Working With You is Killing Me: Freeing Yourself from Emotional Traps at Work

Working With You is Killing Me: Freeing Yourself from Emotional Traps at Work

by Katherine Crowley, Kathi Elster


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Two well-respected management experts deliver an authoritative manual that provides valuable insights for turning conflicts in the workplace into productive working relationships.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780446698498
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 03/14/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 255,821
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.62(d)

Read an Excerpt

Working With You Is Killing Me

Freeing Yourself from Emotional Traps at Work

Chapter One

Change Your Reaction, Change Your Life

Let's explore the two faces of business-the clear, crisp Kodak image that companies present to the outside world, versus the day-to-day reality of working in any company, which is usually messy, complicated, political, and full of emotional traps.

On the surface, business is about making money, delivering goods and services, and producing results. The focus is usually on crunching numbers, meeting deadlines, and increasing sales. We assess individual companies by their empirical facts-profit and loss, cash flow, stock options, and growth potential.

Scratch the rational surface of any company, however, and you uncover a hotbed of emotions: people feeling anxious about performance, angry with coworkers, and misunderstood by management. You find leaders who are burnt out and assistants who are buried in resentment. For example:

Meet Eric, manager of customer service for a fast-growing software company. He's proud of his company's products, but his head starts throbbing whenever he hears from a certain very large account. They're never satisfied with any of the products they've purchased. They claim that the accounting software is too complicated, the database has too many fields, and the time-tracking program doesn't download fast enough. Eric and his staff spend hours addressing their complaints, troubleshooting problems as they arise. "We bust our humps for these guys. As soon as we solve one problem, they call with something else." In between complaints they threaten to leave Eric's company for a better deal. "It's exhausting," Eric sighs. "I can't win."

Jessica is the administrative assistant to the vice president of a small public relations firm. Early each morning, this VP leaves piles of work on Jessica's desk with a note: "Off to scare up more business. Please take care of these things before I return." Jessica arrives at the office, sees the stack of papers on her desk, and immediately feels anxious and overwhelmed. "My boss always gives me more work than I can possibly complete in one day," she complains. "I can't get her to meet with me and prioritize the workload." If Jessica doesn't finish everything, she's labeled "inefficient" or "lacking initiative."

These individuals feel trapped by their circumstances, stuck in a losing game. They're unable to free themselves from a bad situation. Because business calls for unemotional behavior, their feelings remain largely unexpressed and suppressed. They think their options are just to suck it up or quit.

We call the experience of feeling caught in an emotionally distressing situation at work being hooked. If you find yourself consistently having a strong negative internal reaction to someone or something in your work environment, you are probably hooked. Emotional hooks vary widely from person to person and job to job. Something as trivial as the nasal tone of a colleague's voice or as weighty as a manager's personality disorder can hook you. A hook can be as simple as a rude remark or as complex as professional sabotage.

If you are a living, breathing, thinking, feeling, normal human being, there's a good chance that you've encountered people and circumstances at work that hook you. In some cases, the incident may generate only mild irritation. In other cases, you may reach a point where you feel like the person or situation is literally killing you.

We've met hardworking individuals who want to be productive and happy at work, but instead feel emotionally trapped in numerous ways. They feel overwhelmed, overworked, underutilized, undermined, disrespected, discounted, interrupted, interrogated, sidetracked, steamrolled, set up, and fed up. Their job descriptions differ, but their experiences are the same.

For most people, earning a living is not an option; it's a requirement. Work eats up more time than any other activity in their lives. At a time when our culture places such emphasis on feeling good, being happy, and having it all, why is it that so many people are dissatisfied at work? Our experience reveals it's largely because they feel trapped, hooked into positions, relationships, and situations that zap their energy, invade their thoughts, and keep them stuck in no-win positions.

The workplace affords numerous opportunities to get hooked, and almost no guidance about how to deal with it. It's appropriate to go to the boss with questions regarding production, accounts receivable, or sales figures. These are nonemotional, factual issues that can be addressed objectively. But when you feel nauseous after a staff meeting or a certain account gives you a migraine, where do you turn?

Take Susan, a marketing executive for a large financial services company. It's Thursday morning and she's sitting at the weekly staff meeting where the departments are giving their reports. Susan's colleague Tracy unabashedly takes credit for a brilliant promotion idea that Susan had originated.

Susan feels a flash of heat surging through her body. Her face turns red. Her eyelid starts to twitch. Her hearing fades. All she can think about is how she'd like to strangle Tracy. Instead of speaking up or joining the meeting, Susan mentally checks out.

Susan just got hooked. Her reaction to Tracy's behavior was to seethe with anger and stop participating. While Susan's response is understandable, getting caught in her own anger doesn't help her situation. In fact, tuning out makes her appear uninterested in the very idea she created.

Susan's experience at her company's staff meeting is not unique. In fact, it's commonplace. The normal reaction when someone else's behavior upsets you is to blame your internal responses on that individual's conduct. As Tony Soprano would say before shooting his latest betrayer, "Look what you made me do!"

