Saturday, January 6, 2007

STRENGTHENING EMPLOYEE AND EMPLOYER TIES

‘‘Never work just for money or power. They don’t save your soul or help you sleep at night.’’ —MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN 1 To thrive in these turbulent, changing times, both employees and employers need agendas that correspond to each other in realizing their mutual potential. This may be difficult, considering today’s economic realities. But, just ‘‘staying above water’’ does not assure companies will thrive in rapidly changing, technologically innova- tive marketplaces. To thrive, companies and their employees must continually adapt and resiliently search out the potential opportu- nities within ongoing changes. While employee and employer share the objective of avoiding the possible downward economic pressures inherent in changes, they may differ as to how to bring this about. Approaching changes by carving out new directions, and all that is involved in this, will consume the energy and focus of companies. But, in this attempt to thrive, a company needs its workforce to jump on board of its organizational initiatives for change. The best way for companies to accomplish this is by infusing their organizations’ procedures and policies with resiliency (see chapter 12). Here, we concern ourselves with how individuals can strengthen ties to their companies while at the same time thriving on change. Most employees try to carry out company policies and proce- dures. But they vary in their resilience to do so. When their resil- ience is high, employees readily endorse and adopt company changes. But, when their resilience is low, employees may only stay on board for the job security and income. A recent Gallup poll points to a dangerous situation concerning the U.S. workforce. The results show that 55 percent of the workforce are not engaged in their work, and another 19 percent are actively disengaged. Only 25 percent actually feel engaged. 2 Juxtapose these poll figures with the results of several other surveys showing that today’s employees value meaningful work and job satisfaction over income. 3 While income certainly pays the bills, it does not ‘‘save your soul or help you sleep at night.’’ Human beings need meaningful work to thrive. 4 When you like what you do each day, you are apt to draw on skills and talents that express your nature, even in doing the most seemingly unim- portant tasks. Human beings have the unique ability to utilize ac- tivities, like work, for creative expression and fulfillment of life purpose and meaning. Unfulfilling work stifles these human ca- pacities. One answer to the problem of feeling disengaged at work is to build up your individual hardiness. Hardiness will make you more resilient and more apt to find meaning in stressful changes and to derive benefits from these changes. 5 When you let circumstances deprive your life and work of meaning, you become depressed, angry, hopeless, and apathetic.
THREE WAYS TO FIND MEANING IN YOUR WORK
1. DEVELOP STRONG WORK RELATIONSHIPS. One opportu- nity to find meaning in what you do each day is to nurture your work relationships so that you feel socially satisfied as a member of a team. A strong work network buffers you against the more painful aspects of your daily work tasks. Think about your work experience. Did you ever stay long at a company in which you disliked coworkers and management? Were you more comfortable in jobs when you had strong work relationships? Employees’ complaints normally concern personal conflict with coworkers or a supervisor, not work-task problems. And, when employees sue their employers, it’s most often when they feel personally maltreated by coworkers or management. It’s amaz- ing how much stress a person can endure if it occurs in the context of a socially satisfying work environment. The quality of your work relationships strongly influences how meaningful work is to you. When you and your coworkers commit to supporting each other’s productivity and satisfaction, the work environment is a nicer place to be.
2. LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE. Seeing how your job fits into a larger organizational context provides another opportunity to find meaning in your work. If you learn more about your company’s various department functions and procedures, you connect more deeply to the company as a whole. You see your contributions to the workplace as more meaningful when you fully grasp the big picture through its parts. 6
3. EXAMINE YOUR OWN GOALS. Yet another way of finding more meaning in your work is to see how your job fits with your personal vision and purpose. Does your actual work task have rele- vance to your larger goals? A paycheck is meaningful to your survival, but it provides little more than support of your basic needs. If work satisfies you on a personal level, you are also more apt to see it as more meaningful.
RESILIENCE AND BELIEFS
Resiliency-boosting skills help you to make use of these three key ways of finding meaning in what you do each day. Many stressful changes and problems expose gaps in the core beliefs held by you, your coworkers, and your employer. The hardy coping and social support procedures we have presented can help you generate con- structive solutions that often bridge these gaps. Resilient employ- ees and employers call upon enduring beliefs and values to find meaning in hardship. 7 Employees and employers sharing a common ground in beliefs increases the overall company’s resilience in the face of change, as well as the resilience of the individual employees. Sharing be- liefs does not mean complete agreement on everything. It is about conflict-free ways of exploring similarities and differences. The hardy attitudes of commitment, control, and challenge will pro- vide the courage and motivation for this exploration. What is the challenge here? If you thirst for more meaning in your work, you need to: s Increase your connection to the workplace and its proce- dures, s Engage more deeply in work relationships, and s Heighten your awareness as to the ways in which your job adds to your personal vision and purpose. Through resiliency-boosting hardiness, you need to be open to exploring your beliefs, to see how they enhance or inhibit the problem-solving process, and to strengthen ties between you, your coworkers, and your employer. Some call this kind of challenge a ‘‘defining moment.’’ 8 CHRISTY’S DEFINING MOMENT Take Christy, for example. She is a customer service super- visor for a telecommunications company. Many see her as organized, practical, reserved, and in control. She jokingly calls herself the ‘‘nursemaid of whiners,’’ most of whom are her supervisees. Christy dreaded going to work each day because her work task predominantly involved ‘‘putting out fires.’’ She was tired of ‘‘codependent’’ supervisees who refused to do anything without her direction. Besides supervising, Christy participates in department performance reviews, and when requested, she has the ‘‘awful’’ job of terminating employees at her supervisor’s request. It’s the ‘‘messiest’’ part of her job, especially because of the company’s ‘‘heart- less’’ termination procedures. ‘‘I’m so tired at the end of the day, I can’t muster up the energy to read or learn something new,’’ she complained to us. Over time, Christy’s distress undermined her perform- ance, health, and morale. The job compromised what she regarded as her core values of integrity, responsibility, citi- zenship, cooperation, and self-development. At first look, one might think Christy’s humanistic values, talents, and skills match up nicely with customer service work tasks. If her work environment was cooperative rather than aggres- sive, this might be true. But, she didn’t see the workplace that way at all. When Christy came to us for hardiness training, she was unenthusiastic about life, stuck in a rut, yet, to her credit, still motivated to understand this conflict more clearly. The following are Christy’s actual responses to our questions: 1. What is the most stressful work conflict that is bothering you? ‘‘Our company is just about to undergo another round of layoffs. As part of my job, I terminate employees who are my subordinates. When there’s a layoff, I end the day so fatigued that when I get home, I eat and go immediately to bed. That way, I don’t have to think about it until the next day. ‘‘I brace myself two weeks prior to company layoffs. I’m so anxious, I can think of nothing else. At these times, I feel so ineffective. Other supervisors seem to do it easily. My boss’s attitude about most things is to get

PRACTICING SOCIALLY SUPPORTIVE INTERACTIONS

You support people in a resilient way by creating relationships that are effective, satisfying, and intimate. You can accomplish this even when the relationship involves healthy goal-striving or mentoring. In consistent patterns of destructive competition and overprotec- tion, however, supportive connections break down. This under- mines all parties, and if unchanged through supportive actions like assistance and encouragement, relationships take a downward turn. Forming supportive work relationships is more doable than it may sound, and the effort is more than worth it. Resiliency is positively connected to employee and employer effectiveness through its link to citizenship behavior. 1 Let’s start by considering what makes someone a ‘‘significant other.’’ At work, your significant others are the people you interact with regularly in order to get tasks done. This certainly includes your team members, supervisors, and supervisees. Depending on the company organization, it may also include fellow committee members, consulting experts, and even peers, if you and they in- fluence each other. The defining characteristic of a significant relationship is that you and the person regularly influence each other’s performance effectiveness, self-worth, self-definition, and sense of common cause in the company. Outside of work, but often relevant to it, are your immediate family members, and even less immediate ones, if you interact with them regularly in a way that influences your functioning. Also relevant are your close friends and perhaps an occasional fellow member of organizations important to you, like religious congre- gations and community groups. Social relationships outside of work affect our performance and health. Therefore, we must con- sider our influence on the self-definition, worth, and performance of fellow coworkers, friends, and family, as well as their influences on us. You are definitely fortunate if you and your significant others are already exchanging assistance and encouragement, without any further effort on your part. But, if your relationships are char- acterized by competition or overprotection, you will have to initi- ate the steps toward resolving the existing conflicts. If you take the initiative, this greatly increases the probability that the other peo- ple will join in constructively. It does not help to point out insis- tently everything that other people are doing wrong, however valid this may seem. This kind of critical confrontation, even if accurate, will engender defensiveness in them, defensiveness that may actu- ally worsen the situation. Then, you will get into a never-ending spiral of stressful criticisms, without much good coming of it. Of course, someone can always decide to end the relationship. But, for coworkers this may have negative consequences and for family members, devastating ones. As we have said before, the form of assertiveness that is best for fostering trust, cooperation, respect, and closeness in relationships that are problematic is more unilat- eral disarmament than attack. In order to help you build resilience at work (and outside of work) through social support, we present here a three-step plan that encourages you to examine your relationships, to develop a way of solving the conflicts in these relationships, and to put your plan into action, one relationship at a time.
STEP ONE CREATE A SOCIAL INTERACTION MAP
Write down the names of all the individuals who, through the roles you play in each other’s lives, are important to you. Your map will certainly include your fellow employees with whom you must interact in order to get the company’s work done. It will also include your immediate family members. There may also be other people, such as friends and more-remote family members, on your map. Then, for each person on your list, indicate what it is that brings you into contact and what defines your relationship. You can do this by answering the following questions and specifying the connection between you as completely as you can. In answer- ing these questions, you are recording for yourself the degree to which the people on your list are significant to you. Identifying Significant Others in Your Life In the case of fellow employees: 1. Are you in the same team or department? 2. Is the person your supervisor? 3. Is the person your supervisee? 4. Does the person have a consulting function for you (such as legal or computer expert)? 5. Are there also more informal connections between you (such as sharing church membership or having regular lunches to- gether)? In the case of family members: 1. Is the person your spouse or child? 2. Is the person your parent or sibling? 3. Is the person a more distant relation, such as your uncle, aunt, or cousin? 4. Is the person related to you by blood? 5. Do you live in the same home as the person? 6. Do you meet with the person regularly? 7. Do you have only occasional contact, such as by telephone or at celebrations? In the case of friends or fellow members of organizations: 1. Is the relationship emotionally intimate? 2. Is the relationship physically intimate? 3. Do you interact with this person every day? 4. Do you interact with this person regularly, yet not every day? 5. Do you interact with this person only occasionally? 6. Do you interact with this person only sporadically? You now have the personal information to see just how close each person on your list comes to being a significant other in your life. As to fellow employees, if your job requires that you work together, they qualify as significant others. If you supplement work requirements with additional interaction, this intensifies the tie be- tween you. For family members and friends, if you live together, you qualify as significant others. Once again, if you supplement the living arrangements with regular, intimate interactions, this also intensifies the tie between you. Do Your Relationships Involve Conflict? How well our lives progress is importantly influenced by how sup- portive the ongoing relationships are with the people we are close to. Now that you have clearly identified these people, you are ready for an additional, important process of reflection. Specifi- cally, you need to recognize whether there is conflict in the rela- tionship between you and each of your significant others. Please be as discerning and honest as you can in answering the questions that follow, as your insights and conclusions are crucial in the attempt to improve your relationships. It will be helpful to you, in answering the questions, to keep in mind the insights and reflections you had while reading the examples of competition and overprotection included in chapter 9. Answer these specific ques- tions with regard to your interaction pattern with the significant people in your life. 1. Does the person compete with you on the tasks to be per- formed? 2. Do you compete with the person on the tasks to be per- formed? 3. Does the person compete with you in interactions with others? 4. Do you compete with the person in interactions with others? 5. Does the person overprotect you on the tasks to be per- formed? 6. Do you overprotect the person on the tasks to be performed? 7. Does the person overprotect you in interactions with others? 8. Do you overprotect the person in interactions with others? Answering these questions may be painful, especially when they show how you initiate interactions with the others. But, giv- ing your best effort in answering will help you understand the specifics of conflicts you may be having with these people. Most conflicts arise from competition or overprotection. So, your obser- vations here are a vital first step in the process of trying to resolve the conflicts. You will emerge from this first step as having identified which of your relationships are conflicted, and whether the conflicts are the result of something you are doing, of something the other per- son is doing, or of some mutual contribution.
