Stephen Comments On How a VP of HR Evaluates Executive Coaching

Dragons At Work Weekly Wrap UpIn Chapter 1 we meet our hero, Dan Schaeffer, whose tensions at work spill over at home.

In the interview, our expert, Dr. Redford Williams, advises us about how to deal with anger. The skills in his system help us evaluate the difficult circumstance, so we can decide whether to take action or to “chill out.” He also informs us how anger physically takes its toll on us. I have met abrasive managers who claim they don’t get headaches, they give them. Now we know what’s happening to their arterial walls.


For Executives: How to not take anger and stress home with you…

  1. Before you leave the office, organize the next day. Having confidence that you can smoothly re-enter your workplace helps you drop the emotional charge of unfinished business and relax.
  2. Before you enter your home, take a moment to reflect on and appreciate who and what awaits you. Set your intention to relax and enjoy your evening.
  3. Before sleep give yourself the suggestion that in the morning you’ll have new insights about how to re-imagine the difficult situation and move it in a positive direction. While you sleep your unconscious mind is the supreme problem solver.

For Leadership Development Professionals: Working with angry employees/clients…

  1. Connect with their frustration. Listen first. Any judgment conveyed in verbal or non-verbal behavior will get them to dig in their heels and categorize you as an enemy.
  2. Ask them, “Given all of the difficulties you just described…”
    a. What are some useful outcomes you can imagine for the situation?
    b. How would that move the situation forward in a positive way?
    c. What’s the first small sign of positive change you can put in motion.
    d. (If at any point they continue to complain and rant, repeat step 1, and then 2.)
  3. For helping them manage their anger, Dr. Williams gives us an excellent formula in the interview.

Question for Reflection: What is the positive use of anger? When have you been able to harness it without incurring its negative by-products?

In the next chapter we’ll see how a coach works with Dan’s anger.

Did you miss the previous chapter?


Redford Williams Interview – How Anger Hurts the Heart, Part 2

Dr. Redford Williams - How Anger Hurts the HeartRedford Williams, M.D. is interviewed by Stephen Josephs, Ed.D., author of Dragons at Work.

This is the second half of an interview with Dr. Redford Williams, who has spent the better part of his career researching how the cardiovascular system is affected by emotions. His programs give people who are prone to anger and stress reactions practical, research-based advice about how to mitigate the effects of anger.

(For the first part of the interview click here. It explains what anger does to our bodies.)

SJ: What advice would you give to people who are under stress and react angrily?

RW: In our work with hostile personalities we have found a simple, effective system that really works. To illustrate, let’s go back to Dan in the driveway. When he saw the truck driver getting ready to pull out, he immediately thought: This guy is incompetent. This guy is not going to take my couch like he’s supposed to.

Dan’s getting angry, frustrated, and his system is producing all the flight or fight reactions I described in the first part of the interview. Instead of storming to the driver’s side and barking at the guy, it might be a good idea for him to decide whether this is a situation where he needs to do something or to chill out. Because when you’re feeling stress, when you get angry, sometimes your anger is a signal that you need to do something about a situation, because you or people you care about are being harmed. Rosa Parks would still be riding in the back of the bus if she had not done something about her anger.

On the other hand, a lot of times your anger is about something that you really can’t do anything about, or maybe it’s inappropriate anger; and so when you’re getting angry you need a way to decide: Is this Rosa Parks in the back of the bus time or is this a time when I need to chill out?

And the Williams LifeSkills program has a tool that people like Dan can use to decide whether the thoughts and feelings they’re having should lead to action or chill time.

