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Toxic Emotions at Work: How Compassionate Managers Handle Pain and Conflict

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"No matter where we work or volunteer our time, emotional pain is an unavoidable consequence of doing business. While the sources vary - abusive bosses, combative customers, heavy workloads, impossible deadlines, unexpected tragedies - the result is often the same: We disconnect from work, morale sinks, and performance drops." "Peter Frost argues that what causes this potentially crippling scenario is not pain itself, but the ways in which organizations respond to pain. When pain is acknowledged and effectively managed, he says, it can be a
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Overview

"No matter where we work or volunteer our time, emotional pain is an unavoidable consequence of doing business. While the sources vary - abusive bosses, combative customers, heavy workloads, impossible deadlines, unexpected tragedies - the result is often the same: We disconnect from work, morale sinks, and performance drops." "Peter Frost argues that what causes this potentially crippling scenario is not pain itself, but the ways in which organizations respond to pain. When pain is acknowledged and effectively managed, he says, it can be a constructive force for organizational change. But when ignored, pain can poison the workplace - resulting in everything from missed deadlines to an exodus of key staff to a battered bottom line." Based on an in-depth study of this pervasive phenomenon, Toxic Emotions at Work explores how organizations and their leaders cause emotional pain, how it affects performance, and what can be done to alleviate pain before it becomes toxic. Frost reveals the "behind-the-scenes" work performed by "toxin handlers" - self-appointed pain managers who help assuage the suffering of colleagues and enable them to refocus on their work. He illuminates the toll this work is taking on toxin handlers' emotional and physical health, and argues that leaders must recognize and share this critical role if their organizations are to remain productive and vital.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Organizational "toxin handlers"-the people who deal with emotional pain in the workplace-serve a dual role, says Frost, contributing positively to the health of both companies and their employees. The author, an organizational behavior professor at the University of British Columbia, explains that toxicity is a normal by-product of organizational life. It can stem from hard-driving executives who push production and motivate by fear; inevitable changes like layoffs, mergers or leadership shifts; or personal pain from illness, death or lifestyle transitions. Frost offers myriad anecdotes to show how toxin handlers attempt to absorb bad vibes via the role of compassionate listener, guide, buffer and mentor. These do-gooders face repercussions from their often-unacknowledged efforts; they might, for instance, become emotionally over-involved with people in pain, or even become toxic themselves. Although specific remedies for painful situations require custom-made responses, companies can adopt certain practical responses, e.g., "raise the issue of competence without undermining anyone's abilities." Emotions at work are an increasingly absorbing business dilemma, and this thoughtful book should be a help to leaders for whom there's more at stake than mere corporate profit and loss. (Jan. 28) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Soundview Executive Book Summaries
Handling Conflict With Compassion
Peter Frost, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of British Columbia, writes that emotional pain, or "toxicity," is a normal byproduct of organizational life. In Toxic Emotions at Work, Frost focuses on the pathological effects of organizational toxicity and how to handle them. By examining the compassionate actions managers and leaders can take to deal effectively with toxicity, he aims to help them find better ways to conduct business while handling the emotional pain that can stand in the way of positive results.

The distress or disruption caused by emotional pain can be devastating to an organization. It can lead to missed deadlines, an exodus of key personnel, and even a battered bottom line. To create and maintain a healthy organization, Frost writes that leaders must handle toxicity on a systemic level or prevent it in the first place. If toxicity is allowed to grow, he explains, it can undermine a company's success. To help them prevent the spread of toxicity within their organizations, Frost offers managers and leaders the information they need to recognize the valid role of toxin handlers in an organization and acknowledge and support the handlers when they need it.

Toxic Emotions at Work begins with an examination of the various ways toxicity is handled in the workplace and offers several ideas about how leaders and managers can help foster the health and productivity of their organizations and their personnel through compassionate actions. Emotional pain can be debilitating to individuals in organized settings, and Frost demonstrates through studies and real-life examples what both compassionate and harmful responses to toxicity look like.

Boost Emotional Capacity
Next, Frost delves into the various sources of organizational toxicity, the ways toxin handlers cope with the emotional pain within their organizations, and the resulting emotional toll that managing toxins takes on handlers. Then, to offer much needed relief to these toxin handlers, Frost examines specific ways they can protect themselves from the toxins they help manage. He provides several suggestions that can help them strengthen their physical capacity, boost their emotional capacity, regenerate their mental capacity, and build their spiritual capacity. His advice includes:

  • Keep fit. Exercise is an effective way for managers who are toxin handlers to dissipate stress.
  • Get a massage. Regular massages can release tensions caused by both physical and emotional demands.
  • Stay positive. Managers who adopt positive attitudes toward the toxic situations they face say this helps them keep the pain and suffering in perspective.
  • Don't take things personally. The ability to separate oneself from the situation at hand is a helpful skill.
  • Accept what you can't change. Calmness comes from knowing the nature of a situation as accurately and honestly as one can, and then accepting the limits of what can be done about it.
  • Refocus the mind. Mental activities, such as meditation and breathing exercises, release stress, prevent handlers from absorbing negative energy, and refocus the mind to create more resilience.
  • Create personal space. Find some balance, possibly stepping back from particular situations or by leaving the work site completely from time to time to gain perspective.


Educate the Organization
To help the leaders and managers who deal with the emotional pain get the support they need, Frost shows them how to educate their organizations about the value of what they do. In addition, he examines the many ways that organizations can protect the toxin handlers who do this valuable work.

Toxic Emotions at Work also provides leaders with a look at the compassionate role that they can take to manage toxicity in their organizations. To help them do this, Frost offers hands-on lessons for distributing the emotional load beyond the designated toxin handlers. Rounding out his book with a broader perspective of the issue, Frost looks at how organizations can create and sustain compassionate workplaces. To help them cope with the emotional pain that is a natural byproduct of work, he presents specific policies and practices that an organization can put into place to prevent high toxicity.

Why Soundview Likes This Book
Toxic Emotions at Work provides a humane and insightful perspective on the work and morale issues that affect organizational performance. By looking at what can be done to alleviate emotional pain before it becomes toxic, Frost reveals dramatic ways leaders can use healthy options to create highly successful organizations, avoid burnout, and create a culture of compassion within their workplaces. Copyright (c) 2003 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781578512577
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2003
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Prologue 1
Ch. 1 Emotional Pain in Organizations 11
Ch. 2 Sources of Toxicity in Organizations 35
Ch. 3 The Work of the Toxin Handler 61
Ch. 4 The Toll on Toxin Handlers 89
Ch. 5 Healing the Handlers 107
Ch. 6 At the Interface: What Handlers and Their Organizations Can Do 133
Ch. 7 Leaders Handling Pain 155
Ch. 8 The Compassionate Company: Architecting Responses to Pain 183
Ch. 9 Looking through the Lens of Pain 215
Notes 227
Index 241
About the Author 251
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2003

    thank you!

    i've been waiting for *somebody* to write this book for 15 years... making all of these things so clear and practical... and practice-able. opens an essential conversation for any leader and organization.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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