Unwanted Repetitive Patterns

argument

Doug and Jenny were at it again.

Another staff meeting where Jenny and Doug were on the opposite sides of the same coin: Jenny, advocating for an engineering schedule that was realistic and didn’t compromise the health or safety of her crew and Doug, fiercely arguing for a faster delivery to their clients.

It went like this every week in the project management meeting.

Morgan, the project manager, had spoken to each of them privately just before the meeting.  They each shared a genuine desire to be more amicable and see the situation from the other person’s point of view before reacting.

Publicly in the meeting, their behavior was nowhere near amicable. It was the same pattern repeating itself. Again. Their pattern was not one of sharing respectful differences.  Rather, their behavior was unprofessional and ego bruising, their words like daggers.

Frustrated, Morgan spoke to each of them privately after the meeting. She had to get to the bottom of this disagreement before it put the project in jeopardy.  How could they have earnestly promised to comport themselves more professionally and then act like small children throwing sand in the sandbox?

Doug and Jenny were caught in an unwanted repetitive pattern or (URP), a sequential and recurring episode of conflict that is considered unwanted by those in the conflict (not to mention those around them!).

URPs develop because two people have fallen into a pattern or script that demands each of them to behave in a conflicting manner. Often, the pattern one person is following serves to fuel the negativity of the other and the other person follows a pattern of responding in a negative manner.

Doug and Jenny, separately, both told Morgan “I couldn’t help it, I had no choice but to stick up for [the customer/the engineering team].”

Doug and Jenny will continue to enact their URP until the script gets interrupted. Either one of them could deliberately choose to behave differently or Morgan could choose to structure the meeting and the conversation such that the URP doesn’t get a chance to take hold.

URPs are difficult to stop and change. The first step is to identify that they are occurring in the first place. Where do you experience an unwanted repetitive pattern and how might you interrupt the script?

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    How do you explain someone’s irrational behavior or failure to deal with reality? Watch this week’s (video) blog to find out.

    Your choice: Watch the video or read the transcript below.

    VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

    Have you ever been in a situation where you’re attempting to make a decision with someone else – maybe in a group or just between the two of you – and the other person is clinging to outdated information, or worse yet, refusing to acknowledge the veracity or relevance of new information – information that would make a significant difference in the decision you are working toward?
    Maybe it is a new sales lead management system that’s going to replace a series of spreadsheets. And a colleague is adamant that the current system works just fine, the new system is an unnecessary expense and so forth.
    When people ignore or deny information that conflicts with their existing beliefs, they are experiencing cognitive dissonance.

    Their brain is grappling with the difference between the new information and what they believe to be true. When there is a gap, especially a sizable gap, between new evidence and what someone deeply believes, it is uncomfortable . . . and the brain seeks to make that difference go away. This can produce counter-productive behavior, and sometimes even irrational and bizarre behavior. Denial, excuse making, failure to see the obvious.

    So what do you do when someone is exhibiting these behaviors? How do you get them to see the new information as valid, and integrate it with their existing knowledge base?

    Start by stating what they do believe – at least to the best of your ability. Something like this: “If I understand you correctly, the sales process we’re using now works just fine.” Starting from their baseline makes them feel understood, it validates their position.

    Next, point out a problem with the current state, one that directly impacts them. “With our current system, senior leaders have to rely on self-reported data when determining who has exceeded their sales quotas.”

    Get agreement to the problem and then point out how that specifically impacts them. “You and I both know that others have received bonuses when they shouldn’t have.”

    And then, make a clear link to how the new information, or system in this case, can solve the problem. Finally, if at all possible, give them some time to think about it. Suggest you meet again in a few days and regroup.

    When cognitive dissonance runs deep, it will take a bit of time and patience to integrate the new information into their reality.

    So the next time you run into erratic, unreasonable or bizarre behavior from someone, take a moment to consider whether there is a significant difference between new information and their existing belief structure. If so, you’re dealing with cognitive dissonance. Use the tips presented in this video, and a dose of patience, to reduce the gap between their beliefs and the new information, so you can make a decision that’s in the best interests of all, and that everyone can buy into.

    That’s today’s video blog.  I’m Janel Anderson with Working Conversations.

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