Psychotherapy and Counseling in New York City
Transforming Possibilities

Areas of Expertise
Transforming Possibilities

Susan Dowell, LCSW

Susan Dowell, LCSW

Copyright© 2017 Susan H. Dowell
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The Weight of Worry

How role reversal can help you overcome counterproductive fretting at work.

As a psychotherapist, I've had many people come to my office weighed down by various versions of self-doubt, criticism and worry, often with the illusion that worry keeps them on alert.

This is not the case. Worry distracts you. It makes you lose focus. You may think worry is a way of alerting yourself to a concern but you can't let it dominate your thoughts because it gets in the way of your creativity.

To help you identify whether worry is holding you back at work, ask yourself the following questions and answer them objectively:

  • How often do you reframe a nagging thought or worry at work into a negative prediction about yourself?

  • Do you collect wounds and impatient commentaries from your supervisor?

  • Do you let a sharp word or angry glance from a co-worker linger too long on your mind?

  • If you are an experienced self-doubter, or worrier, can you list the ways you may be using your worrying at work to unsettle your focus even without realizing it?
Once you've identified signs of being mired in worry, you can take steps to keep this negative pattern in check and develop coping tools to minimize its effect on your job performance.

Firstly, DO NOT rush into making automatic negative assumptions about what is on another person's mind. Give folks the benefit of the doubt. My book co-authored with communications expert Natalie Canavor, "Workplace Genie", explores the many ways that jumping to conclusions can backfire in a work setting. As we have described in the book, role reversal is a very effective tool for helping you clarify the intentions of your supervisor and co-workers.

Through role reversal, one gains insight into the perspective of another person – a colleague or supervisor, for example – by completing an exercise that puts one in that person's mindset by literally assuming their position, down to their facial gestures and body posture. The exercise requires you to set up two chairs face to face so you can switch from sitting in each chair as you engage in a mock conversation between yourself and the individual who is the source of your worries. You will ask this person a question about the issue that's bothering you then answer as the other person, adopting their posture, tone and mannerisms so you can see the situation from their point of view.

Stephan is a computer specialist who felt like an outsider at work because he is from Russia. He also was angry that his co-workers received better raises than he did although his service was always in demand. This made him increasingly aggressive at the office. I suggested he do role reversal, engaging in a candid conversation about his issues with his supervisor. Connecting to not only the words he exchanged as himself and his boss but to their tone as well, Stephan realized that his boss was also feeling challenged by his aggressive posture and he resolved to take on a more neutral tone when he revisited the issues with her in person, setting the stage for a more productive interaction.

I like to encourage people to also do a role reversal with their Wise Self. The Wise Self is one of several states of mind that reflect our many moods. We are of different minds at different times. Sometimes you are confident. Sometimes you doubt yourself. The Wise Self is the part of you that knows how to organize you and helps you accomplish things. Engaging in a role reversal with your Wise Self helps you access your confident state.

If you're struggling with worry, try one or more role reversals. To deal with worry you need perspective and this is a powerful tool for helping you get it.

Susan Dowell, LCSW. Copyright 2017