People like Dan need to have a way of evaluating their thoughts and feelings in the light of the objective facts of the situation. And in the LifeSkills program we have people ask themselves four questions:

  1. Is this situation Important to me? Lots of times the things we’re getting upset over are trivial, like the little old lady who can’t find her credit card, and don’t merit our taking it any further. On the other hand, in Dan’s case, this probably is important. He wanted to get rid of that love seat. It’s taking up space and he had gone to a lot of trouble to get it out there, and so forth.
  2. Are the thoughts and feelings I’m having Appropriate to the objective facts of the situation? Would any reasonable person in this same situation be thinking and feeling what I’m feeling? If you get a no to this question, it’s time to chill out. But if you get a yes, you go to the next question.
  3. Is the situation Modifiable? If you’re not certain, ask yourself if it ought to be modifiable? Ought I be able to get this truck driver to take my love seat? And if so, when I consider myself, the driver and any others involved, I ask the next question…
  4. Is it WORTH IT to undertake the actions necessary to change the situation?

A “no” to any one of these questions means it’s time to chill out. You can chill out by just telling yourself Hey, this is not that important or Hey, it’s not appropriate because this guy has a perfectly good reason for not wanting to take the love seat. If I can’t stop him from leaving, it’s not modifiable. And if it’s not modifiable it isn’t worth it for me to get myself all riled up.

On the other hand, it is Important. It is Appropriate. Dan believed it was Modifiable, but when he got evidence to the contrary he should have chilled. A no to any of the four questions means it’s chill out time.

Four yes’s, and it’s time for Rosa Parks to move to the front of the bus. You need to do something. But four yes’s is not 007 with License to Kill time (which is the way Dan is reacting here). If he’d asked those questions and gotten the four yes’s, he would need to take effective action. And in this case, it would be assertion, which I’ll explain in a moment.

Now how do you remember these four questions when you’ve got enough adrenaline in your bloodstream to kill at least two rabbits, if you injected it into the rabbits? Important starts with the letter I; Appropriate, A; Modifiable, M; and we add “worth it”. I AM WORTH IT! You are worth taking the trouble to figure out whether this is a time to do something or a time to chill out. And the phrase I AM WORTH IT! reminds you to ask the four questions.

SJ: Wow, what a great system! I like how it interrupts emotional patterns, like Dan’s anger. Just asking those questions is a form of chilling all by itself.

RW: The I AM WORTH IT! tool is a really neat way of telling yourself Hey, wait a second. I am worth it. And it also recognizes that sometimes your anger is valid and that you do need to do something. This is where Assertion, not 007 aggression, comes in. Assertion has three steps: 1) describe the behavior that’s bothering you, 2) describe the feelings you’re having, and 3) ask for a specific change in behavior in the other person.

In addition to assertion, we also train people in relationship skills that prevent them from getting into these situations in the first place. While we don’t have time to describe that program here, people can find more information on our website.

We now have several randomized clinical trials that have evaluated effects of the Williams LifeSkills training program, published in peer-reviewed medical journals. The results of these trials have been very gratifying.

In one trial involving men who had coronary bypass surgery, the LifeSkills training brought their anger levels down. Also their depression levels went down. Their social support levels went up and their satisfaction with their life in general went up. In addition to that, their resting blood pressure and heart rate went down.

Before training, when participants were asked to recall a situation that made them angry, their blood pressure went up about 25 mm of mercury, which is a pretty hefty increase in systolic blood pressure. After the end of the LifeSkills training, those patients’ blood pressure only went up about 12 mm, and three months later, with no further training, it only went up around seven or eight mm.

SJ: Now, that is brilliant. Those are great results.

RW: In contrast, depression and anger levels increased among men in the control group, and their blood pressure still went up 24 mm at the end of the six-week training period and three months later it went up 28 mm.

This is cognitive behavioral training that has been shown to work using the gold standard test — the randomized clinical trial. We don’t know whether the heart patients in the study are going to have a lower mortality rate, because it wasn’t sufficiently large to be able to answer that question. And as I’m sitting here talking with you, we are planning a larger study that will include 2,000 to 3,000 patients to see if in addition to these physiological and psychological benefits, there is also a medical benefit – reduced risk of another heart attack or dying.

