Posts Tagged ‘mistrust’

Could you be (unintentionally) making things worse?

Monday, September 3rd, 2018

small__2271763055Richard was perplexed and annoyed. For the past few months, his colleague Julie had been moody, unhelpful and would barely look him in the eye. In meetings with other people present, she was as animated as she had always been, but if he was talking she would resume her sulky look. Richard had spent quite some time trying to work out what could be wrong, but Julie disappeared as soon as there might be an opportunity for him to talk to her about it.

Talking about his situation at an in-house War to Peace®workshop at work, Richard stopped and sighed. He admitted that he could really do without the hassle and stress of dealing with Julie right now. He told us that his wife had been diagnosed with cancer and he was having problems sleeping, as his wife would often have violent coughing fits and he would lie awake worrying about their future. When he went into work, he could really do without the added complication of a sulky colleague to deal with. Richard clenched his jaw and muttered, “I’ve just about had it up to here with her. I’ve tried to understand and she just avoids me. Sometimes I just want to yell at her!”

Another participant in the workshop cleared her throat and put up her hand to speak. She had struggled with whether to share this, but she had heard Julie talking to another colleague about her worries that Richard didn’t like her and didn’t think she was pulling her weight in the department. She had complained that Richard had been withdrawn for some time, and seemed distant and irritated. Julie was convinced it was because of her work and it would only be a matter of weeks before he got her fired.

file8061347830293Suddenly it was clear that Richard’s situation was a great example of the Spiral of Disempowerment™, which reveals to us our (often unconscious) role in the conflict. It shows how our perceptions, beliefs and emotional state invite from the other person the very behaviour we want to change. So Richard's worried, tired demeanour as a result of too many broken nights had been misread by Julie as a sign that he was irritated by her and dismissive of her work. Julie had felt rejected and defensive, which had meant that she behaved in a disconnected, sulky way with Richard. Her behaviour was then perceived by him to be obstructive and unhelpful - he felt first irritated and then dismissive, and so the cycle went on.

Just being able to see the situation from this viewpoint made things immediately clearer for Richard and he felt as though a huge weight had been lifted from him. He saw a different story from the one he had held previously, and he understood how Julie could have misread his behaviour at work. He vowed to talk to her about what he was going through at home so that she could understand the situation too.

A fortnight later, he emailed to tell us that the work environment was much easier. He had chatted with Julie and she had been very supportive - and was feeling relieved too, now that she knew her job wasn’t in jeopardy. They had both been amazed at the power of their own assumptions about the other to affect their feelings and behaviour. Richard now keeps a printout of the Spiral of Disempowerment™ by his desk to remind him to check how much he has unwittingly invested in any conflicts that arise.

Over to you

If you are in conflict with someone at home or at work, download the Spiral of Disempowerment™ tool and work through it. It’s a great way of seeing the part you play in the situation. If you need more help, come and join us at our next open-access War to Peace®workshop.

Do you know someone who could benefit from War to Peace®?

If you know someone who would benefit from our award-winning War to Peace® work, our final open-access course for 2018 is on 5 October. To book click here. And if your team could benefit from an in-house workshop, contact us here.

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photo credit: KristopherM via photopin cc

Digging over the past

Monday, September 5th, 2016

Theresa’s husband had been having an affair for over two years before she found out.

During that time, they had lost two parents between them to cancer, gone on the holiday of a lifetime to Australia and supported their son through a nasty case of bullying. Theresa felt that they had been there for each other, loved and enjoyed each other’s company through all of this, and that they were rock solid.

worker-30240_640Finding out about the affair through an acquaintance had brought her world crumbling around her. Immediately, she set about raking through her memories of the two years it had been going on. The day before her mother’s funeral, her husband had been out all day; he couldn’t attend their son’s school leavers’ service as he had been on a ‘business trip’; he’d spent a lot of time on his smartphone when they were in Australia and she’d assumed he was updating his Facebook status with what they’d been up to that day. Now she drew very different conclusions about what he had been doing on those occasions and many others. Looking through the events of those years in a cold light and rewriting her experience through her new knowledge made Theresa feel duped and angry, and she kicked herself for being so ‘naïve’.

