Conflict escalates because of how someone perceives and responds to your behavior. Controlling your behavior and consciously choosing your response can help you disrupt what the Mediation Training Institute (MTI) refers to as the Retaliatory Cycle. In this article we’ll look at how emotion regulation can also disrupt the Retaliatory Cycle.

The Retaliatory Cycle

MTI’s concept of the Retaliatory Cycle provides clear insight into how conflict escalates because of the way people perceive and respond to the behavior of others. It shows how a triggering behavior is first perceived by someone. This, in turn, generates an emotional response, typically anger. This anger then drives people to respond with one of the wrong responses – power-plays or walk-aways. These behaviors then trigger the other person and the cycle continues.

Behavior is Easiest Change

Dan Dana, who created the Retaliatory Cycle concept, generally recommends that the easiest place to disrupt the cycle is in the acting out phase, because it is easier to consciously choose better behaviors than it is to manage your emotions or change your perceptions.

Managing Emotions

There is also merit in learning to manage and regulate your emotions. A recent research article on emotion regulation and conflict suggests that by regulating emotions, teams are able to keep conflict from becoming destructive and to get better performance results. (1) While it can be challenging, working on improving your emotional intelligence and emotion regulation can help lessen the grip of the Retaliatory Cycle. A number of helpful techniques for managing conflict emotions can be found in Runde and Flanagan’s Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader (2nd ed.) 2012.

(1) Curseu, P. , Boros, S., and Oerlermans, L., “Task and Relationship conflict in short-term and long-term groups: The critical role of emotion regulation.” International Journal of Conflict Management. 2012, 23(1), 97-107.