Saturday, January 6, 2007


‘‘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.
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 fiancé. 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.
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.

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