Based on work with a variety of organizational and corporate clients, Part I outlined three necessary transition stress interventions for engaging an angry and anxious audience caught in a rough and rocky reorganizational sea change. (Email [email protected] if you missed Part I.) The foundational interventions were: 1) “Bring Your Inner Clint Eastwood,” 2) “Warm Up and Cool Down the Audience,” and 3) “Structure Stress and Conflict through the Cognitive Challenge of TLC and PANIC.” The first intervention requires the leader to be battle-tested, to be prepared – head- and heart-wise – to walk into the lion’s den. The second involves an ability to quickly thaw the icy mistrust and begin to engage even the most anxious or cynical. Generating universal empathy and some healing humor (especially the self-effacing variety) are critical for your opening gambit. And the final strategic step is providing the audience fun and thought-provoking problem solving exercises that allow for both appropriate emotional venting and diagnostic-tactical analysis of the crisis state, to better appreciate both the danger and opportunity in times of change and conflict.
To help others bring out their best music you need to be a psychologically and interpersonally savvy “orchestra leader.” Combined with the three basic interventions, here are three additional concepts, strategies and emotional skillsets compromising “The Stress Doc’s ‘Top Ten Commandments’ for Transforming Reorganizational Crisis into Relief and Reflection, Rejuvenation and Recommitment.”
4. Do a Burnout/Burn Up Assessment. During a major reorganization people can start burning out (or burning up) from “doing more with less”, i.e., becoming exhausted or “lean and MEAN.” Or folks can implode or explode from the fear, frustration and fatigue of chronic uncertainty, e.g., constantly worrying about looming cuts and how sweeping they will be. Let me provide a definition of burnout and then four concise warning signs.
Burnout is a gradual process by which a person detaches from work and other significant roles and relationships in response to excessive and prolonged stress and mental, physical, and emotional strain. The result is lowered productivity, cynicism, confusion, a feeling of being drained having nothing more to give. Doesn’t sound like fun! Briefly, here are “The Four Stages of Burnout”:
1) Physical, Mental and Emotional Exhaustion. Does this sound familiar? You’re still holding it together at work, but as soon as you get home you hit the fridge, get out the Ben & Jerry’s or lite beer, put on the tube, hit the sofa, and you’re comatose for the rest of the evening…or wish you could be! Stress unchecked can spiral…into a state of burnout. In fact, I call burnout the “erosive spiral,”
2) Shame and Doubt. Now the concern is that family, friends and colleagues might notice that you are energy drained or slacking off. Or you’re ready to join the Stress Doc’s “Frequent Sighers’ Club.” Believe me, these days it’s taking off. Basically, you’re confronting “The Intimate FOE: Fear of Exposure.”
3) Cynicism and Callousness. You’ve had enough of this uncertainty and vulnerability. “Look out for # 1,” “Get out of my way,” or “Who gives a d_ _m.” If you get abrasive enough, people start avoiding you. So put on the heavy armor: “No one’s getting to me”…Of course, nothing’s getting out. All the tension and frustration is boiling inside. As I like to say, strong silent types get a lot more ulcers than they do Oscars!
4) Failure, Helplessness and Crisis. Now you start obsessing, “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t; damned if I stay, damned if I leave.” Your coping structure’s coming unglued; next stop the Stress Doc’s couch. There’s one positive: once you’ve hit bottom there’s only one way to go – back up – if you can reach out for appropriate help.
5. Letting Go and “The Four ‘R’s.” How to stop this vicious cycle? How to ready yourself for reaching out? Here’s the critical step. Grapple with “The Vital Lesson of the Four ‘R’s”: If no matter what you do or how hard you try, Results, Rewards, Recognition and Relief are not forthcoming and you can’t say “No” or won’t “let go”, that is, you can’t step back and get a new perspective; there’s only one right person, position, or possible outcome because in your mind you’ve invested so much time, money, and ego…trouble awaits. The groundwork is being laid for apathy, callousness, and despair!
How to let go?…See right below.
6. Grieving and “The Six ‘F’s for Surviving and Mastering Loss and Change.” Upon observing that major reorganization often felt like a death, or that something of real meaning appeared to be dying – a sense of trust, security, loyalty, being valued, etc. – a wave of nodding heads circled the room. Understandably, the county personnel were in the throes of grief. However, there is still hope. As I once penned:
Whether the loss is a key person, a desired position or a powerful illusion, each deserves the respect of a mourning. The pit in the stomach, the clenched fists and quivering jaw, the anguished sobs prove catalytic in time. In mystical fashion, like spring upon winter, the seeds of dissolution bear fruitful renewal.
