You have this absolutely brilliant idea that is sure to make millions for your company, but when you moot it at a meeting, your colleagues pooh-pooh it. You feel bitter at this rejection. Why don't people see things your way?
You had this can't-miss personal commitment coming up and you had taken care to get your boss' OK to take that day off. But when the day arrives, your boss flatly denies that he ever agreed to let you off. You feel let down. Why don't people keep their word?
You work hard and smart and take on more than your share of work, yet your boss favours those who sweet-talk and flatter him. You feel frustrated. Why doesn't my boss see my true worth?
These and many other similar situations make the subject of a just-released self-help book, Managing Workplace Stress, written by Professor Koushiki Choudhury of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, and published by Springer (disclosure: I am chairman of the board at IIM Calcutta). Professor Choudhury takes the position that the stress that such situations bring is the consequence not of the situations themselves but of a set of irrational beliefs that we carry in our heads, a set of "musts".
For example, your feelings of rejection when your brilliant ideas for making a vast fortune for your company were shot down by your colleagues may probably have been caused by your deep-rooted belief that your colleagues must see things your way.
Your feelings of anger when your boss denied ever having approved your leave were probably because of your belief that bosses must always stick to their word.
Your frustration at your boss being partial to your sweet-talking colleagues and overlooking the work of the sincere, hard-working you may be because of your belief that people must treat you fairly.
This extensive collection of musts leads you to harbour feelings of rejection, anger and frustration and makes these workplace events look like catastrophes.
Instead of giving in to such "catastrophisation", says Professor Choudhury, what you really ought to do is question the collection of musts that reside in our heads.
When your brilliant ideas for your company are shot down, it might help to examine rationally whether your way of looking at the business opportunities that face your company was the only possibly way of looking at things. Maybe there were less risky and more practical alternatives?
Once you do this, it no longer appears necessary that your colleagues must always see your way. Since you felt let down when your boss went back on leave sanction, it may be more rational to always have a back-up plan whenever this particular boss is involved.
You will feel less devastated the next time he changes his mind. The next time you feel under-appreciated by your boss, be rational and ask yourself whether you have an excessive need for approval. Tell yourself that his lack of approval does not reduce your intrinsic worth as an individual.
Professor Choudhury calls this process of rationally examining oneself "rational emotive behaviour therapy". She says this concept is based on the belief that events alone, and by themselves, do not cause a person to feel depressed, angry or sorrowful; it is a person's beliefs and thoughts about these events that cause these feelings and sometimes even lead to self-defeating behaviour.
Her book lists 24 different, trying situations of the kind described above and which her research has shown that we encounter in work situations. It also describes 24 exercises in applying rational thinking when faced with negative thoughts and feelings.
It is interesting that Professor Choudhury is not a professor of human resources or behavioural science; she is a professor of marketing. She says she wrote this book in the belief that companies should first market things internally before they market them to external customers.
Internal marketing is a hot new subject in management - particularly in companies in service industries, where a wide range of employees constantly deal with external customers.
Most books that come out of management schools appear to aim at ensuring that the one per cent of corporate high-flyers fly even higher, and assume an all-conquering, superman of a manager as its audience.
This one has as its audience those managers who feel tongue-tied because they don't want to sound foolish, who feel they haven't got the promotion they deserve, whose work is vague or boring or both, whose subordinates routinely challenge their directions - in other words, the rest of us who make up most of the managerial world.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh