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Retaliation – What For?

“Nothing produces such odd results as trying to get even.” (Franklin P. Jones)

What does it mean to ‘get even’?  Simply defined – using the word retaliate – it is “to hurt someone or do something harmful to someone because they have done or said something to hurt you.”

I have noticed in my work as a conflict management coach that a tendency to retaliate is not an uncommon way for many when reacting to being offended. Over time, I have coached people who retaliate and coached clients on the receiving end of retaliation. It is, to me, a complex reaction that is likely rooted in, among other things, what people learn growing up about how to defend themselves. I am coming at this as a coach and conflict specialist and so, I’m basing information on my observations in that capacity and not delving into the possible psychological reasons to explain this way of managing conflict.

Why do people retaliate? Clients have shared a range of reasons about why they try to get even. The main general impetus – as in the above definition – has to do with getting back at someone for what they said or did to offend them. How we experience being offended – that spurs us on to retaliate – is subjective and the reasons endless. Whatever the offense and the degree to which it hurts, people who retaliate just want the person to ‘pay’ for doing so. What that means in terms of retaliatory deeds is equally as variable as what hurts us.

How do people retaliate? I have heard many ways about how people retaliate, too. Here are a few examples, also from the workplace context, of how people ‘get back’. It may be by not giving someone a promotion or opportunity, not letting someone talk in a meeting, ignoring and not including them in conversation, gossiping about them, telling lies about them, influencing others to push back their ideas and efforts, bullying, not giving good references, and so on. Again, there is an endless list of retaliatory actions.

This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog asks you to consider the questions below if you are someone who tends to get back at someone who offends you. Understanding the motivation is helpful to be able to make a shift in that approach if you realize that it is an unproductive response.

  • What is one example of a situation when you got back or tried to get back at someone?
  • What motivated you to do so?
  • Why is that important to you (your answer to the above question)?
  • How might you describe the feelings you were experiencing about the other person before you retaliated?
  • How did your efforts – to get back – succeed?
  • How did that feel for you to get back at that person?
  • What was the impact on the other person?
  • How did the other person respond to you?
  • If your efforts to get back at the person didn’t succeed what happened? What was the learning in this?
  • What doesn’t work for you about choosing retaliation as a way of managing situations such as you described in this situation? What options might be more productive?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?

#conflict management

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