SJ: Dr. Williams, we’re at the end of our interview. It’s been a great pleasure talking with you. I’m glad your work is bringing so much benefit to people and that its effectiveness not only lasts post-training, but actually increases over time. And because the instruction is video-based, you can reach a lot of people.

RW: Thanks, Stephen, for the opportunity to share with your readers what I’ve learned from this research over the past 40 years.

Click here for information on the Williams LifeSkills Program.

And here to sign up for your chapters of Dragons at Work.

For the part one of the interview, click here.

Redford Williams Interview – How Anger Hurts the Heart, Part 1

Dragons At Work Chapter 1 Interview with Dr. Redford WilliamsIn Chapter 1 we see Dan Schaeffer become enraged when a truck driver refuses to pick up a love seat Dan wants to donate to charity. What is less visible is the damage his anger does to his arterial walls.

To help readers understand what’s at stake for Dan from a medical point of view, we’re fortunate to have Dr. Redford Williams educate us about how anger affects our bodies and how we can manage our stress. He’s a world renowned expert on how our emotional states and personalities affect our health.

Dr. Williams has authored or co-authored more than 200 peer-reviewed publications in scientific and medical journals. He has authored or co-authored ten books including Anger Kills, LifeSkills, and In Control. These three books draw on his well-publicized research concerning the effects of personality and behavior on health and quality of life.

Dr. Williams has been president of four leading scientific/behavioral societies: American Psychosomatic Society, Society of Behavioral Medicine, Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research, and International Society of Behavioral Medicine. He has served on several National Institutes of Health advisory groups and has received awards for his contributions as a behavioral scientist.

He received his AB at Harvard College and his MD at Yale, where he also did his internship and residency training in internal medicine. He has been at Duke University Medicine Center since 1972. He is Professor of Psychiatry, Professor of Psychology, Professor of Medicine and Director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center.

RW: First of all, Stephen, I want to give you credit for conveying a good story of a hostile Type A personality. It’s quite plausible and it’s a great example of how some of us harm ourselves over trivial, every day things, as well as more important things. But the key thing here is it doesn’t take a lot to get a Type A personality worked up.

The first thing I noticed in this chapter is Dan doesn’t get out of his car and walk over to the driver’s side of the truck. He storms over. And he doesn’t say, “I thought you were going to pick up the love seat.” He barks it. And right off the bat, this tells us that we’re dealing with a hostile personality type. We used to call them Type A. Hostile personality is the term for the toxic part of Type A. Over the years research has shown how hostility and anger harm the heart and many other aspects of one’s health, as well as negatively impact relationships.

So Dan illustrates this hostile personality: the quick assumption that other people are screwing up, that they’re not doing their job right. Folks like Dan assume that they’re right without giving it much thought. This is the classic cynical attitude that we’ve seen over and over in people who are at high risk for heart disease.

Way back in the late fifties a group of 25 year old medical students took a personality test during their third year of medical school. We followed them up twenty-five years later and those whose scores indicated they thought other people were incompetent, that they made negative judgments about other people, that they were quick to anger and that when they got angry they didn’t bother to hide it from the object of their anger — 14 percent of them had died. Of those who were not this hostile personality type, only 2 percent had died.

In the hostile personality group the coronary rates (heart attack) were four to five times higher; but they also died of all kinds of diseases and illnesses. And research has continued to document – in both men and women — that those with Dan’s kind of personality are at high risk not only for heart disease but a whole range of other health problems, not to mention dying at an early age. Among women, those with high hostility who also try to suppress their anger are at even higher risk.

There was a study in Scandinavia that found that men with this kind of hostile personality were more likely to have an injury on the job that caused them to be out of work for more than three days. So whatever dimension of health you choose to measure, the research shows hostility is bad for you.

SJ: What’s the physiological mechanism that causes that?

