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Work wellbeing - ways of coping

Different stressful situations call for different ways of coping but individuals also tend to consistently use certain ways while failing to use other ways when facing stressful problem situations. The diverse ways of coping can be summarized into five problem focused and emotion focused coping styles, the identification and coaching of which helps the individual in encountering stressful situations.

WOPI-Coping styles is a questionnaire measuring individual differences in coping styles based on stress and coping theories and factor analysis. The actual coaching involves identifying the individual's frequently used styles as valuable assets and he/she is encouraged and guided to strengthen his/her less used ways and styles.

Direct action

Direct action means direct, unhesitating action upon the stressor or problem, “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 a concrete way. Obviously, very strong and straightforward action may turn out to be less effective. In ambiguous and sensitive situations, such as involving interpersonal conflicts, 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 the ability to receive and actively seek support from others as well as express feelings of frustration to other people. Inability to use interaction reflects an exclusively self-relying, “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 cool, rational analysis of the stress or problem situation and weighing of alternative solutions. Planning and perspective taking are almost always considered as constructive, problem solving styles of coping in stressful situations. It is always important to take an objective look at the situation and, instead of being driven by emotions, to view the problem in its correct proportions. Obviously, overemphasis or exclusive reliance on planning may lead to intellectualization or procrastination of the problem when direct action would be more effective.


Detachment means a tendency but also an ability to avoid excessive stress. Inability to detach oneself from problems has been viewed as an "occupational disease" of health and patient care professionals with the risk of ultimately burning out. It is a coping style focused on controlling emotions but a reasonable amount of detachment will enhance wellbeing. In other words, an individual should not hoard all the world’s sorrows but be able to, at least occasionally take a break 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 which may in the longer run have unfavorable consequences.

Focus on self

Focus on oneself refers to the person's tendency in stressful problem situations to shift his/her attention to oneself. It is mainly a coping style serving the control of emotions but self-reflection may also be constructive and serve problem solving. It is clearly serving emotional control when the person has given up the use of the more active styles of coping and turns his/her attention to oneself. In such case, the person can easily become exposed to self-denigration, even blame him/herself for causing the initial problem, something that has been seen more a characteristic of women than men. In contrast, constructive ends are served when the focus on oneself involves brave encountering of difficult issues, thereby leading to enhanced self-understanding and stronger coping in future problem situations.

Coaching in coping

Coaching of coping is initiated with an introduction to the means and styles of coping for which purpose this article serves as a material sent to participants in advance. The actual coaching discussion involves examining the most and least frequently used coping styles displayed on the profile. The focus is first set on the most frequently used styles while identifying them as valuable resources for the individual. The main goal in coaching is from there on to guide and encourage the person to increase the use of the unused or less used, underdeveloped styles of coping in stressful situations.

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


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