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Gestalt Institute of Cleveland

Master's Degree in Diversity Management.

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Becoming an Effective Organizational Intervener

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In this issue I discuss Salavatore Maddi's theory of hardiness. More recently, it has also be called resilience. It seems appropriate both for us as practitioners and for our clients. The tumultuous times of the present economy has made it difficult for many. Hardiness reminds us that there are always survivors that seem to find their way back after the most difficult times. In the following, we chat about some of these concepts.

Bountiful blessings

Herb Stevenson


Staying Present in Day-to-day Life: The Courage to Be Engaged

To live one's life on purpose, it helps to understand how to consciously live one's life--that is, to engage life. Salvatore Maddi from the Hardiness Institute in Irvine, California suggests that before we can engage and live life on purpose, we must develop a form of courage that he calls hardiness. This hardiness is a form of existential courage that "facilitates the [innate and] ongoing search for meaning in life...[that] is expressed in the inevitable decision-making process that underlies everything we do in life" (Maddi, 2004, 280). In other words, everyday, in every moment, we make decisions on what to do next. Often it is unconscious and therefore habitual; therefore, we are sliding through life without any skin in the game. When this occurs, a jarring experience often develops in a relationship or a crisis in the form of a betrayal and/or dismissal at work or something very personal. We are jarred into realizing that something shifted or changed without our knowing it. Suddenly, we realize that "everything we do in life constitutes a decision that we are making whether we realize it or not." (Maddi, 2004, 283) In such cases, we can wonder how has this happened to me. There can be a sensation of having somehow missed the last several years of existence by having been on a habitual, unconscious form of autopilot.

Past or Future

If we have been on autopilot, we have been semi-conscious at best and generally have relied on the tools, techniques and skills that have evolved and been successful for us. We are living in the past by fine tuning and honing the collected tools, techniques, and skills to almost every situation. Instead of staying on the cutting edge of life, being fully present and open to what is developing before us, we tend to quickly categorize every situation into a problem that can be solved from our perceived wealth of knowledge when in actuality, we are facing a dearth of possibilities. Our choices are fixed and limited. We have forsaken our ability to consciously engage our life, our family, our self. Suddenly, we experience an awareness that we have not lived up to our dream, our very potential as a person, father, son, worker, boss, etc. We experience a sense of having missed the mark in our life.1

To consciously engage life, we must face the future, creating a razor sharp awareness of being alert for what is new and novel while knowing what has worked in the past. It involves being open and receptive, focused and clear, alive and in the moment, here and now. Such startling presence has a cost. "Choosing the future brings with it what existential psychologies call ontological anxiety"--a discomfort or fear about our being.  (Maddi, 2004, 284) When faced with the new and novel, it forces us to learn and face the unknown--outcome, information, situation, etc. We are on our edge. "Each decision to embrace the future is fraught with anxiety, but carrying out the decision leads to new information and the sense of oneself as learning, whether the path taken is successful or not." (Maddi, 2004, 285)           


What is your orientation to life--past, present, or future?

How does it influence your ability to face life's challenges?

Why this is important

Suppose you discovered this morning that your company has been sold to foreign investors who will be downsizing the company by 50%. A complete evaluation of each employee will be done, live, during the downsize to determine who will remain in the completely reorganized company. Or, suppose you come home today to an empty house, either in the form that your wife is gone or that she has kicked you out of the house by changing locks and has packed all of your clothes and personal effects in the moving truck sitting in the drive way. To make sure you get the picture, she has convinced the police that you will respond violently. Both of these examples happen frequently enough that either you've experienced one of them or know someone that has. Question: how well did they respond? Was it a crisis or was it an opportunity?

Salvatore Maddi suggests that there are three determining factors surrounding how the situation was handled. The degree of commitment, control, and challenge that you use to experience life. "If you are strong in commitment, you want to stay involved with people and events going on around you, as that seems the best way to find what is experientially interesting and meaningful. It seems wasteful to sink into isolation and alienation. If you are strong in control, you want to struggle to have an influence on the outcomes going on around you, even if this may seem difficult in certain circumstances. It seems wasteful to you to sink into powerlessness and passivity. Furthermore, if you are strong in challenge, you find the process of continuing to learn from your experiences, whether they are positive or negative, developmentally fulfilling. In contrast, having the entitled expectation of easy comfort and security, and therefore feeling threatened by change, seems superficial to you." (Maddi, 2004, 286)


How well do you maintain a sense of commitment to stay involved with people during a crisis?

How well do you strive to influence outcomes during a crisis without obsessing?

How well do you challenge yourself to learn from your experiences?