RW: You’re prescient, because that’s exactly the next aspect of this story I want to address. So Dan has blown up at the truck driver. Then he’s called the Helping Hands office, used profanity and yelled at the person on the phone. Our research and that of others has shown that when men with this type of personality—this short temper, short fuse, express it, let it out, yell at people and behave aggressively—when they are angry, their adrenaline levels go up, their cortisol levels (another stress hormone) go up and their blood pressure goes up. As with heart disease risk, women with the hostile personality who try to suppress their anger have even larger blood pressure surges.

Some years ago we did a study using sophisticated techniques that measured blood flow to skeletal muscle, the muscle that enables you to fight or flee. The blood flow to the muscles in men with a high hostility level went up a lot more when they got angry than it did in men with lower levels of hostility.

SJ: Would that make them more likely to hit someone?

RW: It would prepare them to do that if they were going to. If you have to defend your cave against the other guy attacking you with his club then having a lot of blood flow to your muscles means the muscles will be able to work harder and better. Back in those early times it enabled you to survive a little bit longer and hopefully long enough to have more children and pass on your genes.

SJ: Our nervous system is the same nervous system our ancestors possessed when they padded around the savanna ten thousand years ago. This “fight or flee” response was there for very short encounters with saber-toothed tigers or human aggressors but not for saber-toothed mortgages…

RW: Or saber-toothed Helping Hand truck drivers…

SJ: Yes, and now we have an ongoing level of stress instead of quick encounters with an enemy, as in prehistoric times. We have stressors like mortgages, job security, loved ones health problems etc. and anxiety about things that might go badly in the future.

RW: Or the little old lady in front of you at the supermarket checkout line who’s taking forever to get her credit card out. In fact, the clerk has run all her items through the scanner, and she doesn’t even start to take out her credit card until he tells her how much she owes. And then she has trouble finding it. I mean, it’s enough to drive you crazy, man.

So now, here you are in a check-out line feeling agitated. And what good is it to have your adrenaline and your cortisol levels double which then causes your platelets to get stickier? After all, you’re not about to be slashed by that saber-toothed tiger!

And you’re pumping fat out from your body’s fat stores into the blood so that you’ve got energy to engage in this emergency action. Again, this response was designed to keep you alive when it was saber-toothed tigers or other cavemen attacking you. But it doesn’t do you any good when it’s a sweet little old lady who’s just taking a bit too long to get her credit card out in the supermarket.

SJ: So do the sticky platelets and the fat also lead to accretions on the artery walls?

RW: Yes. And when the blood pressure surges, it goes around corners in the heart’s left main and left anterior descending arteries where they branch out. At those branch points, when that blood pressure really shoots up, the blood flow through those arteries goes up and it actually erodes the endothelial single-cell lining of the arteries and damages them.

And that causes an inflammatory response to repair the damage. Macrophages and platelets get attracted to the damaged area to help it heal. And that’s fine if it’s just one slash from the saber-toothed tiger; but if it’s something that’s going on every day, it doesn’t heal up. The inflammatory response becomes a chronic condition which attracts more lipids (fats) because all the fat that shot out into the bloodstream doesn’t get burned up running from a saber toothed tiger. Instead, our angry modern human just stands there and fumes.

And so this unremitting stress results in the gradual build-up of arteriosclerotic plaques. Indeed, research studies show that when we put healthy young people through a laboratory stressor that’s like being in a supermarket line that’s going too slowly, and their blood pressure goes up as a result, when they were followed up ten or twelve years later, they had more calcium deposits (which are a sign of arteriosclerosis) in the coronary arteries of their heart.

This concludes Part 1 of a two part interview. For Part 2 of this interview click here.

To read Chapter 1, in which Dan becomes enraged, click here.

CHAPTER 1 – IT Executive Loses it Over Love Seat in Driveway

Dragons At Work CHAPTER 1 - IT Executive Loses it Over Love Seat in DrivewayDan slammed on his brakes. He stopped just inches from the front end of the truck leaving his driveway. Three Krispy Kreme donuts and the remains of a large coffee mingled on the floor of the front seat of his new BMW 335i.

