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Originally published Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Interpersonal Edge

Ways to stay afloat in rising waves of anxiety

Q: A lot of my co-workers and our management seem to be making decisions purely on fear. I admit my own brain fogs up trying to make the...

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Q: A lot of my co-workers and our management seem to be making decisions purely on fear. I admit my own brain fogs up trying to make the right choice rather than the one that lowers my anxiety. Any tips for improving decision-making when it looks like the sky really is falling?

A: Yes, there are tools for making effective decisions even when it looks like "the End of Times" has arrived.

Realize that for anything new to be born, old structures have to fall apart. Realize you are living in one of those times.

Also realize you have a lot of anxious company in corporate America.

To put it briefly ... if you can keep your head while all around you are losing theirs, then you probably haven't been paying enough attention!

Many of my talented executive clients try to manage their fear by "snapping out of it." Unfortunately, emotions don't get better by snapping.

If anything, when people ignore emotions they risk "snapping" and doing something we all regret.

The fear that is pervasive t now is not the problem. When we make poor choices of words or actions because of our fear, we then have a problem.

The challenge now is how to swim in the ocean of fear around us without drowning.

There are three steps that can act as flotation devices as bad news continues to roll into your workplace:

1. Be concrete and specific about your worst-case scenario.

2. Create a plan to survive your worst case-scenario.

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3. Stop taking responsibility for economic factors you can't control.

In American business, we have a cherished myth that bad things don't happen to good people. Thus if bad things happen to us, we feel ashamed we've been publicly revealed as undeserving of God's favor.

Another popular myth is that a self-made man or woman is in charge of his or her own destiny. If we follow this illusion to its natural conclusion, hurricanes, tidal waves and economic disasters must all bend to the will of the truly powerful professional.

When we combine these two myths with a financial crisis, we have two choices. We wake up and smell the genuine limits of our powerlessness or we torture ourselves with our obvious failure to run the universe.

If you were the only reader writing me about coping with anxiety, you might assume you're just the nervous type. However, in my 15 years of writing this column, I've never had more letters on a single topic.

As you struggle to swim in your anxiety and consider your most effective course of action, take comfort in one guarantee: We are all in this crisis together.

If you can keep your head, even when your heart is in turmoil, you create calm in the eye of the storm for yourself and those around you.

The last word(s)

Q: I am quite affectionate by nature and tend to touch employees or customers lightly on the shoulder. Some people get upset. Should I stop?

A: No, appropriate touch reminds us we're human. Just ask before patting your next shoulder.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., is an executive coach, trainer, therapist, speaker and author. She can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001; by e-mail at interpersonaledge@comcast.net; or at www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry, no personal replies.

To read other columns, go to www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube

© 2009 The Seattle Times Co., All Rights Reserved.

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