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spike bullet May 2002 - Stress: How It Affects The Roles We Play

Stress: How It affects the Roles We Play
How We React to Stress
Exercise: Understanding the Dynamics of Conflict
Using the Exercise in Real Situations
Dealing with People Who Want Power and Success at Your Expense
Techniques You Can Use in Conflict Situations
Resources (links, books, articles, humor)

color bulletStress: How It Affects The Roles We Play

by Debra Gawrych 

Our article this month is written by Debbie Gawrych, author of The Seven Aspects of Sisterhood, a model using the same system as our Personality Game.  The descriptions of Roles apply to men as well as women.  What Debbie calls "Aspects" we call Roles," and she uses "Storyteller" for the Role we call "Sage."   For more information about each of the Roles, see the Personality Game or take a quick quiz to find your Role.

Stress kills or at least bends us to the point of breaking.  The stress of our ever- increasing   pace of life is evident in the world around us.  Lately, in the news, we have been bombarded with images of the corporate demises of Enron, Global Crossing and Arthur Andersen.  We read and speculate about what happened that compelled management to push the envelope and we hear about the thousands of families hurt by the downfall of these companies.

We don�t often hear about another side of the story � the personal aspects that could drive someone to make the kind of decisions these executives made.  

What stressors were present in their lives?  What motivated them?  How much did stress influence their actions?  Once we can ascertain this information, it is easier for us to see that poor business decisions don�t occur in a vacuum.

When bad things happen, it is human nature to want to place blame.  We want a bad guy, someone to take the fall: some way to make sense out of a catastrophe or nonsense.  We read daily about situations of fraud, collusion, greed and corruption and just when we began to be immune to reading these stories, September 11th happened.

Yet who is really to blame?  Enron was a global catastrophe causing a chain link of reactions.  First, the bankruptcy of the company, the loss of billions of dollars, and loss of thousands of jobs.  Next, the indictment of their auditors, Arthur Andersen and again a loss of thousands of jobs worldwide, and then on to legal proceedings against officers of Enron and related parties.  It is almost too easy to say that one party is to blame.  What drove the officers of Enron to push the envelope more and more into the risky world of derivative trading?

Where were the watchdogs when the investments were skyrocketing?  Enron executives pushed the envelope because stockholders and Wall Street analysts demanded higher and higher rates of return.  As things turned sour, Wall Street continued to champion Enron�s stock based on rosy expectations, and Enron executives were reluctant to come clean.  We can suppose that greed was behind many of their decisions, but stress may also have played a factor.

The employees and managers of these companies are in limbo, not knowing if the company will remain in business, or if they will have a job or a paycheck from one day to the next.  This uncertainty and instability can cause stress.  

You don�t have to be the victim of a corporate debacle to feel stress. T he pressure and strain of daily life causes stress, whether you work or not.

Unless we are willing to take a hard look at what might be difficult to admit, history may repeat itself.  As I read the daily media reports of corruption in corporate America, investments and accounting, I seek not to judge, but to understand.  How do individual personalities react under stress and given certain inherent tendencies in one�s character, how could he or she/he handle things differently, given the circumstances.

Of course, it is simplistic to say that stress was the over riding motivator in the lives of these decisions makers, but consider the lyrics from this popular rock song:

There is something inside me that pulls beneath the surface
Consuming, confusing
This lack of self-control I fear is never ending.
Controlling I can�t seem to find myself again
My walls are closing in
Got a sense of confidence
I�m convinced that it�s just too much pressure to take
I felt this way before so insecure
Crawling underneath my skin, these words they will not heal
Fear is how I fall
Confusing what is real.

[from Linkin Park "Crawling"]

Stress and fear, whether it is brought about by external forces, such as the demands of higher rates of return, client demands to look the other way at accounting transactions or internal stress brought about by failing to live up to one�s expectations can confuse what is real.  

Every person and personality type has stress; the key is how you react to stress.  

color bullet How We React to Stress

Stress can cause anyone to react irrationally and far from their best in a given situation.  Conflict can cause stressful reactions and stress can cause conflict.  The following is a brief listing of how each aspect is likely to behave during periods of stress.

From the Seven Aspects Personality Model, each of the seven aspects has his/her own unique tendency to behave under stress:


  • Demanding, arrogant
  • Indignant that her/his benevolence is not recognized
  • May live excessively and become over-indulgent to satisfy needs.


  • Coercive, quick-tempered, argumentative, impatient
  • Can resort to intimidation to get her/his way
  • Can become too intensely focused on a project and not consider other people or their feelings
  • Can be judgmental towards someone who doesn�t grasp things as quickly as she/he does.


  • Withdraws into fantasy world
  • Self-indulgent, moody
  • Creates her/his own negative reality by putting herself/himself down
  • Can become scattered and not be able to focus on a task long enough to see it through
  • Feels physical symptoms of emotions that have not been dealt with property.

Storyteller [Sage]

  • Tries to justify her/his actions
  • Grabs for attention, egocentric
  • Forces her/his opinion on others
  • May be deceitful in order to get what she/he wants.


  • Over extends herself/himself, then lashes out or pouts because others have to take care of her/him
  • Allows people to trample her/his feelings or use them then retaliates in a covert, vengeful way, instead of being straightforward
  • Afraid to set clear boundaries and can be passive-aggressive
  • Acts like a victim
  • Manipulative/controlling behind the scenes.


  • Whines
  • Overzealous, forces her/his beliefs on others
  • Promotes her/his own agenda, regardless of the impact on others
  • Wants to fix everything, whether or not she/he is asked to help
  • Because she/he is idealistic, may become totally opposite under stress � fatalistic, pessimistic and accusatory
  • Flaky, may resort to extreme views or thinking.


  • Withdrawn
  • May be argumentative using logic or facts in order to get space to de-stress
  • Likes to appear knowledgeable and confident even when she/he doesn�t know what she/he is talking about or is only gathering data.  Under stress, this obsession increases and leaves the impression of arrogance
  • May try to control situations with words or knowledge
  • May appear out-of-the-mainstream or too theoretical as a means of distancing herself/himself from others.

color bullet Exercise: Understanding the Dynamics of Conflict Using the Seven Aspects

In this exercise, you will learn how to step back from conflict and evaluate what is happening and why.  You do this by:

  1. Identifying your Primary Aspect and the Primary Aspect of the person with whom you are in conflict.
  2. Noting the characteristics of each aspect and how they may be opposing each other.
  3. Considering ways of improving the situation based on your new understanding.

Step One:

  • Take a moment to reflect on a situation in which you have experienced conflict with someone. 
  •   Read "How We React to Stress" (above) to help you judge the Primary Aspect of the other person.  Also use your intuition as a guide.  
  • Then complete the following as it pertains to this situation:

My Primary Aspect ______________________________

Other Person�s Primary Aspect ______________________________

Summary of the Conflict ______________________________

Step Two:

  • List the characteristics of each person who is causing conflict.  
  • Again use "How We React to Stress" as a resource.


You   Other Person
____________________________        ____________________________       
____________________________        ____________________________       
____________________________        ____________________________       

Step Three:

  • After listing the characteristics, look at possibilities for resolving the conflict. 
  • Jot down a few notes on things you can do differently to turn this situation around.

color bullet Using the Exercise in Real Situations

Let�s look at some examples of how this exercise can work.

Step One:

In this conflict situation, there is a Warrior and a Priest who are working together on a project.  The Priest is the leader who is out-front with her/his vision, and the Warrior is the committee member who distrusts the Priest�s direction and suspects ulterior motives.

Step Two:

What are the characteristics exhibited by both people in this situation?

Warrior     Priest
Speaks the truth Bends the truth to accomplish goal
Loyal  May misuse loyalty
Abrupt  Smooth
Direct to a fault Indirect 
Impulsive  Contemplates decisions

Step Three:

In the above example, the Warrior doesn�t trust the Priest.  The Warrior could use her/his natural tendencies to be forthright and truthful to address this issue with the Priest.

Example 1

Warrior: "I�m having a little trouble understanding how doing X will lead us to Y and A. Can you help me understand? "

Priest:  "I am glad you brought that up.  You see, in order to achieve our overall goal of Y and Z, we need everyone to buy- in to the process."