Dan got out and stormed to the driver’s side of the truck.  Helping Hand, Inc. was painted on the door.

“I thought you were here to pick up the furniture,” Dan barked.

The driver rolled down his window.

“Say again?”

“The furniture. You were supposed to pick it up,” said Dan.

“Yeah, I was, but I can’t take that piece.”

“Why not?” he demanded.

“Because it doesn’t meet our standards.”

Dan looked in the direction of the love seat.  “What are you talking about?”

The driver climbed out of his truck and walked toward the love seat, motioning for Dan to follow. Running his hand along the frayed upholstery on the back he said, “You got a cat or something?”

“What I’ve got is a piece of furniture that’s in perfectly good condition.  I called your office.  I described it.  I scheduled a pick up, and now it’s your turn to do your job, so we can both get on with our lives.”

“Sir, would you please move your vehicle so I can exit your driveway?”

“Would I what?” said Dan.

“I think you heard me,” said the driver.

“Yeah, I heard you.  My car stays right there until you load that piece onto your truck.”

Looking at Dan, the driver sized him up.  Five-nine, maybe 200 pounds, a big gut on him.  I could take him out, ten seconds tops. But what about the cops and assault charges?  I’ve been down that road.   Maybe I could get him to take the first shot.  No.  Better get in the truck and let him cool off.

“Did you ever think of taking an anger management course?” the driver said through the half-closed window of his cab.

Dan lurched back to his car, pulled the door shut with rattling force, and grabbed his cell phone.  He gnashed through numbers and menus until a receptionist at Helping Hand Incorporated cheerfully responded.

“Helping Hand. This is Deborah.  How may I help you?”

“I scheduled a pick-up for today,” said Dan.  “Your driver is here and refuses to take a perfectly good love seat.  I want to talk to someone who can order him to load the goddamn piece onto his goddamn truck.”

“I wish I could help you sir, but the manager is the only one who can do that and he isn’t in on Saturdays.  You know, our drivers are trained to make these kinds of decisions.”

“Well, he’s making the wrong decision.”

“Excuse me, Sir.  I have another call coming in.  Can you hold please?”

Looming in his rearview mirror, Dan saw a police car glide to a stop.  The officer stepped out of his cruiser and walked toward Dan’s car. Dan got out to meet him.

“Is there a problem, Sir?” the officer asked Dan.

“I’m the one who called, Officer,” said the driver, climbing out of his truck.

Dan took a step toward the officer. “I’m trying to get this guy from Helping Hand to take that love seat, but it doesn’t seem to meet his high aesthetic standards.”

The policeman looked at the driver, then at Dan.

“I’ll show you, Officer,” the driver said.

The three of them walked over to the love seat and the driver pointed to the frayed fabric.

“I’m not supposed to take furniture in this condition,” said the driver.

“Look,” said Dan, “it’s a perfectly good love seat.  We kept its back against the wall.  I just took it from our living room this morning.”

The driver turned toward Dan and said, “I’m sorry you had to live that way.”

For a moment no one spoke.

Addressing Dan, the officer said, “Sir, I’m sorry, but it’s his decision to make. Move your car, please, and let him drive away.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” said Dan.

“No, I’m not. Move your car.”

The officer turned toward his cruiser just as a smile broke across his face.

Dan mashed his tire rim into the curb as he backed up.  When the truck and cruiser vanished, he stood alone in his driveway, looking at the love seat.  Against the black asphalt, it looked forlorn and hideously pink.

He wrestled it from the ground and balanced it on his thighs, his knees bent. Lifting it higher, he hobbled to the side of the garage and dropped it under the eave.  His hands trembled, his chest felt tight, and he wanted more air than he could get into his lungs.

Click here to read Chapter 2.

Click here to read the interview with Redford Williams Interview about How Anger Hurts the Heart.

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