Saturday, January 6, 2007


‘‘The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.’’ —ALBERT EINSTEIN 1 You have a choice as to the way in which you cope with stressful changes. The way of transformational, or resilient, coping is to: s Treat changes as problems to solve, s Take the necessary mental and action steps to solve problems effectively, and s Draw observations, insights, and wisdom from your coping experiences in order to learn and grow. Each time you cope in this way, you make yourself better prepared for the next problem as it arises. Specifically, at the mental level, you find a way to put the stressful circumstance into a broader perspective, so that it seems less daunting. Then, you are able to analyze the circumstance’s subtle features and deepen your understanding of it. The mental steps of broadening perspective and deepening understanding lead you toward an action plan that can decrease the stress and turn the change to your advantage. Carrying out the action plan can increase your hardy attitudes, which increases the likelihood that you will continue with transformational coping as other changes happen. TRANSFORMATIONAL COPING ‘‘In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.’’ —ALBERT EINSTEIN 2 Transformational coping is a proactive mental and behavioral cop- ing style that is fundamental to resiliency. Through coping in this way, the negative emotions around stressful problems diminish, and new ways of thinking open pathways for effective action. With this process, stressful changes can be turned into opportunities. But, to turn adversity to your advantage, you must put effort into finding new ways of understanding your problems in order to ar- rive at new solutions. This effort is difficult; that’s why, to some, it is easier to rely on old ways of understanding, as if there were nothing more to learn. When minor changes are experienced, this status-quo approach may be all you need to cope. But, when stressful changes require new understanding and coping behaviors to solve them, the status-quo approach amounts to coping regres- sively. Old ways of understanding problems often spotlight a stressful change’s obvious features rather than its subtle ones, which obscure pathways to solving the problem. Transformational coping’s procedures and skills help you to uncover the subtle features of stressful change. When you sort out the possibilities of a circumstance, you have a chance to turn change to advantage, grow in understanding, and make headway in carving a professional and personal path that moves you posi- tively into the future. To get you started, let’s look at the three key steps in transfor- mational coping: 1. BROADENING YOUR PERSPECTIVE. The transformational coping process begins at the mental level. Many of the stressful work changes you face today happen at an organizational level, despite that they affect you personally. It helps to solve these large- scale difficulties by placing them into a broader perspective so that they are more tolerable. You can then back up enough to get a bird’s-eye view of these problems, so you can think about them clearly and decide how to cope with them. For example, you might put a job loss into perspective by real- izing that internal and external conditions had reached a point where the company felt that downsizing was necessary to get back on track. And, of course, downsizing leads employers to terminate employees, not an act of personal aggression against you. You can now think through the pros and cons of the job loss and come up with a constructive plan of action. When you make the stressor tolerable by broadening your perspective, you are more ready and able to analyze the problem and search out a solution to it. 2. DEEPENING YOUR UNDERSTANDING. Once you gain per- spective and can face the problem, you immerse yourself in the problem-solving process by taking account of the ways in which you, others, and the situation contribute to the stressfulness of the circumstance. You try to understand the less obvious features of the problem. One way to do this is by appreciating the relational facets of stressful changes. You, and your problems, coexist with other people. For exam- ple, you and your supervisor may not get along, but because the work situation imposes upon you a collegial partnership, you must find a way to work well together. It helps little to chalk up your mutually shared uneasiness to having come from different worlds and letting it go at that. This is a regressive coping conclusion that gives you little reason to deepen your understanding of this stress- ful relationship. In contrast, the transformational coping process helps you to get the most out of stressful circumstances and changes, so that you seize opportunities that lead to insights and behaviors that positively service your life. By carefully analyzing the relational facets of stressful circumstances, hardy problem solvers are able to flush outgrowth-promoting opportunities. In the example used above, if you really analyze the difficulty you and your supervisor are having in working together, you may well be able to discern specific misunderstandings between you, and how they tend to accumulate without either of you realizing it. This will much more likely lead you to an action plan for cor- recting the problem than would the simple conclusion that you two just come from different worlds. 