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Escalation is One of Five Harmful Communication Patterns
Escalation is one of the five most harmful communication patterns. The others are “Invalidation,” “Negative Interpretation,” “Withdrawal/Avoidance,” and the grandmother of them all “Mindreading.” For the purposes of this blog, “Escalation” is the focal topic for today.
Escalating happens inside our brains and starts with how you perceive another person’s words and actions. Perceptual filters are common for us all. We have been conditioned from childhood to distinguish between right and wrong, good and bad, and weak and strong. To learn ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ is not bad. In fact, it is adaptive and useful. No civilized, decent person spits on another individual as she walks towards you on a sidewalk or steals from a home or hotel room just because a door is open.
Significantly, these right-wrong, good-bad, weak-strong filters become a problem in our relationships when they are hyper-vigilantly and inappropriately applied. Many of us do not realize we automatically and unconsciously filter exchanges with others in terms of who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong.’ We think of something we said or did as ‘bad’ or ‘good.’ We label another person as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ rather than finding out the intention behind a puzzling word or action.
Escalation happens when a perceived ‘violation’ gets clouded, upping the ante so that one issue leads to another and another. For example, the husband who leaves the cap off the toothpaste gets judged by his wife as ‘uncaring,’ and ‘careless.’ Climactically, their conversation spirals out of control, escalating quickly to ten other issues. Another instance involves Jim and Hal, two hard-working business colleagues. Jim does not get a proposal in on time. Banter back and forth intensifies with harsh words and accusations, enlarging to the point that each declares the other as ‘not be trusted.’ Escalation, in these two examples happens externally in a conversation between two individuals.
Hence, attacking statements and insults to another’s identity are typically part of this pattern. Damaging comments, once made may be “hard to take back,” and require skilled communication to re-establish a healthy working relationship. Not only can escalation be heard externally in conversations, it can stay confined to a person’s mind. Please note that a person can escalate inside their head and never say a word to the offending party. When this happens overanalyzing, obsessing, withdrawing, avoiding, holding a ‘grudge’ and living with an unquestioned offense are typical by-products. Conversational escalation and internal escalation are both unhealthy and must be changed if we are to experience love, family and productive work.
When we change ourselves and add-in new thinking and communication skills, those persons with whom we interact will respond differently. I guarantee it. Here are five clues that you are using a ‘right-wrong’ filter and doing escalation:
1. you wonder after an argument….“what happened?”
2. you make comments you later regret.
3. you don’t have a productive day or are unable to sleep because of going over and over what was said or done.
4.when you talk to a friend or family member about ‘the upsetting situation’ you go around and around in circles.
5. you hear yourself insisting you are ‘right’ and that they are ‘bad’ or ‘wrong.’
© Copyright 2013 by Denise Budden-Potts, therapist in San Marcos, California . All rights reserved.