STEP TWO SOLVING CONFLICTS THROUGH ASSISTANCE AND ENCOURAGEMENT
You are definitely fortunate if some of your relationships are with- out continuing conflict and already involve a pattern of giving and receiving assistance and encouragement. But, when competition or overprotection characterizes a relationship with a significant other, you will have to initiate the changes that lead to resolving the conflict and replacing it with assistance and encouragement. If you initiate in this way, it will greatly increase the probability that the other person will join in constructively. By now you have made a list of which of your relationships are mired in conflict. Select one of these relationships to work on in this second step. Some of our trainees prefer to choose a less cen- tral, less conflicted relationship, because that seems easier and per- mits greater concentration on the specifics of planning and taking needed actions. But, other trainees want to get going immediately on the most problematic and central relationships, the quicker to improve their life pattern. It’s up to you which relationship you work on first. And, of course, once you have successfully worked on the first conflicted relationship, you will be going on to the next, and the next, until your list is complete. Understanding Relationship Conflict Resolving relationship conflict involves talking honestly and fully about the problem, and trying to behave more constructively. In order to be able to talk honestly and fully, you must reflect on the contributions both parties make to the problem and the debilitat- ing effects of those contributions. To be really helpful to the other person in this process, you must look beyond the obvious, but do not do this with an ax to grind, even if you are feeling hurt and angry. As if this were not hard enough, we are also asking you to reflect on whether you have actually been the instigating problem in the relationship. For most of us, this is a very difficult thing to admit, but makes all the difference in whether or not you can improve the relationship. Answering the following questions will help you in this diffi- cult process: Question 1: Which of the following descriptions best characterizes your conflicted relationship? s Both you and the other person keep trying to compete with each other. Describe how this happens. In doing this, keep in mind all you have read up to this point on ways in which competition gets expressed in relationships. You may find it especially helpful to recall the discussion of Bill F., Julie W., and Jim T. in chapter 9. In being as honest as you can about yourself, recognize that in some relationships, it’s common for people to compete. s Both you and the other person keep trying to overprotect each other. Describe how this happens. Be as honest as you can, keeping in mind all you have read on overprotection. It may be helpful to recall the story of Amy in chapter 9. s The other person competes or overprotects, and you react defensively. Describe how this happens. In addition to detailing the other person’s destructive ways, make sure to include how your reactions may be further undermining the relation- ship. In particular, do you withdraw or express angry criti- cism? Both of these reactions have an undermining effect, however understandable they may have seemed to you. Withdrawal and criticism will only engender even more de- fensiveness in the other person and are therefore inconsistent with the significant nature of the relationship. s You compete or overprotect, and the other person reacts de- fensively. Describe how this happens. In addition to admit- ting your destructive ways, include how the other person’s reactions are further undermining the relationship. Does he or she withdraw or express angry criticism? Once again, both of these reactions just make matters worse. Question 2: In the conflicted relationship, what are the underlying feelings you and the other person are having? The clue here is to get behind whatever you or the other person are saying and doing in order to find the underlying feelings. Let’s talk about competition first. What are the feelings behind this? Down deep, people who characteristically compete with sig- nificant others almost always feel inadequate in some way, and therefore envious. It’s as if someone were saying, ‘‘Poor me, I’m not as capable (or as attractive) as he is.’’ But, instead of accepting and admitting that, he denies it and slips into envy and competi- tion. Blaming it on the other person, he’ll say, ‘‘Who does he think he is? I’ll show him who’s best.’’ If a significant other keeps com- peting with you, some of this must be going on. And, if you keep competing with him or her, you must be having these underlying feelings as well. Something surprisingly similar happens in the case of overpro- tection. Troubled by underlying feelings of personal inadequacy, the overprotective person covers up these feelings by acting as if the opposite were true. This takes the form of belittling the capabilities of significant others and taking on responsibility for ensur- ing their safety and success. It’s as if the overprotecting person were saying, ‘‘I’m not the inadequate one—she is. It’s my job, therefore, to protect her from harm.’’ If a significant other keeps overprotecting you, some of this must be going on. And, if you keep overprotecting her, you must be having these underlying feel- ings as well. Now, let’s focus on what it feels like to be on the receiving end of competition by a significant other. You don’t see yourself as expressing competitiveness, but being the recipient of it. In this case, you are likely to feel hurt. You may think, ‘‘Why am I being treated this way? We are obviously not as close and cooperative as I thought. It makes me really sad.’’ An aspect of this sense of hurt might even be to wonder whether you have done something or been weak in some way that encouraged the competition. ‘‘Maybe I’m just too naive and trusting,’’ you may wonder. But, feelings of hurt often give way quickly to anger. You may ask yourself, ‘‘Who does she think she is?’’ or ‘‘There’s no way she is going to get away with how I’m being treated.’’ The reactions of hurt and anger tend to go together. Once again, the feelings you have when someone is being over- protective of you are surprisingly similar to the feelings you have when someone is being competitive toward you. It is, of course, possible that you feel so overwhelmed and undermined that you welcome overprotection. More typically, however, when you inter- act with significant others, you expect some level of equality, or at least some recognition of it. When a significant other consistently overprotects you, it is likely to stimulate your feelings of hurt and anger. You may express such thoughts as, ‘‘Am I really as inade- quate as he thinks I am?’’ The anger inheres in such reflections as, ‘‘Who is he to lord it over me as if I can’t do anything successfully?’’ And, once again, the reactions of hurt and anger tend to go to- gether. It is important for you to be clear about the combination of feelings you and your significant other are having in the conflicted relationship that you want to improve. You both may be feeling anger, hurt, or personal unworthiness in various combinations and degrees, depending on whether you are the one being competitive or overprotective, or are on the receiving end of these behaviors, or something of both. Answering the next question will help you figure out how to express these feelings and address the feelings of your significant other in a manner that will help resolve the rela- tional conflict. Question 3: When you and your significant other are interacting and painful feelings are involved, what are the strengths and weak- nesses of your communication styles? The major difficulty with interactions that involve painful feel- ings is that we may act them out in ways that just make matters worse. Acting out these painful feelings is likely to lead to defen- siveness on the part of the other person, and before you know it, the relationship has deteriorated further. Let’s say you are angry at a competitive coworker and say, ‘‘Who do you think you are? I can’t even talk to you, because you always have to trump me.’’ The defensive response to this is likely to be something like, ‘‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t try to hurt you.’’ In return, you step up your anger, saying ‘‘You’re weaseling out of it. I don’t believe you didn’t know what you were doing.’’ Before you know it, the relationship will worsen, rather than improve. And, the scenario will be similar if you are the one being aggressively confronted by a significant other who feels you have competed incessantly with him or her. Let’s say you are being constantly overprotected by a family member and act out on your feelings of being seen as too inade- quate to survive well. You might say, ‘‘You must think I’m such a wimp. Why don’t you respect my capabilities? You’re not the only one who can do well.’’ Your family member may well respond defensively to this, saying, ‘‘Don’t you know how much I care about your well-being? I’m just trying to protect you. But, I guess you don’t see that.’’ And this ticks you off even more as you say, ‘‘I don’t need you to protect me. You must think you’re God Al- mighty.’’ This relationship is getting worse right before your eyes. And, the scenario is similar if you are the one being overprotective and are confronted aggressively by a family member. Communicating Constructively So, how is it possible to discuss conflicted interactions with a sig- nificant other in a way that can improve the relationship? Essen- tially, you must be aware of your feelings in the situation, but not act them out in a confrontational, critical manner. Instead, you need to talk about your painful feelings and those of your signifi- cant other, using that as a springboard to more constructive inter- action. How can you do this? Let’s say that your coworker has been competing with you. In talking with him about this, you may say, ‘‘I’ve been feeling sad lately about our relationship. I know you don’t mean to hurt me, but that’s what happens when it seems to me like you want to get ahead. Part of the reason I feel hurt is because our relationship is so important to me. I’d like us to work in cooperation for the good of us both and what we have to accomplish.’’ This form of communication is less likely to engender a defensive reaction from your coworker. Instead, he may say, ‘‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were feeling bad about working with me. I was just trying to do my best. Yes, let’s try to find a way to work together more.’’ A similar scenario may take place if it was you doing the com- peting, and your coworker wanted less conflict. If your coworker approached you in the way suggested above, you might also re- spond nondefensively. Something equally constructive could result if the problem is chronic overprotection. In talking with a family member who is overprotective, you can make it clear you know she is trying to help you and this help is appreciated, but that it is hard for you to make contributions under these circumstances. If this is not done in an angry, blaming fashion, it increases the likelihood that the family member will not become defensive. She may even apologize and agree to find a way to work more constructively together. And, of course, if you are the overprotective one and your family mem- ber approaches you in the same way, this leads to positive effects as long as you remain open. In coming up with your answer to Question 3, think through the specific feelings involved in the conflicted relationship you are working on and see if you can imagine having a calm, mutually appreciative discussion of the problem. Can you see yourself ap- proaching the significant other in the manner we have suggested here? If so, that may make all the difference in the world. For you and your significant other, it may pave the way for a pattern of giving and receiving assistance and encouragement. Building a Pattern of Encouragement and Assistance In order to be able to build two-way assistance and encouragement into a hitherto-conflicted relationship with a significant other, you must transcend your painful feelings of hurt, anger, and inade- quacy so that you can work on reaching potentials, rather than being bogged down in actualities. Initiating the constructive dia- logue emphasized above is a major step toward socially supportive interactions. Once that dialogue is underway, it is time for you to begin giving assistance and encouragement to your significant other. If this has to start as a sole contribution on your part, so be it. When the significant other receives assistance and encourage- ment from you, it will be hard for him or her not to give it back. Let us refresh your memory about the meaning of assistance and encouragement. To encourage significant others, you must first be empathetic toward them. This involves being able to put yourself in their shoes, to experience life and its stress the way they do. Empathy leads to being sympathetic, to wishing to facili- tate their struggles to meet goals, perform effectively, and feel fulfillment. The final aspect of encouragement is feeling and expressing confidence in, and admiration for, the significant others. In summary, when significant others experience stressful cir- cumstances, you appreciate their dilemmas, want the best for them, and believe in them enough to think they will be successful. As you can see, this is not at all the same as wanting to compete with them. Nor is it the same as overprotecting them, though the distinction here is more subtle. Overprotection means not wanting significant others to experi- ence any painful feelings or stressful circumstances, regardless of whether going through that process is inevitable in order for them to reach their goals and to develop. In contrast, encouragement is being supportive and facilitative, but accepting the life trajectory your significant others have chosen as important and worthwhile, and believing them capable of succeeding in it. We hope you see this difference, as it is very important. Assisting significant others is more concrete, but needs to build on your wish to encourage them. Specifically, in assisting, you are willing to do whatever you can to facilitate them in their efforts to cope effectively with the stressful circumstances they experience. There are three general ways of doing this: 1. One involves contributing your resources to facilitate the efforts being made by your significant others. If you have some knowledge or expertise that will help them, you give it will- ingly. If you have some contacts that can provide the knowl- edge or expertise that will help, you make them available. If you are a good sounding board, you offer that as a way to facilitate their planning. 2. Another way is by taking up the slack. If your significant oth- ers are preoccupied by their struggle to cope with stressful circumstances, you may temporarily take over some of their responsibilities that are not directly relevant to that particular struggle. 3. Related to this is yet another way of assisting significant oth- ers that gives them space they need if they are attempting to cope with stressful circumstances. Perhaps they are so over- whelmed that they are not giving you the usual level of atten- tion and interaction your relationship enjoys. You can assist them by simply accepting this temporary distance, without reacting negatively to it as unwarranted rejection. In summary, you can assist by making your expertise and con- tacts available, temporarily accepting uncharacteristic distance, and taking over nonessential tasks. You don’t want to make this assistance on your part a permanent feature of the relationship. Rather, it is a constructive response when your significant other is temporarily preoccupied with the struggle to cope with stressful changes. This assistance is not at all the same as being competitive. The distinction between assistance and overprotection is more subtle, but hardly unimportant. In assisting, you are not taking over the person’s tasks and efforts. Instead, you are facilitating his or her efforts. That person is still the decision maker and initiator with regard to the stressful circumstances that impinge and need resolu- tion. To be sure, our emphasis in the preceding paragraphs is for you and others to give unilateral assistance and encouragement. Some may feel like this is giving in. If you do this, however, with hardy attitudes, these interactions will strengthen you. Remember, by the time you give assistance and encouragement, you will al- ready have initiated a discussion of the relationship conflict and how it might be resolved. And, you will communicate that you will start giving assistance and encouragement, and hope, in turn, to receive it back. Under these circumstances, it is very difficult for someone profiting from assistance and encouragement not to give it back. The aim is to initiate the process of improving the relationship. With regard to this process, you must consider two key questions. Question 1: Specifically, how will you offer encouragement to your significant other? It is time to become more specific about the particular relation- ship you are trying to improve. In particular, how will you offer encouragement as your significant other attempts to struggle with stressful circumstances? Building on the insight you have gained through answering previous questions, you may well be able to sense the specifics of what it is like to be in the other person’s shoes. Elaborate this empathic observation for yourself. Once you feel what he or she must be feeling, use that as a basis for constructing a sympathetic communication. Be specific about what you will say that is sympa- thetic enough to convince the other person that you really sense what he or she is going through. Having gone that far, reflect on ways in which you consider the significant other capable and able to be effective. Further, what are the ways in which you admire him or her? In order to go through this process of reflection well, you will, of course, have to put the feelings of hurt and anger you were having behind you. Hopefully, you have accomplished this already in finding answers to previous questions in this social support process. Keep trying, as it is time now for you to find words that convey your support of and admi- ration for the significant other, even though your relationship has involved some conflict up to now. Question 2: Specifically, how will you offer assistance to your sig- nificant other? Here, too, your task is to become as specific as you can about particular ways in which you will offer assistance. Having identi- fied the steps your significant other is trying to take to cope with or solve the problems created by stressful circumstances, you need to ask yourself what you can do that will help him or her in this process. Remember the three aspects of assistance. Does it make sense to give the person some space? If so, then how? Perhaps you can encourage him or her not to attend the next routine department meeting or two in order to save time and en- ergy for the coping effort. Is it useful temporarily to take on some of his or her tasks that are less relevant to the stressful circumstance? If so, which tasks, and how will you perform them? Perhaps you can answer the per- son’s routine customer requests over the next few days, when the bulk of the effort to cope with the stressful change needs to take place. Are there specific resources you possess or that are available to you that would help the person’s efforts? If so, what are they and how can they be accessed? Perhaps you have dealt with this kind of stressor before and have accumulated knowledge of what tends to work, and what does not. Or, perhaps you have a friend in another company with this kind of information and can introduce your significant other to him or her.