3. TAKING DECISIVE ACTION. ‘‘Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.’’ —THOMAS J. EDISON 3 Gaining insight into what stresses you is good, but taking decisive action to solve the problem is even better. Once you gain perspec- tive and understanding through the mental part of the coping process, the next step is to map out a strategy for turning around the circumstance and decreasing its stressfulness on you. Continu- ing with the above example, if, for instance, you concluded that a series of mutual misunderstandings caused the problem, you can take actions to clarify both your understanding of it and your su- pervisor’s understanding of it. Your action plan might involve ways for you to explain yourself more clearly to your supervisor, and to ask for further clarification of his or her input. The result may well be a decrease in the stressfulness of the circumstance, and the personal feedback you get from seeing your- self solving problems in this way strengthens your hardy attitudes of commitment, control, and challenge. You will increasingly feel like staying involved in your life, trying to influence the outcomes going on around you, and continually learning from your experi- ences, so as to do better and better. Case Studies of Transformational Coping The following two examples of employees skilled in transforma- tional coping involve the mental process of putting the stressful circumstance into perspective, deepening your understanding of it, and formulating and carrying out a plan of action designed to turn things to your advantage. JOEY T.: ‘‘HOWEVER INVOLVED IN MY WORK I AM, I CANNOT JUST DETACH FROM MY COWORKERS.’’ Ever since his own high school experience, Joey had wanted to be teach youngsters. After college, he started working as a math teacher in his local high school, and threw himself into making a difference in the lives of his students. Soon, he became a really popular teacher, and students treated him as one of them. In his dedication to teaching, Joey made little effort to get to know his fellow teachers. Sometimes, he would not even go to faculty meetings, as he felt preoccupied by the effortful, time-consuming commitment to helping youngsters develop. It surprised him when he became an object of criticism for his colleagues. Even the school principal began to question Joey’s intentions and effectiveness as a teacher. There was a chance that he might be officially rep- rimanded for being too involved with students. Although the criticism surprised Joey, his hardy atti- tudes were strong enough to provoke the needed attention to his colleagues. He put the problem in perspective by recognizing that it was manageable, and could be solved. Thinking the situation through analytically, he recognized that it was his not having treated the other teachers as im- portant that had caused the problem. He had been too ex- clusively occupied with helping his students. His ensuing action plan set the goal of explaining him- self to colleagues, and drawing them into his dedicated ap- proach to reaching and influencing youngsters. He made sure never to miss faculty meetings again, and went out of his way to interact with coworkers, making sure they knew what he was trying to accomplish, and asking them about their own plans. Before long, the majority of his colleagues began to un- derstand and respect him as someone who was actually able to reach youngsters while teaching them. His principal asked him to carry out teaching workshops for the faculty. Joey did this with affection and humility, and before long he was influential in helping his colleagues to develop as teachers. In all this, he realized that he had been too one- sided as to the people he should reach. RUTH B.: ‘‘WHATEVER HAPPENS, I NEED TO MAKE IT TURN OUT THE BEST FOR ME.’’ Pursuing an English major in college, Ruth had always wanted to be a writer. After getting her bachelor’s degree, she found a job as an assistant at a large advertising firm. Her supervisor conceptualized advertising scenarios, writing a lot of them himself. He expected Ruth to carry out his plans, edit his scripts, and follow his directions. The advertising firm had essentially one huge client. The client paid so well and needed so much marketing that, over time, the advertising firm had given up other smaller clients and concentrated efforts on the one account. Picture what this meant when, in a time of economic recession, the client had to decrease its advertising budget. When the advertising firm had to downsize as a result, Ruth, who was, after all, a junior employee, lost her job. At first, Ruth was bewildered. She had been making a good salary. What was she to do now? Did she fail to con- vince them of her value as an employee? Soon, however, her hardy attitudes kicked in. She had falsely assumed that her company was solid and impervious to change, which in the past had made her feel safe. Realizing this, she recog- nized that she hadn’t failed the company, the company had failed her and itself by putting all its eggs in one basket. She remembered that she had taken orders rather than giv- ing them. And come to think of it, her work tasks had bored her, as they rarely expressed her talents and capabili- ties. Ruth’s thinking led to the perspective she reached, namely, that it is normal to shop around for jobs until you find the one that really works for you, and that it makes sense, too. Although her firm had gotten rid of her, losing her job may have been as much an opportunity as a loss. Thus, Ruth felt better and was able to analyze her situation more deeply and realize that she needed to find another job that encouraged and valued her talents more than the one she had lost. Soon, she had an action plan and was carrying it out by applying to other advertising firms, making sure that the job they might offer would permit her to express her capa- bilities, and that the prospective employer knew her talents. Before long, Ruth found what she wanted. A small firm searching for people who write well offered her a creative job. She enthusiastically accepted their offer. She’s doing very well in her new job. Her coworkers respect and value her work, and she values them as colleagues and mentors. She also fully realizes that if she had not been terminated by her last employer, the new career opportunity might never have happened. REGRESSIVE COPING ‘‘A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent in doing nothing.’’ —GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 4 A much less effective coping style than transformational coping is regressive coping. There are two expressions to this nonresilient coping style. In the first, most passive form of regressive coping, problems that stem from stressful changes are not thought about. Instead they are avoided by engaging in activities irrelevant to the task. Although this approach may bring some momentary relief, it does little to remedy the problems. Over time, individuals who take this approach learn to avoid any change that might expose their limitations and areas of needed growth. To avoid feeling awk- ward, out of control, and insecure, they would rather shrink their life down to the size of a postage stamp. Exaggeration of, and catastrophic reactions to, stressful changes is the second, more active form of regressive coping. Here, you feel like a victim and strike out against those who seem like op- pressors. People who cope in this way have a difficult time distin- guishing between type and intensity of stressor. They respond to a change or problem that makes them feel out of control with apprehension, fear, and anger. This can manifest as irritability, un- cooperativeness, and criticism of others. The more socially de- structive form of this regressive coping can involve violence and acting out, such as in sabotage or terrorism. Though they differ in terms of social impact, both of these forms of regressive coping limit your effectiveness and development. Case Studies of Regressive Coping The five people in the following examples used different kinds of regressive coping to manage stressful changes. This coping strategy undermined their ability to develop a broad perspective and deep understanding of the problem, and to take actions that give pur- pose and meaning to their professional and personal lives. These five examples illustrate how bitterness and self-pity prevent people from moving forward constructively. ALLAN H.: ‘‘LIFE STINKS, AND THERE’S NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT IT.’’ The story of Allan that appeared in chapter 6 is a good example of regressive coping. Lacking courage and motiva- tion, he was unable to do the hard work of transformational coping and slipped further and further into regressive cop- ing instead. Because he was unable to establish himself in what he saw as a hostile world, his financial situation worsened. He could not bear to make his lifestyle more modest and hated all those fellow employees whom he saw as having done him in. He felt like such a failure. Before long, he fulfilled his prophesy through excessive drinking and drug use, so that he could feel better about himself and not think about what was happening to him. His wife finally left their marriage, which bewildered and emotionally hurt him. While driving under the influ- ence, he hit a teenage pedestrian, which led to his arrest and hospital-based rehabilitation. Nothing seemed to help him. When last heard from, Allan was unemployed, home- less, and down-and-out. As Allan’s example shows, regres- sive coping becomes a nightmare syndrome, even when at first it may seem like a natural enough way of avoiding pressures. Stressed out, we may think, ‘‘What’s so bad about having a few drinks or spending all my money at the mall if it helps me to distract myself from all this trouble?’’ Remember, one thing in regressive coping leads to another, and another, until before long, you have unwittingly under- mined your life. The answer to dealing with stressful changes in the workplace is transformational coping, because it helps you solve problems. Imagine how Allan’s situation would turn out if he coped in this way: At the mental level, he would have put losing his job in a broader perspective, making it tolerable. He could have done this by seeing his job loss as the same thing that is happening to lots of other employees like him rather than as a sign that he is just no good. This commonplace perspec- tive highlights shared aspects of stressful changes. Through this, Allan could have recognized that the frequent job changes prevalent in his industry means that, though losing your position is disruptive, it hardly stops you from getting another job, perhaps an even better one with another firm. We call this the manageability perspective. Had Allan approached his stressful circumstance from these perspectives, he could have assuaged his worries long enough to understand his situation more thoroughly. s What, specifically, did the company tell him about his job loss? How might it be willing to help him find another placement? s What severance benefits could he negotiate from the company? s How could he get helpful directions by networking with his colleagues, friends, and former customers? s Considering his assets, how much time did he have to find another position? s What other ways are available to him in searching for other jobs? s Is there some other job description or career he had thought of as attractive, or always wanted, for which this forced change could open the way? By asking these questions of himself, Allan could have broadened his perspective and deepened his understanding of his situation. This would also have prepared him to de- velop a decisive action plan and carry it out. Notice that we would not have wanted him to jump into an action plan without making the mental effort neces- sary to guide it well. The impulsive ready-fire-aim approach does more harm than good. Decisive plans for action in- clude a goal to reach and instrumental steps toward achiev- ing it. This all follows from a thorough understanding of the problem. Then, it would have been time for Allan to start taking the steps of his action plan, in the specified order, to reach the goal that seemed best for him. As he took the steps and reached the goal, that would have en- couraged him to use the feedback from his efforts to deepen his hardy attitudes of commitment, control, and challenge. All this would have led him far from bitterness and self- pity. GRACE H.: ‘‘THIS IS A MALE SOCIETY, AND I’M UNFORTUNATELY A WOMAN.’’ Now recall Grace, the example in chapter 6 of an employee low in hardy attitudes. Not surprisingly, she had sunk into bitterness, regarding herself a powerless woman in a man’s world, and into self-pity that jeopardized any effort on her own behalf. This all came about when her company failed to promote her. She worked hard on work tasks, finished them as soon as possible, and geared up for the next work project. Grace contributed a lot of effort, time, and exper- tise to the company at which she worked. In her view, she was a model employee and, as she built up tenure, had fully expected the company to promote her. It never crossed her mind that she approached the job as a follower rather than as a leader, or that leaders are more likely to get promoted than followers. Instead, she externalized blame, concluding that her male boss dismissed her as her father had done, and she could do little about this. It was quite painful for her to grow up with two brothers whom her father favored. Her father regularly supported his sons as the ones who would have productive careers. In contrast, he expected Grace to marry and have children. She felt her father overlooked her school success; something he never did with her brothers. Grace’s father, himself not having finished high school, was traditional and had little appreciation as to why she wanted to go to college. Without the support and guidance of fam- ily members, she did poorly in school, and, after only two years, decided to drop out to get a job with her present employer. To this day, her father cannot understand why she has not married and become a mother. To find a way to feel competent and valuable, she threw herself into her work, giving it all her energy. She assumed that the rest of the world did not share in her father’s anti-quated views of women in general, and of her specifically. The initial welcoming attitude of her boss led Grace to think she had finally found a place that valued her. If she followed orders and worked hard, she assumed she would rise up in the company. So, the only way that she could understand her coworkers being promoted over her was to conclude that her boss held the same male chauvinistic views as her father. She angrily decided that they were both male chauvinists. Grace knew too well this long-standing, chronic stress. She would have suffered less and found a more constructive understanding of her lack of advance- ment within the company if she could have embraced Elea- nor Roosevelt’s wise saying, ‘‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’’ As time went on, Grace continued to cope regressively, which deepened bitter and self-piteous feelings within her. Fortunately, her church made our hardiness-training pro- gram available to its parishioners. The transformational coping part of this training program put her through exer- cises, like those in chapter 8. Through this, she searched for perspective and understanding of her circumstance, which led to a decisive plan of action that could solve her problem. It was hard for her to get going at first because she was so used to coping regressively. Once she involved herself in the exercises, however, and experienced some re- lief from coping constructively, her problem-solving proc- ess took on a life of its own. We will talk about Grace’s progress in the next chapter. MARTIN O.: ‘‘JUST KEEP BEING OPTIMISTIC; THINGS WILL TURN OUT FOR THE BEST.’’ Martin, also from chapter 6, exuded a type of optimism that actually interfered with his coping process and significantly differed from the preferred form of can-do optimism ex- pressed in hardy attitudes. His naive, complacent form of optimism obstructed his efforts to learn from his experi- ence. Instead, it led to a pattern of denial that ended up costing him one sales job after another. Astonishingly, he responded to these reversals in fortune with a tolerant atti- tude that accommodated his denial. The laissez-faire atti- tude shown by Martin is one telltale sign of regressive coping. In an effort to increase its customer base, one of the companies for which Martin worked put him and the entire sales crew through hardiness training. The company wanted its sales staff to develop resilient ways to cope with the stress of developing a larger customer base. Early in the group sessions, we asked course participants to jot down what they deemed the most stressful aspects of their jobs. They then shared this with the other group members. Martin went first. He saw his work task as doable and could not think of any aspect of it that felt stressful to him. But strangely enough, as others spoke up, Martin agreed with their take on what caused them stress in their jobs. He said repeatedly, ‘‘Oh, I have that too.’’ And then, he wrapped up his take on each stressful aspect with, ‘‘But, I can handle it because I keep a positive attitude.’’ At the least, he was able to acknowledge that he experienced the stress his fellow coworkers experienced, despite his need to put a positive spin on all of it. Martin observed his coworkers progressively working through their stress by using the transformational coping exercises. They took a broad perspective of their problems and made an effort to deepen their understanding of them. Their efforts were fruitful, as they found ways to positively resolve their problems and decrease the stressfulness of their circumstances. Martin did not progress in the same way. By observing others, he began to recognize this. Soon, he admitted that if he had taken what was happening to him more seriously, he might have been able to keep jobs and get ahead, rather than to shift from one company to another without success or advancement. A great insight came to him when he real- ized that he had approached hardiness training in the same way. Chapter 8 talks about how transformational coping exercises helped Martin to move beyond his limitations. HERMAN W.: ‘‘EVEN WHEN YOU HAVE THE CAREER YOU WANT, YOU MAY LOSE IT ALL AT ANY MOMENT.’’ After receiving his MBA degree, Herman started working as a human resources manager in a large, international com- pany. Many years of hard work moved him up slowly through the ranks. After twenty-three years of service, he became vice president of the company’s local branch and director of its human resources department. Above every- thing else, Herman valued stability and predictability in his professional and personal life. At this point, he had every- thing he wanted; he was stable and secure. Work peers and subordinates saw him as responsible, sincere, and straight- forward. Herman’s interest in and involvement with other people and his work situations showed his attitude of commit- ment. But, his excessive need for professional and personal stability, predictability, and safety undermined his drive to seek and learn from new experiences. This weakened in him in the hardy attitudes of control and challenge. Where did Herman’s need for safety and predictability begin? He grew up in a middle-class family, wherein he and his siblings felt secure, despite the regular absence of his parents as they were often away at work, ensuring the fami- ly’s financial security. He did well in school, and he is still in touch with former classmates. After casually dating two girls in college, he met and married his wife. They have been together ever since. Their two girls are now in late adolescence. They have a rich family life and regularly do things together, such as going to church, movies, and festi- vals, and on vacations. Generally, Herman built his life on stability, predictabil- ity, and security, as if change had no worthwhile role. His worries and preoccupations were few in the safe and un- changing life he had built. Imagine how he felt when, one fine day, the company’s Executive Committee called him in and announced that they had terminated the human re- sources function at that branch, and hence, he no longer had a job! Herman was devastated. He remembered all those job offers he had turned down over the years. Why would any- one want to leave a stable company? He could not under- stand how his peers, whom he had known for so many years, could do such a thing to him. He did not know what to tell his wife and children, who had become accustomed to a safe, predictable life. He began to reconsider all of his choices and judgments over the years. Now, he felt bitter and cynical about corporate America and people in general. The meaning Herman applied to his life began to un- ravel. After all, he had long since come to the conclusion that stability and safety is the essence of a good life. Shortly before he lost his job, his company offered employees hardiness training. Chapter 8 talks about what Herman learned by going through this training and the difference it made in his life. SUSAN M.: ‘‘I’M NOT PUTTING UP WITH THIS. IF THEY CAN’T TREAT ME WITH MORE RESPECT, I’M GETTING OUT OF HERE.’’ Each morning, Susan got ready for work. Besides her lunch, cell phone, organizer, and other work paraphernalia, she carried mental images of a model employee, coworker, su- pervisor, and employer. These snapshots stored well- defined ideas, themes, and story lines that strongly influ- enced how she related to work circumstances. Whenever she encountered stressful changes that challenged what she expected of a person or situation, she insisted on holding on to her well-defined models of the world. Susan was a vice president in a small mortgage com- pany that others in the industry regarded as maverick. It enjoyed several decades of success cornering its market share through this image. Like many of her coworkers, she enjoyed the boutique nature of the company and the busi- ness practices that stemmed from it. Her unconventional personality echoed the company’s image, goals, and moti- vation, which positively contributed to her professional success. Susan, caught up in the glory of the company’s good- old days, was unprepared when global economic trends forced the company into a corporate merger that subordi- nated its management and functions. The company identity and procedures changed through a move to standardize and streamline products. This changed the small maverick company that shaped and discarded policies with each new deal, into a conventional and predictable place to work. Susan felt lost and bitter about what she perceived as downward and sterile company changes. Management stopped inviting her to meetings. She knew less and less about company proceedings. In addition, her department had to do more with much less, which imposed greater workloads on those employees who survived the cuts. And, to add insult to injury, the new parent company no longer allowed vice presidents to come and go as they pleased. As in lower administrative echelons, she now had an eight-to- five job. Susan viewed such changes as disrespectful to her, especially because she had all along been a loyal employee. She was bitter and resentful. Rather than think through the changes that stressed her, she let angry preoccupations con- sume her heart and mind. Susan saw the merger as lower- ing the company’s principles and, self-righteously, she let them know this. She began to find any excuse to leave work early or to take the day off. She gave less of herself to her job and justified doing so by overemphasizing office scan- dals that, to her, confirmed the demise of the company’s morals. This she was clear about. But, when it came to her- self, Susan had less understanding. She knew what was wrong with the company, and how to change it, but never thought of changing herself. 1. What might Susan need in order to change herself? As a youngster, Susan had raised herself. Her father had left the family when she was five years old. And, her mother favored alcohol over the care of her children. Susan became her brother’s keeper, so to speak, and learned early on how to care for herself and others. The caretaking role eventu- ally became second nature to her. The combination of Susan’s intellect, talent, and take- charge spirit gained the favor of management at her com- pany, which helped her to rise up its ranks. Like the company, she was a maverick and flourished in work con- ditions that supported this expression. When the company changed, she did not take easily to being locked out of the game and made to feel like just one of the employees. There was no longer a match between Susan’s values, goals, and motivations, and those of her employer. Susan’s insecurities lie dormant in the shadows of supe- riority and excellence. It never occurred to her that she was the one who needed to change. Her previous successes ob- scured the possibility of changing herself in the midst of these difficult, ongoing organizational changes. 2. Besides the obvious stress of company changes, what was Susan’s problem? Susan faced company changes at the same level of thinking that once helped her to survive, understand, and take charge in unsupportive circumstances. She coped with unreasonable childhood conditions by taking over and eventually leaving home at the age of seventeen; she never turned back. If she could, Susan would leave the company right now. But, she is three years away from retirement, and if she left today, she would lose a well-deserved retirement pension. In addition, Susan faced the fact that she no longer had the energy she had when she was seventeen. She felt trapped by the circumstance, blamed the company for her woes, and saw little possibility in this bleak situation. Clearly, she was stuck between a rock and a hard place. In this situation, changing herself was the only feasible option. Susan did finally muster up the courage and found a way to make her job work for the next three years. She was still a valued employee, and she enjoyed fostering the tal- ents of those she supervised. She realized that it was the training and development of others, and the friendships she formed in the process, rather than the perks, that kept her at this job for twenty-five years. The transformational coping process helped Susan to recognize all of this. ‘‘I complained incessantly for months about the loss of my status, but when all is said and done, I’m a girl from Idaho who enjoys working with the ranks and making things happen.’’ From that point on, Susan fo- cused on work aspects that gave her pleasure and meaning. True to her leadership spirit, she used the knowledge and wisdom she gained to help those she supervised success- fully navigate ongoing company changes. What happened to Susan is an excellent example of how stressful changes can throw us off course if we are not resil- ient. But it also serves as a powerful case study of how transformational coping skills enable us to overcome dis- ruptive change. 3. What is the moral to Susan’s story? If we all agreed on everything, there would be little in- centive to question what we learned in the past and move beyond it. Such a scenario may be less stressful, but cer- tainly, it does not foster growth and fulfillment. Today, disagreements between you and your employer in values, goals, and motivations are much more likely, as ever- changing shifts in corporate structure and operations widen the gulf between organizational and individual needs. The workplace today bears little resemblance to the workplace many once knew. Now, more than ever before, disruptive changes bring to the surface disagreements and conflicts that provoke you to come to terms with what is really going on and what you need to do about it. 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 your way of dealing with stressful work changes, now and in the past. Remember, no one will see your answers but you, so be as honest as you can. Transformational Coping 1. Do you immerse yourself in workplace changes to grasp their implications for you and your company? 2. Do you try to see how workplace changes can improve your functioning? 3. Do you try to see which directions workplace changes move you and your company? 4. Do you try to think through how you can plan to take advan- tage of workplace changes? 5. Do you try to carry out the plans to improve yourself in re- sponse to workplace changes? 6. If you try to carry out plans to improve yourself, do you open yourself up to feedback from your efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of your plan? Regressive Coping 1. Do you see workplace changes as an unfortunate imposition and try to keep functioning the way you have been all along? 2. Do you try to bring back the good-old days? 3. Do you engage in distractions, such as watching a lot of tele- vision, so that you don’t have to think about work problems? 4. Do you think that whatever is going to happen, will happen, and that you cannot really influence it? 5. When workplace changes happen, do you turn to others to find out what to do? 6. Do all of the ongoing changes make you wish you could just stop working? To score your answers, give yourself one point for each time you answered ‘‘True’’ to a question. In order to see your approach to coping, total your scores for each set of six questions. Which set gave you the highest score, Transformational Coping or Regressive Coping? Keep these results in mind as you read further.
What the examples we have just presented show is that stressful circumstances can provoke regressive coping, especially if your hardy attitudes are already pretty low. This is the case with Allan H., Grace H., Martin O., and Susan M., who were not resilient under stress. Allan’s life deteriorated when he resisted finding ways to restore purpose and meaning. Although Grace and Martin fared better than Allan did, their bitterness and self-pity engulfed them, sapping their courage and motivation to deal effectively with their stress. Grace and Susan blamed others for their problems. Martin, on the other hand, arranged to look the other way. As shown by Herman’s case, even if your hardy attitudes are moderate rather than low (remember, he was strong in commit- ment), a very stressful circumstance can lead to regressive coping unless you are careful to avoid this. Herman was beginning to blame others and the system, rather than working to solve the problem through transformational coping. Clearly, when stressful circumstances confront you, you need to be ready and able to engage in transformational coping, as shown in the examples of Joey and Ruth earlier in the chapter. Otherwise, you risk meaninglessness, weakened resilience, and in- creased bitterness and self-pity. Chapter 8 shows you how to en- gage in the specifics of transformational coping. This form of coping is a useful technique to build yourself up by your effective reaction to stress, rather than by letting it knock you down.

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