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Work wellbeing - means of coping

Different stressful situations call for different means of coping but individuals also tend to favor consistently certain means while failing to use other means when facing stressful problem situations. Coping styles are composed of sets of means people use to cope in stress situations. Coping behavior is divided into means targeted at solving problems as well as managing of emotions (e.g., Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).

WOPI-Coping styles is a questionnaire measuring individual differences in coping styles. It is based on stress and coping theories and factor analysis. Individuals report on their typical means of coping in stressful problem situations.

Direct action

Direct action means direct, unhesitating action upon the stressor or problem, i.e., “taking the bull by its horns”. Direct action is mostly considered a constructive style, focused on problem solving. Instead of avoiding the problem the person has courage to confront it and attempt to influence or change the situation in concrete manner. Obviously very strong and straightforward action may turn out to be a less effective. In ambiguous and sensitive situations, such as involving conflicts between people, it may be better to first refrain from strong action, examine the situation with a calm eye (cf. planning) and only then initiate solution efforts.


Interaction means ability to receive and actively seek support from other people as well as express feelings of frustration to others. Inability to use interaction reflects an exclusively self-relying and “tooth biting” style often related to the traditional male role. Interaction is considered almost always to be a constructive style focused on solving problems in stressful situations. Social interaction enhances problem solving, leads to concrete support and maintains as well as raises one’s mood. Obviously exclusive emphasis on social interaction may reflect excessive dependence on others when direct action or calm planning would be more effective.


Planning means calm, rational analysis of the stress situation or problem linked to planning of optional solutions. Planning and perpective taking is almost always considered as a constructive, problem solving style of coping in stressful situations. It is always important to take an objective look at the situation and, instead of being driven by emotions view the problem in its right proportion. Obviously exclusive reliance or overemphasis on planning may lead to intellectualization of the problem when direct action would be more effective.


Detachment means a tendency, an ability to avoid excessive stress. Inability to detach oneself from problems has been considered the “occupational disease” of health and patient care professionals with the risk of ultimately burning out. It is a coping style focused at management of emotions but a reasonable amount of detachment works to promote well-being. In other words, an individual should not hoard all the world’s sorrows but be able to take a break at least occasionally from timely problems. People should be able to take on other activities and not be perpetually burdened by worries. Obviously overly strong detachment may indicate fleeing or denial of problems and, confronting unpleasant or painful facts or personal failures is always difficult.

Focus on self

Focus on oneself means that in stressful problem situations the person shifts his or her attention upon oneself. It is a coping style targeted at management of emotions and due to its emphasis on thinking, it contrasts with the other more action oriented coping styles. Shifting attention on oneself can be the person’s general style of coping or, it can be a consequence to giving up on the more action oriented styles. Self-reflection often involves encountering helplessness, powerlessness and conflicts. People tend to treat them in constructive or less constructive ways. An example of the latter are quilt feelings and blaming oneself for actually causing the problem, a tendency often viewed as plaguing women more than men. The constructive way involves brave confrontation and working through of the negative feelings. Success in this can lead to better self-understanding, more mature appraisal of stress situations as well as permanently stronger self-confidence. Obviously, only little amount self-reflection can be a perfectly balanced state of mind.

Coaching in coping

It is good to begin the coaching with a brief introduction to the means and styles of coping. The present article serves well as a introductory material sent in advance to the trainees. The actual coaching phase involves examining the profile produced from responses to the WOPI-Coping style questionnaire. The profile displays the individual’s most frequently and the least frequently used coping styles. The examination starts with the frequently used, developed coping styles and ends to identifying them as valuable resources of the person. Then follows the more important phase of identifying the less used, undeveloped styles. This often involves stepping to the individual’s discomfort zone and certain amount of resistance is expected. The ultimate goal is to encourage the coachee to take on and strengthen the use of such undeveloped styles of coping.

Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer.


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