Recognizing the Negative Cycle

Shaping productive interactions in distressed situations may often feel like flying a helicopter in a tornado. This is one of the tasks that makes resolving conflicts feel overwhelming.

Suppose you are going to set up new conversations, conversations that can gradually redefine your workplace relationships and resolve challenges effectively. In that case, you have to know what to do when these conversations start to go wrong.

Gaining perspective is a simple technique that allows you to help maintain your emotional balance even when the other person in the room becomes angry, critical, or distant. You can shift from being caught up in the content to a broader perspective, letting you see the conversation’s negative pattern.

Here is an example of how it may sound:

Donna, “You never respond to my emails, and whenever I bring it up, you just go silent and shut down on me.”

Abe, “I don’t think this is the time to talk about this. We have a lot of work to do.”

“Right, it is never a good time to talk about what matters to me,” Donna acknowledges reluctantly.

Abe turns away and shuts down.

This is their usual pattern; one complains, the other distances. But then, Abe does something different. He changes the channel; he looks at the argument from a new perspective.

Abe, “Hey, Donna, hold on! This is the place where we get stuck. You feel like I am not responding, so you complain. This is when I start to feel overwhelmed, so I shut down and run. The more I shut down, the more anxious you become. The more you complain, the faster I run. And we get stuck in this terrible negative pattern that leaves us both feeling helpless and alone.”

Donna, “I didn’t know that you get overwhelmed when I share my frustration with you.”

Abe, “Yes, I do, and I didn’t realize until now that my shutdown fuels the anxiety in you. This terrible dance erodes our safety and keeps us both triggered and upset. But the fact is that we are both critical of each other. You care about me, and I care about you. We both care a lot about this project, but this negative cycle that has taken over our relationship keeps us from succeeding.”

Changing the focus on the dance and how you interact with each other helps calm things down. It provides a sense of control and a sense of relief that there are no bad guys; the bad guy is the negative cycle.

With gratitude and care,
Lola and EmC Team