Employing Differences

Employing Differences, Episode 43: How do we get unstuck?

March 09, 2021 Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis
Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 43: How do we get unstuck?
Chapters
Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 43: How do we get unstuck?
Mar 09, 2021
Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis

"I can't guarantee that their behavior will change if I do set a boundary. I can't guarantee that I'm actually going to be good at setting that boundary, because I haven't been practicing that. But what I can guarantee is, if I don't, I'm going to continue to get the same result that I'm getting."

Listen on the website and read the transcript

Watch this episode on YouTube

Show Notes Transcript

"I can't guarantee that their behavior will change if I do set a boundary. I can't guarantee that I'm actually going to be good at setting that boundary, because I haven't been practicing that. But what I can guarantee is, if I don't, I'm going to continue to get the same result that I'm getting."

Listen on the website and read the transcript

Watch this episode on YouTube

Paul:

Welcome to Employing Differences, a conversation about exploring the collaborative space between individuals.

Karen:

I'm Karen Gimnig.

Paul:

And I'm Paul Tevis.

Karen:

Each episode, we start with a question and see where it takes us. This week's question is, "How do we get unstuck?"

Paul:

So when we're stuck, we're in a place where we know how the movie ends before we get there. I think when we're stuck we've all had the experiences of being in a partnership or in a group where the same things happen over and over again. Sometimes the words are a little different, but there's a dynamic that plays out where I want to do something, and I act in a particular way. And then if it's between Karen and I, for example, Karen will respond in a particular way that rhymes with the last time that we interacted, and then I will respond to that response in a way that looks awfully familiar. And we'll just play this pattern out over and over again, often being both equally frustrated by it, although sometimes not. But when we're stuck, we are in these patterns that are unproductive, that are not serving us, that are not moving us forward, and we can't seem to find a way to break out with them.

Karen:

And I think often the way we recognize or would naturally think of it as, "Well, we just disagree. We just disagree, and I can't give up mine and they won't give up theirs, so we're stuck." And, and yes. And then we play out these patterns. And I think we mostly have strategies for getting unstuck that we don't actually love the results of. So one strategy is we just sort of shove the whole thing under the rug and just don't do that thing. Like we just don't talk about that anymore. That's the sort of equivalent of, "Well just don't talk about politics at Thanksgiving" kind of thing that might work for Thanksgiving, it may give you the results that you want. But in any number of other environments, that strategy isn't actually the thing that works. And you just sort of trip over the thing under the rug. And another strategy is, "Well, I'll just give in. I'll just be the martyr, and I'll just give in, and I'll just let them have their way." And sometimes letting the other person have their way turns out to be the right thing, but it's not because I just gave in. Especially as a pattern, if we do this over and over again, you really lose the potential for really good dialogue to work through things as there becomes this expectation. "Okay, we'll fight it out. But we all know at the end, I'm going to give in and Paul's gonna get his way." And we both just know that because we've done it enough times. And of course, the other piece that comes with that is, odds are I'm gonna get really resentful at some point because I keep giving in. But also I think odds are Paul's gonna feel like he doesn't actually have a partner and get resentful that he ends up responsible for everything all the time, because I always gave him and let him have his way. And then he had to be responsible by our joint agreement. So there's all these dynamics that play out with our sort of usual, societal normed ways of getting unstuck.

Paul:

Because those aren't actually ways of getting unstuck. They're avoidance behaviors is largely what they are. So the whole idea of, well, just we're not going to talk about politics at Thanksgiving. How much dread do you hold getting ready for Thanksgiving nnowing that if it comes up, things are just gonna go horribly? You're still stuck. You're stuck in a very different way. And similarly, that resentment you talked about with the whole, "Well, I'll just give in." You know, going into the conversation, "If anything like this comes up, then I'm going to end up we're gonna argue about it, I'm gonna end up giving in and I'm going to resent this, right." And so we're stuck. Because now we've actually created a new meta-pattern around that that we're stuck in, which is the avoidant pattern. I've got these big spots on the map that are circled that say, "Here Be Dragons, Don't Go There." You get nervous every time you get near them. And so that's another type of pattern. Those don't really get us unstuck. They're plastering over, they're not actually addressing the underlying pattern. So the thing that I point people to when they are in these because often when you're in them, you don't see them. When you are in them, you think the other person is the problem? "The problem is Karen just, never suggests anything." It's actually hard to see that the pattern doesn't exist without everyone involved in it. It's actually about how I am responding to Karen, in certain situations, and it's about how she's responding to my responses. It's a circular loop. The causal stuff is circular. And so I have to start to be able to see that, that the pattern is something that exists between us. It's not about her. It's not about me, either, because both of us kind of see each other as the part of it. The first step that I try to get people to do is to be able to name, "What is the pattern?" De-personalizing it, so that it's not about how, "Karen always does this thing," It's about when I encounter this behavior, I respond in this way, which creates this response in the other person, which creates this response back in me, and we start to be able to name that dynamic.

