Power of positive thinking


Don't sound the death knell for travel agents just yet -- "all of the information is not on the table," said Francine Siegal, a Portland, Ore.-based psychiatrist who spoke at the Institute of Certified Travel Agents' recent forum in Las Vegas.

The logo for the latest ICTA Forum.Siegal's presentation on Strategies for Balancing Stress and Success included a comparison of travel agents and doctors -- and a call to learn from the latter's mistakes.

"You guys are at the point where we [doctors] were a couple of years ago," she said.

"When Hillary [Clinton] had the task force on health care, and we had nobody on the committee except for one doctor who never saw a patient in his life, we thought, 'My God, everybody's making decisions for me without my input.' "

Whereas the health-care reforms faded to nothing, still "the fear that there was going to be another health care commission caused many conservative doctors [who were worried about their fate] to sell their practices to the HMOs and lose control of their businesses."

Travel agents can learn from doctors' mistakes, said Siegal: "Sometimes the threat of loss and the belief that things are going to pop causes more problems than actual change itself."

Travel agents, who are facing their own fears about their fate, can take control of their attitude -- a powerful asset in itself, according to Siegal. "Emphasize optimism," and you'll get better results, she said.

She gave a powerful example of how expectations determine outcome. In one Harvard study, half of the students scheduled to take a midterm exam were taken aside beforehand and told the forthcoming test was especially difficult and that they had three hours to complete the exam. The other half of the group was told the test was very easy and they should be able to complete it in 20 minutes.

The result: Only 46% of the first group, who had been given the pessimistic message, passed, whereas 97% of the second, positive-thinking group passed.

Ultimately, said Siegal, "if you manage a company, your expectations determine the outcome of the company."

A new way of looking at stress

Stress, that bugaboo of modern civilization, isn't all bad. "Good stress is the amount it takes to make us feel alert, interested, motivated and challenged -- similar to how caffeine in a morning cup of coffee gets us going," said Francine Siegal, a psychiatrist who spoke at the recent Institute of Certified Travel Agents forum in Las Vegas.

Dr. Francine Siegal.Meanwhile, "bad stress is the additional amount that moves us from feeling inspired to feeling overloaded," Siegal explained.

Since everyone is different when it comes to the amount of stress they find "good" or "bad," for optimum performance, it's important to discover one's "stress style," said Siegal.

She described a continuum where one side is the "challenge" style, for those who thrive on risk and high energy.

If you're on the other side of the continuum -- called the mastery side -- you'd rather be in a situation where there's security and the feeling that you're familiar with what you're doing.

Peak performance requires a balance between challenge and mastery, said Siegal. And if you're working in partnership with someone else, it's important to know where each of you is on the continuum.

A good combination might be one "challenger" with one "mastery" person, so you balance out each other's strengths and weaknesses.

Mistakes happen

Dan McManus.As your office gears up for the spring surge in travel planning, you can expect an increase in activity. And more activity might mean more mistakes.

If mistakes happen because your staff is overworked, either bring in some reinforcements or accept errors as part of the cost of doing the extra business. When lack of knowledge is to blame, find an appropriate training solution ASAP.

Whatever the cause of an error, deal with it unemotionally and without blame. Find the source of the problem and focus on how it should be handled next time, trying to create an environment that encourages employees to learn from mishaps.

There will be times when you have a really big mistake to deal with -- but as disappointed as you might be, don't take it out on your employees. Help them feel better by telling them one of the following stories to put things in perspective:

  • A Newton, N.C., man made a really big mistake when awakened by the sound of a ringing telephone beside his bed. He reached for the phone but instead grabbed his gun, which discharged when he tried to "answer" it.
  • A Toronto attorney, demonstrating to visiting law students the strength of a 24-story building's windows, crashed through the glass with his shoulder.
  • A young salesman in Florida crashed into a pole while driving in the middle of the afternoon. Police said he was traveling only about 40 mph. Judging from the opened sales manual he was found with clutching to his chest, it appeared he was busy preparing for his next sales call.
  • Whatever your employee did wrong, it probably was minor compared to the mistakes made by these unlucky folks. Live and learn.

    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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