Workplace Conflict: Get Off The Merry-Go Round

I was recently interviewed about how managers and their employees can get off the Not-So-Merry Go Round of Confict.

The term Not-So-Merry-Go-Round of Confict was coined by Cinnie Noble, developer of the CINERGY® Conflict Management Coaching approach. I love the expression because it captures so aptly how we get stuck in conflicts in which both parties feel they are the innocent victim of the other party’s behaviour.

The Not-So-Merry-Go-Round is not just a catchy phrase but an insightful model revealing the emotional, mental and behavioural dynamics that underpin the escalation of conflict.

As I was describing the various stages of the cycle to the interviewer I realised that despite writing for years now on conflict I’ve never shared the model with you …. So I reckon it’s time to rectify that with one small caveat. As I began to write this post I realised that there is so much to say about the cycle, so we are going to have to approach it in stages. Here is the beginning of a three part series of posts on this wonderful framework for working with conflict.

The Precipitating Event

Most conflicts begin with an event. Consider these situations:

  • Your manager gives you performance feedback that challenges your view of your competence.
  • A colleague seems to focus more on the welfare of others than deadlines.
  • An organisational change is announced threatening your job security.
  • Your friend is late repaying a loan, leaving you tight for funds.
  • Something happens or somebody does something that trigger us.

Understanding Our Triggers

According to Noble we are triggered when we perceive that our needs, values or identity are being challenged. Note the word perceive. Our values, needs or identity may actually be at risk, or we may fear that they are. Conflict happens so viscerally that it triggers our survival instinct. Our brain and body don’t register the difference between a real and perceived event, so even the presumption of threat can be enough to start us off.

The thing about being triggered is that it tends to happen with lightning speed. We are caught out. We feel and respond to a level of disquiet or disturbance. Sometimes we know that a line has been crossed but don’t know what precisely has disturbed us or what part of us is most challenged.

Think about a recent conflict you’ve experienced or even a current conflict:

What was challenged?

Was it the need to be right, your fear or failure, your reliance on recognition or perhaps the need for security or approval?

At times the trigger is strong enough to set off an Amygdala Hijack. I described the fight and flight response of our primitive brains in some depth in my last post, suffice to say that we rarely think clearly once our survival instincts kick in.

Understanding what has triggered us, usually requires that we pull back from our anger, blame and sensitivity and THINK. We need to think about the situation in a way that actively puts us in the picture as a player in the unfolding drama. We need to pay attention not just to the external event but what it symbolises or means for us.

Consider a recent conflict of your own.

What did it represent or symbolise for you? …


Conflicts impact us, both in their formative phases and as they escalate.

What impact is your conflict situation having on you?

Understanding these impacts can help us manage or mitigate them. It can also enhance motivation to address the conflict.

In my next post I will continue the exploration of the Not-So-Merry-Go-Round of Conflict with an exploration of meaning making and how our thinking can go off the rails in conflict.

In the meantime why not visit our Conflict Management Self Coaching Guide

for more powerful questions to help you reflect on your conflict situation.

If you would like to train as a Conflict Management Coach please visit our new website.

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