Working With You is Killing Me! Free Yourself from Emotional Traps at Work

By: Kate Lorenz

Has one of your co-workers made your life a living hell? Does your boss or employee make your blood boil or your stomach churn? Most people have experienced a negative, overbearing or downright hurtful co-worker, employee or boss at some point. Learning to work with all types, it seems, is a necessary requirement for success.

In their book, “Working with You is Killing Me — Freeing Yourself from Emotional Traps at Work,” (Warner Business Books, 2006), Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster offer advice on how to recognize a co-worker problem and provide tools for dealing with them professionally and effectively.

The first step, say Crowley and Elster, is acknowledging that there is a problem. Once you do, you can learn to manage your own reactions. When you are caught in an emotionally distressing situation at work, Crowley and Elster call it being “hooked.” A person who is hooked will have a negative reaction to a co-worker either physically, mentally or emotionally.

For example, physical reactions are feeling queasy, pains in your shoulders and butterflies in your stomach when you hear your “doomsday” boss calling for you. Emotional signs are feeling overwhelmed, inadequate and exhausted when you work with a certain employee or customer. If you daydream of ways to get revenge on a deceitful co-worker, this is a mental sign.

The problem is that we often become desensitized to these warning signs — even accepting them as normal. Ignoring them will take a toll on your emotional and physical well-being, as well as your career success. If you can tune in to how you are feeling, you can learn to take control.

Crowley and Elster offer a process called “unhooking” to help you manage and deal with harmful colleagues:

– Unhook physically.

The first step is to calm down physically. Remove yourself from a situation by leaving the office for a few minutes. Blow off steam with a walk or relax by taking deep breaths. Think about something that makes you happy. The important thing is that you release any negative energy so you can look at the situation more clearly.

– Unhook mentally.

Crowley and Elster call this the “internal version of talking yourself down off the ledge.” This involves looking at the situation rationally and finding a fresh perspective. Ask yourself these five questions:

  1. What’s happening here?

    2. What are the facts of the situation?

    3. What’s their part?

    4. What’s my part?

    5. What are my options?

    Once you’ve sorted out the facts, you’ll have a clearer view that will enable you to take the appropriate action.

    Hellen, an inside sales manager, had an employee who incessantly asked questions and requested voluminous reports. Annoyed by the interruptions, Hellen often ignored the employee’s request. When the woman told Hellen’s boss that she wasn’t getting what she needed to do her job, Hellen realized her strategy and attitude had backfired. Hellen took a closer look at the situation and her reactions. She’s now more accommodating and the employee’s requests have subsided.

    – Unhook verbally.

Crowley and Elster say that you need to “find the words (or sometimes the silence) to protect yourself and get out of a workplace trap.” This might mean expressing your feelings to a co-worker who has been rude to you or speaking up for yourself at a meeting. Crowley and Elster warn that you must you take the “high road” approach to communicating. Avoid placing blame on another person or putting the person on the defensive. Communicate in a way that will be productive.

Lou, a first-time manager, felt her boss second-guessed her and asked others about her decisions. She arranged a meeting with her boss to review her past decisions and the positive outcomes. At the conclusion, she explained calmly that she needed his vote of confidence and that his support would help her gain respect from her employees and peers. He enthusiastically agreed and within a year she received a promotion.

– Unhook with a business tool.

It is important to protect yourself with the resources provided to you by your company. A business tool, say Crowley and Elster, “is any standard procedure or written document used in a business setting.” For example, if you have had a confrontation with a co-worker, make sure the incident and the solution has been documented. From job descriptions and performance standards to company policies, look for tools that can be utilized to protect you in the future.

The bottom line, every workplace has its demons. But, say Crowley and Elster, taking control of your own response to these personalities will leave you empowered and better able to handle most any interpersonal situation.


About Amr Badran

An Egyptian Business Consultant and Corporate Trainer since 1997. I've trained on Management, Leadership and Soft Skills to thousands of people from many nationalities, backgrounds and professions in more than 10 countries across the Middle and Far East. I've also provided my consultancy service for issues of Strategic Planning, Marketing, Sales and Capacity Building. Holder of an MBA and a Candidate for Doctorate in Business. Find more about my Management and Personal Skills Courses at and feel free contacting me at
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