STEP THREE CARRY OUT YOUR ACTION PLAN AND PAY ATTENTION TO THE FEEDBACK YOU GET
By now, you have done a lot of work leading up to an Action Plan aimed at increasing the social support in your conflicted relation- ship. Specifically, you have planned to start communicating in a way that transcends your painful feelings resulting from the con- flict and emphasizes how the relationship can improve. Further, you have planned how to communicate about and act on giving assistance and encouragement unilaterally, so that your significant other can better cope with the ongoing stressful circumstances. It is time, now, for you to be very specific about your plan and how you will carry it out. Question 1: What is the content of your Action Plan? You are ready now to write down the specifics of what you want to accomplish by communicating with your significant other about improving your relationship. As we have already covered, you want to flag the problems of your interaction pattern, and try to replace them with assistance and encouragement instead. You want to say that you will try to give assistance and encouragement whenever necessary, rather than insist that your significant other do that for you. These are the abstract goals you are trying to reach. But, what you need to specify here in order to make your Ac- tion Plan particularly relevant are the specifics of what you will try to communicate. What will determine these specifics is the partic- ular nature of the relationship that makes you significant for each other. For example, are you the supervisee, the supervisor, or are you a peer? Are you the person who has been competing or over- protecting, or is it the significant other? Such considerations will influence how you try to communicate about initiating improve- ments. The questions you have already answered in Step One of this chapter will certainly help you in identifying and working within the particular nature of your relationship as you communi- cate. Question 2: What are the logistics of your Action Plan? In formulating your Action Plan, make sure to include the lo- gistical opportunities and limitations imposed on your communi- cation by the particular nature of the relationship. Assuming that the other person is significant for you because you work together, you need to consider how the two of you are likely to be able to talk with each other. One convenient venue is to plan regular pri- vate meetings together, especially if it is group meetings that you are accustomed to. If meetings are not common, you can ask for them. Or, perhaps there are occasional, informal encounters, such as meetings in the lunchroom, that would be helpful. You are, of course, looking for venues that are private, given the nature of the communication you plan. Try to utilize regularly occurring meetings that are private enough to permit you to raise the topic of your relationship and how to improve it. If there are none, then try to find a way of initiating a meeting that is appropriate under your circumstances. In particular, your first meeting concerning how to improve the relationship needs to be private. After all, your significant other may be surprised by your expression of concern and wish to im- prove things. Once that meeting takes place, you can go ahead and take steps to give assistance and encouragement, assuming that he or she will recognize those efforts as what you said you were going to do. But, it is useful to arrange subsequent meetings from time to time so that you can get feedback on your initial efforts. These subsequent meetings will also have the effect, along with your ongoing efforts to help, of increasing the likelihood that your significant other will be reciprocating with assistance and encouragement for you. Remember, building resiliency through social support is a two-way street. Revising Your Action Plan The specifics of your Action Plan may need revision periodically. After all, the magnitude, frequency, and accumulation of stressful circumstances may change over time for you and your significant other. When your significant other is overwhelmed, you need to intensify your efforts toward assistance and encouragement. And, the same is true for him or her when you are overwhelmed. It is also true that some of your specific efforts to give assistance and encouragement may work better than others with this particular significant other. Your observations of this may help you to refine or modify your Action Plan to ensure it is working as well as pos- sible. Three Sources of Feedback on Social Support Remember the three sources of feedback to your transformational coping efforts (see chapter 7) that are important in building up your hardy attitudes? Well, the same three are relevant here in connection with your social support efforts. Specifically, there are observations (1) that you make of yourself, (2) that others make of you, and (3) that involve the intended effects of your efforts. Imagine how much better you will feel when you observe your- self actually taking steps to improve your problematic relationship with a significant other, not detaching or reacting out of anger and self-pity. You might say, ‘‘Is that me? I didn’t know I could do that. Maybe I can turn my life around more than I thought!’’ And, wouldn’t it be great if the people around you give you positive feedback on your efforts? They might say, ‘‘Boy, I didn’t think you had the guts to try to make these changes. We all gave up long ago, but now we think you may be on the right track.’’ Also important will be the feedback you get from the reactions of the significant other who is the object of your efforts. You will see that when you give the precious gifts of assistance and encour- agement, it is very hard for the other person not to value them and act similarly in return. Before you know it, you will have improved the relationship, and you will both be more effective on the tasks you work on together. Your significant other will be very apprecia- tive. And, you will turn to each other when you have need. All this positive feedback will deepen your hardy attitudes, making you more enthusiastic and forward-looking about your life, and more able to be courageous and motivated about finding fulfillment despite stressful circumstances. In short, you will be more resilient. Remember the two people we discussed at the be- ginning of chapter 9 who were suffering the debilitating effects of a lack of social support at work without even realizing it? Let’s revisit them here. DAVID G.: ‘‘I’M SO GLAD I FINALLY REALIZED THAT TEAM MEMBERS CAN ACTUALLY WORK TOGETHER.’’ Through his hardiness training, David began to realize that his anxiety and tension at work expressed the contradiction between the expectation that his team members would work together, and their insistent competitiveness with each other. Once he recognized this conflict, the training exercises helped him to consider what he might do to get his coworkers to work together. After careful deliberation, he came up with an Action Plan. The first step in David’s Action Plan involved taking the initiative in helping his coworkers to see their competitive ways and recognize how this undermined the effectiveness of the whole team. He raised this problem at lunches with the team members he thought would be most likely to re- spond positively. After they agreed with his analysis, he then took his message to the regularly scheduled team meetings. What he advocated was that the team as a whole would do better and reach its goals faster if everyone helped each other. And, this improvement in reaching work goals would make them all look good with the company, in addi- tion to helping them to feel safe in working together. The others generally reacted positively to his message, though it was initially hard for them to give up being wary of each other. The second step in David’s Action Plan was to start uni- laterally giving assistance and encouragement to team members. This was hard at first, as he felt especially vulner- able. But, before long, team members started trying to react in kind to him, to help with his work efforts. He kept mak- ing sure they all shared their observations of each other’s efforts, both in informal meetings and in regular team ses- sions. As time went on, not only did they all feel safer and closer with each other, but it became apparent to all in the company that the team was reaching its assigned goals faster and more effectively. And, of course, David has long since stopped feeling anxiety and tension, and instead is enthusiastic about and capable in his work. JANE W.: ‘‘MY BOSS MEANT WELL, BUT NEEDED TO LET ME DEVELOP MORE.’’ Hardiness training helped Jane realize that her feelings of boredom and stultification were primarily the result of her boss overprotecting her. He micromanaged to the point where all there was for her to do was follow directions rou- tinely. As a result, she felt irrelevant, and thought her career was going nowhere. But, as she analyzed the situation fur- ther, she realized that her boss meant well, though he was too worried and threatened about outcomes to give anyone else a chance to perform. With this important insight, her mood shifted from pain and anger toward him, to pity and concern for him. At this point, she was ready to formulate an Action Plan. The first step of Jane’s Action Plan involved talking with her boss about the problem. She invited him to lunch, and focused first on how hard it must be for him to shoulder the enormous pressure of the high goals imposed on his department by the company. She also hastened to assure him that she saw him as very capable, despite the pressure. He responded gratefully to her observations. Then, she let him know that she really wanted to help more than her role permitted, emphasizing that this not only would be advantageous to him, but would also give her a greater sense of purpose and commitment to the de- partment. She wondered whether he would feel OK about giving her a greater role in the work, so that they could both feel better. This was hard for him to hear, but he was impressed with her observations and initiative. They re- solved to have lunch on a regular basis, to discuss their interaction further. As the second step of her Action Plan, Jane began to give active encouragement and support to her boss. Soon, he was reacting positively toward her, almost as a friend. He opened up more and more about his worries at work, and this gave her an opportunity to give assistance, in the form of suggestions and commitments to take on various tasks. She was careful not to usurp his authority and judg- ment, so that he would not feel threatened. As time went on, he started giving her tasks to carry out without his manipulative control. Soon, he was giving her assistance and encouragement in carrying out these tasks. Their relationship improved greatly, she no longer felt stul- tified, and he saw her as a valuable colleague. Down the road, she actually got a promotion, which her boss sup- ported. Although this made her very happy, the one down- side of it was that they missed working together. SUMMARY So far, you have worked on improving one of the problematic rela- tionships on your list. Once you have begun to be successful in turning that first relationship around, pick another from your list and work on that as well, using the same tools presented in this chapter. And, as that second relationship begins to improve, add the third. Keep the processes going, until you improve the various conflicted relationships that you have with others. What a difference this will make in your life! As time goes on, you will feel more and more social support. This in turn will make it much easier to throw yourself into transformational coping, or solving the problems constituted by stressful changes you encoun- ter by turning them from potential disasters into opportunities. Soon, you will have all the courage and resiliency skills you need for success in the twenty-first century, a time of unprecedented change.

SOCIAL SUPPORT: GIVING AND RECEIVING ASSISTANCE AND ENCOURAGEMENT

‘‘We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.’’ —W. A. NANCE 1 So far we’ve mostly discussed how you can build resilience and coping skills from within. Now let’s turn to the importance of giv- ing and receiving social support—another key to resiliency. Think of the fellow employees with whom you interact on a daily basis. For that matter, think also of your family members, friends, and other people who matter to you. How would you like your rela- tionship to be with these people? Would you like to compete with them all the time? Suppose it’s a continual question of who gets ahead or falls behind, and that determines your worth. You can never let your guard down and relax, to say nothing of working cooperatively with them. They will trump you and never let you forget that you lost, if you let them. Would you like the people you work with and those who are so close to you to have this relentlessly competitive quality? If the pattern of competition were subtle and covert, would that make it any better? Although the person is significant in your life, you would never be able to trust him or her, because there might be a concealed plot to upstage you when you least expect it. And, you would feel as if you had to try to undermine the person before the person undermined you. If anything, subtle competi- tiveness undermines you more than competitiveness in its more obvious form. What follows are examples of two people who came to us for hardiness training, unaware of the debilitating lack of social sup- port present in their work situations. DAVID G. This young man could not understand why he became so tense every time he came to work. Upon entering the build- ing of his high-tech employer, he would become anxious, his heart would race, his stomach would rumble, and he would begin thinking how in the world he could get his work done well. His work team was composed of equally young employees, all of whom had extensive computer training and looked forward to distinguished, lucrative ca- reers. As he described the situation, it became clear that the team members, including him, did not really help each other accomplish the group’s goals. Covertly, each believed that if anyone was promoted, it should be him or her. This led each of them to try to undermine the others, sometimes subtly and sometimes not so subtly, even to the point of erasing each other’s work computer files. This was destruc- tive for both the employees and the company. What’s the worst that could happen if one of these team members helped, rather than tried to undermine the oth- ers? Someone else might get the promotion (though this is hardly a foregone conclusion). But, even if this happened, who would that promoted person turn to as a trusted asso- ciate? None other than the helpful team member, because of the assistance provided prior to the promotion. Competition among employees that decreases social support undermines everyone’s performance and health. 2 Interestingly, overprotection often produces similar results. Whenever there is a difficult situation, an overprotector will take it out of his coworkers’ hands and deal with it himself, instead of helping the others learn how to take the needed action. Although they may feel better in the short term be- cause the problem has been solved, they will never come to be effective themselves. Under such circumstances, it will be hard for them to build confidence in their ability to per- form well at work. Instead, they will feel increasingly de- pendent on the overprotector, all the while building up resentment toward him because they can’t get along with- out him. And, if you were the overprotective one, you would be encouraging those you protected to resent you because they couldn’t get along without you. JANE W. Jane considered herself just one of many accountants in a large manufacturing firm, but she could not understand why she felt bored by her job. As she described her work situation more completely, it became clear that her boss was an overprotective supervisor. He made all of the deci- sions, took on any complicated work himself, and left the routine stuff for the others, including Jane, to do. Jane described him as an admirable, hard-working, nurturing boss on the one hand. On the other hand, however, there was an accumulation of resentment underneath this admiration. Jane felt not only powerless, but also trivialized. Although she was al- ways getting praise and merit increases from the company, no one even knew her, and the years were going by without her position improving. Soon, she recognized that her over- protective boss was the reason for her dissatisfaction with her life.
BUILDING TWO-WAY SOCIAL SUPPORT
In contrast to the examples of David and Jane, you and those with whom you work closely need to deepen and treasure your ongoing relationships. You need to be able to count on each other in ad- dressing work situations, without having to wonder what you can expect. The way to do this is by entering into a pattern of interac- tion with them where assistance and encouragement are ex- changed and there is little competition or overprotection. This may seem hard. After all, each relationship has a history that may not easily lend itself to exchanging assistance and encour- agement. But, what needs to be done is actually easier than it might seem. All you need to do is take the first step in giving the other person assistance and encouragement. Then, it will be very difficult for the person not to follow suit. And, before you know it, the relationship will be more secure, satisfying, and lead to more effective job performance for you both. That is the way of social support and it helps build a foundation of resiliency. Specifically, what’s involved in the social support concept of encouraging and assisting someone who is struggling with stressful changes? One aspect of encouragement is empathy, which is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, feeling and thinking about the situation as she does. Empathy leads to another aspect of encouragement, namely, sympathy. Once you know how the other person is feeling and thinking, you know the pain she is experiencing. Expressing sympathy for this pain can actually help the other person tolerate it. Yet another aspect of encouragement is showing appreciation for the person, by communicating your faith in her ability to deal with the problems. One aspect of assistance involves taking up the slack, by tem- porarily helping with the other person’s responsibilities when pressures and unexpected changes overwhelm her. The second as- pect of assistance is giving the person some breathing room to deal with the mounting pressures. The final aspect of assistance in- volves offering your particular resources (such as relevant knowl- edge, expertise, or contacts) if that is what is needed to facilitate the person’s dealing effectively with the stressful changes. Taking the first steps in offering assistance and encouragement is what chapter 10 is about. Case Studies on Social Support Let’s turn first to some examples of specific ways in which relation- ships are commonly undermined by competition or overprotec- tion, making it more difficult to deal effectively with stressful changes. What follows is based on many years of coaching people on how to improve interactions with coworkers, family, and friends. BILL F.: ‘‘I DON’T HAVE STRESS, I ONLY GIVE IT!’’ Bill’s company sent him for hardiness training. A depart- ment head in a large financial firm, Bill had excellent worktask capabilities, the basis on which he might have ex- pected further promotions. His managerial skills, however, left much to be desired. His subordinates disliked working under his supervision, felt underappreciated and vulnera- ble, complained behind the scenes, and often transferred or left the company. His peers saw him as aloof and full of himself. His supervisors were understandably worried— hence, they called us in. As we talked with him about his work interactions, Bill stated the problem clearly by saying, ‘‘When someone doesn’t perform well, I lace into them. But, when someone does a good job, I don’t feel the need to reward them, be- cause they are just doing what they’re being paid for.’’ Later in our discussions, when we were trying to sympathize with him about the enormous stress he was under, he blurted out proudly, ‘‘I don’t have stress, I give it!’’ It was clear that, in Bill’s view, punishing subordinates and imposing unreachable goals on them is the best way to get them to perform well. And, he didn’t want to praise or otherwise reward them when they did a good job, for fear that they would then become complacent. More than Bill realized, he took a competitive stance toward his fellow employees. He believed they all wanted to avoid hard work, but that he could see through this and force good performances out of them. Clearly, he saw him- self as an inherently hard worker and excellent performer, whose job it was to keep the lazy, incapable ones in line. No wonder his subordinates distrusted him and wanted to work somewhere else. No wonder his managerial peers saw him as aloof and self-centered. Actually, Bill saw himself as clearly superior to his peers and more deserving of a promotion. In our continuing sessions, it became clear that Bill’s inability to deepen relationships with coworkers extended to his family. Seeing his wife and children as self-indulgent and impulsive, he treated them essentially the same way he did his employees. Soon, his wife, feeling increasingly desperate and on the verge of separating from him, came in for counseling. It was clearly very painful for her to be on the receiving end of Bill’s competitive interpersonal strat- egy. We tried to help his wife see how she could influence his behavior toward her and the children, without just es- caping. We encouraged and assisted her in unilaterally giv- ing him assistance and encouragement. Through our ongoing, insight-oriented coaching of Bill, he began to see that the consequences of his actions in the workplace and at home were just the opposite of what was needed to achieve success. Instead of bringing the best out of his subordinates at work, he was making them bitter, disloyal, and dissatisfied, leading them to cut corners and sabotage. At home, he was courting divorce. He realized that what he really needed to do was the very opposite of his interactional strategy. Specifically, he needed to compliment and reward peo- ple (rather than to ignore them) when they performed well and to help them (rather than to be critical and punitive) when their performance was not up to standard. The next step was for him to realize that, deep down, in his heart of hearts, he actually felt overwhelmed with stress and peril- ously weak, however much he professed the opposite. He desperately wanted the help of his subordinates and family members, and finally saw how he was paradoxically under- mining any chance of getting their help. He began to try to change, but it was too little, too late at that company. Unfortunately, he was fired. The upside of this, however, is that he made a new start at another com- pany, where he had no damaging legacy to overcome. In the new job, his interactions with other employees were much better, reflecting what he had learned in hardiness training and how he had changed. He was able to give assistance and encouragement for the first time in his life. His subordinates worked hard for him and were loyal, and his peers and supervisors admired him. In effect, he was get- ting assistance and encouragement back from all of them. Furthermore, he and his family are still together and are making progress toward more loving, constructive relation- ships. Now that you’ve read Bill’s story, we want you to think carefully about your own interactions with people at work. Do any of the people involved in these interactions treat you as though they believe you are not interested in, or capable of, performing well? If so, they probably feel over- whelmed themselves and are blind to their part in damag- ing the relationship. It would certainly be understandable for you to retaliate angrily, or withdraw, but neither ap- proach will improve the relationship. Fortunately, there is an alternative that may actually increase the closeness and comfort you feel toward coworkers. That alternative in- volves the exercises in chapter 10. JULIE W.: ‘‘I LOVE BEING THE CENTER OF ATTENTION.’’ Although attractive and capable, Julie was forever compar- ing herself to those around her. She was an administrative assistant in the billing department of a large manufacturing company. Whenever she encountered people who looked striking or had something memorable to say, Julie would find something about them to criticize behind their backs. According to her, they didn’t know as much as they thought they did, or they were just trying much too hard to impress people. If Julie and her peers in the company were working to- gether on a project, she would inevitably try to correct how they were performing, showing them her own, ostensibly better way. Usually, she would try to find what seemed a helpful way to change their actions but would become more strident if they did not acquiesce. These peers were simultaneously attracted to, and wary of, working with her. The problem would get exacerbated when there were dis- ruptive, stressful changes in work routine, brought about by such things as computer advances or new customer needs. At times like these, all the employees would be struggling to change what they had been doing in order to address the new problems. It was hard on all of them, and this was worsened by Julie’s even more strident insistence at those times that her way was the right way. In her midtwenties, Julie lived alone, having had several relationships with men break up because she felt they were not good enough for her. The women who became Julie’s friends were those who let her take the lead in whatever was going on. She decided what they would do, where they would go, what they would wear, and how it would turn out. Julie was the talker and the dresser among them, and they tended to lapse into passivity when she really got going. She liked to think of her tendency to dominate as a sign of her capability and leadership. But, when people would speak up, responding to something she said, Julie would just cut them off, continue talking as if she were the only person in the room, and fail to listen long enough to respond in a sensitive way. When she was with just one or two of her friends or coworkers, Julie would subtly criticize those who were not present. ‘‘Did you notice how Jean was dressed the other day? It didn’t seem so appropriate to what we were doing.’’ Or, ‘‘Don’t you wonder why Amanda is always letting the boss get the better of her? Maybe she just doesn’t think well of herself.’’ But, it wasn’t just one or two of her friends that Julie would criticize. Every one of them was fair game, as long as he or she were not present to hear it. However remarkable Julie’s presentation of herself ap- peared, many people steered clear of her. This troubled her, even though she tended to see it as their limitation, not hers. Men, in particular, would be initially attracted to her looks and spirit, but rarely stayed involved once they got to know her better. At the office, fellow employees tended not to befriend her and tried to get their work done without her insistent ‘‘help.’’ Actually, she came to us for hardiness training, as the years went by with her feeling increasingly isolated, despite what she perceived as her efforts to help people do better. In her mind, the gathering gloom of a life alone was be- cause there were no people available who could match her assertiveness and capability. She felt that, although the problem was theirs, she was stuck with the unacceptable outcome and wanted help in adjusting to that. As her training progressed, Julie became better able to face the underlying problem. She had always felt personally inadequate and spent her life trying to overcome this sense of inferiority by struggling for convincing evidence that she was indeed better than she thought. This evidence took the form of showing herself that she could do things better than anyone else she encountered. Gradually, through our coaching, Julie came to recog- nize this subtle competition in which she was constantly engaged. She began to realize that people who avoided her after being initially attracted were doing so because it is dissatisfying to be in a supposedly supportive relationship at work, to say nothing of romance, where you are con- stantly being one-upped. With this deeper, though painful, self-awareness, she was able to struggle to feel better about herself in other ways than in trying to prove those around her inferior. s She practiced listening to others, drawing them out, and moderating her attempt to aggrandize herself. She tried to appreciate and facilitate effectiveness in others, rather than to feel threatened by it. s She changed her pattern of relationships to include people who would have seemed a threat to her in the past. s Her work relationships began to become more mu- tually cooperative and effective in reaching the de- partment’s goals. Before long, Julie’s company considered her for a pro- motion. She also found an interesting man to date and, soon, he became her fiancĂ©. Do you have a significant other who, like Julie, has to show up those around her, even work-team members, fam- ily members, or friends? Do you notice that, if someone else seems particularly remarkable or has performed really well, he or she feels belittled? If so, you will recognize that it is hard to let down your guard with him or her, so the relationship cannot really progress toward greater mutual effectiveness in reaching goals, to say nothing of greater fulfillment and intimacy. Once again, recognize that you have an alternative in your reaction to such a person, and the clue to this is the recognition of how stressed and inade- quate he or she must feel. And, here is a harder question: Do you recognize signs of subtle competition in yourself as you interact with your fellow employees, family members, and friends? If so, try to recognize your own sense of inadequacy that is fueling such ineffective behavior and substitute assistance and en- couragement instead. In this way, your relationships will improve, and you will become a more effective person. The exercises in chapter 10 will get you started in helping oth- ers and yourself overcome subtle competition with cowork- ers, family, and friends.
