ReadingRoom

Book of the Week: Life advice from the All Blacks shrink

In this strange excerpt from a new self-help book by Dr Ceri Evans, who teaches the All Blacks how to perform under pressure, he imagines how a stressed receptionist can change her life for the better.

Emma’s focus is just on getting through the day.

She works as a receptionist at a car dealership, where her main role is booking cars in for services. But her job is shaky; she has no partner to share the load; she has financial worries to the point where her children often have to go without, compared with their school friends; and she has no time or energy left in each day to invest in exercising or socialising or pursuing interests of her own.

She’s angry about her situation and feels guilty about not providing more for the people she loves. Her children seem to be making some poor choices that will potentially limit them later on – all because she’s unable to give them the stability and guidance they deserve.

It feels like day-to-day survival. She feels rundown and she worries about burnout. How will she keep going, day after day?

It’s mid-morning at work and already she’s at the end of her tether. Her manager, Brian, has demanded that she prioritise an unexpected task: a high-profile customer wants their car serviced in the next 48 hours, but the garage is fully booked for the next two weeks. She’s the one who has to ring them back and say no – when it’s Brian who should be making the difficult call. And he hasn’t taken anything off her plate. Everything must be done in less time.

She recognises tension creeping around her shoulders and into her jaw: her personal sign that she needs to use the 'rename, reframe, reset' sequence.

She silently renames the tension RED, which allows her to step back and see her frustration at the inefficiencies in her workplace. But as she tries to teach her kids, we can always choose our reaction, and there’s no point in losing control. She takes three deep breaths to settle herself.

She reframes the situation from a small RED frame – ‘My manager is unfair’ and ‘I hate my job’ – to a larger BLUE one – ‘My manager is just a link in the chain’ and ‘I want to apply for promotion, so helping this customer as well as I can is the right thing to do.’ The different picture in her head makes her feel much better. A promotion, while not world-changing, would definitely help. Time to show what she’s made of.

She loves the mantra complain or complete. She resets herself and identifies the new top priority from Brian as the task she least wants to do. She presses the button on an imaginary stopwatch hanging over her shoulder to begin a micro-performance. Five minutes to finish the task. Spending longer on it would only make her feel even more irritated, tense and distracted, which would cloud everything else she does.

She spends one minute assembling information and planning her interaction with the customer, then dives straight in by picking up the phone. The customer ventilates about the two-week delay, but she does her best to empathise with them and establish rapport using reflective listening. At just the right moment, when she feels their RED heat tapering off, she steps in with a BLUE solution. She’s taken another look at the booking schedule and can squeeze in the customer in five days’ time. And she offers to provide him with a replacement car for 48 hours: not their usual practice. The customer can tell she’s gone out of her way to accommodate him, so he ends the phone call sounding happy enough. Not perfect, but satisfactory.

First task completed with a minute to spare. And if she’s honest, she’s enjoyed the challenge of skilfully managing the situation by looking for the RED–BLUE switch. If only her children could learn to manage their RED–BLUE balance a little better…

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Perform Under Pressure: Change the way you feel, think and act under pressure by Dr Ceri Evans (HarperCollins, $39.99)

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