Agents on the couch

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Another pay cut, more anger and uncertainty about the future ... It's time for agents to get a collective psychological tune-up.

It's time for agents to have a collective session on the therapist's couch. We sought guidance on a specialty called cognitive therapy, consulting Laura Oliff, Ph.D., a psychologist at the Manhattan-based American Institute of Cognitive Therapy, as well as from several self-help books in the field.

Cognitive therapists believe that what you think significantly affects the way you feel.

For instance, if you change your inner dialogue, challenging irrational, illogical or overly self-critical thoughts to get a truer sense of the reality of a situation, you can feel better and act more effectively, they say.

The concept might sound simplistic, but, according to Oliff, that's one reason why it works -- because it's easy to use, it's based on common sense and it's attuned to everyday life instead of (as in other kinds of therapy) events that occurred in childhood. And once you learn a few tools, you can practice it yourself.

The first step in the process is to identify the difficult situation, what you're feeling and -- most important -- the thoughts fueling that feeling.

For example, if you're angry and feeling helpless over the pay cuts, you might be thinking, "I'm a victim, and it's not fair. The airlines are trying to put me out of business."

The next step is to think of a more rational response, such as: "Yes, the airlines cut my commissions, and they'll probably continue to cut my commissions until they're down to zero. I have a right to be absolutely furious -- who wouldn't be if an outside force cut their pay? But they're a business making business decisions. Forget about the airlines right now. What can I do to help myself now as an owner of my own business?"

Oliff offered an additional response: "My industry has changed drastically, like many other industries. This is a change I'm not thrilled with, but I have the strength to meet the demands of my newly changed industry."

More therapy ...

If the example we provided in the above article about cognitive therapy just made you feel angrier, here's another real-life example of this technique to consider:

David D. Burns' book on cognitive therapy.Suppose you're a fearful flyer who just learned about the Egyptair plane crash the week before you had to fly to Paris. Your first thought is, "Since I'm flying from Kennedy Airport -- and everybody keeps talking about all of these unexplained crashes of planes flying from there -- then I'm probably going to crash and die!"

The rational response: "You're just nervous and overstimulated because of all the media coverage about the crash. But it's probably the best time to fly. Because there was a recent crash, it's likely that maintenance people are going to be more careful than ever.

"Plus, remember the hundreds of flights that take off and land safely every day. Your task now is to manage your anxiety, not to think about how you're going to die."

For a highly readable, step-by-step introduction to the techniques of cognitive therapy, check out "The Feeling Good Handbook," by David D. Burns (Penguin Group; $17.95).

For a well-written discussion of the theory behind the practice, pick up Burns' book, "Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy." (Avon Books; $14).

Making a statement

Why should I write a mission statement -- and what's the best way to write one?"

Dan McManus.A mission statement offers benefits both within and outside your agency. It's an excellent way to deliver a clear message on the agency's priorities -- to your staff and to your customers.

A good mission statement should realistically reflect who you are, what you do, what you stand for and why.

The best kinds of statements should be able to stand the test of time, so craft yours carefully.

A good place to begin is by collecting a few mission statements from other organizations. Ask colleagues at other agencies as well as those who own other kinds of businesses for samples. Another good source for samples is corporate Web sites.

Armed with some samples, meet with your employees to brainstorm words they feel represent your business.

Do not hurry this process. It will take more than one session before everyone is comfortable with the results. Once you have a draft, run it by a few of your top customers for their input.

As the statement is being developed, make sure there is meaning behind the words. Everyone needs to believe in the mission, or the process will fall flat. For this reason, avoid self-serving or lofty statements -- the corporate gobbledygook that will be meaningless to the real world.

Once you've developed a mission statement you're satisfied with, use it in promotional literature, on your Web site, on business cards, letterheads and in the orientation of new employees.

Periodically, review your mission statement to make sure it continues to reflect the current thinking and goals of your agency.

Former agency owner Dan McManus is the publisher of the newsletter The Successful Worldspan Agent. E-mail him at [email protected].

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