JIM T.: ‘‘IF SOMEBODY HURTS ME, YOU CAN BE SURE I’LL GET BACK AT HIM.’’ In his midforties, Jim’s marriage was ending badly. The di- vorce court judge had referred him to us for hardiness training. As he talked with us, he seemed so bitter about the world around him. He seemed to remember every time someone had hurt him and was resolved to get back at him one way or another. In his mind, it was a sign of weakness to let a slight go unpunished. These slights would fester in his mind, disrupt his concentration, and waste his imagina- tion. They would keep him awake at night and undermine his ability to function effectively on mutual tasks, to say nothing about having fun and feeling fulfilled in his interac- tion with others. Among his fellow employees, Jim had the reputation of being a difficult person to work with. If a coworker pointed out an error he had made or if there was a strong disagree- ment as to how to proceed on a task, Jim never forgot it and looked for some way to even the score. His engineering background made him indispensable on his work team, but the others got to the point of trying very hard to circumvent him, which only made him more difficult to deal with. Soon, the decision makers in his company were contem- plating whether they should let him go, despite his intelli- gence and importance to his team. The message of ‘‘don’t mess with me’’ was leading toward a ‘‘divorce’’ at work also. From our sessions with Jim, we came to realize that he and his wife had many disagreements about what they wanted in their life together and how to get it. She had no trouble articulating her needs and wishes, and would occasionally veto his initiatives if they seemed inconsider- ate. Jim tended to feel hurt when he could not do what he wanted and get her to join in. This hurt would turn into anger as he ruminated about and exaggerated the situation in his mind. Then, the anger would fester, leading him to strike back at her by automatically denying something she wanted from him. He would do this even if he liked what she wanted—so important was his need to even the score. The birth of children complicated his ability to build a mu- tually satisfying relationship. Being young, the children wanted what they wanted, when they wanted it, and this was sometimes inconsistent with Jim’s sense of what he and the family should be doing. So, he would punish the kids for being insubordinate. The situation got worse, as his wife increasingly felt she had to divorce him for the children’s sake as well as her own. When he first talked to us about this divorce, he made it seem as if it were entirely his wife’s fault. He remembered all those times when he wanted to go golfing or hiking or to the movies, but his wife backed out—it was always something with her, according to Jim, from feeling sick or tired, to being too busy with the kids. He seemed so intent on paying her back for these frus- trations, which he experienced as abandonment, that he failed to be there for her when she needed him and he curtailed her spending money on the grounds of sudden frugality. Sometimes, if their kids felt sick, his wife would draft him to stay home and minister to them, preventing him from engaging in some activity that would have been more fun. This would make him sullen and aloof around the house and lead him to insist that the kids stay home long after they felt better, with the excuse that ‘‘hey, if they’re sick, they’re sick.’’ Although more subtle, Jim’s behavior was equally com- petitive at work. He secretly felt rejected and humiliated whenever his suggestions were not immediately accepted or his work was sent back for revision. In such situations, he would present himself as acceptant of the feedback, but try to ferret out who was responsible and resolve to get back at him. When some later work situation required his reaction, he would reject the initiatives or plans, whether they had merit or not. Jim was careful to hide his hurt and angry response, but the others increasingly avoided him, even though they could not put their finger on exactly why they reacted this way. As he became more and more iso- lated at work, his contribution to the overall effort of the company increasingly came into question. Jim needed to work on his inability to give assistance and encouragement to his coworkers, friends, and family. If a significant other hurts you, it is more constructive to express the hurt, rather than to turn it into anger and strike back. Expressing the hurt is likely to provoke the other to recognize what he or she has done, apologize for or explain it, and try to do better. In contrast, expressing anger, even subtly, is likely to provoke a defensive or angry response that will only further undermine your ability to work or live together. It took a lot of coaching for Jim to recognize his contri- bution to interactional difficulties. To achieve this recogni- tion, he had to realize that, deep down, he felt inadequate and weak, and had been covering this up by convincing himself of the opposite. Unfortunately, by the time he gained these insights, his job and his marriage were long gone. Hopefully, he learned enough to put a more con- structive effort into new jobs and relationships and to im- prove his relations with his children and former wife. Does Jim’s behavior sound all too familiar to you? Do you have friends or family who keep mental score pads as to who has hurt them and whether the necessary payback has occurred? Do they harbor resentment when interac- tions don’t go just the way they want them to? Do they spend time thinking through how to get back at people? Now, think carefully, do you show any of these characteris- tics? A ‘‘yes’’ to any of these questions means that you have experienced a lethal form of competition that undermines relationships and the ability to work with others, by insist- ing on an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, rather than on something more appreciative and patient. However hard it may be to react sensitively to subtle competition, try to recognize that, whether it is others or you who show it, underneath the facade of strength are feelings of weakness and vulnerability. The way to resolve subtle competition is with assistance and encouragement. The exercises in chap- ter 10 will help you interact in this way. AMY S.: ‘‘THOSE WITH WHOM I WORK NEED ME TO PROTECT THEM, SO NOTHING BAD WILL EVER HAPPEN TO THEM.’’ In her late thirties, Amy was the manager of a small real estate firm and a wife and mother. Hopelessly busy, she was nonetheless a loving, caring person, committed to helping those around her. She came to us as consultants to help improve the performance of her subordinates at work. Almost all of the six agents working under Amy were female and younger than she was. They seemed a close- knit group, with lots of sharing, not only of work tasks and information, but of personal matters as well. Amy brought us in primarily because she hoped to improve the overall effectiveness of the group, in particular, two agents she re- garded as disruptive. As we observed the group in action, something became abundantly clear: Amy was a microma- nager. She simply did not feel comfortable letting the agents carry out their tasks using their own knowledge, imagina- tion, and persistence. Amy had started this company, and therefore felt she knew not only how it should function, but how to make that happen. She involved herself in all the ongoing decisions, no matter how much time it took. All of the agents felt that Amy did not trust them to function on their own, and four of them had chosen to accept that. They let her make all the decisions, big and small, and merely followed her instructions. As time went on, however, Amy began to wonder why they seemed to have so little imagination and initiative. Two of the agents were less willing to let her make all the decisions and kept trying to be independent in their work efforts. These two seemed to Amy to be on the verge of insubordination and a threat to the rest of the company. Amy couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t let her help them more. As we talked with Amy about the problem, she ex- pressed feeling like the agents were her children. She felt she needed to take care of them, protect them from outside pressures and from making mistakes, and help them be successful. It was a novel idea to her when we wondered whether, by being overprotective, she might be stifling their creativity and initiative, and increasing their resentment. In her mind, she wanted only the best for them and the com- pany. But, she listened to us, because she did want to do the best thing for everybody. In our training sessions with Amy, she began to reflect on whether she showed the same overprotective pattern with her actual children. She recounted a recent series of events involving her thirteen-year-old son. He came home from school crying one day because two of his friends had suddenly decided to shun him and go off by themselves. He felt rejected by people he had befriended. Amy felt so bad for her son that, unbeknownst to him, she called the parents of the two boys, complaining about what had taken place. She asked the parents to talk to their sons about being more civil and accepting of her boy. The next afternoon, her son came home from school crying even more profusely, and quite angry at his mother, vowing not to share problems with her in the future. Having been admonished by their parents, his erstwhile friends had ridi- culed him to all the other students as a wimp who couldn’t fight his own battles and needed to hide behind his moth- er’s apron strings. Amy had wondered at the time whether she had done something wrong, despite her efforts to help the boy she loved to have a better life. Now, as she discussed this event with us in the context of overprotection, she began to real- ize that it would have been better for her to empathize with and encourage her son that first day and refrain from trying to settle the problem with the other parents. After all, no laws had been broken, and there was no reason to believe that her son could not have coped with the situation, espe- cially with her loving support. When we overprotect others, we indirectly convey that we distrust their ability to solve problems effectively, and that, to survive, they need us to assist and protect them. If they accept the overprotection, then they are agreeing that they are not effective in the situation, and this will under- mine their capability in the future. That’s what happened to Amy’s four agents. If they reject our overprotection, then they may confront us with direct or subtle anger, and the relationship may suffer in the process. That’s what hap- pened to Amy’s other two agents. In neither case does over- protection enhance overall effectiveness and build trust and understanding. However loving we may feel toward sig- nificant others, it is a mistake to overprotect them. It is better for everyone to give and receive assistance and en- couragement. Did Amy’s plight provoke you to notice overprotective- ness expressed toward you? Or, do you suspect that you overprotect the significant others around you? If so, you want to take the exercises in chapter 10 very seriously.
WHERE DO YOU FIT IN?
Take a few minutes to answer the following questions as ‘‘True’’ or ‘‘False’’ in order to get a concrete sense of how you interact with your coworkers, now and in the past. Remember, no one will see your answers but you, so be as honest as you can. High in Social Support 1. When coworkers are stressed by workplace changes, do you express your sympathy and try to draw them out? 2. When coworkers are stressed about workplace changes, do you try to help them find ways of dealing with the problems that work for them? 3. When you are stressed out by workplace changes, do you seek out coworkers to talk with about the problems? 4. When you stress out about workplace changes, do you ask coworkers for their suggestions? 5. Do you see your company and yourself as trying to grow and do better? 6. Do you feel you and your coworkers make a team effort to carry out work goals? Low in Social Support 1. When interacting with coworkers on job tasks, do you with- hold information that would enhance their learning or ad- vancement? 2. When interacting with coworkers on job tasks, do you take over any problem that isn’t routine, in order to ensure that they will not mess it up? 3. In order to stop coworkers from getting ahead, do you com- plain about them to management? 4. Do you feel relieved when someone at work takes over a problem, so that you don’t have to deal with it? 5. Does it seem naive to you to think of the work environment as anything but a dog-eat-dog world? 6. Do you tend to stay aloof from others at work, in order to protect yourself against possible attempts to undermine you? To score your answers, give yourself one point for each time you answered ‘‘True’’ to a question. In order to see your social interaction approach, total your scores for each set of six ques- tions. Did you score high or low in Social Support? Keep these results in mind as you read further. SUMMARY The bottom line is that competition (whether subtle or obvious) and overprotection have paradoxical effects. Even if we have diffi- culty enlisting the support of others, we should still do what we can to assist and encourage them. This increases the likelihood that they will reciprocate these efforts. Relationships of mutual as- sistance and encouragement bring the best out of all parties, and in ways that are especially important when stressful changes need to be turned to advantage. The feedback you will receive from this constructive process will help to deepen your hardy attitudes of commitment, control, and challenge. With this enhanced courage and motivation, the whole process of interacting in a way that elicits social support will become easier and more natural. The result will be a marked increase in your own resiliency as well as that of your coworkers, friends, and family.

