Commitment: What can a person do who works with someone who is absolutely impossible, difficult to please, critical and negative about everything?
Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster: It’s not pleasant working for an un-pleaseable person. Your best defense begins with accepting that this person is not going to change. Try as you may, you probably won’t ever be able to convert your grouchy colleague or hypercritical boss into someone who can offer kind words or a positive response.
Understand that this person reacts to everyone in a negative manner, and do NOT take the verbal barbs or sour remarks personally. Instead, focus on getting positive reinforcement from other sources – co-workers, clients, professional associations – and letting the unpleased-able person’s crabby remarks roll off your back. If you are expecting this critical person to compliment you, trust us, you will always be disappointed.
Commitment: What tips do you have for someone who works for a boss that is demanding and unpredictable in their moods?
Katherine and Kathi: When it comes to working for demanding, moody bosses, your best strategy is to keep your cool.
Focus on keeping your moods even and your reactions calm no matter how your boss is behaving. It’s important to remember that you are not responsible for this person’s behavior. You did not cause it and (no matter how hard you try) you can’t cure it.
After work, make an effort to “unhook physically.” That is, do something physical – exercise, walking, biking, massage, yoga, stretching, taking a bath – to release the negative energy that you absorb during the day in this person’s company.
Commitment: What can a person do if they simply don't click with their co-workers, and find it hard to communicate and get along with them?
Katherine and Kathi: If you feel like the odd ball at your company, there’s a good chance that you’re working in a corporate culture that is not the right fit for you.
By “culture” we mean that your personality and value system clash with the company’s unwritten code of behavior and ethics. Until you are able to find a better workplace, you can still find ways to connect with your co-workers.
Look for small things that you may have in common with them. It could be movies, food, weekend activities, or just a way of accomplishing tasks at work. Be willing to find the common ground and appreciate it.
Commitment: The first chapter in the book is titled, "Change Your Reaction, Change Your Life." In it, you suggest "unhooking" as a way of changing your reaction to emotionally upsetting circumstances at work. Can you explain what 'unhooking' is?
Katherine and Kathi: When someone does something at work that irritates you – whether it’s talking too loud, or taking credit for your ideas, or yelling at you for no reason – you develop a strong negative internal reaction to that person which we call being “hooked.”
Unhooking is a method for managing your internal reactions to someone else’s poor behavior so that you feel better at work.
The Unhooking Process has four steps to it: unhooking physically, unhooking mentally, unhooking verbally and unhooking with a business tool.
1) Unhook Physically – Once you are upset, you will feel it physically (clenched teeth, pounding heart, stiff neck, stomach pains etc). To release that negative energy you need to engage in some form of physically activity. This includes:
• Exercise of any kind – walking, running, playing sports
• Hot bath, hot shower
The idea is to find ways to cool your system down so that you can think clearly and move to step two…
2) Unhook Mentally – After you’ve unhooked physically, you’re ready to look at your situation from a fresh perspective. Ask yourself the following questions.
• What is happening here?
• What are the facts of this situation?
• What is their part?
• What is my part?
• What are my options?
After you answer these questions, you should be able to see what you can do to remedy your situation.
For example, if you have a co-worker who talks incessantly, you’d unhook mentally like this:
• What’s happening here? Zelda is coming to talk to me again. She talks’ too much. Her stories drive me crazy.
• What are the facts? Zelda is a big talker and it eats up my time.
• What is her part? Zelda is oblivious to my workload and doesn’t know how to edit herself.
• What’s my part? I don’t cut the conversations short. I let her ramble on.
• What are my options? Run away from Zelda. Tell her to shut up. Tell her I have to get back to work and we’ll catch up after work.
3) Unhooking Verbally – Now that you have cooled down and know what your options are you are ready to find the words to move this situation forward.
Use “I” words – I feel, I think
Do not use “you” or blame the other person. Take a High Road approach to move this situation to a better outcome. Do not keep it stuck in anger and resentment. Back to Zelda, you could unhook verbally by saying, “I’m very interested in your story, but I have to get back to work. Let’s catch up later.”
4) Unhook With a Business Tool – This last step involves looking at the business tools we have at work that can reinforce the positive outcome you’re trying to create.
Business tools include: job descriptions, company policies and procedures, documentation, email and time sheets.
Returning to Zelda, you could reinforce the boundary you set by shooting her an email: Thanks for understanding that I had to get back to work. We’ll catch up later.
Commitment: You write about high-road communication, which "contains no judgment, no anger, and no accusations." What is high-road communication, and is it really possible to choose this when you feel completely enraged, ignored, and disrespected by a co-worker--and you know they are going to take the low-road no matter what you do?
Katherine and Kathi: The key to taking a high-road approach to communication is to first take yourself through the unhooking process. Once you’ve cooled your system down by unhooking physically, then you can take a serious look at your situation.
When unhooking mentally, we’d like you to focus on that 4th question: What is my part? You want to uncover how you are contributing to the problem. For instance, if you work with a co-worker who talks so loudly that you are distracted every time this person opens her/his mouth, your part could simply be that you’ve never told this person how their loudness distracts you.
A low road approach would be: “You are so loud and rude. Stop talking so much. You’re disturbing to everyone.”
A high-road approach would be: “I am easily distracted; especially when I can hear someone talking. I’m hoping that you’d consider speaking at a lower volume the next time you socialize in the office.” Remember, you may have to repeat this several times.
Commitment: How can a person create boundaries that protect them at work?
Katherine and Kathi: The best way to create boundaries at work is to communicate them. Secretly, we think others should know our boundaries. So, when someone wears perfume that’s overwhelming, or fails to say thank you when you hold the door open, you assume they just want to upset you.
The truth is, if you do not communicate your boundaries, no one knows what they are. So, if you don’t tell your colleague when her perfume is too strong for you, or that you would appreciate it if she said thank you when you hold the door open, that individual will never know.
Remember, interpersonal boundaries are invisible. Others won’t know when they’ve violated a boundary unless you say something. So please make it a point to let people know what your boundaries are.
Commitment: Can you explain how different people tend to view the areas of time, personal space, keeping their word, and emotional expression, and how understanding these differences can lead to better relationships at work?
Katherine and Kathi: Each one of us possesses a unique set of interpersonal boundaries. These develop over time as a reaction to our life circumstances, the culture we have grew up in, and the manners we’ve been taught. Because each person has their own unspoken “rules of conduct,” the boundaries regarding time, personal space, keeping your word and emotional expression can differ widely between two people.
For instance in the area of time, one person may believe that it’s critical to be on time while another person may feel that being a half an hour late is acceptable.
Personal space is also an interesting boundary – whether it involves your possessions, or your physical body. One person may feel it’s a good thing to hug co-workers while another person may believe that hugging has no place in the office.
Or, one employee may feel that the items on his/her desk are off limits, while another employee may feel that whatever is on your desk belongs to the company so it’s fine to use it without asking.
As for keeping one’s word, one person may get excited in the moment and make promises that he or she cannot keep, while another person may view this practice as unethical.
When it comes to emotional expression, one person may feel it’s important to express excitement, sadness, anger and joy at work, while another person may believe that emotional expression of any kind should be kept at a minimum.
Understanding how your colleagues’ boundaries differ from yours can be very helpful because it can take the emotion out of a situation where someone is doing something that bothers you.
Instead of resenting the person who habitually arrives late for meetings, you simply state your preference and set a boundary: “I like to start my meetings on time. The next time we meet, I’ll wait ten minutes and if you’re not here, I’ll leave. Then I’ll leave it up to you to re-schedule.” (Of course, if this person is your boss, you’ll simply have to adjust to his or her time boundaries.)
Commitment: What are some areas in the workplace where people cross boundaries and it can lead to conflict?
Katherine and Kathi: The biggest complaints that we hear are:
Loudness – disturbing co-workers, with loud music, or laughing.
Rudeness – not saying good morning, thank you, or please.
Lateness – keeping other people waiting, running late on deadlines
Over promising – and not keeping your word
Commitment: How can a person escape a toxic or dysfunctional relationship at work?
Katherine and Kathi: By using our more advanced unhooking process, which we call the 4 D’s.
The 4 D’s are Detect, Detach, Depersonalize and Deal.
Detect – That you are in a toxic relationship
Detach – By accepting that you are not going to change this person and your relationship will never return to its promising beginning.
Depersonalize – Realize that this problem is NOT ABOUT YOU. You are not the first person who has had problems with this person and you will not be the last.
Deal – Create a plan of protection from this person’s toxic behavior
Unless you change jobs, you can’t totally escape from another person’s toxic behavior. But, by using the 4 D’s you can learn to tolerate it without causing yourself greater distress.
Commitment: How can a person change their role or reputation at work, if perhaps they are known as "the peacemaker" or "exploder" or "troublemaker"? Is there a way to get a new identity at work once an established role is given and expected by others?
Katherine and Kathi: Yes, you can change your reputation and role at work. It may take a while. In our book, we identify seven roles -- Hero, Caretaker, Martyr, Rebel, Peacemaker, Invisible and Entertainer.
The first step to improving your reputation is to identify the behaviors that keep you stuck in that role. Are you a silent sufferer who takes on too much work then resents it? Are you the company clown who cracks a joke at every meeting? Are you a born rebel who challenges every company policy then gets labeled a troublemaker?
Once you identify the behaviors that keep you stuck in a role, then you can pick one behavior to change. So, for example, if you realize that you’re a martyr who consistently takes on too much work, stop taking on new assignments for 30 days. Try to change one behavior for at least a month. As you change your behavior, others will (eventually) begin to see you in a different light.
Breaking out of a role isn’t easy. Your colleagues may be tempted to keep you locked in your old role or reputation. They may even try to get you back to your old behavior. Keep moving forward in your new role.
Commitment: What are some of the reasons a person may have constant conflict in the workplace?
Katherine and Kathi: When someone has constant conflict at work, it’s usually because he or she is doing something wrong.
Here are a few causes for conflict at work:
• Not listening
• Constantly challenging or questioning authority
• Not integrating feedback from management
• Arguing too often
• Being negative all the time
• Passive aggressive behavior
• Not pulling their workload
Commitment: What does it mean to 'manage up' and how can a person manage up if they do not have a supervisory role in the workplace?
Katherine and Kathi: Managing Up is a term for taking control of your relationship with the boss. To Manage Up, you have to stop waiting for your boss to manage you, and take an active role in being the best employee.
Here are our 10 rules for Managing Up:
1. Train your boss to meet with you regularly
2. Come to every meeting with a detailed agenda
3. Keep a pulse on your boss’s changing priorities
4. Anticipate problems and offer solutions
5. Always be prepared to give a status report on your projects
6. Be on time or early for the start of your day
7. Be a gatekeeper and keep away unwanted time-eaters
8. Create systems so that others can find things when you’re not around
9. Keep confidential information where it belongs
10. Under promise and over deliver
Commitment: In this economy, many are worried about losing their jobs. What are some things a person can do to remain one of the most valued, sought after and wanted employees in their organization?
Katherine and Kathi: See question #12 – Manage Up. You want to become invaluable to your company.
Commitment: What advice do you have for a person who hates their job and dislikes the people they work with, but at this time, cannot leave for financial reasons?
Katherine and Kathi: We suggest that you practice our unhooking techniques. They work and will keep you sane till the economy gets better.
To Purchase Working With You Is Killing Me click here.
About the Authors: Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster come from the same core interest: what makes people tick. Born in the 50's, they were both raised in the northeast, and both showed early signs of being generally fascinated by human behavior.
As a child, Katherine Crowley spent hours reading books about astrology and famous movie stars from the 1930's. She combed over the biographies of such film icons as Jean Harlow, Vivien Leigh and Spencer Tracy. "I was intrigued by the public victories and personal tragedies they endured."
Kathi Eslter, meanwhile, spent her childhood reading Life magazine and National Geographic. She was fascinated by the notion that people in New Guinea, Africa and Russia lived such extremely different lives. "I realized that our way of life was only one culture and one lifestyle among many."
Then the sixties came... The book that caught Kathi's attention was I'm Okay, You're Okay. "It had a tremendous impact on me." Kathi treasured this book because it raised consciousness that life and relationships did not have to be scripted. "If we could see each other as unique individuals, we could allow each person to express him or herself, and still get along."
At the same time, Katherine's world opened up via Desmond Morris' The Naked Ape. "I was blown away by the notion that humans were animals to be studied over time. It seemed amazing that today's social practices and customs could have evolved over thousands of years."
As the 70's arrived, Katherine and Kathi, while still on separate paths, discovered the same books, "The Road Less Traveled", by F. Scott Peck and "How Can I help?" by Ram Dass. These books laid the foundation for their personal development and life work.
Katherine and Kathi finally met in the late 80's. By then, Katherine's interest in psychology led to books such as Robert Kegan's "Evolving Self", and Alice Miller's "Drama of the Gifted Child." Kathi built her knowledge base in business with books such as"Getting to Yes" by Roger Fisher and William Ury, "The Art of Selling" by Tom Hopkins, "Smart Questions" by Dorothy Leeds.
In the 90's, Katherine began to investigate interpersonal dynamics at work. and gender differences. Two of her handbooks were "The Dance of Anger" and "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus." Kathi focused on identifying social, economic and political trends and understanding how they influenced business. She completed Alvin Toffler's trilogy, "Future Shock", "The Third Wave", "Powershift." She also studied the consumer trends guru, Faith Popcorn: Clicking and The Popcorn Report.
In 2000, "The Tipping Point" by Malcom Caldwell, caught the joint attention of Katherine and Kathi as did "Excuse Me, Your Life Is Waiting" by Lynn Grabhorn.
While Katherine is interested in helping individuals navigate the emotional obstacles that prevent them from realizing their goals, Kathi is passionate about giving people practical solutions to complex business situations.
Katherine: "I see my job as educating and supporting people in self-awareness that leads to positive action on their own behalf
Kathi: "I want to help people own up to their actions and take the high road in terms of how they interact with others in a professional setting."
Katherine: "We both want to raise consciousness in the workplace." Kathi: "We're dedicated to helping individuals take responsibility for the results they create, and for the effect that their attitudes have on themselves and others."