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Marin Independent Journal - Relationships Advice Column (Lifestyles Section):

How to Solve "People Problems" in the Office
by Gloria Fraser, L.C.S.W.

The people you work with can be the most satisfying part of a job. They can also be the cause of great frustration and stress. Whether you're a company executive or the receptionist, you've probably been faced with difficult "people problems" that you felt helpless to change.

However, I have found that a single person in a work group can positively affect problematic relationships by applying techniques used in family therapy. Through such methods, work-related stress can be lessened.

The first step in overcoming people problems is to fight the temptation to designate a "bad guy" and "victim" in a given circumstance. Instead, look at the problems as a repetitive pattern of actions and reactions, known as a "chain."

Such a chain might begin when a supervisor makes a suggestion to an employee. Disagreeing with the suggestion, the employee reacts defensively. The supervisor becomes insistent. The employee agrees, but appears unconvinced. The supervisor finds the instruction not followed and repeats the suggestion. The employee reacts more defensively, and the chain begins again.

Who is the victim here? The supervisor may feel victimized by the subordinate who does not follow instructions. On the other hand, the employee may feel victimized by an overly critical supervisor. Both are probably suffering. As the chain makes a full circle, stress and tension increase, and suggestions become less and less effective.

Either the supervisor or the employee could break the chain by removing one link. For example, the supervisor could change the pattern of interaction by re-wording the suggestion in a more positive way. The employee could pursue further discussion of the issue instead of agreeing with the suggestion, and then not following it.

Effecting this kind of change requires three conditions: identifying the pattern, planning a strategy to interrupt the chain, and putting the plan into action.

In brief encounters, such as with customers, there is less opportunity for planning. In these situations it is useful to understand your own patterns. Realizing what types of people make you angry or frustrated is the first step toward making these encounters less stressful.

It is also important to realize that what may appear to be a personality conflict can actually be caused by organizational problems, such as unclear job responsibilities, or authority and responsibility not fitting together. If the parties involved recognize the organizational problem, they can work together on solutions.

Human relationships are complex, and aversion to change is often strong. It takes planning and courage to try something new. But the rewards are enormous for anyone who takes the initiative to change relationships. Gloria Fraser has practiced systems therapy for 25 years, counseling individuals, couples and groups on relationship issues.

Marin Independent Journal
It's risky to tell all about an affair
by Gloria Fraser, L.C.S.W.

QUESTION: I just broke off an affair with another man, and I'm agonizing over whether or not to tell my husband. What should I do?

ANSWER: Gloria Fraser is a [San Francisco] therapist who specializes in relationships, responds:

Your choice is a difficult one. It takes a lot of courage to reveal an affair because the risks are high, but so are the benefits.

Sort out your own feelings about the affair and your purpose in telling your husband. If you tell him, you run the risk that the relationship can't be repaired and may end. Remaining silent could preserve the status quo, but you may be telling him something he already knows, or may discover.

If you're feeling guilty and hope to get forgiveness, you are bound to be disappointed at first. An intense reaction should be expected. It will take time for your spouse to process the information, so be prepared to hang in there for a while.

Since you have ended the affair, I'm wondering if you're searching for a way to renew and improve your relationship with your husband.

Since affairs are not only about infidelity, but about deceit and dishonesty, truth is the most powerful antidote. With truth, you begin a painful, emotional process which can lead to an honest look at your relationship.

Both of you will certainly have some tough times ahead, but this could be an opportunity to find satisfaction that you have missed in your relationship.

"Relationships" is a local advice column in the Lifestyles section of the Marin Independent Journal.

Marin Independent Journal
Learn to fix causes of your anger
by Gloria Fraser, L.C.S.W.

QUESTION: I feel as though I'm always angry and complaining with my husband. How can I be more mellow?

ANSWER: Gloria Fraser is a [San Francisco] therapist who specializes in divorce mediation, couple and family therapy. She responds:

Anger is an unpleasant but important signal that something isn't working in your relationship. Take a closer look at your anger to learn what needs fixing.

What happens before you get angry? Since your anger is frequent, it's probably part of a pattern that repeats itself in your relationship. Do you get ignored when you complain? Are you feeling criticized or discounted. Are you being clear about your needs?

How have you learned to handle anger. Do you apologize? Back down? Say things you later regret? Withdraw? Yell at the kids? Criticize yourself?

Map out the steps: What you do, how your husband responds, what you do next, etc.

Once you have mapped out the pattern, make a plan of what you can do differently. For example, speak up more clearly about your needs, or don't back down when your husband gets angry with you.

Express what you want in a positive way, rather than criticizing the other person. Have compromises or possible solutions in mind.

Above all, accept your feelings. Don't look upon yourself as the bad and wrong for feeling angry. The energy of anger can provide the power for you to make a positive change for yourself.

"Relationships" is a local advice column in the Lifestyles section of the Marin Independent Journal.

Gloria Fraser
(415) 302-9577

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