PRACTICING TRANSFORMATIONAL COPING

Now that we have given some good examples of how transforma- tional coping has been used to handle stressful circumstances, it is time to try this process yourself. There are three steps that help you to face stress. These steps utilize incisive analyses and con- structive action to turn potential disasters into opportunities. In this chapter, we’ll show you these steps and how to practice them. This is what it means to learn by doing. Then, once you supple- ment this by using the resulting feedback to deepen your hardy attitudes, you will have the courage and motivation to continue this resilient coping pattern throughout your life. This process is a powerful advantage over the regressive coping strategies of denial and avoidance, or reacting catastrophically and striking out, described in earlier chapters. These regressive coping approaches are a direct, but primitive, expression of the fight-or- flight reaction that surfaces when we experience stressful circum- stances. Striking out or avoiding may have been the best we hu- mans could do when we were living in the wild. Now that we are civilized, and others expect us to be responsible, lawful, dependable, and resilient, any initial attraction to fighting or running away pales quickly as a coping strategy as this only makes things worse in the long run.
STEP ONE LIST THE UNRESOLVED STRESSFUL CIRCUMSTANCES IN YOUR LIFE
Be as forthright and complete as you can, as this list is just for you; others will not see it, unless you want them to. Make sure that the items on the list are current, unsolved problems, rather than ones that no longer trouble you. With regard to each stressful circumstance on your list, indi- cate whether it relates directly or indirectly to your work. Stressful circumstances that involve fellow employees, workplace tasks, company rules, changes in job definition, or job insecurity relate directly to work. Examples might include pressure on you to learn new procedures or to take on more work as the result of job re- definition or decreased workforce in your company. Or, perhaps you and your supervisor do not get along and have very different views of what you should be doing at work. Other kinds of stress, such as pervasive and preoccupying problems at home or in your private life, may indirectly interfere with your performance at work. For example, you may suspect that your spouse is having an affair, and this preoccupation makes it hard to involve yourself in your work. Or, perhaps your child has a behavior problem at school that requires so much time and attention, you are unable to fulfill your responsibilities at work. Once you have made a list of all your stressful circumstances, reflect on and record the magnitude of each of them. Is the stress little more than an annoyance and therefore minor? An example might be the nuisance of having to make occasional paper record- ings of particular work activities. Or, is the stress such a pervasive preoccupation that it can undermine your entire life? Here, an ex- ample might involve the ongoing pressure of having to terminate person after person in your department, as the company continues to downsize and reorganize. Use a scale from 1 (minor ) to 7 (ex- tremely major). It is fine to estimate a stressful circumstance’s magnitude sub- jectively. After all, this task of listing stressful circumstances is all about your experience of the world. But, if you need help with determining the magnitude of a stressful circumstance, let us make a suggestion. We call it the ABCs of human needs. These are needs we all share: s A is for accomplishment. We all need to feel that we are getting things done and reaching worthwhile goals. s B is for belonging. We all need to interact with others in such a way that our relationship with them influences our defini- tion of who we are. s C is for comfort. We all need to feel some degree of security so that we can relax and be calm and safe. s D is for dependability. We all need a certain amount of pre- dictability and regularity in our ongoing lives. s E is for esteem. We all need to feel reasonably good about ourselves. s Finally, F is for finances. We all need enough funds to lead a fulfilling life. One way of determining the magnitude of a stressful circum- stance is to ask yourself how many of these basic human needs it violates. Finally, for each of the circumstances on your list, reflect on and record whether it is acute or chronic. It is acute if it represents a change from an ongoing steady state, such as having a computer file you were working on suddenly disappear or your boss firing you without warning. It is chronic if it involves a continuing mis- match between what you want and what you get. Perhaps you think of yourself as a creative person, but you’re stuck in a routine job, or you want to be liked by coworkers, but feel continually rejected. When you have listed all your stressful circumstances and de- scribed them in the ways we suggest, you will have before you a map of your present problems as they involve your work. You will know the stress you face, and this is the take-off point for doing something about it. STEP TWO THINK THROUGH EACH STRESSFUL CIRCUMSTANCE IN A WAY THAT BROADENS YOUR PERSPECTIVE AND DEEPENS YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF IT This step is done by applying our Situational Reconstruction exer- cise to each stressful circumstance on your list. Which circum- stance do you start with? That’s up to you. Some people start with a minor one so that they can concentrate on the exercise itself to learn how to do it well. Others start with a major one, because it preoccupies and undermines them so much that they need to re- solve it before anything else is done. Start with whichever stressful circumstance feels right, keeping in mind that, eventually, you are going to work on and resolve them all. Finding Alternatives (Spading up the Ground) The exercise of Situational Reconstruction provides you with a set of questions to answer concerning your stressful circumstance. Answering these questions is a little like spading up the ground, to see what you find there and what the alternatives are. You will be enlisting your imagination in order to see the various ramifica- tions and possibilities posed by the stressor and your interactions with it. Question 1: What is your best description of the stressful circum- stance you wish to solve? Reflect on it and describe it as fully as you can. What are the problematic components of this circumstance? Who are the people involved? What are the likely implications or effects of this situa- tion? What, in particular, is troublesome to you about all this? In particular, how does the stressful circumstance make you feel? Question 2: Think of a way in which the stressful circumstance could be worse than it is. Just let your imagination go and come up with a situation that would be worse. If your supervisor has criticized your perform- ance, for example, it would be worse if you were fired for incom- petence. The important thing about this step is that you identify what, for you, would be worse than the present problem. Question 3: Think of a way in which the stressful circumstance could be better than it is. Once again, let your imagination go and come up with a situa- tion that is better than what is actually happening. For example, if your supervisor has criticized your performance, it would be better if she sent you for additional training to improve. Whatever the circumstance, you need to recognize what would make your pres- ent problem better. Question 4: Make up a story about how the worse version of the stressful circumstance you identified in Question 2 would actually take place. Here is where you really have to let your imagination go. Be- come a novelist with your own life. For this worse version of the stressful circumstance to take place, what would have to change? Do you or others have to act differently? If so, then how? Does the situation, or the tasks involved, or the roles you and others play have to be different? If so, then how? Observe yourself doing this task. It will help you understand, concretely, your perception of how bad things happen. Once you have finished the story, estimate (on a scale from 0 to 100 percent) how likely it is to come true. It’s somewhat reas- suring if the likelihood is small, as the probability is low that the situation will get out of control. But don’t be too reassured. After all, the circumstance is already stressful and problematic, so you can’t afford to be lulled into complacency just because it may not get worse. And, if the likelihood of the circumstance getting worse is high, then it certainly should have a high priority in your efforts to improve your life. Question 5: Make up a story about how the better version of the stressful circumstance would actually take place. Once again, really let your imagination go. What would have to change in order for this better version to happen? Do you or others have to act differently? If so, then how? Does the situation, or the tasks involved, or the roles you and others play have to be different, and if so, then how? Observe yourself doing this task. It will help you understand, concretely, your perception of how good things happen. Once you have finished the story, estimate (on a scale from 0 to 100 percent) how likely it is to occur. If the likelihood is small, then that is even more reason to throw yourself into solving the problem, for it will certainly not happen on its own. If it is highly likely that you can solve it, though, that does not mean that you can afford to ignore it. Rather, you should encourage yourself to think that your efforts are worth it, as they are likely to bring success. Question 6: What specifically can you personally do to bring about the better version of your problem and prevent the worse version from happening? You may have answered this already in completing the previ- ous two questions, but here is another opportunity to imagine how you might be proactive in coping with the stressful circumstance. Even though you may have inserted yourself into the scenarios whereby the problem becomes better or worse, it is time now to reflect further on what you can do to promote success. Do you need to take certain actions, convince others of the value of some- thing, seek additional information and assistance, or make sure you stand your ground? Answering this question is a chance to reflect on your sense of possibilities once again. Searching for Perspective and Understanding In answering the first six questions of Situational Reconstruction, you have spaded up the ground of the stressful circumstance to see how it helps your thoughts on the problem you now confront. The next three questions address this reflective process. Question 7: Based on what you learned by answering the previous questions, can you find a way to place this stressful circumstance into perspective? Coping with the stressful circumstance may arouse painful emotions. Here, you may actually increase painful emotions tem- porarily. You may feel anxious, angry, depressed, suspicious, or all of these. On the other hand, if you have moved toward a solution in your efforts to answer the first six questions of Situational Re- construction, you may feel a bit better. In either case, it is espe- cially important for you to find a way to put the circumstance in perspective; that is, find a way to make sense out of it. There is a lot at stake here. When you put a problem in per- spective, it becomes tolerable, even though it is not yet resolved. And, because it is tolerable, you can mull it over, figure out a course of action, and then take the necessary measures. Without this perspective, the problem may repel you when you think about it, making it harder to think through possible solutions. Five Frequently Used Perspectives Perhaps you can find a perspective on your own, building on the work you have done thus far. In case you have trouble, however, there are five forms of perspective that are frequently used to help find feasible solutions to problems. Recognize that this is not a definitive list—you may well find an unmentioned perspective of your own. Or, you may feel that more than one form of perspective fits your situation. That’s okay too. You don’t need to restrict your- self to only one, as long as your conclusion makes sense to you. 1. COMMONPLACE PERSPECTIVE. Perhaps you have been thinking that you are the only one to have collided with the stress- ful circumstance at hand. Feeling alone while being undermined by a problem makes it harder to tolerate. It is especially easy, then, to sink into self-pity and bitterness. ‘‘Why me?’’ In contrast, you adopt the commonplace perspective when you recognize that oth- ers have experienced this type of stressful circumstance, now or in the past. Do you see how this commonplace perspective can make the stressful circumstance tolerable so that you can mull it over and take the necessary actions? 2. MANAGEABILITY PERSPECTIVE. By now, you have consid- ered how the stressful circumstance could become better or worse. In other words, its actual status is somewhere in between these two extremes. This kind of thinking may encourage you to adopt the manageability perspective. In this, you feel heartened by realiz- ing that the stressful circumstance is neither as bad nor as good as things can get in your life. When in childhood you went crying to your mother because an untrustworthy friend cast you off, did she tell you, ‘‘I know it hurts you, but you still have lots of trustworthy friends,’’ to console you? That’s the manageability perspective. In this perspective, you take the standpoint that the stressful circum- stance always could be worse. This perspective makes the situation tolerable so you can approach it long enough to solve it. 3. IMPROVABILITY PERSPECTIVE. For this perspective, the stressful circumstance becomes more tolerable because you find a standpoint from which it can improve. You imagine ways to im- prove the circumstance rather than to just have passive optimism that does little to change it. This helps you to feel better as you struggle to resolve the situation. 4. TIME PERSPECTIVE. Another way to make the circumstance tolerable is to find a standpoint, based on the work you have done thus far, that helps you to see how the worst of it will be over in some reasonably definable time. Even if things are awful right now, that pain becomes more manageable and less disruptive if you can anticipate a time when all will be better. Perhaps the stressor in- volves some required, but overwhelming performance on your part that comes along with a deadline. If you can think of how things will calm down once the deadline has passed, it may help you to tolerate the pain and give the necessary effort to be suc- cessful. 