Result: Warrior concludes that the Priest is leading for the good of the group rather than for her/his own personal gain.

Let�s look at another conflict situation.  This time a Warrior (the daughter) and a Priest (the sister-in-law) are butting heads over a family matter: an anniversary party.

Example 2

Warrior: "What gives with this party you�re having for Mom and Dad?"

Priest: "I thought it would be great to get the family together to celebrate not only Mom�s birthday, but also their fortieth wedding anniversary and our nephew�s tenth birthday, which are all in the same month.  It�s so hard to get us all together; I thought it would be fun to make it one big party."

Warrior: (who thinks the party is really a way for her sister-in-law to butter up her parents in order to get money to help finance renovations she and the Warrior�s brother are doing on their home)  "Hmm.  Plus it wouldn�t hurt to get in Mom�s and Dad�s good graces, would it?"

Priest: "Sure that would be great, but our loan came through.  I just realized it was their fortieth wedding anniversary and they won�t be around forever.  Why not celebrate while they�re still healthy and we can do it as a whole family, rather than wait to get together when there�s a problem or they�re sick?"

Result: Warrior considers that she may have been wrong about her sister-in-law�s motives.  

Use this exercise and these examples to guide you to a better understanding of situations and people that cause you stress due to conflict.

color bullet Dealing with People Who Want Power and Success at Your Expense

1. Know yourself before you act.  Focus your attention inside to determine what you really want before taking any action.  This will help you to be proactive rather than reactive.  It will also help you to determine which of the techniques you need to employ in any given situation.

2. Seek to understand the other person and the situation.  Ask questions.  Instead of trying to expose weaknesses, look for strengths.  You can note the negatives, but don�t dwell on them.  Instead try to uncover what is underneath, what the other person is really searching for.  You may find that your assumptions are wrong and that the conflict is resolved merely by listening to the other person�s wants and needs.  If nothing else, you may at least agree to disagree.

3. Have a game plan if attacked or provoked.  Decide how you want to handle a volatile situation under anger or duress before it happens.  And most importantly, decide how much effort you want to give to this situation.  It may be worth ignoring the provocation.  The person may not mean enough to you to go through all of the agony you must go through to work through a problem.

4. Spend your time and energy wisely.  Mentally rehearse what you are going to say.  Write it down and practice with someone you trust.  There is learning that takes place in the practice.  It is much better to make mistakes and refine your technique with a friend than to flounder when you are in the emotional heat of the moment.  Feedback from your practice will also help to ensure that you use the right words and tone.  It is easy to judge and let critical words creep into our dialogue when there is repressed anger.  It is much better to be truthful, but to express your truth with respect.

color bullet Techniques You Can Use in Conflict Situations

  • Ignore it.
  • Stay positive.
  • Take the "high road."  Even when provoked, stay positive.
  • Reframe their attacks.  "You were saying what?"
  • Ask for clarification.  "Let me see if I understand what you said correctly."
  • Use the "Columbo Effect."  Play dumb and ask a lot of questions.
  • Speak your truth.  Recognize the truth of what is happening and say it out loud.
  • Assert dominance.  Match them with power and dominance.  Assert that you are the "leader of the pack."

In conclusion, reactions to stress can vary greatly from one person to the next.  The important point is to realize you own inherent tendency and seek to find balance by having strategies to help give you breathing room to make choices in the stressful moment.  One of the best strategies to help you get started is just that-to breathe.  The simple act of breathing provides oxygen to your brain and to your muscles and can help you relax enough to wait before reacting or decide before withdrawing.

Copyright � 2002 Debra Gawrych, used with permission of author.  Thanks, Debbie!Seven Aspects of Sisterhood (cover)

Debra J. Gawrych is the author of the new award winning book The 7 Aspects of She is also a leadership consultant and the CEO of Common Boundaries Consulting & Communications.  She has an MBA and has published articles in The Business Journal and Today�s American Woman.  Debra conducts programs and gives keynotes to corporations and universities nationwide.  A portion of the proceeds from the sales of her book goes to Breast Cancer Research and the Women�s World Banking Organization.  Find out more on her website

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Page updated: October 16, 2023   
Institute for Management Excellence, Copyright � 2002 All rights reserved

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