” you could say, “Our last boss was such a great leader,” implying that he was better than your present boss.
* Generate good will by passing on information that makes a colleague look good. “Chris worked over the weekend to save the account.” This reflects positively on you, too, especially when Chris hears about it.
* Defend your friends: A former, close colleague of mine reported that a mutual co-worker was calling me the “b” word for being assertive. (Back in the 1980s this was a common label applied to assertive women.) I asked if he stood up for me and he answered “no.” At no risk to him he could have said, “How do you see her as aggressive?” Or, “I find her to be assertive not aggressive.” The only way to diminish malicious, passive-aggressive gossip is to expose it. Then the gossiper will think twice about spreading hurtful opinions to at least you if not to everyone.
* Communicate openly with employees especially during heightened stress when they’re feeling less in control. Instead of trying to create a gossip-free workplace, which is probably impossible, talk directly with them and keep them posted on changes and challenges. Since gossip loves a vacuum don’t stick your head in the sand but be proactive in communicating what’s going on through regular emails and meetings.

You can decrease the negative impact of gossiping by following these simple rules. If you feel compelled, however, to spread trash at least be very careful about whom you tell. CYA, if you know what I mean.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html. Email her to request she speak to your organization at jferg8@aol.com.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Gossip can be good
Stress for Success
August 3, 2010

Is gossip among humans equivalent to grooming between primates?

Yes, according to psychologist Robin Dunbar of the University of Liverpool and author of “Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language.” He suggests that gossiping connects social groups together.

Since gossip is found in people of all ages, eras and societies, evolutionary psychologists believe it’s an innate human trait born out of our primitive past. It’s likely an evolutionary adaptation that allowed us to survive and flourish throughout the ages.

Here’s why.

Prehistoric humans lived primarily in small groups with everyone knowing everyone. They had few encounters with strangers. To survive, they cooperated with their “in-group” members against “out-groups” but also saw those in their in-group as their main competitors.

To deal with relationships successfully our ancestors had to have a strong interest in others’ private lives to accurately predict and influence their behavior (see where I’m going here?). Those who were the most successful at managing relationships became more attractive mates, thereby more likely to pass down their genes to us.

Our curiosity about others is, therefore, a survival skill used to this day and especially important given our regular interactions with strangers.

Gossip is used for a variety of reasons, some more adaptive than others. It can:
* Attempt to equalize power; like employees spreading rumors about a boss. Gossiping is called the weapon of the weak.
* Indicate a sign of deep trust, creating bonding through shared secrets. Sharing gossip indicates that you trust the person you tell that they won’t use it in any way against you. Those excluded from office gossip, for example, become outsiders not trusted or accepted by the group.
* Serve as a source of information for employees who otherwise aren’t getting any from management. When gossip is controlled, it can be a positive force in a group’s life.
* Be a way to learn the unwritten rules of social groups by communicating group customs and norms.
* Be an efficient way of reminding group members about the importance of the group’s values, therefore, it’s can be a method of punishing those who go astray.
* Be used as a dysfunctional strategy to increase one’s status at the expense of others. This distasteful side of gossip usually overshadows the productive ways it can unite people.
* Provide information about the activities of same-sex people close to your own age to whom you ought to pay special attention since they are your principal evolutionary competitors.
* Provide information about those who matter the most in your life like rivals, mates, relatives, colleagues, and those with power over you. Humans are most interested in information that can affect their social standing. Keen interest in negative news about high-status people and potential rivals can be exploited while negative information about those lower than us in status isn’t as useful.

It’s good to know that gossip is probably instinctual so we don’t have to always feel guilty when we indulge. Next week I’ll share some tips on successful gossiping.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html. Email her to request she speak to your organization at jferg8@aol.com.