There is a Congolese proverb that says, “It is best to let an offence repeat itself three times. The first may be an accident, the second a mistake. Only the third is likely to be intentional.” Many of us are living examples of this proverb, especially with the small pinches we experience in our lives.
Once the pinch has been repeated (or if it is really significant the first time), we often look for someone with whom we can share our experience. Our motivation for doing this is often positive. We want to release our frustration to someone else, or we are unsure if we have a legitimate reason for being frustrated. Venting is often necessary but not if we vent on the other person. The problem is that our search for clarity often stops here and inevitably the behaviour repeats itself. This is a very common strategy in many workplaces.
After our frustration with a person has reached a certain level and we remember the pinches days later, our behaviour often changes toward that person. We begin to be hesitant or more aggressive in the other party’s company. We are on the lookout for the behaviour to repeat itself. Our initial responses are often subtle and not always obvious even to ourselves. We may respond to the other person’s email in a less timely way or delay in responding to work that affects them.We may become quieter in the other person’s company, withholding some of our ideas. We may become defensive in their presence as we look to protect ourselves. Not only the person who is the catalyst, but all others in the room can invariably feel this defensive energy. In fact, it will likely become a pinch for others.
Often we hold on to our hurt, nursing it, reliving the pinches in our mind, with our friends, and in our thoughts at night. We gather and accumulate our pinches. This thinking often results in feelings of victimization and growing resentment. Medical research says that living with these feelings will make us more vulnerable to disease.
When we have suffered long enough, many of us will say or do something out of character. We will snap back. This is what we call open conflict; everyone who hears the exchange would think that there is a fight.
If we do not identify the pinch, check in, and re-confirm our agreement, the pinch will likely repeat itself or stay “active” as unproductive energy and will leave us in a state of being destabilized: with feelings of insecurity, doubt, and concern. This is very dangerous for the collaborative relationship if the unmet expectation is not discussed and resolved.
When these negative feelings build up they will often come out in an unplanned and unconstructive way. It is harder to have a clarifying or problem-solving conversation after a crunch has occurred. The key is to be proactive and preventative rather than reactive. This requires a high level of self-awareness and preparation so that the surfacing of the pinch does not turn into a crunch conversation because we have not prepared properly.
A pinch is an opportunity to have an “expectation conversation.” Unfortunately, this is done far too seldom.