Karen:

Yeah, and I think that once you can name the dynamic, as much as you disagree about the thing, whatever the thing is, you can agree that we don't like the dynamic. We don't the pattern. We don't like the feeling of being stuck. And so there's this idea that instead of fighting against each other within the pattern, we can turn together against the pattern. And so when we start to see it happening and I think the important thing that that needs to be said here is that we would like it to be true often it feels safe to say, "Well, I can't fix it, because it takes both of us and Paul won't change. Paul just keeps doing the same stuff. So I'm helpless." What I think is true, is that, yeah, it's gonna change a lot faster and a lot more if both Paul and I make changes to work through our pattern. There's no question about that, both being in on it definitely is the way to go. But I don't have any control over Paul. I can't decide what Paul is going to do. And the remarkable thing that I think is true is that if I'm willing to change what I'm doing, the likelihood that that will shift his response is really high. It might not be the way I want it. I mean, it might not be that he falls in line with me or that he suddenly convinced that I'm right all the time. Like that's not going to happen. But the pattern that keeps us stuck is very likely to shift if I change something up. And I think the reason that I don't want to change something up is because of the very uncertainty I just named. If I keep doing the thing that I always do, Paul will keep doing the thing that he always does. and there is comfort in that knowing. We've survived with this before, I didn't like where I landed, but I lived, and it was okay. And there is something in our neurological makeup that says, "If I change, then I don't know what will happen. I don't know for sure that it will be good." And I want to be clear, that's not just because I'm scared. I really don't know for sure that it will be good. It is imaginable that I will change a thing, and that will trigger Paul and he'll storm off end in the relationship with me. That is a thing that could happen, and sometimes does, and sometimes reveals that yeah, this wasn't a great working relationship to start with, and sometimes makes a big mess we have to work through and try to clean up. There is very a very real risk of that. That's why we call it vulnerability is because that really can happen and is likely to happen. But what I think is more likely to happen is that you've made a shift and especially if you make it in a really transparent way. "Okay, Paul, we're doing the same thing we've done over and over again, I really don't want to keep doing the same thing we keep doing. So I am really intentionally doing this other thing. How is this working for you?" So if I do it in a really clear, transparent way, I'm trying it out, I give him room to respond and let me know. Changing my behavior I'm going to set a boundary around my needs, I'm going to ask for what I need, I'm going to show up with who I am and what I need. When I shift that, the odds are that actually this person that I am in some level of relationship with we have some amount of shared goals with or we wouldn't be in this problem that that person is also going to want to shift. That person is also going to say, "Oh, there's something new and different here." And they're going to get scared too because they also now are faced with that uncertainty and I don't know what to do, and I can't predict what's happening. That at the end of the day, if the relationship is strong enough to survive that uncertainty, the potential for a connection and clarity and some real discernment about what are the things I actually need to hold, and what are the things that I can let go of, so that we can get unstuck is way more likely to show up, if we're breaking the pattern.

Paul:

The thing about those patterns, they're habitual. Breaking a habit is scary and hard, from an emotional and a neurological standpoint. When I do this thing, you have a habitual response to it. You don't have to think about that response, you just do yhat. It also means that it's a well-worn set of pathways, and you know what's likely to happen, and you're skillful at it to the degree that you can predict what the outcome will be. As soon as you try to do something different in response, you're doing something that you haven't done before, haven't practiced, can't predict what the outcome will be. So it is entirely natural, that it would be scary for us to do. Because you're right, you're almost certainly going to get a different result, and you don't know what that result is going to be. And so the thing that I come back to, to help ground that is always "What is the cost to me of staying in this current pattern? What is the cost to us of staying in this current pattern? Am I willing to take the risk to be vulnerable to try something different?" I think the thing that you pointed to about how when you have the other person's buy in, it's us versus the pattern. And you can actually name, "Hey, I'm trying to respond differently to these stimuli that I'm getting, and I may be a little unskillful about it. I ask for a little bit of grace, because I think it's in service of a common goal that we have." I think that's really powerful. But I think it's also powerful, even when you don't have the other person's buy-in, to be able to just say to yourself, "I just need to set a boundary around this." This is a big thing that comes up a lot like recognizing, oftentimes we get trampled on by people, or, we get taken advantage over these things that happen and kind of recognizing, like, "How am I not actually setting a good boundary around that?" And I can't guarantee that their behavior will change if I do set a boundary. And I can't guarantee that I'm actually going to be good at setting that boundary, because I haven't been practicing that at all. But what I can guarantee is, if I don't, I'm going to continue to get the same result that I'm getting. And so how can I build that emotional courage to take the risk, to shift my part of the pattern, to shift my behavior, so that there's a chance that it will unstick this pattern from the way that it is right now?

Karen:

Yeah, and I think there are a couple of key things in that sort of boundary-setting space, if that's what's needed. One of them is you really want to avoid the trap of righteousness. "I'm no longer going to tolerate that horrible behavior that everyone in the world knows is terrible." That tends not to land well. It's laced with judgment and that doesn't work. But if you describe exactly the same behavior as, "This just isn't something that works for me. So I'm not going to participate in this particular pattern of behavior." I have within my family, certain people who tend to behave in a certain passive-aggressive kind of way, and I have just decided, I don't have to participate in that. And so when that behavior arrives, I leave. That's just my boundary. Because you can behave that way, and I'm not going to try to stop you. I'm just not going to be part of that. When that behavior shows up, my boundary is "I'm leaving because it doesn't work for me." And as much as you can frame it in that and I think the other thing, which my example doesn't demonstrate, but if you want to stay engaged in a relational way with someone, it's much more useful to ask for the behavior you would like instead. "Stomping around the house and being grumpy at me isn't the thing that works for me. If you would like to have a conversation and tell me directly what it is you're upset with, I'm totally on board to listen to that. The thing that would work for me is for you to speak to me directly. And I'm available when you're able to do that or wanting to do that or if you would like to do that." So leaving that bridge open and being really clear about not just "Don't do the thing" because they wouldn't do it if they had a better idea. They're not out to get you.

Paul:

It's a habit and a pattern for them, too.

Karen:

Yes, absolutely. And so I would say avoid righteousness and judgment, and ask for the thing that you would like instead. From the frame of what would work better for me, "Is would you be willing to?"

Paul:

Yeah, and one thing that I'll add to that is we've talked about naming what the pattern is right now. Envision what's the pattern that you want it to be. Like, if there's this dynamic back and forth for example, I've often worked with with leaders who are trying not to be coercive. And so they don't want to tell their teams what to do. But their teams are not doing the thing, thing they really need to, they fall into this sort of Sell- Decline dynamic. The leader is selling to their team, and the team's not buying. And so when they can name that, they can say, "Okay, I'm in this Sell-Decline dynamic, and I don't want to be." Like what do you want it to be in? And it's like, "Well, I want them to commit." Okay, so what might you do that would help them to commit? Like, "Oh, I need to, I need to create an expectation, or I need to be firm about this thing, or I need to do that." So now we're actually naming what's the pattern you're trying to create, and then how do you need to show up in order to be able to do that. So it's the positive side as well. You can start with, "Hey, this is the behavior I'm going to do, and if you would like to engage with me, here is what I would like from you." Or you can start with, "Here is how I would really like this whole thing to play out, what might I need to do in order to help enable that," sort of thing. So it's, it's a lot of interlocking pieces. And when we can sort of step back and see it for what it is which is a thing that plays out in the space between it gives us a lot more options for what we can do.

Karen:

So just tracking where we've been, when you're stuck in disagreement, usually in my head, if I'm stuck, I can't get to agreement and it's all his fault. It's the other guy's fault, because they are so rigid. If that's the tape playing, then probably you're stuck. And what we're suggesting is look for the pattern. We're going to guess that this has played out before, that there is a familiar pattern here. And think about what is that pattern? What are the hallmarks of it from a really behavioral kind of standpoint? Think about what pattern you'd like there to be, and see if you can align with the person that you're within this pattern towards breaking the pattern and see if then you can get to the discernment of what are the things that need to shift? What are the things that are really important? What are the things that we're looking for and get to the other side?

Paul:

All sounds so neat and easy when you sum it up that way. And it's

Karen:

I should have thrown n in the words about vulnerab lity and risk and challenge that probably all belong in th t summary somew

Paul:

It's underlying all this work. Well, I think that's gonn do it for us for today. Unti next time, I'm Paul Tevis.

Karen:

And I'm Karen Gimnig, nd this has been Employing ifferences.