Richard 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 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. This was just making things worse.
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 heard Julie talking to another colleague about her worries that Richard didn’t like her and didn’t think she was pulling her weight. She had complained that Richard had been withdrawn for some time, and seemed distant and irritated.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.
The Spiral of Disempowerment™
Suddenly 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 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. It 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 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. They had both been amazed at the power of their own assumptions about the other to affect their behaviour. Richard now keeps a printout of theSpiral 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 making things worse in the situation. If you need more help, come and join me at one of our open-access War to Peace®workshops that anyone may attend.
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