The Reaction Cycle: What happens when we react?

The other day I came home after a long day of work and put my bag down and said hi to my wife and son. I took off my shoes and my coat and draped it over my bag in the kitchen. The second my coat and shoes were off my wife asked me to take something outside to the garbage.

“What?? Can’t you see I just literally took my shoes and coat off? You couldn’t ask me that 2 seconds earlier?” was my response.

I reacted. I’m sure you can think of times where that has happened. How do you think my wife reacted to my reaction? Yeah...you guessed it...she didn’t approve of the reaction that I gave and reacted herself.

Here’s how I picture reactions - like rush-hour traffic. One person taps their brakes and their brake lights go on, the person behind them reacts to those lights and hits their brakes, which causes the next person to hit their brakes…..and on and on. You get the point. When one person reacts the next person is bound to react as well and the intensity of which they react to will impact the next reaction until the situation is out of control and you end up in stop and go traffic. It’s a cyclical, we end up going round in circles with no end in sight until someone says or does something outside of the cycle. Kind of like this kid-like drawing (yeah...I can’t draw….):

Despite the reasons that cause us to react (defensiveness, our “truths”, etc.) there really is only one way to break this cycle of reactions; Do something differently. Do something that you haven’t done in the conversation, it might be the use of humour, it might be to listen to what’s actually happening, it might be to say nothing at all, it could be agreeing with the person, it could be a lot of things. But this much I know...if you find yourself in the reaction cycle, you need to break that cycle before things can come down to a reasonable level that you can actually discuss what is going on between the two of you. Then you need to start listening to each other.

(This post originally shared on Absolution Mediation)

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