When you are in a conflict with someone, navigating your way through the constant spinning can feel like a merry-go-round. To help simplify things, here is a five-step model that explains the conflict dynamic.
1. The Trigger: Something the other side says evokes a strong reaction and feels like it “crosses the line.”
Example: At an all-staff meeting, Molly said, “Victor’s team can have that little problem.”
2. The Driver: Something fundamental, the trigger violates some core value.
Example: Being respected as a professional and perceived as a contributor to the organization.
3. Interpretations: The motive Victor ascribes to what Molly said.
Example: Victor assumes Molly is trying to trivialize him and his team, thereby inflating her contributions.
4. External Reaction: What Victor does in response to the proceeding steps.
Example: Victor counterattacks with his own version of a belittling comment about Molly later in the same staff meeting.
5. Consequences: What results occur because of what has happened so far?
Example: Molly and Victor shut themselves off from each other for the remainder of the meeting. Victor only looks at her and shakes his head “no” when she asks a question.
This example is human conflict in a nutshell. As you can see, the dynamic is perfectly self-reinforcing. Another trigger sprouts from the original trigger—the following offense results in more negative interpretations, reactions, and consequences. While there are best practices to break out of these patterns, it is challenging to dislodge them once they begin.
Now that you know the order in which the dominos fall, one way out is to identify what is occurring. Start by stepping out of the conflict and name where you are in the process. You can either do this for yourself or say it openly with the other side (preferably about what you did, rather than ascribing blame).
I hate to spoil things, but not all merry-go-rounds are fun.