What you can do when adversity strikes

Working women

March 02, 1992|By Carol Kleiman | Carol Kleiman,Knight-Ridder News Service

Taking lemons and making lemonade -- squeezing the best out of a bad situation -- is an important survival technique to learn in this harsh economic climate.

That's what a supervising architect earning about $55,000 had to do when a new managing partner was hired and targeted him for criticism.

"There was bad chemistry between us," said the architect, who had been with the firm for three years and also had supervisory responsibilities. "He thought I was spending too much time on architecture and not enough on managing. After a series of insults, he demoted me by taking away my managerial responsibilities."

Did the architect get mad? Yes. And depressed. But he also got even: He quit and formed his own firm.

"That was his way of making a comeback and making himself happy again," said Andrew J. DuBrin, industrial psychologist and management professor at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y. "He is one of many people who prove you can manage your career in unmanageable times, during adversity."

Mr. DuBrin, author of "Bouncing Back: How to Stay in the Game When Your Career is On the Line," (McGraw-Hill, $14.95 paper), describes adversity as "anything that sets you back, a substantial loss such as losing your job or your budget, being demoted, having a boss you dislike or who dislikes you, losing your biggest account."

In those situations, all you can control is how you deal with them, said Mr. DuBrin, who has a master's degree in industrial bTC psychology from Purdue University and a doctorate in psychology from Michigan State University.

Mr. DuBrin lists "confidence, hardiness of spirit, resilience to stress and a positive attitude" as the traits crucial to surviving adversity in the workplace.

"Most people overlook dealing with the emotional aspects of adversity," said Mr. DuBrin, a private management consultant who teaches organizational behavior and career management.

"You need support from a group, a good friend, a spouse, a confidante -- someone to talk to, to get the anger out. Then, it's easier to put things on a problem-solving basis and start looking for ways to pick up the pieces."

The psychologist has this advice if you're reeling from a career setback: "Don't wallow in self-pity, learn to laugh, minimize contact with pessimistic people, don't exaggerate the magnitude of the crisis, avoid panic and take charge of your life."

Some 15 years ago, Elliott Gordon was working for a small executive search firm in Southern California. "I had a lot of assignments, mostly from one client, so I began focusing solely on that company," said Mr. Gordon, who today is managing vice president of Korn/Ferry International in Newport Beach, Calif.

His success was exciting, but adversity struck. "The client suffered a major setback, canceled all the work and my livelihood dropped out from under me," said Mr. Gordon. He was angry, but out of the anger came a resolve "to show them."

"I eventually became general manager of that group and then went to Korn/Ferry, the largest search firm in the world, and over the years climbed the ranks," he said.

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