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Working with You Is Killing Me: Part #3

by Dr Tuvia Melamed on Apr.30, 2010, under Working with You Is Killing Me

Working with You Is Killing Me: Part #3

Dr Tuvia Melamed
ClearWater A&D
to download a pdf copy click here

Fatal Attraction 

How did it all go so wrong?
It had so much promise in the beginning…

This blog builds on Chapter 4 of Crowley & Elster book – ‘Working with You Is Keeling Me – published in 2006 by Warner Business Books.

When you first met, you felt drawn to that person; you were excited at the prospect of working together – there was something about that person that fulfilled a strong inner need within you. However, over time, interactions with this person left you emotionally exhausted and professionally frustrated – by now, you are dreading the next interaction. You spend your days and sleepless nights running conversations in your head, trying to understand the other person, thinking of ways of bringing the relationships to what it was in the past – but with no avail. No matter what you do, you cannot steer the relationships back to its vibrant beginning.

Fatal attraction refers to a more complex set of work relationships than the ones described in the first two chapters. In Fatal Attraction, the difficulty in sorting out the working relationships with a colleague stems from some inherited benefits that you gain while in the relationship. Fatal attraction is about working relationship that had great promise and excitement at the beginning, but grew more difficult over time. In fatal attraction, you still get from time to time the initial spark of the earlier stage of the relationship, and that promise keeps the relationship going although you know that the relationship is wrong and has devastating consequences for you.

Fatal attractions are confusing as it is hard to accept the sharp contrast between the early stages of the relationship and the current state. At first, they made you feel so exhilarated. You felt literally charged when you interacted with the person. Something about their personality enticed you, pulled you in. You may still have the same feeling from time to time, but the frequency of it is rapidly diminishing. You entered the relationships on an emotional high, but this turned into an emotional trap for you.

In this chapter we will explore four types of fatal attractions. Each stems from fulfilling a deep inherent need. First, we will meet the ‘Exploder’ who attracts those with need for approval from authority figures. Second, we will meet the ‘Perfectionist’ who attracts those with strong sense of insecurity about their capability, yet crave recognition to confirm their self-worth. Next, we will meet the ‘Back-Stabber’ who attracts those who yearn for admiration and respect from others. Finally, we will meet the ‘High Maintenance’ who attracts those who are natural caregivers with strong paternal instinct.

In all four cases, the build-up of the fatal attraction relationship goes through seven stages:

  1. Magnetism:  The honeymoon period, when the person is at their best and fulfil your deep inherent need
  2. Consumption: The relationship turns a corner. The person starts displaying their dark side
  3. Admittance: This is the first visible and undeniable downhill stage of the relationship. You have accepted that something is fundamentally wrong, and you spend your time running in your head interactions’ playback, rehearsing future conversations, and licking your wounds
  4. Obsession: This stage is the last attempt you make to recover the relationships. You become obsessed with trying to convert and change the other person. You spend hours fixated on what it will take to alter the other person’s behaviour
  5. Exhaustion:  At this stage you give up the proactive change attempts. You are emotionally exhausted. Any additional interaction just adds to your emotional fatigue
  6. Avoidance: You actively seek to avoid any further interaction. You develop the equivalent of an allergic reaction to the other person. This takes the form of an automatic physiological reaction to the other person. Your body involuntary responds when you hear their voice and get a glimpse of them. You experience physical distress in myriad of ways such as headaches, twitching, stiff muscles, neck pains…
  7. Learned Helplessness: At this stage you surrender all control over the relationship. You feel and behave like a helpless prisoner. You resigned to the negative treatment and can’t imagine a way out. You feel and become bitter and disillusioned. You are trapped in a no-win situation 

Although these stages are chronological, you may experience them in and out of sequence – or going forward and backward over several stages. This will particularly apply to stages four and five, where following one single positive incident with the other person, you may still attempt to rescue the relationship, even after you have promised yourself that you have given up on the relationship.

The Four Fatal Attractions

The fatal attractions tend develop in certain work relationships’ contexts:

  • The Exploder:  The ‘Exploder’ tends to have a position of formal authority; in most cases being the line manager of their ‘victim’
    • Attracts: People who like dynamic personalities – those who need approval from authority figures
  • The Perfectionist: The ‘Perfectionist’ tends to have a position where their role is to critique the work outcomes of their victim. It is common in both client-supplier relationships and in manager-subordinate relationships
    • Attracts: People who like being put on a pedestal – those with strong sense of insecurity about their capability
  • The Back-Stabber: The ‘Back-Stabber’ type tends to be found in collegial relationship, where the ‘Back Stabber’ is somewhat junior to their victim (e.g., Junior Consultant and a Senior Consultant). In many cases the victim acts as a mentor of the ‘Back Stabber’.
    • Attracts: People who crave praise – those who yearn for admiration and respect from others
  • The High Maintenance: The ‘High Maintenance’ is most common in collegial relationships of equals (e.g., two co-workers of the same rank)
    • Attracts: People who like to help others – those natural caregivers with strong parental instinct

In each case, the ‘victim’ experiences a key transition in the relationship:

  • The Exploder: Starts out as dynamic and charming; turns out into dynamite and volatile
    • Early symptoms: Exhibiting sudden, unexpected, yet short-lived explosive outbursts
  • The Perfectionist: Starts out as accepting and flattering; turns into pedantic control freak and fault finding
    • Early Symptoms: Pedantic and megalomaniac attempts to control you at the first signs of potential failure
  • The Back-Stabbing: Starts out as sweet talk, admiring, and semi-worshiping, turns into sabotage, conspiring, and back-stabbing
    • Early Symptoms: Unverified signs of betrayal and vilification
  • The High Maintenance: Starts as nice, trusting, and soul searching mate, turns into very needy and dependent
    • Early Symptoms: Regardless of large amounts of advice, no signs of acting on the advice

Each of the types displays elements or hints of mild clinical conditions, or what Robert Hogan calls a ‘dark side’. The clinical terms and Hogan’s ‘dark side’ terms are provided coupled with brief description of the types and their behaviour.

  • The Exploder = Borderline Personality
    • Hogan’s dark side term = Excitable >>> Inappropriate anger. Intense and unstable relationships, alternating between idealisation and devaluation.
  • The Perfectionist = Obsessive Compulsive
    • Hogan’s dark side term =Diligent >>> Obsessive occupation with structure, orderliness, process, rules, control and procedures
  • The Back-Stabbing =Passive-Aggressive
    • Hogan’s dark side term = Leisurely >>> Covert aggression and despise; Constant scheming and manipulation under a pretence of loyalty
  • The High Maintenance = Dependent
    • Hogan’s dark side term = Dutiful >>> Excessive need to please. Difficulty making simple decisions without advice or excessive reassurance. Insecurity coupled with inability expressing disagreement out of fear of loss of support.

#1 the Exploder

The ‘Exploder’ is charming, charismatic, and enigmatic from the outset. They exude confidence, resolve, decisiveness, determination, and self-belief. Their dynamism, focus, and natural sense of authority draw in people to join the bandwagon of success. At the beginning the relationship is thrilling, exciting, exhilarating. You believe that together you can achieve anything you set your mind to. You cannot stop singing the praises of this person. Hence it comes as a shock when this all change very abruptly. One day this person hit a problem, and without any warning they lose their temper. In a flash a new side emerges that is emotionally volatile, harsh, hurtful, loud, accusatory and totally irrational. After the blow-up, the ‘Exploder’ brings back the conviction, charisma and charm, but you quickly learn that this is not long-lived. It only last until the next triggering event.

Impact on You: You turn into a nervous wreck – Tiptoeing around the ‘Exploder’ in fear of detonating them, and searching ways of deactivating the next explosion.  You don’t concentrate on your job anymore. Instead, you become preoccupied with trying with limited success to manage the Exploder’s unpredictable behaviour.

#2 the Perfectionist

The ‘Perfectionist’ makes you the ‘flavour of the month’ for a short period – putting you on a pedestal, only to kick it from under your feet later on. To start with, the ‘Perfectionist’ showers you with compliments, crowns you with more talent than anybody else, and uses you as an example to others as someone to emulate. For a while, you can do no wrong. But, the Perfectionist’s expectations are that you will act as the saviour (e.g., increase sales figures, reorganise a department, deliver all-singing-all-dancing product, etc.). However, as time passes and you appear more of a capable human being than a superhero, the Perfectionist searches and finds faults and evidence that you are not perfect.

Impact on You: Suddenly from the ‘chosen one’ you turn into the scapegoat. Instead of being a star, you are a sorry disappointment. You become confused and upset by the fall from grace, desperately try to replicate or mimic the behaviour that led to the superstar status. Yet, the pedantic and detailed bookkeeping of any little fault you make diminishes your self confidence, and reveal you most hidden insecurities.

#3 the Back-Stabber

The Back-Stabber enters the relationship as your greatest fun and admirer and shows great hunger to learn from you, to imitate your behaviour, to become a carbon copy of you. Like ‘Mini-Me’ in the Austin Powers movies, the Back-Stabber becomes in the first instance a ‘mini-you’. You feel admired and worshiped. This does wonders to your inflated ego, and fits well with some of your hidden narcissistic tendencies. As time progresses, you come across faint evidence that the Back-Stabber is behind activities or interactions that compromise or hurt your professional standing. Things start getting wrong for you (e.g., a large account is taken from you, people start questioning some of your practices and methods, you start getting complaints). The more you try to identify a reason for it, the more you notice that your little admirer is the common denominator in all these instances.

Impact on you: You get an irritating feeling that the Back-Stabber tries to undermine you in order to take over your position – yet, the Back-Stabber covers their path with great skill and your suspicions are unsubstantiated. From the outset, the Back-Stabber maintains the same pretence of loyalty, but their worship style is a bit more tamed. You do not know what or who to believe. You feel defensive and undermined. You want to believe that you can trust the Back-Stabber as your ego craves the God-like admiration, but you cannot stop the niggling feeling that you have been constantly stabbed in the back. Your attempts to confront the Back-Stabber are futile, as the Back-Stabber reacts with hurt and deny. Each attempt chips away from the amount of admiration you receive, and you are hooked – not sure if you becoming paranoid, going for a period of bad luck, or there is something in your suspicions. Rather than concentrating on your work, you spend too much of your time seeking evidence to support your conspiracy theories.

#4 the High Maintenance

Earlier in the relationship the High-Maintenance places their trust in you, displaying honesty, vulnerability, and extreme self-disclosure. You feel worthwhile, valuable, and useful. It plays to your paternal instinct and sense of justice. The High Maintenance constantly compliments you for your wisdom, compassion, and ability to sympathise – typically using phrases like “I don’t know what I would have done without you”, or “you are such a good and dear friend”.  You want to get out of your way to show your kindness to the High Maintenance, helping them to cope with their issues or stand back on their feet. While in the beginning, you might like this sense of dependency on you; after a while you realise two things – first, that you spend enormous amount of time and energy dealing with the High Maintenance and their problems, and second, that all your suggestions and advice are never taken on board.

Impact on you: As the needs of the High Maintenance for time intensify, the boundaries between your work and personal life begin to blur. Out of pity, or due to your desire to free your time at work, you may start dealing with the High Maintenance problems at your non-work time. You might invite the High Maintenance to discuss their problems over the weekend, you may find yourself obliged to invite the High Maintenance to join you for family events, holidays, and the like, justifying it to yourself by saying that they don’t have anyone else to turn to. When you realise that this is too demanding and try to ease the relationship a bit, the helpless High Maintenance starts excusing you of “being just like anyone else – selfish, uncaring, heartless”. Being afraid to become the bad guy, you feel obliged to keep the relationship going – yet, you feel exhausted, drained. The High Maintenance has sapped the energy out of you. You are tired of the constant doom and gloom, the constant moaning, and the inability of the High Maintenance to help themselves.


It is very hard to unhook from a fatal attraction relationships. You will probably have to go through all seven stages of the relationship before being able to move on. The unhooking goes through four phases:

First is the detection and admittance. This stage require you to admit to yourself that you are hooked (some push might come from those around you who can see the emotional state you are in). The admittance stage also includes an element of mourning and grief. Deep inside you are still attracted to the other person and want to experience again the feeling you had at the beginning of the relationship. Unhooking requires you to emotionally kill this relationship.

The second phase is that of detachment. Once you intellectually accepted that this relationship is dead and nothing will revive it, you need to separate yourself emotionally from the relationship. To do that you need to teach yourself to look at the other person from an objective perspective. This will require you to fully accept that:

  • The other person is not going to change – any signs of change are only a manipulative attempt to re-hook you
  • The relationship will never turn to its exciting and promising beginning – you have to let go of the assumption that this person or this relationship has potential. It never had and it never will have. What you saw as potential was sophisticated hooking
  • You will never receive the acknowledgement or the rewards you once hoped to get from this relationships – this means that all your efforts were wasted (you simply have to cut you loses and move on)

The third phase is depersonalisation. This phase is about understanding that it is not about you. Forget about the phrase “it takes two to Tango”. This is one of the only instances where it is totally not your fault – there is something fundamentally wrong with the other person. The more objectively you can view the other person, the less helpless you become, and the less power the other person has over you.

The final phase is of disassociation. In this phase you treat the person as if you never had a meaningful relationship with them at all. You keep the relationship on a professional level, and prevent any attempts to personalise any interaction. You maintain courtesy, but keep a professional distance. You do not give anything of yourself as a person, only your expected professional skills, and even those only within the boundaries of what can be expected from an employee – so, you provide your professional opinion if requested to do so by the other person, but do not take calls (even if work related) outside working hours. You talk about the business if required, but avoid any personal or non-business questions or comments from the other person. You bring the relationship into a level of pure business transaction.

The Way Out

     The Exploder

  • Accept that this person has unresolved rage
  • Appreciates that their volatility will occur no matter what you do
  • Learn to watch the Exploder blow up without taking it personally or being affected

     The Perfectionist

  • Accept that nothing that you will do will reinstate your former ‘Superhero’ status.
  • Appreciate that the ‘Perfectionist’ shaky self-esteem and fear of failure are what drive the devaluing remarks about you.
  • Stop trying to regain your statuesque position, neither with the ‘Perfectionist’ nor with anyone else. Focus on getting approval, agreement, and support from other sources

     The Back-Stabber

  • Accept that this person approach to further their career is by putting others down
  • Appreciate that this person believe that they cannot succeed on merit alone, and they need to make others look bad
  • Cut-off the relationship completely. Keep records of everything.

     The High Maintenance

  • Accept that this person does not want help – only attention
  • Appreciate that this person’s problems (either real or fictitious)will not go away no matter what you do
  • Stop trying to solve the problems. Listen without giving advice. Watch your time. Start putting boundaries back in place.


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Working with You Is Killing Me: Part #2

by Dr Tuvia Melamed on Mar.31, 2010, under Working with You Is Killing Me

Working with You Is Killing Me: Part #2

Dr Tuvia Melamed
ClearWater A&D
to download a pdf copy click here

The Empty Persona

This blog builds on an excellent, but not well known article – Managing Away Bad Habits – by James Waldroop and Timothy Butler that was published in 2000 in Harvard Business Review.

“I was here on Saturday afternoon. Where were you?” This kind of “subtle” pressure to work 24/7 is typical of the ‘Hero’ – one of the four characters featuring in this chapter of ‘Working with You Is Killing Me’. This chapter focuses on those colleagues who drive you crazy; yet you find it very difficult to challenge or to tackle them, simply because they are star performers. But they are star performers with a dark-side – they have a seemingly fatal personality flow or a psychological limitation that colours their achievements, holds them back, and makes the life of others a misery.

We have all worked with people who are star performers but have one serious personality shortcoming that makes life difficult for everyone, limits their effectiveness, and often proves to be their professional undoing. Robert Hogan applied a mental disorders’ taxonomy into organisational life. He identified eleven characteristics that limit star performers and causing despair to those around them. He calls these the “dark side” of personality.

Waldroop and Butler condensed these characteristics into six profiles of destructive behaviour patterns they labelled ‘bad habits’. They use the term as a shorthand way of referring to deep-rooted psychological flaws. ‘Bad habits’ or ‘dark-side’ are not compulsions like nail biting, swearing, or smoking. Nor they apply to people who at one time or another bully colleagues, been too negative, or over argumentative. Instead, the terms refer to high performers whose psychological makeup translates into consistently problematic behaviour. Their ‘dark-side’ is a central component of their personality and informs the way they behave from day to day. I call it the ‘Empty Persona Syndrome’ as there is something shallow or missing in their character, that makes them all front, but without much substance. This chapter looks at four empty personas: (a) the Hero, (b) the Bulldozer, (c) the Rebel, and (d) the Pessimist.

Type #1: The Hero

The Heroes are the superhuman of the workplace. They take pride in solving any problem that crosses their way. They are naturally resourceful, capable, and competent in any work situation. 

The Heroes are driven by ‘Need for Achievement’. They thrive on ‘mission impossible’ challenges and spend their life in a rat race, moving from one target to another. The inner action voice that drives them is ‘Hurry Up’ – work quickly and deliver high output in a short time.

The Heroes always push themselves – and, by extension subordinates – working too hard, doing too much, and doing it for too long. Their strengths are achievement orientation, high energy level, ‘can-do’ attitude, efficiency, and fire-fighting. Their weaknesses are empathy to others, ability to reflect, attention to detailed work, reliability, and precision.

Typical behaviours of the Hero include: — First one to arrive at work and the last one to leave — Give up, cancel, or postpone vacation or holiday plans because of work commitment — Let down family members by not spending time with them, being always busy, or breaking promises — Volunteer to solve problems outside their job description — Fire emails to colleagues and clients at the early hours of the night — Have their BlackBerry or iPhone as an integral part of their anatomy.

The main root cause underlying the Heroes’ bad habits is Ego Centricity – An inability to understand the world from the perspective of other people. They have a difficulty getting outside their own frame of reference and seeing the world through another person’s eyes. The void in their persona comes from lack of empathy. Heroes may choose to work seven days a week. That’s their prerogative. But their expectations that others will have to follow suit lacks an appreciation of the other person’s values, drives, and personal circumstances. This unnecessary coercion to comply burns out employees and destroys their morale.

The Hero is often the last person a manager wants to change. After all, why would you want to tamper with the behaviour of someone who gets more done in a day than anyone else does in a week? Yet, in the long-run, the Hero’s constant push and drive adds real costs to the bottom line – even if those costs are obscured by short-term results. The Hero’s trail is covered with the footprints of valuable employees who are burned-out, disillusioned, frustrated and demoralised – or good employees who simply could not take it anymore and simply left the company after trying to keep up with the Hero’s superhuman efforts.

 Type #2: The Bulldozer

The second empty persona is the Bulldozer – Driven by need for power, they run roughshod over others in a quest for power. Bulldozers are people who decided early in life that the world is a hostile place where you should do unto others before they do unto you – plus interest, just to ensure that they get the message.

The Bulldozers are driven by ‘Need for Power’. The inner action voice that drives them is ‘Be Strong’. They cope with everything thrown their way. Their strengths are decisiveness, getting things done, firmness, and crisis management. Their weaknesses are lack of sensitivity, openness, and an ability to express passion and emotion.

Typically, the Bulldozers: — Do not take prisoners — Show willingness to make tough decisions and stand behind them — Have an inflated self-importance — Display control-freak tendencies – need to be on top of everything — Detest and do not tolerate weakness, indecisiveness, and dependency — Are independent-minded.

The underlying psychological process that causes the Bulldozer’s bad habits is a failure to recognise when and how to use power. Most people feel a deep ambivalence about the use of power. These feelings stem from unconscious fears of our capacity for destructiveness. The Bulldozers are quite different. They are very clear and decisive about the use of power. They believe in ‘use it or lose it’. They are all too happy to obtain power and then exercise it bluntly as if they were waving a club rather than skilfully and delicately as if they were using a surgeon’s scalpel. The Bulldozers’ lack of trust and fear of being cheated, taken advantage of, ignored, criticised, or treated unfairly causes them to fear that if they will not take control, others will control them.

While the Bulldozers deliver results, they do it with a great expense. Their pathway is littered with terrified and bullied employees. They intimidate and alienate everyone in their path. They don’t trust others, and others don’t trust them.

Type #3: The Rebel

The Rebel, the third empty persona, automatically fights against authority and convention. Workplace rebels tend to be quite conventional in their knee-jerk reactions against the status quo. Even though they view themselves as radical and revolutionaries, most of their protests against “the system” don’t go beyond simple complaining and moaning – they rarely take action to change the things that bother them.

The Rebels are driven by ‘Need for Aggression’. Their rebellion is a form of passive aggressive act, where the aggression is hidden behind an over-righteous concern for the organisation.

Typically, Rebels: — Argue for the sake of arguing — Enjoy shocking colleagues with provocative statements — Fancy themselves as independent thinkers — Take a contrary point of view in a group situation — Seem energised by getting into a heated argument — Often clash with people in position of authority — Always ask the inappropriate questions in meetings — Constantly make jokes about the company’s management — Publicly question the motives behind any major change.

The psychological process that underlines the Rebel’s bad habit is a failure to come to terms with authority. As in the case of using power, most people are ambivalent about authority – moving between the need to belong (being part of a larger entity) to the need to be unique. The third debilitating psychological process is being stuck in one of the extremes. At one end are those who defy authority in every possible instance and in every possible way. At the other end are those who are overly deferential: ‘If top management says it’s true, it must be’. The rebels are stuck in the first extreme.

The Rebels exhaust, tire, and wear-out their colleagues with their constant challenge, arguing, criticising, and moaning. There is something over-righteous about them that is unappealing and causes others avoid them. Their insistent criticism of the system, management, and anything else, drains the energy from others. When the Rebels are challenged, they become very defensive, try to build a coalition against the ‘enemy’, and by doing so, they create bad atmosphere in the workplace and a ‘them and us’ culture.

Type #4: The Pessimist

The Pessimist focuses on the downside of every change; always worries about what could go wrong rather than considering how things could improve. “We’ve always done it this way.” This is the way of the Pessimist, the fourth empty persona, to crush their colleagues’ initiatives and keep the status quo. The Pessimists have nothing but the best intentions in mind. Their goal is to preserve the organisation from the harm that could come to it because of ill-advised change. The problem is that Pessimists think that nearly every change is ill advised. While at times the Pessimists’ worries are justified – more frequently, though, they simply stifle creativity and block fruitful opportunities.

Unlike the other types that are motivated by a specific need, the Pessimists are driven by fear of failure. They cannot tolerate the shame of being wrong or inadequate.

Typically, Pessimists tend to: — Master the ‘Yes-But’ argument — Display extremely cautious behaviour — Spend more times analysing than any other type before committing to action — Be highly indecisive — Dislike making mistakes and focus on minimising them — Be reluctant to speak up when disagreeing – Be extremely slow to make decisions.

The root cause underlying the Pessimists’ bad habits is a negative self-image. The low esteem is a painful experience and results in attempts to prevent any likelihood for it to occur in the future. Consequently, they direct all their energy to avoidance of any situation that can result in failure.

The risk-averse nature of the Pessimist equates to paralysis by analysis – a debilitating indecisiveness that causes others enormous frustration. The avoidance of shame can spread insidiously throughout an organisation’s culture, becoming an unconscious modus operandi that has disastrous results for the company’s capacity to innovate and take risks. Creative, energetic, and change-driven employees find this type of environment suffocating, and they tend to vote with their feet – seeking a more dynamic and leading edge employer.

Managing the Empty Personas

Changing the empty personas behaviour is a delicate matter. After all, you want them to continue to do all the good things they’ve been doing. At the same time, you have to let them know the implications of their behaviour in terms of the impact it has on the business’s bottom line. That would come as a shock, as they see themselves as great contributors.

The Hero

The Heroes are driven by activity – they like being busy and tend to fire fight. As such, they produce tremendous short-term results, but their long-term ones are neglected. The key to change the Heroes’ behaviour is by focusing them on thinking more about winning the war and less about the individual battles. The Heroes are extremely competitive – therefore, giving them a challenge will focus their mind. The only difference is that the challenge will be articulated as a long-term strategic proposition, rather than an immediate issue that need to be resolved. A good General knows when to pull back to fight another day. Accordingly, you should reward the hero for actions that demonstrate a long-term focus and ignore or at least underplay any short-term achievements. Furthermore, express displeasure with any activities that are oriented towards short-term gains (e.g., fire-fighting, working silly hours, putting heroic efforts to complete proposals in time, etc.). Consider the following as an example of typical pep talk or a coaching conversation with a Hero –

“You have proved yourself as an exceptional implementer – but to progress and gain the appreciation you deserve, you need to show the ability to operate at a higher level. Everyone is impressed and convinced by your dedication and ability to solve problems and handle crises, but where you haven’t proved yourself, is with your ability to create and execute a well-thought through long-term strategic plan. Unless you will do that, you will be pigeon-holed as a fire-fighter or a crises manager. That might be a rewarding experience to start with, but for someone with your capabilities, it will not be enough. After a while you will get frustrated, seeing other overtaking you, as you haven’t learn to adjust your ways…

Furthermore, the intensity in which you operate is costly both to yourself and others. I keep hearing continuous complaints about working long hours and weekends, and expecting others to do the same…

You are a high-achiever; here is a challenge for you. Try to achieve the same results working 8 hours a-day, five days a-week, instead of 70 hours a-week. I bet that you will find that it is possible. It is only a matter of focusing the mind. If you allow yourself 70 hours a week, you will fill the 70 hours with activities. However, if you know that you only have 40 working hours per week, you will become far more focus, effective and efficient. If you achieve that, your home life will improve, your productivity will increase, your thinking will be sharper and clearer, and your ability to see beyond the end of your nose will increase significantly – as for the first time you will have time to reflect…”

The Bulldozer

Bulldozers are often reluctant to change a style that in their eyes is highly effective. So to change a bulldozer, you have to demonstrate that on balance, the liabilities resulting from overall approach used by the Bulldozer outweigh the returns.  Start the coaching conversation by asking the Bulldozer if s/he has any idea how many enemies s/he has created within the company. Follow this with a powerful line: ‘If I put it to a vote, there’s no question – you’d be fired.’

A bulldozer will typically protest – ‘I haven’t reached and achieved what I have by being soft and nice.” The right response is: “Look, I don’t care if you think you’re the gentlest person on earth. It doesn’t even matter if I agree, because other people don’t. And it’s like being a stand-up comedian – if you think you’re funny but the audience doesn’t, you’re not.”

You need to be able to spell out the ins and outs of the cost of the Bulldozer’s behaviour to the organisation.

“We have eight people in the team. Each highly capable – yet, because of your approach, we don’t utilise them hundred percent. If in a brainstorm, eighty percent of the ideas come from you – it is no indication that you are ever so clever, and the others operate a much lower level than yourself. It is merely because the others are either too scared to talk, or not given a chance as you bulldoze them. What it means in financial terms is that I might utilise you for hundred percent, but only get ten to twenty percent out of the capability of the others. That’s not just a waste, this is economically unviable. It is a no brainer – it makes more sense to take you off the team and get the best out of seven people, that to have you, and have the others under-utilised…

In the last couple of years, we lost three good people. What I gather from the exit interviews is that many blamed the atmosphere you have created in the work place as the cause for their departure.  At the level in which they were operating the direct cost for replacing them (recruitment campaign, head hunter costs, etc.) is about thirty percent of their annual salary. The indirect cost associated with lost opportunities, time it takes the new recruit to reach an optimal performance level, disruption… is five time higher.  So, your behaviour is costing me a fortune… I am not denying that you are giving us fantastic returns, but the cost of getting these returns is far too high… What would you do if you were in my position? …”

The Rebel

Rebels enjoy most a game of tug of war. So the first tactic managing them is to turn things on their head. Instead of being the one who challenges, the Rebel is the one who is being challenged. A typical coaching conversation with a Rebel could start with a blunt and direct question –

“I have noticed that you tend to be very critical and challenging of the way we do things here. Are you happy here? Are you thinking of quitting? … You always seem to be butting up against the limits, venting your frustration, and putting the organisation down… bad mouthing management…

You say that this is just the way you are talking, or that you were just kidding around. I don’t buy that. And in any event, the things you say hurt people and it is exasperating listening to the constant barrage of criticism.

But more to the point – you seem to think that a lot of things around here should be changed. Well here is a challenge for you – An opportunity to prove that there is substance behind your words. It is very easy to criticise, it is a different matter to offer a clever solution. If you’re going to battle the counter-productive aspects of the ‘regime’, I want to see you coming out with a well thought through specific initiative or a plan of action, rather than taking the easy option of standing on the side lines and criticising. You can then present it to the Board, and be prepared to be challenged about it. So think it through very well and be ready to defend it. You will need to convince your audience that the benefits of adopting your initiative outweigh the costs implementing it.

 You have a choice. You can work to change things here or you can follow you old pattern and just be an irritant. If you choose the later, your career will stall and your influence on the organisation will never amount to much. I hope you make the other choice, because you’re right – this place isn’t perfect, and we need people like you to help improve it.”

The Pessimist

Like the Rebel’s constant criticism, the Pessimist constant resistance to change, can be irksome, annoying, and exasperating. After a while, people stop taking notice, and treat the Rebel or the Pessimist as irritating noise in the background. This is the line of argument to take in the coaching conversation with the Pessimist. Pointing out that as in the children’s story of the boy who cried wolf, the impact of the constant alarms is diminishing.

“It is okay to worry, but it’s important that your fears do more than guard the status quo. They should have a constructive edge.

I have been listening to your arguments closely over the last couple of months, and the pattern that emerged for me is that your risk evaluation is biased. You ignore both the potential upside of change, as well as failing to consider the downside of doing nothing.

In the future, when a change initiative is proposed, you should draw a two-by-two matrix that looks at the pros and cons of making the change as well as the pros and cons of doing nothing. By making this systematic consideration of initiatives into a routine, you will be forced into more objective risk analysis… Furthermore, I am willing to protect you from every kind of risk except one. If you try something new and fail, I’ll take the blame. If you try something new and succeed, you’ll get the credit. But if I find that you’re refusing to take risks or getting in the way of others who have good ideas, you’ll be held accountable.”


Waldroop, J. & Butler, T. (2000). Managing away bad habits. Harvard Business Review, 78, no. 5 (September – October).

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Working with You Is Killing Me: Part #1

by Dr Tuvia Melamed on Mar.21, 2010, under Working with You Is Killing Me

Working with You Is Killing Me #1

 Dr Tuvia Melamed
ClearWater A&D
to download a pdf copy click here


Being Hooked – The 1st Emotional Trap

The workplace is a volatile environment inhabited by emotional creatures who often rub each other the wrong way. Scratch the rational surface of any company, and you will find a breeding ground of negative emotions – anxiousness about performance, anger with colleagues, resentment with management, and stress and burnout from pressuring targets.

The first chapter in this series relates to being emotionally hooked.

Meet, Claudia {a fictitious name – but a real person} – a highly successful and powerful senior executive, but also a nightmare to work with.  I was engaged by the non-exec Board of a professional services firm to coach Claudia. The request came after continuous resentment and complaints from her colleagues coupled with an unprecedented level of resignations from members of her team. Confidential exit interviews revealed that the main reason people gave for leaving the secure job with the reputable firm was that “working with her, is killing me”.

At her best, Claudia tends to be very enthusiastic about, and work hard on, new products. She brings a sense of energy, dynamism, and urgency to new projects. At her worst, she is extremely hard to please and she is high maintenance – requiring a lot of handholding and reassurance. Claudia’s character is exemplified by inappropriate anger coupled with unstable and intense relationships that alternate between passion and idealisation to deflation and devaluation. Psychometric analysis of her profile revealed that Claudia expects to be disappointed in relationships. She anticipates being cheated, ignored, criticised, or treated unfairly. Consequently, she is constantly on guard for signs that others have treated, or will treat, her badly. In business, this translates to being sharp, on top of things and hard to fool. However, when she thinks that she has been mistreated, she erupts in emotional display that may involve losing her temper, yelling from one end of the office to the other, or sulking for days. Because she is so alert for signs of mistreatment, she finds them everywhere, even when others cannot see them. The distinctive emotional tantrums of Claudia make her unpredictable – It is hard to know when she is going to erupt, and what this eruption would look like. Furthermore, because she is so edgy and self-centred she is unrewarding to deal with. As a result of her unpredictability and edginess, she has trouble building and maintaining a team.

Claudia does not handle stress, pressure, failure, disappointment, or criticism very well, and she tends to ‘melt down’ rather easily. It does not take much for her to turn from being passionate and enthusiastic to becoming disheartened. In her history of relationships, she has been so easily disappointed, and when disappointed, her first instinct was to withdraw or leave. A key to understanding Claudia is her extreme degree of self-centricity. All information and experience is filtered through the lense of what does it mean for her personally, and she takes every comment, gesture, and expression of others personally. She personalises everything, but she does it privately, so all that others see and experience are the emotional outbursts, the sulkiness, and the tendency to withdraw.

Now consider others’ experience working with Claudia. Those working with her may feel that they have to be careful in all their interactions with her with the fear of offending her. Those reporting to her often feel that live in a constant state of terror, finding that they spend more time managing their relationship with her, than concentrating on their job. It is common for them to start their day wondering in what mood Claudia is, as her mood may affect the rest of their day. Their decisions when to request or negotiate a budget for their projects or initiatives, is not driven by the business environment, but by her daily mood. In a series of 360-degree interviews, those working for her suggested that the way of remaining sane, is to provide her with plenty of reassurance, keep her informed to minimise surprises, and give her a lot of previews so she knows what is coming. The general principle of handling her is the equivalent of trying to sooth a fretful child.

Being Hooked

The first emotional trap is that of being hooked – having a consistent irritable reaction to someone or something at work – i.e., whenever we come across this person or this thing at work, we feel irritated, annoyed, anxious, frustrated…

Being hooked means feeling trapped in relationships, positions, roles, and situations that drain our energy, invade our thoughts, keep us awake at night and make us feel stuck in no-win positions.

Here are some additional examples: Having someone ‘stealing’ your ideas and taking credit for them # having constant complaints from a particular customer who is never satisfied # being bombarded with unstoppable work demands # being forced to use an inefficient centralised template or system

The symptoms of being hooked are any of the followings:

  • Incompetence – Is there someone at work whose incompetence drives you mental?
  • Restrictive Interdependency – Is there someone at work on whom you depend to do your work, and whose way of operating prevents you from progressing your work?
  • Maladaptive Behaviour – Is there someone at work whose irrational behaviour wears on your nerves?
  • Withdrawal Reactions – To cope with stress at work, do you engage in excessive eating, alcohol drinking, watching TV, or using mind altering substances?

Businesses expect professional and non-emotional behaviour from its employees. Yet, many circumstances at work give rise to strong emotions. Individuals that are in such situation, feel trapped, stuck in a losing game. They cannot free themselves from the bad situation, and their emotions remain unexpressed and suppressed. They feel that the only two options open for them are either ‘suck it up’ or ‘quit’.

This experience of feeling caught in an emotionally distressing work situation is labelled being hooked. It is manifested in consistently having a strong negative internal reaction to someone (or something) at work. The degree of being hooked can vary from a mild irritation (such as a reaction to a colleague tone of voice) to a severe emotional breakdown (such as the inability to cope with line manager’s irrational behaviour).

The normal and common reaction when being hooked is activated (i.e., when someone else’s behaviour irritates us) is to blame our irritation and emotional responses on that person’s behaviour – but that doesn’t solve anything. We are still kept hooked.  The way out is to re-frame and manage our internal emotional responses first – i.e., controlling our automatic reaction that someone else’s behaviour triggered inside us. The principle here is simple – If we can control our emotional reaction, we can liberate ourselves from being hooked.

