what winners have on their shelves Working with You is Killing Me By Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster Warner Business Books EVERY SINGLE employee from the janitor to the chief executive of a major corporation knows there is always one option open to them if things are not going well at work - resign or threaten to do so. If the boss, colleagues, or subordinates have become just too much to deal with for reasons of incompetence, emotional instability or a combination of other irritants, you can always make a clean break. Workplace stress or whatever has started to drive you round the bend can be left behind with a two-word letter of resignation and a few quick farewells. Just sign off and enter the lottery of the job market if you want a completely new set of colleagues. Remember, though, there is always a risk the new environment may not be much better than the last. The 221 pages of Working With You Is Killing Me: Freeing Yourself from Emotional Traps at Work discusses your options, but resigning is never mentioned. Authors Katherine Crowley, a Harvard-educated psychotherapist who specialises in workplace challenges, and Kathi Elster, a management consultant focusing on staff training and development, seem to say that the only option is to stick it out. Their general advice is to cope, knuckle down and concentrate on dealing with the emotional 'traps' found in every workplace. These occur, the authors say, when people hit a downward spiral and have recurring distressful encounters. They could be caused by anything from the annoying way the person in the next department whistles, to having a boss who seemingly expects you to be a mind-reader. A bad encounter with a boss or colleague can create a stressful reaction, and that can easily lead to even worse encounters. Before long, the 'system' completely breaks down, to the point where communication is habitually tense and somebody gets fired or quits. Breaking the cycle requires careful examination of the roles played by each person. By looking at things from a new perspective, people who are 'trapped' can learn to adjust their behaviour and control their instinctive reactions. This will allow them to reduce their personal stress levels and to steer away from potentially distressing events towards more favourable outcomes. Essentially, the authors claim, this means learning to 'unhook', or taking the high road rather than getting dragged into a dangerous form of office trench warfare. The authors, though, have a tendency to label different types of employees under broad categories. For example, an entire chapter discusses what they call 'fatal attractions' at work. It is not devoted to the question of whether or not it is permissible to date colleagues, but to the kind of people with whom working relationships begin on a promising note but sour as the hard grind of everyday work takes over. Certain characters are mentioned under a variety of colourful names. Among them are the 'exploder', the dynamic, creative type who brings energy and zest to a project, but is also unpredictable when things go wrong; the 'saboteur', who has political motives and is liable to stab people in the back, and the 'pedestal smasher', who sees everyone as an equal. The tips given for breaking out of emotional traps are classified into general categories: physical, mental and verbal things people can do, and business tools they can use. Given that most individuals do not fit neatly into just one character type, it is probably better to stick to the principles of the four unhooking techniques and take the specific tips as guidelines. In general, that entails remaining calm, looking at things objectively to determine the options, communicating your ideas and using business tools to resolve problems. Five Insights this book at a glance 1 Persevere Don't quit your job just yet. Even if the people around you seem lazy, incompetent, or are just plain annoying, regard that as normal. There is no guarantee that a new set of colleagues won't be even worse. Therefore, be prepared to stick around and work things through. You will be a better person for it and if things still don't work out, then you quit. 2 Get physical If the day isn't going well, take a deep breath, stand up, and take a walk around the office. Being in good physical condition always makes it easier to deal with mental stress and pressure at work, so exercise regularly, get a good night's sleep and take the time to keep in shape. 3 Time to reflect To gain perspective, try to put yourself in your colleague's shoes. Mentally, take a step back and look at things carefully and from different angles. Ask yourself what is going on and how the situation developed. Then take the time to consider your options. 4 Build bridges In many cases, the key to resolving problems is good communication. Speak up when you feel overlooked, but don't expect your boss to accept every suggestion or agree with every point of view. In the workplace, good communication is not about smoothing things over, but involves getting your ideas across so other people can take them into account. Try to create a bridge rather than a wedge, even if another person is driving you crazy. 5 Use business tools There may be arguments at work, but you can often resolve disputes by focusing on business factors and keeping personal feelings to one side. If possible, refer to such things as memos, job descriptions or meeting agendas to clarify points at issue and reduce the potential for disagreement.