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Frank’s boss had been very supportive. He’d seen that Frank had been having to leave earlier than usual and had asked if there was anything the matter. Frank had confided in him that his wife was finding coping with their toddler daughter very draining so he had agreed to come home and take over the reins, finishing off any outstanding work after they had put her to bed. His boss had been stopping by his desk regularly since then, asking how things were going, and Frank felt valued and appreciated. He was happy he worked for such a progressive, flexible employer.

Yet when a junior colleague in his department was promoted ahead of him, the reason for Frank’s boss’s ‘supportive’ concern became apparent: he was checking whether or not Frank was up to the responsibility of the new role. Frank looked back on all the chats they’d had and on all the work he’d completed well and on time, and he felt cheated and resentful. He’d even taken his boss out for a slap up lunch to say thanks for his support. Frank now wondered whether his boss had been plotting against him all along, and spent long hours awake in bed unable to sleep because he was raking through every conversation they’d had for months and imagining his boss’s negative thoughts towards him.

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Theresa’s story and Frank’s story may be far apart in context but they share a theme of altered perceptions. We all read our experiences in based on the information that is available to us at the time, mixed in with our assumptions, previous knowledge and the mood we're in. Theresa and Frank felt fully supported, then angry and resentful when they looked back at the experience with fresh knowledge.

Yet they were not wrong, stupid or naïve to feel happy at the time. And it is completely understandable why they may change how they interpret those past events given the information they have now.  But does it serve them to dig over events of the past and view them as more true / different than they had previously thought?

Most of us would find it hard not to take personally what Theresa and Frank experienced and to blame the 'errant' husband and 'unfair' boss, yet the cost is great to ourselves as we carry around the burden of resentment, which is like allowing the people we most dislike to reside in our heads rent free. It also means that we are far more likely to go to War with other people in our lives, becoming less tolerant, more mistrusting and more cynical - so we allow ourselves to become victims repeatedly, whilst continuing the cycle of blame.

A great way of breaking this cycle is to ask ourselves "what else could this mean?" We don't need to know the truth of why people do the things that they do - because the 'truth' is only ever a perception that is based on the information we have at the time, which we interpret through the lens of our past experiences. So, when Theresa chooses to decide that her husband's affair was nothing to do with anything she did or didn't do (e.g. it was about Theresa's husband being self-destructive because of his own demons, he has a sex addiction than he believes can only be fulfilled by other people etc.), and Frank's boss's decision was nothing to do with anything Frank's personal circumstances (e.g. Frank's boss was under pressure from his boss to meet the unpublished diversity statistics, he was having an affair with the person he promoted etc.), it allows them to begin to feel differently.

It is that simple. And we're not by any means suggesting it's easy!

Most of us have been brought up to think that other people and circumstances cause our pain. And it's so much easier to blame other people and feel victimised (after all, others in our friendship and family circles understand this way of operating) than to consider that we can feel entirely differently once we question our thinking and perceptions. For more on this, you might like this post. Otherwise, do come along to a War to Peace workshop and experience it for yourself.

Over to you

  • When you find  yourself digging up the past in your mind, consider the thoughts you have at the time and the thoughts you have now. What would be a more helpful way of thinking about this situation and the people involved?
  • If you are stuck and feeling very hostile and hurt, a healthy vent is extremely helpful to get out all the emotional pain and rage you are feeling. You can bash a cushion with a baseball bat whilst screaming or, if you're worried about the neighbours, write a completely uncensored letter to the person you feel has hurt you, really let yourself say everything you ever wanted to say to them. Then burn it. You will then be in a more resourceful emotional state to consider thinking about them in a different and more helpful way.

Do you know someone who could benefit from War to Peace?

If you know someone who spends a lot of time digging over the past, our next open-access War to Peace workshop is on 7 October. To join the waitlist, click here. To book onto our next workshop with spaces in March 2017, click here

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©Halcyon Global 2016