Rosa knew where this was going as well as anybody did — no place she wanted to go. They all sat in silence while Lambert angrily repeated his question: "Just when do you think you'll get this thing back on track?" You didn't cross Lambert when he got like this.
Will sat quietly for a moment, trying to figure out the right answer. He looked at Rosa. "Three weeks maybe?"
Rosa knew that Will knew it was impossible. She shrugged. "We could try," she replied.
Will and Rosa are coping with Lambert's outrageous behavior in the best way they know — they're placating him. Lambert is coping with the bad news he has received in the best way he knows — by blaming.
Of the many models of human coping, I favor one developed by Virginia Satir, and elaborated by others. In one version, the model has eight basic styles, of which only one, congruence, takes into account the three fundamental elements of our reality: the Self, the Other, and the larger Context. Because congruent coping has balanced regard for all three elements, it's best suited for developing a sound response.
Effective coping requires
a balanced perception
of RealityWhen we cope in any other way, we're responding on the basis of a distorted representation of reality. For instance, we might be giving too much weight to ourselves, or too little to the larger context. When we depend on distorted perceptions, we're on the path to trouble.
Learning to identify coping styles is a good first step toward congruence. Here are some of the eight styles, with illustrations of how someone using each style would deal with bad news on a project.
- The whole thing is probably our fault. I hope that the problem goes away, or that someone else solves it.
- Whatever happened, it's not our fault. It's theirs. To fix it, we'll need more resources, and if we don't get what we need, it will be management's fault.
- In the Hating form: There you go again, up to your old tricks. In the Loving form: Thank goodness you're around. Whatever you say must be right.
- We must deliver on time, no matter what it takes — 15-hour days, weekends, whatever. Make it so.
- Let's rearrange the deck chairs.
- Hmmm, bad news. Let's get some answers: What will it take to correct the problem? Will we need to change the schedule? The budget? Did we miss some early warning signs?
Over the next month or so, problems will surely arise where you work, and people will cope. Categorize the coping styles you observe. The patterns you notice might help you cope congruently more often. That way you'll be coping with the problem, rather than with the problems of your coping. Top Next Issue
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
To read more about organizational coping styles, check out "Organizational Coping Patterns."
For more about managing pressure, see the series that begins with "Managing Pressure: Communications and Expectations," Point Lookout for December 13, 2006.
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More articles on Emotions at Work:
- Getting Home in Time for Dinner
- Some of us are fortunate — we work for companies that make sure they have enough people to do
all the work. Yet, we still work too many hours. We overwork ourselves by taking on too much, and then
we work long hours to get it done. If you're an over-worker, what can you do about it?
- Filtered Perceptions
- How we see things influences how we see things, almost like a filter or sunglasses. What are your filters?
- Managing Hindsight Bias Risk
- Performance appraisal practices and project retrospectives both rely on evaluating performance after
outcomes are known. Unfortunately, a well-known bias — hindsight bias — can limit the effectiveness
of many organizational processes, including both performance appraisal and project retrospectives.
- Preventing Toxic Conflict: II
- Establishing norms for respectful behavior is perhaps the most effective way to reduce the incidence
of toxic conflict at work. When we all understand and subscribe to a particular way of treating each
other, we can all help prevent trouble.
- Dealing with Deniable Intimidation
- Some people use intimidation so stealthily that only their targets recognize the behavior as abusive
or intimidating. Targets are often so frustrated, angered, and confused that they cannot find suitable
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 19: I Don't Understand: II
- Unclear, incomplete, or ambiguous statements are problematic, in part, because we need to seek clarification. How can we do that without seeming to be hostile, threatening, or disrespectful? Available here and by RSS on June 19.
- And on June 26: Appearance Antipatterns: I
- Appearances can be deceiving. Just as we can misinterpret the actions and motivations of others, others can misinterpret our own actions and motivations. But we can take steps to limit these effects. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.