In many cases, your response to the situation may make perfect sense. Vicious office gossip is infuriating. An incompetent coworker can be maddening. When a diva of a customer won't return calls it does feel insulting. But, as with Susan, your righteous indignation doesn't improve anything. It just keeps you hooked.

There is a way out. You don't necessarily have to kill anyone or quit your job. You can stay right where you are and still have a different, more satisfying experience. We've helped thousands of people like Eric, Jessica, and Susan transform their workplace from a den of personal frustration to an arena for professional development.

In our work with executives, managers, and employees from every industry, we've learned that the most effective way to resolve interpersonal problems in the workplace is to approach the situation from the inside out. We teach our clients that the key to dealing effectively with difficult people and situations at work is to manage our internal responses first. By internal response we mean the automatic reaction that someone else's behavior triggers inside of you. People lose it in different ways. You may heat up, blow up, shut down, freeze up, or go into a tailspin.

If you can change your reaction, you'll change your life.

We call the activity of changing your reaction to emotionally upsetting circumstances at work unhooking. Unhooking is a system that gives you tools for managing yourself and taking charge of your work life. Whether you feel caught in political crossfire, trapped by a difficult coworker, or held hostage by the antics of a certain department, you can unhook and take practical steps to change your behavior and create a different result.

Unhooking provides an alternative to your automatic reactions: You can despise the malicious office gossip or you can unhook by setting clear boundaries and showing a lack of interest. You can judge the incompetent coworker or you can unhook by lowering your expectations and avoiding the negative impact of that person's ineptitude. You can feel insulted by the customer who won't return your calls or you can unhook-take it in stride and accept it as part of doing business.

There are four essential steps to unhooking.

Step 1-Unhook physically

Step 2-Unhook mentally

Step 3-Unhook verbally

Step 4-Unhook with a business tool

The first two steps, unhooking physically and mentally, help you release negative emotions and calm down your system. The second two steps, unhooking verbally and with a business tool, involve taking actions to change your experience. To show you how unhooking works, we return to Susan and offer a revised scenario:

Sitting at the same meeting, Tracy proudly takes credit for Susan's brilliant promotion idea. Susan feels herself reacting-feels the surge of heat through her body, feels her face redden, her brow twitch. She realizes, "I just got hooked." What Susan needs to do now is to unhook; she needs to change her reaction to Tracy's sabotaging behavior.

Unhook physically: Susan breathes deeply to calm herself down, release her anger, and check back into the meeting.

Unhook mentally: Susan tells herself not to be intimidated by Tracy's behavior; she can find a way to be heard.

Unhook verbally: Susan speaks up: "When I first ran this idea by Tracy, we both got excited about it."

Unhook with a business tool: Susan writes and distributes an e-mail summarizing the results of the meeting and clarifying the fact that the promotion idea originated with her: "... I'm glad that my promotion idea received such a positive response from the rest of the team. I look forward to working with everyone to develop it further."

Like Susan, once you realize that you're hooked, you can begin taking responsibility for your own reactions. You can use our four-pronged approach to free yourself from any person or situation that causes you emotional turmoil. Unhooking takes practice, but it works.

Here is a more detailed description of how to employ each step in the unhooking process:

Unhook physically: Calm the body and release unwanted negative energy so that you can see your situation more clearly. Physical unhooking begins with focusing on your breath, because emotional discomfort normally produces shallow breathing, which inhibits your ability to think clearly. As you consciously breathe in deeply and gently, you can also scan your body to determine how and where you may be holding tension.

In some cases, unhooking physically requires releasing energy through physical activity-you may need to walk around the block, punch pillows, engage in rigorous exercise, take a boxing class, or get a massage. The more extreme your emotional response is to your external circumstances, the more vigorous your physical unhooking activities need to be. The goal is to release pent-up energy and quiet your nervous system so you can approach the problem with a sense of control.

For example, you come out of a business meeting feeling upset because your boss unfairly bashed you in front of your peers. You know you need to cool down. You look at your options. If you can grab a brisk five-minute walk outside, you go for it. If you can't go outside, you go to the bathroom, splash your face with cold water, and BREATHE.

We know that when you're in a distressed physical state, the last thing you want to do is calm down. You'd probably prefer to punch someone's lights out or tender your resignation. The last thing you want to hear is, "Take a breath, relax, go for a walk." But the fact is that if you want to change your life at work, you have to focus on relaxing physically first.

Many places of employment understand the importance of exercise. They may offer in-house yoga, stretching, aerobics, or running. Your company may offer discounted memberships to health clubs or exercise programs nearby. Check out what is available to you, and find the form of physical unhooking that works best for you.

We will use the term unhook physically repeatedly in this book. It refers to healthy ways of physically releasing negative energy, and covers a wide range of activities, from exercise to deep breathing to splashing water on your face. It's important to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy forms of releasing negative energy. For many of us, our natural instinct when feeling distraught is to overindulge in one of the following: food, sleep, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, or television. These activities only eliminate stress for a short period. They do not solve or resolve the problem. In fact, they can cause other problems such as depression, anxiety, alcoholism, obesity, or ulcers. What we are suggesting here is the healthy alternative to alleviating emotional discomfort in the workplace. We can't overemphasize the importance of finding healthy ways to unhook physically.

COUNT TO SIX Here's an easy method for calming your body through breathing. Breathe in for three counts, hold it for three counts, and breathe out for six counts. Repeat this exercise until you feel your system cooling down.

Unhook mentally: Unhooking mentally is the internal version of talking yourself down off the ledge. It involves looking at your difficult situation from a fresh perspective. The goal is to view your circumstances objectively and see what practical options are available. The rational part of your brain must help the emotional part of your brain cool off, calm down, and strategize. Mental unhooking begins with a quick inventory of the situation:

* What's happening here?

* What are the facts of the situation?

* What's their part?

* What's my part?

* What are my options?

As you can imagine, that fourth question, "What's my part?" is usually the toughest to answer. When a situation causes emotional distress, your natural reaction is to blame the primary offenders, not yourself. Still, if you can uncover your part in the difficult situation, you can also find your point of leverage.

Let's illustrate what we mean: If you're a very nice person, you may not set firm boundaries with people at work. You may find that coworkers, bosses, and customers take advantage of you. Your part in these scenarios would be your inability to draw the line and establish clear limits within these relationships. You have a hard time saying no and sticking to it. Once you discover your role-trouble setting boundaries-you can commit to learning boundary-setting skills.

Once your mind can see the situation from a clearer point of view, you can prepare to take action. For example, say you go to the department file room to ask the clerk for a particular report. She snaps at you: "I have more important people than you waiting for files. I'll get your document when it suits me." You feel your chest tighten. This isn't the first time this person has chewed you out. You don't like her attitude. Instead of striking back, you begin to unhook mentally. You ask yourself:

* What's happening? The file clerk just snapped at me (again).

* What are the facts? I need that report and she doesn't want to get it for me.

* What's her part? She's moody and not very happy at her job. Everyone is afraid of her.

* What's my part? I take her anger personally. It stops me from completing my own responsibilities.

* What are my options? I can stop personalizing her bad behavior. This person isn't angry with me, she's just angry. I can acknowledge her feelings of being overworked and still find ways to get the chart.

Unhook verbally: Find the words (or sometimes the silence) to protect yourself and get out of a workplace trap. Verbal unhooking may involve finding ways to say no without jeopardizing your job, speaking up when you feel overlooked, or tolerating your boss's temporary silence immediately after you ask for a raise.

To unhook verbally, you must be willing to focus on your overall goal in any situation rather than staying stuck in the petty details. It's a high-road approach to communicating. The goal is to express your ideas and convey information in a manner that resolves problems rather than perpetuating them.


Excerpted from Working With You Is Killing Me by Katherine Crowley Kathi Elster Copyright © 2006 by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction     xi
Change Your Reaction, Change Your Life     1
The Business of Boundaries-Protecting Yourself at Work     23
If the Role Fits, You Don't Have to Wear It     47
Haven't We Met Before? Fatal Attractions at Work     73
Managing Up-Taking Control     103
Difficult and Extreme Bosses-How to Keep Your Sanity     127
Managing Down-Business Parenting     156
Corporate Culture-Is This the Right Place for You?     194
Index     223
About the Authors     233

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Working with You Is Killing Me: Freeing Yourself from Emotional Traps at Work 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an amazingly helpful book. It lets you know that you are not alone in what you are dealing with at your job. It gives you "real-life" situations and advises you how to reduce your stress.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jefferson_Thomas More than 1 year ago
Even if your relationships at work are healthy now, you should still read this book, because relationships change, workplaces change, good people leave and the incompetent are promoted. My only caveat, and it is a minor one, is that the authors assume you are dealing with rational, sane human beings who will respond positively when you use business tools to ask them to mend their ways. The authors should have included a section dealing with what to do when your bullying, backstabbing, micromanagerial boss (think the illegitimate child of Controlling Egomaniac and Unpleasable multiplied by thousands) retaliates against you for insulting and defying him by daring to suggest that all employees be treated with courtesy, dignity and respect. It is not enough to say, "Just leave the company," because there could be compelling reasons not to do so. One other point the authors didn't make strongly enough is that, especially when dealing with a workplace bully, always do the following: 1. NEVER trust or depend on any verbal exchange you ever have with the bully; ALWAYS follow up with an email that repeats your understanding of every conversation. Do this even when the bully specifically orders you not to, because one of the best friends bullies have when trying to cover their tracks is obfuscation. As soon as you can prove exactly what was said by whom to whom and when, bullies begin to lose their power. Be aware that this will infuriate the bully, and cause him to find cleverer ways to bully you. 2. Keep a copy of all email exchanges between you and the bully. 3. Back up all your emails to diskette or some other medium your employer cannot delete. 4. Let the bully know in no uncertain terms the FIRST time he crosses the line that his behavior is unacceptable. Quote chapter and verse from your employer's Employee Handbook (if one even exists, a point the authors DO make). Carefully note the date, time and details of the infraction, and exactly who was present when it occurred. All that having been said, however, this book provides some of the most valuable insights I've ever seen into the problem of restoring a sane, dignified, productive environment to a workplace gone horribly awry, so I strongly recommend it. There should be other books like it out there somewhere.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago