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Life can be complicated, confusing, and stressful. Here you will find topical articles on a variety of issues known to affect physical and mental health. Each short article includes recommendations for further reading and other useful resources.

 

Beware the Ides of March

By Ronnie Biemans, Dec 16 2016 04:05PM

“Beware the Ides of March” is the well- known quote from William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. These words refer to the date of the treacherous plot within the Roman Senate and were the soothsayer’s forecast of imminent danger to Caesar’s life. As the history books recount, Caesar’s associates conspired together and murdered him. This horrific, brutal betrayal by friends and co-workers occurred in 44 BC and is one of the most dramatic moments of workplace treachery imaginable. Thankfully, most of us will never, ever have such an extreme experience in the workplace. However, there are unhealthy work environments everywhere and many of us suffer from the impact of the bad behavior of colleagues, work associates, supervisors and even our clients. Clearly, bad behavior at work goes back centuries.


Toxic Behavior and Emotional Pain in the Workplace


We have all witnessed the popular fascination with “the culture of disparagement” described by Sharon Salzberg in her recent book, Real Happiness at Work. Portrayed in pop culture in the cartoon strip Dilbert, the television series The Office, and the recent Oscar nominated film Wolf on Wall Street, this disrespectful, dog-eat-dog mentality focuses on the survival of the “fittest” or the one who makes the most money at whatever cost. The ends justify the means with little regard given to the impact on individuals or to human relationships. Toxic behaviors such as bullying, incivility, back stabbing, gossip, rudeness, sabotage, and emotional outbursts are not uncommon in the workplace. Although we may laugh at the comic strip and TV show depictions of these situations, it’s really not so funny. We laugh so that we don’t cry out in horror. It is painful, deeply painful, and these unfriendly actions are profoundly impactful. As adults we spend more of our wakeful hours at work than anywhere else for most of our lives. For some, particularly in the United States, where Americans spend more hours per year working than anywhere else in the world, workday life is our life. If you find yourself living in a threat-filled environment for the majority of your day just think of the harm that is done.


In the book Toxic Emotions at Work, author Peter Frost describes the costs of what he calls “organizational toxicity”: lost profits, decreased productivity, work-life imbalance, job stress, absenteeism, employee turnover, reduced loyalty, medical, legal and insurance fees, and workplace violence. “Apart from quitting, which carries its own set of costs to the company, acts of revenge, sabotage, theft, vandalism, withdrawal behaviors (withholding effort), spreading gossip, or generally acting cynical or mistrustful can all represent direct and indirect costs to the organization.”


There are significant emotional costs to the fallout from bullying, abusive managers, unreasonable company policies, malicious, sabotaging co-workers, negative teaming practices and improperly managed organizational change. According to Frost, “toxicity is produced when an individual’s attitudes or an organization’s policies, or both, fail to take into account the emotional attachment that people have to their contribution at work.”


There is another way.


Emotional Intelligence


Daniel Goleman’s seminal work, Working with Emotional Intelligence, describes the link between emotional intelligence and workplace performance. Goleman found that 67 percent of all competencies deemed essential for high performance were related to emotional intelligence. Furthermore, one’s emotional intelligence mattered twice as much as one’s technical knowledge, or IQ, for this high performance.


Emotional Intelligence or EQ is the ability to be aware of and manage one’s emotions, and relate to others in effective ways both personally and professionally in a wide range of contexts and roles. It can help us manage stress, function well in relationships and enhance our cooperation and teamwork. Goleman describes three capacities that form the foundation for all emotionally intelligent competencies and skills. These capacities are: self-reflection, self-regulation and empathy. They allow us to adjust to change, maintain our commitments to people, positively manage relationships, maintain effort, and manage our emotions.


Indicators of low EQ include: blaming others, self-perception as victim, inability to hear critical feedback, passive-aggressive communications amongst co-workers and between supervisors and staff, and leaders who do not listen and are ill-informed about the needs of their workforce. All of these are contributing factors to a toxic workplace.


Clearly, developing emotional intelligence is key to success in life and at the workplace. EQ is teachable and it is something that typically evolves over the lifespan. With maturity often comes wisdom. Over time, we learn to handle ourselves better and we learn to interact more positively with others.


Transcending Differences - Developing Confidence, Compassion, Communication, and Connection


When conflict and disequilibrium arise in the workplace, how we handle them depends on our self-confidence, ability to find compassion for ourselves and others, and communication and connection with others.


In his book Fearless at Work, business consultant and executive coach, Michael Carroll describes optimal work experience as those that result in a feeling of fulfillment and of being appreciated and valued. We feel confident at work; know we are capable, and that we will survive. We are resilient. When we feel confident, we are able to weather the inevitable storms of the workplace. As we find our strength and resilience, we are better prepared to work and team effectively.


Like Daniel Goleman, Michael Carrol, and others focused on a positive, socially and emotionally healthy workplace, Janice Marturano, founder of the Institute for Mindful Leadership and author of Finding the Space to Lead, highlights compassion as an essential quality for leaders in the work world. Without compassion, we fail to develop trusting relationships with co-workers or our staff. Without trust we are unable to work effectively together to complete our projects. Without compassion and trust, the work environment becomes unfriendly as we blame and judge others and ourselves harshly.


According to Marturano, leaders develop optimal qualities through mindfulness practice in the work environment, meditation, and something she calls purposeful pauses. Marturano emphasizes the enormous importance of reflection to ensure that leaders find or create for themselves the time and space to lead, moving forward and making decisions thoughtfully. Through reflection, leaders discover focus and develop skills as well as the discipline needed to find clarity and develop compassion. While related to empathy, compassion is somewhat different. Goleman describes empathy as knowing what others are feeling. Marturano speaks to compassion as something that takes this one step further, requiring emotional openness that is facilitated by thoughtful reflection and self-inquiry.


Chade-Meng Tan, known as Google’s jolly good fellow, developed the Search Inside Yourself (SIY) program, a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence training program as an offshoot of his belief that cultivating EQ through mindfulness training and meditation can help an individual reach happiness, find success and compassion. Tan’s, SIY curriculum, has trainees practice a variety of skills. In one exercise meant to awaken compassion and an awareness of our commonalities, participants repeat phrases that acknowledge that the other person is “just like me”. This person has a body and a mind, just like me. This person has feelings thoughts and emotions, just like me. And so on. While workshop participants stand across from one another repeating these phrases they come to understand others have suffered in life, just like me, they have made mistakes and had regrets. Compassion is born. With compassion comes understanding. Conflict and resentments diminish and tolerance develops.


Daniel Goleman would certainly agree with Sharon Salzberg who ascertains, “The ability to connect with our colleagues – through skillful communication and other means is paramount to being happy at work. How present you are, how able you are to manage your own emotional states, as well as complex and nuanced relationships, is essential to getting work done.” In her new book Real Happiness at Work, Salzberg describes skillful self-expression that includes being truthful with ourselves, mindful of our own feelings and sensitive to the feelings of others. Using good judgement, as well as having awareness of others needs and emotions are essential.


To improve our work life, we can choose to develop our EQ , mindfulness, compassion and communication skills in a variety of ways through formal training programs, such as those offered at UCLA, Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism, the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society and the Institute for Mindful Leadership or by seeking out informal resources available in the community such as 12-step programs, meditation groups, churches, spiritual groups, self-help groups and psychotherapy.


About the Author:


Informed by over 25 years of professional training and work experience as well as her many years of meditation and yoga practice, Ronnie Biemans, M.A., L.C.P.C., is guided by a core philosophy to focus on strengths, not deficits or pathology. By discovering, restoring and optimizing each person’s unique ability to thrive and meet the demands, of today’s fast-paced, stressful world, those who have encountered physical and emotional health challenges can discover ways to improve their lives and well being. Operating from her home office and in other community settings, Ronnie provides guidance and support to individuals, families and groups seeking to live healthy, balanced lives.


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