Saturday, January 6, 2007


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.
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.

No comments: