Getting Hooked– And Off The Hook


Ever find yourself getting “hooked?” 
I’m not talking hockey. And I’m not talking the oldest profession on earth. I’m talking about when someone has a way of sending your blood pressure through the roof, and of “making you” do things you don’t want to do, say things you don’t want to say, and feel things you don’t want to feel. They may snag you because they are confrontive or sarcastic, power-grabbing or passive aggressive, but they hook you! And then you may argue, lash out, or perhaps just seethe. I know this well, especially from a daughter who was born to litigate, and when she contests something miniscule or of great magnitude, when she dangles the hook . . . I bite. But sometimes it happens at work too. Someone’s overreaching, aggressive, or inappropriate behavior hooks you.

I’ve been reading a fun and useful book all about getting hooked, and more importantly, getting unhooked. Kathi Elster and Katherine Crowley offer a simple but effective four-step method to deal with being hooked, in their book Working With You Is Killing Me: Freeing Your Self from Emotional Traps at Work. The first step is to free yourself physically; they suggest the simplest method is to do some deep breathing when you know somebody has really got you hooked. A few quick breaths and you think more clearly. Next, they recommend that you free yourself mentally by identifying what it is the other person has done, but also and importantly, what it is in your thinking that has you so upset.

The third and fourth steps are action steps. In the third, you find language to halt the attack; for instance, if someone publicly takes credit for others’ work, you might say, “Tom has helped, but it’s been a fantastic team effort.” And lastly, they suggest that you use “business tools” to manage the other’s crazy-making behavior. Team meetings, memos, personnel reviews are all examples of tools you might employ.

One thing I like about Kathi and Katherine’s work is the inside-out quality of it. They take seriously the internal mental work, yet they offer usable tools for grappling with the genuinely bad behavior we sometimes face. If you find yourself getting “hooked,” you might want to pick up their book. And if you’re in my listening area — our radio stations are listed below — you can often hear her Kathi and Katherine on Saturday mornings from 7 to 9 a.m., on my show, Everyday Leadership: Making Work Work.  And I’ve also put together an audio CD  called Getting Unhooked in which Kathi and Katherine explain the four critical steps to “getting unhooked.”

Getting unhooked is a really smart thing to do if you want to

Lead with your best self.

Everyday Leadership with Dan Mulhern on the Michigan Talk Network.

Greenville 1380 AM WSCG

Hastings 1220 AM WBCH

Lansing 1240 AM WJIM

Mount Pleasant 830 AM WMMI

Muskegon 1490 AM WODJ

Petoskey 1110 AM WJML

St Joseph-Benton Harbor 1400 AM WSJM

Traverse City 1210 AM WJNL

  • When reading your Monday RFL I was shocked at how ‘Hooked’ I got by just your first 3 sentences.
    “Ever find yourself getting “hooked?” I’m not talking hockey. And I’m not talking the oldest profession on earth.”

    It just seemed odd to me to bring up hookers, very different than hooked – as in catching a fish, or catching the end of a hockey stick. And to contribute to the idea that it was the oldest profession on earth when actually hunting, gathering, and mothering are probably the oldest professions, I had trouble there too.
    I once heard a sermon on Luke 13:32 where Jesus compared Herod to a fox only the person giving the sermon decided to use the word Foxy not fox and that completely changed the interpretation of the story and who Herod seemed to be.
    You may have written about this before on RFL but Leaders need to be careful and sensitive of the words we use, I know how exhausting it can be a simple ‘y or er’ can change our message.

  • Dan, you mention a few of the “business tools” that are highlighted in the book:memos, reviews and meetings.

    I’d like to add another, arguably the most honoring and effective tool: genuine, compassionate, clear (and sometimes difficult) one-on-one communication.

    It’s been my experience that in most cases taking the risk to share genuine dialog with someone by whom I’ve been hooked is the best way to go. Done genuinely and compassionately, without a need to “be right” or change someone’s behavior, both parties are likely to walk out feeling heard, affirmed, and aware of both cause and effect.

    Sure, there are a few people in our worlds with whom no amount of such interaction is likely to make a difference. I believe that these are the exceptions, and that most people do respond well to an attempt to build community and strengthen relationship.

  • Remember that the faults that are easiest to find in others are the ones we find most unacceptable in ourselves. You know the old saying about projection: one finger is pointing at you but three more are pointing back at me. Our subconscious “hears” us getting judgmental towards others and magnifies it 300% (or maybe more–I’m no psychologist) in relation to ourselves. Self-hatred is not one of the qualities of a great leader.

    And before anyone is tempted to add denial to the projection, please consider the possibililty that one has, at some point, exhibited the very same behavior that we find so reprehensible in others.

    Finding fault in others and fixing blame on them for “hooking” us doesn’t fix any problems. It’s important to take responsibility for our own reaction. We don’t have to respond with anger. We can consider the possibility that the other person’s behavior (perhaps like ours in the past) stems out of feelings of powerlessness or insecurity.

    From this nonjudgmental stance, we can choose to respond with compassion. There must be a reason why they acted as they did. It’s okay to ask them what the reason is. We don’t have to make up a story in our heads about how it’s because they’re lowdown scumballs. We can look more deeply into the how and why of things–on both sides–accept responsiblity for our own response, and move forward in creating a more healthy relationship… if we want to lead with our best selves. 🙂

    I’ve checked out that book, and it’s a good one.

    Thanks for sharing so deeply and honestly again, Dan.

    And thanks for the info about the Saturday a.m. radio station. If you also have a M-F 6 p.m. radio show, please send us the details on that, too.

  • Both Elster and Crowley are making good suggestions regarding the workplace. I am retired and so I do not face the day to day hassle and nonsense of interpersonal relationships. When I was working, I found that everyone felt they were an expert in everything. Conversation with these people was very difficult. I just avoided these people.

    I have just learned that Governor Granholm by law cannot seek a third term. She will be missed. It is too bad that this law was not passed when John (Barney Rubble) Engler was governor. In his third term he destroyed Michigan’s safeguards, like the rainy fund and the early retirement fund in our state. He left Governor Granholm with huge deficits. John or Barney gave contracts to friends without competitive bidding. After leaving office his friends hired him for about $500,000 per year. We have the same problem in Berlin, aka Washington, D.C.

  • When I received last weeks publication with your book suggestion, I immediately got on-line and ordered it through my library. I recently allowed a co-worker to hook me (line AND sinker!) to the point of me leaving a job I loved dearly! I just wish I had heard of this book a week sooner!

    Thanks for your insights, Dan, I look forward to them every week.


  • When I feel myself getting hooked I look at a poster on my cubicle wall that reads” Never argue with a pig; First, it never works and second, it annoy’s the pig.” Of course “pig” can be replaced with anything like boss, co-worker, etc., however pig has always worked for me. I usually smile and excuse myself to avoid the hook. Hope it works for you!


  • Phil,
    My favorite variant refers to pigs and politics: Never get in the mud with a pig, because you both get dirty and the pig likes it!

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