5. UNPREDICTABILITY PERSPECTIVE. Although it seems to go against transformational coping ideas, this perspective is useful. Imagine that, despite your efforts to think through how to solve the problem, you recognize that you cannot resolve some of its aspects. You can do what you can to solve the problem, but the precise outcome is still somewhat unpredictable. For instance, consider when doctors give patients all the necessary treatments for a serious illness. Then, they have to tell patients’ families that only time will tell whether their loved ones will live or die. The unpredictability perspective helps you to tolerate the stressful cir- cumstance, if you know that you have done what you can to solve it. What happens from that point on is out of your hands. Question 8: Based on what you have learned, do you now have a deeper understanding of how you can improve the stressful cir- cumstance? By answering the first six questions of Situational Reconstruc- tion, you should have deepened your understanding of the stress- ful circumstance. Often, this process leads you to a clearer picture of what you have to do to solve the problem. Perhaps you will come out of this exercise with more subtle understandings of your situation. You may acquire a detailed sense of what the circum- stance, or the basis for its stress, really is. You may even emerge from the exercise with a completely different take on what is mak- ing the situation problematic and stressful. The potential for a deeper understanding is the primary reason why it is worth the effort to answer the questions included in Situational Reconstruc- tion. Understanding Your Stressors As with a broadened perspective, you may reach a deeper under- standing on your own by going through this exercise. After all, there are many ways to understand how to handle stressful cir- cumstances. Often, a circumstance becomes stressful in part be- cause of our own particular ways of experiencing things. In other words, others may differ from you in their reaction to a stressful circumstance that you are all experiencing. If you need some guid- ance on how to deepen your understanding of your stressor, let us provide some frequently used ways to do so. These underlying meanings come up repeatedly among the people we have trained in hardiness. They are, however, by no means the only ways for understanding problems. You may find one or more of them make sense to you in your ongoing stressful situation. s PERSONAL LIMITATION. Perhaps someone else’s actions caused your stressful circumstance. Or, unsympathetic orga- nizational rules and policies led to your stress. But, as you immersed yourself in spading the ground through Situational Reconstruction, you found that you were the cause of the stress. However painful this process might be, you may be on the way to solving the problem constructively by recog- nizing your contribution to it. If, from thinking things through, there emerges a sense that your own personal limitation is involved, face it hon- estly. Remember, the most important thing you are trying to accomplish is turning the stressor from a potential disaster into an opportunity. To do this, you must gain an accurate understanding, even if it is painful. Once you actually solve the problem by working constructively with your personal limitations, the pain of initially recognizing your limitations fades away. s MISUNDERSTANDINGS. You may come to the realization that misunderstood words or actions played a big role in bringing about the stressful circumstance. Maybe others in- volved did not grasp your meaning accurately. Or, maybe you misunderstood their words or actions. Even worse, it could be a combination of misunderstandings on all sides, yours and theirs. Often, such confusion builds, causes feelings of pain or anger, and results in disorganization and failure. The upside of this is that, if it seems like a misunder- standing played an important role in the problem, then by recognizing this, you can make a huge difference in setting the situation right. If you misunderstood the words or actions of others, however hurtful or humiliating it may seem, you should face up to it courageously, so you both can move to solve it. If others misunderstood your words or actions, things will only worsen if you denigrate, shun, or strike out at them. Here, it’s best to accept others’ misunderstandings, so you can think through constructive ways to get beyond them. s CLASH OF WILLS. Sometimes, you may come to recognize that the stressfulness of the circumstance stems more from an out-and-out disagreement than from a misunderstanding. Your own and others’ goals, values, or preferences lead to different approaches to understanding and solving stressful circumstances. Here, a clash of wills produces the stressful circumstance. If this is true, once again, it is best to recognize and admit it, for this is the only way you can figure out effective ways to reduce the stressfulness of the situation. Without first recog- nizing the problem’s true nature, down the road you have little chance of successfully resolving it. s VICTIMIZATION. It may seem to you that you have little to no responsibility for the stressful circumstance. Instead, you conclude that others victimized you by their desire to scape- goat or undermine you. Through no fault of your own, others ostracized, denigrated, discriminated against, or harassed you. There are two important things to consider about this form of understanding. First, though it’s dreadful to be vic- timized by others, you can still move beyond it and grow from the experience. It is clearly better to act constructively in this situation than to sink into powerlessness and self-pity. Second, it is best to avoid rushing prematurely to the conclu- sion that others have victimized you. Reaching this conclu- sion too easily may be little more than a way to avoid taking any responsibility for what has happened. As such, it will not help you to resolve the problem. It is best to go carefully through the first six questions of Situational Reconstruction, answering them in depth and detail. Then, if you still under- stand the problem as stemming from victimization, your con- clusion may be legitimate. s EXTERNAL FORCES. Sometimes, as you spade up the ground through Situational Reconstruction, you may recog- nize that despite your own best efforts and the best efforts of others, there’s little that can be done to reduce the stressful- ness of the situation. Forces outside of your control may play a strong role in bringing about the situation. Technological advance, equal-opportunity pressures, and outsourced com- pany functions are examples of stressful forces outside of your control. Rather than blaming yourself or blaming oth- ers, it’s best to figure out if such forces influence the stressful- ness of a problem. What can be done to decrease the stressfulness of a problem that is caused by external forces differs significantly from what can be done when you or oth- ers around you cause the problem. Question 9: Is there a resolution in sight? At this point, you have gone through all the questions of Situa- tional Reconstruction that help you put the stressful circumstance in a broader perspective and deepen your understanding of it. Now, it is time for you to reflect on whether you have some sense of what you can do to improve the circumstance and to solve the problem inherent in it. You may feel better now that you can imag- ine a resolution. But, the change is only in your mind at this point, so you may still be feeling pain. After all, imagining a resolution is good, but it still has not yet come to fruition. This is even more reason for learning to bring about change in the problematic cir- cumstance out there, where it exists, which is Step Three. But be- fore we get there, let’s look again at some actual case studies where people used Situational Reconstruction to help with their resilient coping. Situational Reconstruction Case Studies Do you now see alternative solutions to solving your problem? Do you think you can turn a stressful circumstance from adversely affecting you to an opportunity to learn and grow? The case stud- ies that follow pick up the stories of Grace, Martin, and Herman and show you how Situational Reconstruction worked to their ad- vantage. GRACE H. The transformational coping exercises described here did Grace a world of good. By focusing on her job status and relationship with her boss, Grace considered how it could be worse, and how it could be better. In doing this, she noted that at least the company hung on to her as an em- ployee. She believed they valued her reliability and trust- worthiness. ‘‘That’s why they kept me on board,’’ she thought. She also recognized that by increasingly alienating herself from coworkers, she undermined her motivation to work hard. In this regard, she estimated that she had a 50 percent chance of losing her job. Grace chose a job promotion as the stressful circum- stance’s best-case scenario. She struggled diligently to tem- per her anger, bitterness, and self-pity, so she could approach and figure out how to bring about this desired goal. She had difficulty imagining her boss on his own con- sidering her worthy enough to promote. She thus rated the likelihood of this best-case scenario at only 15 percent. Through this Situational Reconstruction process, she admitted that she had to let go of her negative feelings about him, if she wanted to change her boss’s view of her. And, rather than lick her wounds, and wait for others to tell her what to do, she would take initiative to help her boss and the company to master stressful work changes. She recognized that only by changing her negative attitudes and self-defeating behaviors could she make the job pro- motion happen. She used her new perspectives and under- standings to develop a plan of action. Which perspectives did she garner by reflecting upon what happened? First, Grace flirted with a victimization standpoint. Finally, she was able to see how she presented herself as a person who takes orders rather than as a person who makes things happen. If she failed to develop herself in this area, she would learn little about how to turn stressful problems to her advantage. Through this, she realized that her problem was commonplace, the difficulty many em- ployees experience. More importantly, the problem in- volved mutual misunderstandings. The way Grace’s boss treated her reminded her of the way she had been treated by her father. This led her to become defensive and de- tached and led her boss to perceive her as a follower, not a leader. These insightful perspectives made the problem tolera- ble, allowing Grace to understand it more fully. With this deeper understanding, Grace realized a personal limitation she possessed, a limitation that need not be permanent, since she had gained insight into an alternative. Now, she was ready to make an Action Plan (Step Three) and carry it out. MARTIN O. In working on Situational Reconstruction, Martin had a hard time imagining anything worse than what was actually happening to him. After all, he had been unsuccessful and was fired repeatedly. But, he finally concluded that it would be even worse if his poor work record led other prospective employers to turn him down. He also began to admit that he contributed to this failure by not taking his situation seriously enough to do something about it. Overall, he anx- iously attributed a 70 percent likelihood to this worst-case scenario. As to how things could be better, Martin imagined him- self as a successful salesperson, valued by his company, and sought after by prospective employers. Through broaden- ing his perspective of the problem, he overcame his dismay and recognized how his passivity contributed to his circumstance. Through his intelligent and socially adept ways, he vowed to improve himself. He also gave a 70 percent rating to the likelihood of his bringing about this best-case scenario. By keeping his nose to the grindstone, he believed he could make this happen. Through this Situational Reconstruction process, he recognized that it was he, not his supervisors, who would have to change. In particular, he would have to scrutinize his performance moment to moment, with the task in mind of how to be successful in garnering the sale. Martin recog- nized that his stressful circumstance stemmed from his naive optimism, a personal limitation. He was ready now to develop action-based strategies to make the best of his sales calls. He would incorporate the many points taught to him in former companies’ sales training workshops that he once took less seriously. HERMAN W. The members of Herman’s human resources department were going through hardiness training partly to help them understand its role in resiliency. Fortunately, the training was already going on when his company informed him that he no longer had a job. To Herman, a successful employee high up in the company’s ranks, this event was cataclysmic. Recall that the company’s efforts to cut costs had led it to outsource its human resource functions. Herman told us tearfully, during a hardiness training session, that the company let him go. He stated, ‘‘The very same people who had been my friends and colleagues for twenty years told me today that I no longer have a job here. How could I have been so stupid as to think they were my friends?’’ Herman wondered if, all along, they planned to terminate him, and if he had performed much worse than he had realized. As he sank into bitterness and self-pity, we rallied around and supported him. Nonetheless, Herman did not have the composure to struggle with Situational Reconstruction until the next training session. At that time, he had to consider a way in which his stressful circumstance could become worse. For him, a financial disaster would have done it, especially since his two daughters were college age. But, he saw that the reasonable severance package the company gave him prevented his financial situation from worsening. The only thing that would have kept him from getting such an ample severance package was if his former peers had not valued his contributions throughout the years. This made him wonder whether his former colleagues were really the ene- mies he initially thought them to be. He concluded that the likelihood of the worse scenario was only 10 percent. Herman had a difficult time coming up with a better version of the stressful circumstance. He did suggest that by decreasing department budgets the company might have been able to keep human resource functions in-house. He did actually suggest this to his colleagues when they told him they would have to eliminate his job because of budget concerns. Rather than address his solution to the problem, his colleagues told Herman that they were just carrying out the Board of Directors’ request, without much power to change it. Herman had considered their response to be a rationalization, although he did not voice this to them. He concluded that the only way this better version of the stres- sor could occur was if his colleagues, the Executive Com- mittee, had the courage of their conviction to stand up to the Board of Directors. He thought the chances of this hap- pening were only 10 percent. Herman finally concluded that his problem involved a commonplace perspective. He, like many others in his de- partment, lost their jobs through the decision to outsource human resource functions. As a way to understand what happened to him, he settled on external forces. Because of external pressures brought by market changes and investor requirements, the company had difficulty justifying the cost of keeping human resource functions within the company. These conclusions led Herman to the only possible best- case scenario, which was to accept his job loss, and use the experience instead to jump-start a new career. Perhaps he could use his twenty-three years of human resources expe- rience in a major company to either find a better job in another company, or go out on his own as a consultant. The latter might be the way to go, if other companies were likely to cut down on their in-house human resource func- tions at a time of dwindling revenues. He liked this best- case scenario and thought this had an 80 percent chance of happening. Clearly, only he could bring about this final scenario. He began to elaborate on it in his mind enthusias- tically. Soon, it was time for an Action Plan. STEP THREE MAKE AN ACTION PLAN, CARRY IT OUT, AND PAY ATTENTION TO THE FEEDBACK YOU GET FROM YOUR COPING EFFORTS Now that you have broadened your perspective and deepened your understanding of the stressful circumstance you are working on, you are ready to put together an Action Plan that follows from your thought process and could have a decisive effect on turning the problem to your advantage. It is not enough to let the relief you gained by thinking through the problem satisfy you. You need to turn your insights into strategic actions that transform the stressful circumstance out there, where it exists. In order to do this, you should now go through our Action Plan exercise. Be sure to answer each of the questions below. Question 1: What is the goal of your action plan? Although it may sound obvious, let us reinforce for you that the goal of your plan needs to follow from the deepened under- standing you have achieved through Situational Reconstruction. It isn’t relevant for the goal to be what others want you to do. Rather, it must