In the text, the authors state, “collusion occurs when two or more people ‘agree’ subconsciously to ignore or deny some existing state of affairs or situation” (p. 44). This is somewhat different than another definition of collusion from the investments industry (where collusion signifies insider trading between parties, which is illegal and immoral). In our “conflict” definition of collusion, we are signifying a state of affairs where people do not recognize a reality that is readily apparent to other people. This can take an unlimited amount of forms. For example, in a family setting, the larger family may “subconsciously agree” to avoid discussing or helping another family member with a substance abuse problem. In a workplace setting, a top-performing employee may have an infectiously negative attitude and regularly degrade co-workers through verbal aggressiveness. In these scenarios, the reality that is obvious is overlooked because it is either perceived as “easier” to ignore the real problem or because of power or status issues. When collusion occurs, a conflict (which may have begun as a relatively minor issue) can grow into a “life of its own”. The conflict then becomes part of a person’s identity and is continued subconsciously to benefit that identity. So for instance, the negative and verbally aggressive co-worker may develop some type of “accepted identity”. For example, people may say, “oh, that is Pat just being Pat”. This type of identity is then used to hide away the problem that is subconsciously avoided.
Staw, Sandelands, and Dutton's threat-rigidity cycle is explored in the text on pp. 66-70. The cycle works in this order. First, when individuals feel threatened, they experience and increase in stress and anxiety. Second, this increased stress and anxiety fosters emotional reactions like fear, anger, and physiological arousal. Third, these emotional reactions result in restricted information processing (i.e., an inability to view the situation at hand in a composed manner) and constriction of behavior (i.e., we are unable to process a full range of appropriate behaviors mentally due to our emotions taking over). As we discussed in Chapter 2, we are essentially “flooded” with emotion, often leading to some type of knee-jerk reaction that in turn leads us to rely on our hastily made (and often incorrect) attributions. Now, the threat-rigidity cycle can take two different routes. First, if habitual responses (e.g., verbally attacking the other person, avoiding the situation, stonewalling in silence, etc.) do happen to be appropriate, the results will be positive and we are more prone to rely on this habitual response in the future. Conversely, if the habitual response is inappropriate, the situation will consequently worsen and the perception of threat, stress, and anxiety cycles back all over again (i.e., we return to the first stage, thus the “cycle”). Because the threat-rigidity cycle underscores our tendency to fall back on habitual responses and attributions when confronted with a threatening situation we do consider these as “trained incapacities” (see pp. 68-69). Trained incapacities are important because we become so well trained (subconsciously) in our knee-jerk reactions that we believe we understand what is coming next in the conflict. Human beings famously believe that we can “predict” others behavior, but in reality, we are really bad at it. So what happens is that we become “blind” to the nuances of a particular conflict situation (often due to the emotional flooding cited above) and then rely on our “standard reaction” (i.e., our trained incapacity) that we apply it whenever we are upset. This makes trained incapacities hard to detect, and in turn makes trained incapacities a very important aspect of behavior to understand, both for ourselves and for others.
The confrontation episodes theory outlined on pp. 29-31 is a good guide in...
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