Attitude Adjustments: Mastering Coping
By: Ethan Schutz
We left off in Part 5 of our series on corporate culture and attitudes discussing how imperative coping is when we are seeking to adjust attitudes and quit the blame game. But mastering coping doesn’t happen overnight. Nor do we learn to cope in moments of crisis. Instead, we must learn ahead of time so that we know what to do or what to try in those moments. For example, an emergency room doctor or nurse learns the skills of emergency care—putting in IVs, stabilizing, stanching blood flow, etc.—so that they can cope with various emergencies that may appear. Firefighters similarly learn a variety of skills in order to be able to cope with a wide variety of situations.
So How Does Coping Help Us to Form Continuous Positive Attitudes?
When it comes to interpersonal skills, we are not usually trained to cope in general, but only with specific situations—how to give a performance review or how to handle a difficult customer, for example. If we haven’t generalized our capacity to cope and we are in a situation for which we haven’t been trained, we tend to fall back on the coping mechanisms we already have—defensive behavior. These behaviors do not serve to help us cope productively and tend to make things worse because defensive behavior is what we don’t like about each other.
Real change comes when we learn to cope with our underlying fears themselves to the point of mastery—fears of being ignored, being treated as unimportant, feeling embarrassed, feeling not capable or good enough, and of being disliked. This is what leads to a permanent change of attitude. The 100% responsible attitude we aim for in healthy corporate cultures is the result of the self-awareness and self-acceptance work, not the cause. When people feel good about themselves, they usually have this attitude naturally, because most people want to contribute something of value.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” — Victor Frankel, Man’s Search for Meaning
Interpersonal Skills Development Is Professional Development
Yet, few if any organizations help people do this. Dealing with internal fears seems disconnected from work, like the realm of personal development or therapy, and is often viewed as private. But not dealing with these internal fears and the interpersonal issues that arise because of them is no more than organizational self-deception. The impact of these fears on the results of the workplace can be profound, both negatively and positively. For a CEO, a small internal change in the way that she or he feels can have a huge impact on relationships with their direct reports and thus have a huge impact on results.
This brings us back to our health care facility. As they drew closer to launch, the team began to focus on remaining non-defensive in order to keep positive attitudes. With that, they actively started to manage their worry of being blamed, shamed, or thought of poorly by others. They began their discussions with staff by explaining their intentions and how they had contributed to the situation so far. They asked for real feedback from them. They admitted their mistakes and explained what they intended to do to improve things. The staff began to open up and say more of what was really going on. They offered opinions. They solved problems and spoke up when things weren’t working well.
But they also spoke up about their dislikes. It looked like the team was backsliding because there seemed to be more complaining again. Tune into our next, and final, installment to find out if the team was able to change attitudes throughout the rest of the organization.
They began to ask themselves if their efforts were actually making the team better. How would they shift the attitudes of the other team members?