To turn potential transition danger into personal and professional opportunity, engage with “The Stress Doc’s Six ‘F’s for Surviving and Mastering Loss and Change”:
1) Loss of the Familiar. Grapple with the anxiety, rage, hopelessness or sadness in letting go of the familiar role or predictable past. The big question: Who am I? This role or these relationships, this skillset, etc., has been such a big part of my identity. I recall a management trainee’s lament about her government agency’s downsizing: “I once had a career path…then this boulder fell from the sky and crushed it!” Still, sometimes your former niche of success now has you mostly stuck in the ditch of excess and regress. There’s a critical – danger and opportunity – crossroad ahead,
2) Uncertain Future. Clearly the horizon appears cloudy and threatening, lacking direction and clarity. What will be expected of me? Who will I now have to report to or work with? Beware letting present anxieties cloud your critical faculties: just because your past or traditional relations, roles and responsibilities may be changing doesn’t mean you can’t transfer personal and professional experience and skills into new challenging arenas, affiliations or ambitions,
3) Loss of Face. Some loss of self-esteem and self-worth is all too common, especially when our life puzzle has been broken up other than by one’s own hand. Would this scenario be unsettling: “Two months ago you gave our department a great performance review? Now you’re cutting our budget in a major way, and no one knows if there will be layoffs.” Shame and guilt, rage and diminished confidence are frequent early traveling partners on an uncertain and profound transitional journey,
4) Regain Focus. Major change can be scary. Underlying feelings may include rage, helplessness, hopelessness and humiliation. Sometimes we need a little rage to break through chains of mind-body-behavior paralysis. Of course, rage needs to be tempered. Remember, more people shoot themselves in the foot than go postal! (And, let me say, as a former Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant with the US Postal Service, I know “Going Postal.”) Often with professional support, learn to temper your rage by courageously embracing those underlying vulnerable emotions; this leads to a productive, yin-yang state of “focused anger”: “I may not like the cards that have been dealt, but how do I make the best of my reality right now.” And you’ll likely start hatching a new perspective with, if not crystal clear targets, then an intuitive, crystal ball-like enlightenment. Suddenly this Stress Doc mantra starts resonating: “I don’t know where I’m going…I just think I know how to get there!”
5) Seek Feedback. You have to work hard to find someone who can provide clear, clean, and honest feedback. Many don’t really have a clue how to give it. Or people are fearful you won’t know how to handle it. Still, we all benefit from the Stress Doc’s version of TLC: “Tender Loving Criticism” and “Tough Loving Care.” You need a “stress buddy” to help sort out the wheat from the chaff. Before you blow up in a supervisor’s office check in with your TLC partner and ask, “Am I seeing this situation objectively or not? What’s my part in this problem?” In times of rapid or daunting change, trustworthy feedback helps us remember who we are; that our basic, core self remains intact despite being shaken by unsettling forces or errors.
6) Have Faith. Having the courage to grapple with the aforementioned “F”s now yields strength to understand what in your present life rests in your control and what lies beyond. Of course, there’s always an unpredictable element or moment in major transition. Life is not a straight line progression. However, by doing your “head work, heart work and homework” you are in a much stronger personal and professional position. You are building cognitive and emotional muscles; you can have faith in a growing ability to handle whatever will be thrown at you. Going through this process means you are evolving the psychological capacity for dealing with ambiguous and unpredictable twists and turns on life’s journey. Remember…
For the Phoenix to rise from the ashes
One must know the pain
To transform the fire to burning desire!
And how do you transform mystical or mythical maturation into everyday evolution? Consider the prescient words of the great scientific/polio pioneer, Dr. Jonas Salk: Evolution is about getting one more time than you fall down; being courageous one more time than you are fearful; and trusting just one more time than you are anxious.
Part I introduced three necessary transition stress interventions for engaging an audience on “The Reorg Rag” ™: 1) “Bring Your Inner Clint Eastwood” – demonstrate a readiness to empathically and assertively handle audience anger or angst, 2) “Warm Up and Cool Down the Audience” – through healing humor and sharing fun and commonality-building exercises, and 3) “Structure Stress and Conflict through the Cognitive Challenge of TLC and PANIC” – get people integrating the emotional and the analytical as a basis for future problem solving. Part II extended the transition-transformation process by outlining a variety of psychological and interpersonal issues and interventions: 4) Do a Burnout/Burn Up Assessment, 5) Letting Go and “The Four ‘R’s,” and 6) Grieving and “The Six ‘F’s for Surviving and Mastering Loss and Change.” Specifically, Part II focuses on key emotional effects of reorganization and RIF (Reduction in Force) and provides some necessary problem solving actions: a) “do more with less” exhaustion and “The Four Stages of Burnout,” b) short-circuiting the “erosive spiral” by accepting the sense of loss when bereft of “Results, Rewards, Recognition and Relief,” then stepping back and gaining a new perspective through “The Vital Lesson of the Four ‘R’s,” and c) learning to “let go,” “go with the flow” and “grow through grief” by engaging the Six “F”s – loss of the “Familiar,” the uncertain “Future,” loss of “Face,” regaining “Focus,” seeking “Feedback” and having “Faith.” And Part III will complete the Top Ten Commandments. Words to help us all survive if not thrive during major change, to experience the possibility of rebirth and to…Practice Safe Stress!
Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, “The Stress Doc” ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker as well as “Motivational Humorist & Team Communication Catalyst” known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN programs for both government agencies and major corporations. In addition, the “Doc” is a team building and organizational development consultant. He is providing “Stress, Communication and Team Building” programs for the 1st Cavalry Division and 13th Expeditionary Support Command, Ft. Hood, Texas. The Stress Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger. See his award-winning, USA Today Online “HotSite” — www.stressdoc.com — called a “workplace resource” by National Public Radio (NPR). For more info on the Doc’s programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email [email protected].