Balance of Energies

The three C's of commitment, control, and challenge create the courage to live life fully, the courage to fully be your self. They must be fully developed and in use according to the situation or the courage to fully be slides back into habitual patterns from the past. For example, "imagine people high in control and low in commitment and challenge. They would want to determine outcomes, but not waste time and effort learning from experience or feeling involved with people, things or events. They would be egotistical and vulnerable to seeing themselves as better than others and as having nothing more to learn. They would be riddled with impatience, irritability, isolation, and bitter suffering whenever control efforts failed." (Maddi, 2004, 287)

"Now, imagine people high in commitment but low in control and challenge. They would be completely enmeshed with the people, things and events around them, never thinking to have an influence through or to reflect on their experience in the interactions. They would have little or no individuality, and their sense of meaning would be contributed completely by the social institutions in which they would lose themselves. Such people would be quite vulnerable whenever any but the most trivial changes were imposed on them." (Maddi, 2004, 287)

Finally, imagine people high in challenge but low in control and commitment. They would be preoccupied with novelty and risk taking, caring little for others, things, and events around them and not imagining that they could have a concerted influence on anything. They might appear to be learning constantly, but this would be trivial in comparison with their investment in the thrill of adventure. They might well engage in games of chance and risky activities for the excitement they bring." (Maddi, 2004, 287)

"It is the combination of commitment, control, and challenge that constitutes existential courage and [the] motivation [to stay fully present in adverse conditions]. To tolerate stressful circumstances, one must see them as (a) natural developmental pressures rather than catastrophic setbacks, (b) resolvable rather than unmanageable, and (c) worth investing in rather than to be avoided." Such a combined perception enables the individual to focus on the potential or future and therefore apply transformative coping during a crisis. Without the three C's, the individual will tend to regress in the past in terms of how to view and deal with the situation, resulting in a regressive coping approach to a crisis.


Knowing yourself, are you high in commitment, control, and/or challenge?

How does it serve you and dis-serve you?

Steps to Take2

In order to be prepared for a crisis or to simply deal with the daily stresses of modern life, Maddi and Koshaba suggest the following 10 resilient attitudes will support you:

  1. Stay involved with what‘s going on, rather than backing off. (Commitment)
  2. Try to have an influence on outcomes, rather than giving up. (Control)
  3. Remember that stress and change are normal and are a stimulus to your growth. (Challenge)

Transformational Coping:

  1. When a stress occurs, don‘t let yourself deny, overreact, avoid, or strike out.
  2. Put each stress in a broader perspective, so that it‘s more tolerable.
  3. Analyze each stress, so that you can see how best to solve it.
  4. Make a decisive action plan to turn each stress to advantage, and carry it out.

Social Support:

  1. Don't act in a way that lets conflicts with those around you drag on or that make the conflicts worse.
  2. Put each conflict in a broader perspective and analyze your role and that of the other person in it.
  3. Take unilateral actions to resolve each conflict by replacing it, instead, with a pattern of giving and receiving assistance and encouragement.

Returning to the Examples

The two examples noted above, the downsizing and the marital crisis, are real.

Downsizing has become so common that most of us know someone regardless of the process, that always lands on their feet. We could say it is luck or "brown-nosing". Generally, it is because the individual focused clearly on the reality and possibilities that could be maximized and moved diligently to enact them.

In the latter situation, the individual returned from a trip out of town, to find all locks changed and a note that he had 24 hours to remove all of his packed belongings from the garage. Initially, he was shocked. Then, all of his awareness kicked in so that he began to see possibilities. He was honest with himself and recognized the marriage had been over for a long time. That being the situation, he began the process of how to protect his interests in assets and to ensure a fair and relatively smooth divorce. When he discovered that his wife was with his best friend, his leverage in the situation increased. Rather than use that leverage to improve his financial  position, he leveraged it into a fair and equitable settlement and near immediate dissolution of the marriage. He left content that he had been true to his own values and had reclaimed himself in the process.


Maddi, Salvatore R (2004) Hardiness: An Operationalization of Existential Courage, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 44 No 3, 279-298

1 Sarte in his book Beingness and Nothingness characterized choosing the [habitual] past as resulting in the accumulation of ontological guilt or the pain of having failed to live life fully. We have not faced life head-on and as a result no longer know how to accept the challenge of life. This process leads to the mid-life crisis--"a sinister process that starts with boredom, increases to nagging feelings of missed opportunities, and finally ends in a painful sense of meaninglessness." (Kierkegaard in Maddi, 2004, 284)

2Adapted from by Salvatore R. Maddi and Deborah M. Khoshaba  RESILENCE AT WORK: How to Succeed No Matter What Life Throws at You, New Yor k:AMACOM Books.

Upcoming Workshops
& Retreats

Becoming an Effective
Organizational Intervener

For over thirty years, the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland has acknowledged and taught that successful leadership requires an in depth awareness of oneself coupled with the capacity to understand organization and system dynamics sufficiently to create effective personal and organizational interventions. Therefore, the basic premise of Personal & Organizational Effectiveness: Becoming An Effective Organizational Intervener is that through better interventions, individuals become more effective leaders.

Learn more on the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland's website, or download a PDF brochure here.

Conflict, Confrontation, & Negotiation

The basic premise of the Conflict, Confrontation and Negotiation (CCN) program is that individuals become more effective leaders when they have a better understanding of the dynamics of conflict, have knowledge about how to manage confrontation and the skills to negotiate reconciliation, resolutions, and/or settlements.

The ability to manage conflict has increasingly become a required competency of organizational leaders and a required skill for effective organizational interveners. This advanced Gestalt training program is designed to prepare you to successfully conduct difficult professional and personal real-world organizational interactions and situations. It is for leaders and consultants who want to work dynamically to build, within a Gestalt framework, excellence at all levels of system.

Learn more on the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland's website or download a PDF brochure here.

Coaching Workshops
& How to Earn Coaching Certification

The Gestalt Institute of Cleveland specializes in coaching training and offers a wide selection of workshops throughout the year, including certification. Find out more on the Gestalt Institute's website at www.gestaltcleveland.com/coaching .