The process of changing our emotional response to irritating circumstances is termed unhooking. As opposed to feeling insulted by the constant need to chase a customer who will not return your calls, you can unhook by not taking it as a personal rejection and accepting it as part of doing business, where the customer is ‘king’. Instead of getting irritated by the incompetence of your colleague, you can unhook by changing your expectations and taking corrective actions to prevent the negative impact of that person’s ineptitude. Rather than despising the malicious office gossip, you can unhook by setting clear boundaries and showing no interest.

Easier said than done – not necessarily.

There are four simple steps to unhooking that help you release the negative emotions and stay calm, while taking specific actions to change your experience.

  • Physical action:  This step aims to release the negative energy caused by being hooked. As emotional discomfort produces shallow breath, you start by focusing on your breathing, and consciously breathing deeply and gently. If possible, engage in some physical activity such as walking round the block. This helps releasing the physical sensation associated with the negative emotion of being hooked.
  • Mental Reframing: Here you try to look at your situation from a different perspective, view your circumstances objectively, and evaluate the practical options open to you. At this step your rational part of the brain takes over from the emotional one. Ask yourself:
    • What is happening here? – e.g., my invoice is overdue again (for the last five consecutive times), the client’s finance manager  did not pay the invoice I have raised, she ignored all my last two ‘gentle reminders’ emails, and she did not return my call
    • What are the facts? – e.g., I need the invoice cleared within seven days to pay my suppliers
    • What part did the other person play in it? – e.g., She is disorganised, lacks respects for others, and does not care about anyone else but herself
    • How did I contribute to what has happened? – e.g., I take her incompetence and lack of response personally, I try to pacify her by using a very gentle approach, it stops me from wanting to do more work for this client
    • What are my realistic options? – e.g., I can stop personalising her bad attitude; she does not reject me, she is just dismissive of all suppliers; I can acknowledge her feeling of being very busy and under pressure from many suppliers and agree with her to send her a reminder a week before the invoice is due; I can ask to meet with the client and agree a process of timely payment of invoices; I can agree with the client a penalty close for late payment
  • Verbal Expression: This is a proactive action aiming to restructure the situation that causes you grief. The verbal expression requires you to focus on the overall goal as opposed to remaining stuck in the petty details. The aim is to express information in a manner that resolves problems rather than perpetuating them. As such, the verbal expression should contain no judgement, no blame, no accusations, no pointing finger, and no anger or any other negative emotion. It means taking responsibility for your own part of the situation. The verbal expression is not about a compromise, or about being nice. It is about clear, direct, and effective communication that allows the listener to hear you and consider your suggestions. Thus, instead of fuelling your own frustration regarding the late payment of invoices, you can approach the client and / or the finance manager, and ask: “How can I help you get the invoices paid on time? – … I can alert you a week before they are due … I can arrange a direct debit from your account…”
  • Toolbox Utilisation: This step is the equivalent of introducing a third-party to support your argument. Here we utilise simple business tools that either measures certain behaviours, create a behavioural benchmark, or disseminate information. The toolbox includes amongst others: job description # goal setting document # performance reviews # policies and procedures # disciplinary actions forms # memo, emails, and letters # meetings’ agenda # documentation.
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Working with You Is Killing Me

by Dr Tuvia Melamed on Mar.21, 2010, under Series, Working with You Is Killing Me

Working with You Is Killing Me

 Dr Tuvia Melamed
ClearWater A&D
to download a pdf copy click here

The series ‘Working with You Is Killing Me’ is a set of seven interlinked articles looking at managing the dark side of colleagues at work, and freeing oneself from the work-based emotional traps. The series draws on the work of, and gives credit to, Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster, whose exceptional book ‘Working with You Is Killing Me’ was the inspiration for this series.

The series includes seven blogs:

  • Part #1 – Being Hooked – Emotional Trap: The first chapter of the 7-part series. This chapter explores the emotional trap of ‘Being Hooked’ – having a consistent irritable reaction to someone or something at work – i.e., whenever we come across this person or this thing at work, we feel irritated, annoyed, anxious, frustrated… Being hooked means feeling trapped in relationships, positions, roles, and situations that drain our energy, invade our thoughts, keep us awake at night and make us feel stuck in no-win positions.
  • Part #2 – The Empty Persona: “I was here on Saturday afternoon. Where were you?” This kind of “subtle” pressure to work 24/7 is typical of the ‘Hero’ – one of the four characters featuring in this chapter of ‘Working with You Is Killing Me’. This chapter focuses on those colleagues who drive you crazy; yet you find it very difficult to challenge or to tackle them, simply because they are star performers. But they are star performers with a dark-side – they have a seemingly fatal personality flow or a psychological limitation that colours their achievements, holds them back, and makes the life of others a misery
  • Part #3 – Fatal Attraction: When you first met, you felt drawn to that person; you were excited at the prospect of working together – there was something about that person that fulfilled a strong inner need within you. However, over time, interactions with this person left you emotionally exhausted and professionally frustrated – by now, you are dreading the next interaction. You spend your days and sleepless nights running conversations in your head, trying to understand the other person, thinking of ways of bringing the relationships to what it was in the past – but with no avail. No matter what you do, you cannot steer the relationships back to its vibrant beginning.
  • Part #4 – Managing Upward
  • Part #5 – Managers’ Emotional Baggage and Insecurities
  • Patt #6 – Managing Down
  • Part #7 – Case Studies
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