I ATTENDED THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF STRESS' 11th annual congress in Hawaii. Presenters, who came from all over the world, are giants in the field of medicine and science.

The conference was intellectually way over my head, but the negotiated room rate was way under the standard fare. The Mauna Lani is one of the most beautiful hotels in the world, so it was like being on vacation in a learning environment. And there were several stress-oriented issues that did relate to the dealer world.

Managing stress is one of the biggest challenges facing any new-car dealer. The hours are long, the competition is pitched, franchisers are insensitive to dealer problems, and public image of dealers is low. It is difficult to attract quality employee candidates to dealerships. Dealers must adapt to operating several small businesses under the single roof of most dealerships.

These include new- and used-car sales, service and parts, body shop, lease and rental and, finance & insurance.

It sounds like a heavy burden - and it is! However at the conference it was interesting to realize job-related stress is a universal problem gaining the attention of a world-wide association of renowned doctors, scientists and spiritual leaders.

Because of the intense competition and lack of support experienced by dealership employees from their respective manufacturers, new vehicle dealers generally play Russian roulette with stress management programs.

Bottom line results are the watchword! On-the-job training is the sole introduction to many dealership sales departments and immediacy of results is a requirement which many sales managers demand. Nothing will create stress in an employee as quickly as feeling unconfident in their job knowledge.

I bore unpleasant memories as a young aspiring Jewish Chevy dealer in an old Yankee town dating to 1732. I was constantly under the self-inflicted pressure to win community approval. I eventually discovered my stress was not coming from the old townies.

A new car dealer is like the captain of a ship who sets the mood of the crew. I remember mornings when I arrived at the dealership in a miffed mood (for no good reason). It didn't take an hour for my mood to be reflected throughout the entire dealership!

I've often spent time visiting other dealers and general managers and consistently discovered they wittingly or unwittingly determined whether their management team's attitude was positive or negative.

Successful customer relations is more than a talent. It is an art form. It comes from avoiding personal feelings of anger and frustration during the situation at hand.

Dealership customers are more difficult to satisfy than the ordinary consumer. They come to the bargaining table with preconceived fears that they're about to be "taken." They're committed to outwitting their adversary and win the contest.

It's not easy to find an antidote for stress-laden scenarios in the course of a typical dealership business day. My dealership was located close to the Atlantic Ocean. When I felt I was getting stressed out, I'd drive to the beach, sit in my car, gazing at the sea. The heavy feeling of seemingly unmanageable stress would begin to dissipate in a few minutes.

But stress relief can also be attained by simply shutting off the telephone, sitting back in a comfortable chair, propping up your feet up, breathing deeply and closing your eyes.

This is the ultimate stress fighter. Add a repetitious "Ohm" to your relaxed state and this is the beginning of meditation. Fifteen minutes is all you'll need for a re-energized attitude toward the world in general.

Other body mind and spirit control processes like yoga are effective, but meditation is the most convenient for busy people like dealers.

Recommending meditation to stressed dealers may lead some readers to conclude I've lost my marbles. I assure them that I've not become senile. After 40 years of dealing with banks, consumer advocates, tough customers and General Motors, I've developed ways to deal with being a dealer.

Relax and enjoy the game as best you can.