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Why work should be like one big happy family

We hear it over: most of the waking hours of our lives are going to be spent in the workplace. And yet, it's easy to forget that the relationships we make there are in as much need of tending as are the relationships we have with our significant others.

"The ability to form positive interpersonal relationships is one of the most important factors in success at work," says Dr Damien Davy of the Phoenix Centre, Cabra. "Building trust and engaging with colleagues are essential to building relationships in the workplace. It is our nature to seek approval or to be liked and this is important in a working environment."

Sure, it's easy enough to get on when everyone is getting along, and the lunchtime shopping sprees or the after-work sessions are providing you with a necessary social outlet. What happens, though, when issues arise that trigger personal issues? Issues that you may not even know that you had? What's a simple and yet very comprehensive way to cope with the kind of tension that can only arise on the job?


Many turn to counselling in order to improve their relationships. That's the plan anyway, with the possible subconscious desire to get their partner to change. It's often during the course of one's therapeutic experience though, that the truth will out: if you want to see things in your life change, you have to be the one to change them.

This may come as a relief to those who have been imagining going to some form of couple's therapy with their bosses. According to Gill Garratt, author of Introducing CBT for Work: A Practical Guide, there is a way to cope that doesn't entail either a lot of time, or a lot of drama.

CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and it works with both our thoughts and feelings, and offers ways in which a client can identify debilitating thought patterns that result in negative behaviours. These thoughts reinforce the behaviours until one is as easily triggered as Pavlov's dog.

Remember that scene from the American version of The Office? In the TV show, every time Jim rebooted his computer, he offered Dwight an Altoid. Over time, receiving a mint when the computer chimed instilled in Dwight an expectation of the reward.

That's pure behavioural response: unthinking, based on experience, a kind of 'this is the way things have always been, and I'll get what I always get'– for good or ill. If you can use your head – your rational, non-triggered, conscious mind – to think through your reactions, you can improve your quality of life. Dr Davy says CBT relies "on the inductive method, with the therapist taking a structured and directive approach to helping the client identify automatic distorted, irrational or negative thoughts and challenging or disputing these thoughts through evidence."


The model presented in Garrett's book is deceptively simple. He's termed his method the CBT Think Kit, which is comprised of three elements:

A – is the situation that inspires the way you are thinking.

B – is the belief about that situation.

C – is the consequence of holding on to those beliefs.

Many years ago, I worked in a studio in Manhattan, run by one of the leaders in the publications design field. I hadn't been there long when I was given a major redesign to do. Along with the glamorous fortnight working there, delivering the redesign, came with a whole boatload of stress.

I was able to manage most of it, except for one specific event: a photographer I'd booked to do an editorial shoot went way over budget. Like, three times over.

I responded to this by becoming so anxious I could barely breathe. It's interesting to apply The Think Kit to this – even now, I hyperventilate a little. I remember going from A to C without conscious thought. When I think about it now, I realise that my self-talk went something like 'I am going to get fired, this is crazy, I am going to get yelled at, this is all my fault.' Well, it was and it wasn't. Once I got back to New York, I told one of the studio's VPs what had gone down. She said simply, "They'll pay the bill, and we'll never hire that photographer again."

Oh. Okay. Had I been rather less freaked out, and rather more in tune with my own special cocktail of fear and fretfulness, I may have been able to speak up sooner, and would have had an easier time coping with the situation as a whole.


"Many people blindly follow what CBT refers to as 'core beliefs' given to us in childhood by caregivers, educators, significant adults in our lives or as a result of some early trauma," Davy explains. "We integrate these core beliefs, and continue to use them as adults when they may no longer serve us well. For example, if I am told as a child that I am stupid and will never amount to anything, then I might hold this as a core belief and feel incapable, lacking in confidence or inadequate in adulthood."

Ultimately, the thing that is so effective about CBT is that you you work directly with a therapist and Davy says the course of therapy is "usually briefer than other psychotherapeutic approaches, between three and up to 20 sessions, as agreed with the client. "The emphasis is on conceptualisation, with both therapist and client agreeing manageable goals which are achieved through self-help assignments."


Despite the example of the Pavlovian response to those Altoids, you can't use this on anyone but yourself. Imagine, though, the freedom in being able to shake off something that used to make you so angry or so anxious that you were losing sleep at night, like the time you had to give an important presentation.

In that freedom, you may find a new self-reliance, and in that self-reliance, you may end up impacting your colleagues favourably, after all, a sort of unintended positive outcome for the common good.

Dr Davy, suggests that to admit to nerves about that presentation "demonstrates you are human and often allows others to share similar experiences. This can indicate trust and is likely to encourage others to do the same," he says. "It's about trusting yourself to be real."

The Phoenix Centre is on 165 Cabra Road, Cabra, Dublin 7. Call 01 838 1621 or phoenixcentre@eircom.net or www.phoenixcentre.ie.