reflect what you have learned by spading up the ground. Nor will it be effective to rush into something without being fully clear in your mind as to what you want to happen. ‘‘Ready, fire, aim’’ never helps. Your ultimate goal must guide your actions along the way. Also, though some goals are more complex or abstract than others, it is important to be completely clear and detailed before doing anything. Let’s say that your stressful circumstance is that you were passed over for a promotion, which the decision makers in the company gave to someone else. It isn’t helpful to adopt the goal that everything will be better. A more clear, concrete, and helpful goal would be to make sure that the decision makers offer you a promotion the next time they look for someone. This goal already suggests actions you can take that can be instrumental. Your goal should be something that, if achieved, would end, or at the least decrease, the stressfulness of the circumstance and help you to grow in the process. Question 2: What are the instrumental acts that will lead you to the goal? It’s difficult through just one effort to succeed in your goals. Therefore, it is necessary to think through the various actions that you need to take, each leading you closer to the ultimate goal. Write down these instrumental acts as concretely as you can, spec- ifying what you need to do, how your actions bring you closer to the goal, and ways in which they involve other persons and circumstances. Usually, you need to sequence these instrumental acts for the action plan to be sound. Following through on the example given above, let’s say that your goal is to make sure that company decision makers promote you the next time there is a higher-level job opening. Your instru- mental acts might include approaching each decision maker with your strong interest and work-task examples that show you work- ing hard and making innovative decisions to improve company sales. You may decide to approach decision makers separately to increase the likelihood that they each notice you and your work contributions, efforts, and expertise. As to sequencing these instrumental acts, you may decide to rank the decision makers in your mind as to how close you are to them already. Then, you may decide to start with the ones who know and value you already, and work your way to those who know you less, or not at all. You may choose this strategy partly because it minimizes the group’s possible recognition of and oppo- sition to your strategy, and partly because success at the beginning of your efforts will hearten you when approaching interactions that are more problematic. Question 3: What is your timeline for each instrumental act? Thus far, you specified your ultimate problem-solving goal, the instrumental acts necessary to reaching it, and the sequence in which they lead you to achieving your goal. Now, you should try to specify how long each of the instrumental steps is likely to take. This is important for two reasons. First, it’s unwise to lull yourself into thinking that now you know what needs to be done and you can do it at the drop of a hat. You may end up putting the Action Plan on the back burner, because you feel you can do it easily, whenever you want. Only, you may never quite get around to it. Second, it’s rare for people to be able to quickly carry out ac- tions that effectively reduce a problem’s stressfulness. A realistic estimate of the time each of the instrumental acts will take to ac- complish will help you continue to carry through on your Action Plan and prevent you from throwing up your hands in frustration when the goal doesn’t come immediately. It may be next to impossible to be very precise about your timeline. But, the effort to make one and stick to it will be helpful to you. Action Plan Revision Action plans need to be organic, flexible strategies. If the added information you get from one or more of the instrumental acts of your plan suggests that your strategy or timeline needs to be al- tered, do not hesitate to do so. The reactions you get to a particular act may tell you that it will take longer to accomplish than you thought. Or, that it may have to be modified to incorporate some- thing you had not anticipated. It is even possible that, under some circumstances, your overall goal will need fine-tuning or slight modification. But, if you consider making changes to your Action Plan, make sure that you are being honest and straightforward with yourself, and not just placating yourself by ignoring and de- nying the difficulties of what you are trying to accomplish. Three Sources of Feedback That Deepen Your Resilience As you take the instrumental steps of your Action Plan, you need to be very aware of the feedback you get from your efforts. It is this feedback that will deepen your hardy attitudes, so that when you are done with this book, and no longer have us looking over your shoulder, you will have your own courage and motivation to cope with stressful circumstances you encounter in the future. There are three sources of feedback to the actions guided by your plan: 1. PERSONAL REFLECTIONS. The first source of feedback is the observations you make of yourself in action. You might ask, ‘‘Wow, is that really me? I didn’t know I could really do that,’’ or, ‘‘Why didn’t I think of doing this before?’’ Or, you might observe, ‘‘This didn’t work completely, but it’s a lot better than what was happen- ing before.’’ You will see yourself doing what is needed. 2. OTHER PEOPLE. Another source of feedback is the observa- tions of your actions made by others. They may tell you, ‘‘I didn’t think you had the guts to say that to our boss. I know I don’t. I’m proud of you,’’ or, ‘‘You’re like a different person—so strong and decisive. What has happened?’’ Sometimes, a person around you may seem jealous of your decisive actions. But, if you stop to think about it, you will realize that a person’s jealousy probably reveals his envy of you. The feedback is still that you are great. 3. RESULTS. The third source of feedback is the actual effects of your actions on the intended target. Maybe you dispelled misun- derstandings by mutually exploring each other’s viewpoints. If this works out well, you reap wonderful benefits from your actions. The value of attending carefully to these sources of feedback is that they can deepen your hardy attitudes. If the feedback is posi- tive, you will feel more involved in and less alienated from the stressful circumstance. You will also feel more in control and learn from the challenge your efforts represent, rather than being threat- ened by it all. You will emerge from the situation not only having improved it, but also feeling more commitment, control, and chal- lenge in it. These hardy attitudes will begin to generalize beyond the particular situation to others in your present or future. Before you know it, you will have all the courage and motivation you need to be resilient and make your life fulfilling. Examples of the Benefits of Feedback We hope you are curious as to what happened to Grace H., Martin O., and Herman W., when they got to the point of formulating their Action Plans and actually taking the steps involved. Here’s a summary of their processes: Grace H. Her efforts with Situational Reconstruction led her to an Action Plan to be proactive in her job. As she laid out the steps she would take to make a more significant contribution to the company—beyond just working hard—she realized how passive she had let herself become. Soon, in carrying out her Action Plan, Grace was making notes on how she could improve company operations and was initiating regular meetings with her boss to discuss these suggestions with him. After a while, he actually began coming to her with questions and problems, asking for her suggestions on possible solutions. Before long, they were a team, rather than just two people working in the same office. Then, Grace got her promotion—she became office manager. In this transformational coping process, Grace got lots of posi- tive feedback. She saw herself rising above her misgivings and being proactive. Others at the company showed renewed interest in her, complimenting her on her suggestions and efforts. And, of course, her boss began turning to her for help in solving problems. As a result of all this feedback, she began to say, ‘‘I can get ahead at work if I take the initiative to make contributions and don’t spend my time bogged down worrying about whether this is a man’s world.’’ So, her hardy attitudes were also increasing. She felt much more committed to, and less withdrawn from, the work world around her. Further, she thought that by taking the initiative, rather than sinking into passivity and powerlessness, she could have an influence on the things going on around her. Whether or not this was the best job in the world for her mattered less, because she used her experiences as a guide to continually improve and felt more fulfilled in the process. And, before long, she was engaging in transformational coping with regard to the other stressful circumstances in her life. Soon, this process was a new way of life for her, and she felt so good about interacting with the world around her, even if the problems she had to tackle were difficult. Martin O. After formulating his Action Plan, he began using it in his sales efforts. For six months, he chose to double his sales calls until they reached the level recommended by his company. He would plan each encounter with a prospective customer, making clear to himself the person’s needs, likes, and dislikes, and the best ways to present the company’s products that matched the customer’s requirements. Further, he reached out to the prospective customer, both in the initial meeting and in the follow-up interactions he initiated. It was not surprising to us that, when he began using this new strat- egy, his success rate improved to the point where his supervisor was very pleased with him. After all, Martin was both intelligent and gregarious. And, now that he was prepared and able to evalu- ate his performance and change it according to his sales goals, he had the final ingredient for success. The feedback he got from observing himself was awesome. For the first time in his life, he saw himself in his interactions with the world clearly. It was so interesting for him and gave him so much information to work with. Further, his supervisor finally had rea- son to give Martin positive feedback. And of course, Martin did not fail to recognize that his sales record kept improving. Because of his old pattern of taking it easy, we had to encourage Martin to keep using the resilient coping techniques he had learned on the other stressful circumstances he was experiencing. Through his more effective efforts, he began turning his entire life around and felt proud. Before long, Martin was showing strong hardy attitudes of commitment, control, and challenge, rather than his lackluster, undiscerning detachment of the past. He would often say, ‘‘You have to see your stressful problems clearly in order to do anything about them. My long-standing naive optimism just got in the way of my development.’’ His dramatic turnaround was very exciting to us all. Herman W. The goal of his Action Plan was to engage in work that enhanced his career and preserved financial security, despite having lost his job. Herman acted in two ways that were instru- mental to achieving his goals. Looking for another job was one key action toward Herman’s goal. He enlisted a recruiter to help him, networked with long-term business associates, and systematically attended human resources conventions to look for leads. He learned a lot in this process, which encouraged him to begin his own consulting company. Herman also took a courageous step by visiting the same col- leagues who had let him go, telling them of his plans and asking for their business support. After all, they were in need of outside human resources services, and Herman knew their business inside and out. In trying to convince them, he relied on his solid reputa- tion and strong work relationships with them. If they went with him, that would provide him with the needed start-up funding to finance his new business Imagine how Herman felt when the Executive Committee voted unanimously to be his first customer. He confirmed through his effort that, in fact, the company planned to outsource human resource functions for the reasons they gave to Herman. Also, the executive committee members had always respected his capabili- ties and knowledge and could now feel less guilty about terminat- ing his employment. After this decisive success, Herman actually gave up looking for work in another company. With growing enthusiasm and sense of personal worth, Her- man began organizing the implementation of human resource functions for his old company and searching for new customers. He had, soon, a number of additional clients, a handsome office near his home, and the support of his wife and several former colleagues who now worked alongside him. Others unanimously agreed that Herman turned his stressful problem to his advantage. He got this feedback by observing his own actions, receiving oth- ers’ feedback as to his efforts, and realizing the many positive ef- fects brought about through his coping efforts. He rose above defeat to fulfilling his values and capabilities in new ways he never imagined. His hardy attitudes rose to a level that he had never achieved before. When we last heard from him, he was making more money than when he was in the company, and had gone from worrying about how to send his children to college to wondering why he had not thought of going out on his own before. He also felt great about being his own boss and believed that being fired was a won- derful wake-up call for his career and life. In terms of attitudes, he had gone from anger, self-pity, and pessimism, to the commitment, control, and challenge we have been emphasizing. CONTINUE THE TRANSFORMATIONAL COPING PROCESS By now, you have seen how the people we used as examples turned their stressful circumstances from potential disasters into opportunities through the transformational coping process. Hope- fully, you too have had success in your own initial attempt with this procedure. It is important to keep this process going. When you finish working on the first stressful circumstance, choose another one from your list, using the same coping process. Keep clearing away stressful circumstances through transforma- tional coping until you can truthfully say that, on an ongoing basis, you are resiliently managing stressful life changes. The amount of success you have in your coping efforts may vary from one stress- ful circumstance to another. But, you can be sure that, in general, your life will be much less stressful, and more successful. Work- place problems will seem like no big deal as you continue to turn them to your advantage. Life is like riding a bicycle: If you keep pedaling, you move forward. SUMMARY It is not enough for someone to tell us what we should believe and do. Indeed, this may make us even more cynical, or at least keep us wondering what’s wrong with us for not being able to make a difference. It would never have worked for us to tell Grace, Martin, and Herman what they needed to do in order to become more resilient. To change, all of us have to engage in behaviors that bring about solutions to problems. This simultaneously convinces us that the world around us can be more like what we had hoped. By now, we have come a good distance in building resilience through hardiness. In chapters 5 and 6, we covered how to in- crease your hardy attitudes of commitment, control, and chal- lenge. And, in chapters 7 and 8, we covered how to engage in transformational coping to better turn stressful circumstances from potential disasters into opportunities. If you maintain these proc- esses, you will see what an important difference you can make in your life. Another important aspect of resilience at work is to build social support by giving and receiving assistance and encouragement with the significant people in your life. In chapters 9 and 10, we’ll show you how.