What Not To Wear: Don’t Get “Hooked”

One day inventor George de Mestral returned from a walk, his dog’s hair matted with burrs.   He removed the burrs and examined them via microscope, noticing how the hook shape of the bristles attached the burrs quite nicely to his dog.   Thus the product most of us call Velcro was conceived.

Wikipedia says that a piece of this product 2 inches square can support a 175 pound person.

Herein lies my metaphor about workplace relationships.

Resistance is a potent dynamic; it’s a key reason that people don’t get things done at work.   I’ve been honing a model, a view of how resistance operates in workplace relationships.

“Deflective resistance” is when someone avoids connection, confrontation, or conflict by actively blocking or moving attention from an issue.   You may see fireworks, emotion, and action…but the central issue remains unresolved.  Progress stalls.

In nature, a skunk will spray another animal that seems to be a threat.   Sandbags and newer technologies are used to deflect enemy fire and bomb blasts in combat.

In one of my favorite classics,  North by Northwest, an undercover agent is sent by her criminal mastermind “boyfriend,” to seduce a man who is a perceived risk to the bad guy.  The agent and the good guy fall for one another — and then stage a dramatic break-up to protect the undercover agent’s true identity.

Challenging relationships often involve two people enacting the same pattern, repeatedly — this is also true at work.

Protection is a goal of deflective resistance.  Blame can be used as a tactic, amped up by adding emotion.

Your Customer Service manager, Greg, misses a deadline.   When you approach him about the deliverable, he blames people on his team…and steers conversation to a missed deadline in Finance, and becomes visibly upset that you’re treating him unfairly.

If you go on the defensive about your fairness, you’re no longer talking about Greg’s deadline and no longer holding him accountable.   You’ve been hooked.

To work with resistance, I advise clients to watch for people wearing their hook-side-out Velcro suit.

Watch for emotion — check for drama.   Examine what is being protected, and you’ll likely find a workable direction for your energy and attention.

Break the pattern.  Check your hairy Velco suit at the door, or you’ll risk rolling around without any progress.

Or carrying a 175 pound person who isn’t pulling his own weight.

The photo is Velcro, by fellow U of C-er Quinn Dombrowski, quinn.anya, used under Creative Commons license.   And according to Velcro, Velcro the product does not exist — Velcro the corporation exists to manufacture it.   Glad to clear that one up for you.   And I actually found a photo of an apprehensive kid in a Velcro suit, too.

4 thoughts on “What Not To Wear: Don’t Get “Hooked”

  1. Love the description of velcro-like workplace experiences.

    I’m the co-author of a book called Working with You Is Killing Me, and we literally define the term “hooked” as continually having a negative internal reaction to someone or something at work. We even have an “unhooking” process to deal with those velcro people, places and things.

    I really like your idea of identifying Velcro situations as they are happening so you don’t get hooked.
    I think it’s probably possible to predict who is likely to turn velcro before you even approach the person.

  2. Thank you, Katherine, for stopping in and taking time to comment. You’re right, it’s predictable — or at least visible — when someone is wearing that Velcro suit. My experience is that I can give someone well designed, behaviorally stated targets to hit. But I can only change me and my own reactions (i.e. remove my own hairy Velcro jacket. It’s the tendency to react to the wrong elements that gets me stuck in this interaction.)

    What do you think: what criteria would you use to predict the appearance of velcro suited people?

    I will definitely look for your book. It sounds right up my alley! Thank you so much.

  3. I agree with your statement — the only control we really have is over our own reactions.

    In that regard, we’re all responsible for our own velcro. 🙂

    But, you can learn to detect the people who are most likely to “hook” you. The best way to do that is to notice who, among coworkers, managers, employees, clients or vendors cause a visceral negative response in you.

    Is it the colleague who can’t stop talking about the petty details of her weekend? Is it the client who trashes your best efforts on a regular basis? Is it the employee who stares blankly into space whenever you ask for an update on the latest project?

    Once you identify your velcro people, you can take steps to “unhook” from their behavior.

    Unhooking begins with doing something physical to shift your energy — whether it’s working out, going for a walk, participating in a sport, or simply taking a few slow, deep breaths. If you can calm your physical system down, you can figure out what to do mentally, verbally, and using a business tool.

  4. Katherine, thank you so much for your thoughts. And I put my hands on your book, and will look forward to reading it.

    Thank you for dropping by. (I suspect we’re kindred spirits.)

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