Tackle the pinch, don’t wait for the crunch.

Imagine you’re in a meeting, and on more than one occasion, a colleague seemingly hijacks your ideas and raises them as their own. You might – quite rightly – feel irritated. In their book, Connect, authors David Bradford and Carole Robin identify this feeling as a ‘pinch’. Those little feelings of resentment, irritation or annoyance which arise as relationships grow and develop and people inevitably rub each other up the wrong way. 

Perhaps it’s the feeling you get when your partner leaves a wet towel on the bed, or when no one replaces the milk after using the last of it from the fridge. Maybe it’s the irritation you feel when you become aware that you are the only one who makes efforts to meet old friends or perhaps you’ve done someone a favour or shared something personal, and you don’t feel they have fully acknowledged you for it. 

Pinches are not major conflicts – some will pass – but others will get under your skin and have the capacity to turn into sizeable problems, otherwise known as a ‘crunch’.

We avoid resolving or raising pinches for several reasons, including: 

  • Being unwilling to raising concerns for fear of being thought of as thin-skinned or petty
  • Telling yourself it’s ‘not that big of a deal’ or ‘it’s not worth it’
  • Hesitating or holding back for fear of retaliation or because you believe the other person is fragile 

We also avoid raising pinches because we often assume that the person who has caused them ‘meant no harm’ and reason that if what they did or said wasn’t meant to bother you, then why should it bother you? 

When a pinch becomes a crunch 

If you frequently feel pinched by the same person – and make no effort to raise the problem – then these smaller issues tend to multiply and overlap – leading to a huge blow out about said milk or a towel – a ‘crunch’ which is often a proxy for the built-up annoyance around being treated like a scullery maid or because of perceived lack of appreciation. 

‘But they didn’t mean to bother me’…

If you’re avoiding bringing up a ‘pinch’ because you don’t think the person meant you any harm, then consider that this makes gently pointing out your issue easier, not harder. 

In Connect, this is outlined using the example of a male colleague (Steven) re-raising and taking credit for another colleague (Elena’s) ideas – ones which were previously overlooked or ignored. The authors note that if tackled directly post-meeting with a simple comment such as ‘thanks for picking up my ideas that got ignored in there Steven, I’d have really liked it if you had acknowledged I had raised them first’ then there’s a high chance Steven would be unaware of his actions, and might reply with ‘Oh, sorry, I didn’t realised I’d done that’, which could quickly be countered with a ‘I didn’t think you did”. The pinch has been acknowledged, and Steven will be more aware of his actions. 

People often say that they withhold critical feedback for the sake of others, out of kindness for their feelings, but it’s good to try and remember that there is a real difference between a person’s intent and the effects of their behaviour – if something bothers you, that is true in and of itself. Regardless of if they didn’t mean to offend. If the person you are annoyed with isn’t aware you are annoyed with them, then you’re effectively keeping them in the dark, which doesn’t help them or your relationship. 

Negative assumption stories – why pick up on pinches early? 

If in the example given by the book, Elena had chosen to keep quiet and Steven had continued to take credit for her ideas in subsequent meetings, then the number of pinches would grow.

Elena’s mild irritation would be exacerbated, and her comments to Steven would more than likely come out as an attack or triggering a fight. As a pinch grows into a crunch, we begin to create a negative story about the other person. Once we think negatively about someone, we selectively collect data that supports our negative feelings – and these narratives make it difficult to build a good relationship. 

The challenge is to have a conversation that resolves the issue and continues to build the relationship. This requires being able to give behaviourally specific feedback.

Responding to a pinch with humour

Many of us divert to some level of humour to confront people when we feel a pinch, but the trouble with humour is it is inherently ambiguous. You need to know how your humour will land with those around you. If you use humour, how will people know if you are truly annoyed or not? If they feel you have mocked them in a group, they may well feel shamed or ready to retaliate. Try for a direct conversation rather than humour unless you’re completely sure of how your comments will be taken.

Self-reflection

Think about pinches you have felt in your relationships with colleagues, family members and friends – how do you tend to respond? Do you…

  • Take it?
  • Brush it off?
  • Withdraw?
  • Look for moments to retaliate and pinch back?
  • Become upset? 

Think of a current pinch …

  • What has stopped you from raising it? 
  • How might you be able to approach that person and give behaviourally specific feedback that allows you to build and grow your relationship?

Application

  • If you identify a pinch, raise it
  • Become aware of the times you are pinched and consider with a little more intention which are worth letting go and which are worth discussing
  • Think about the action you might take
  • If you would usually turn to humour – consider your audience, will it land as you want it to? Would you be better having a direct conversation?

I think we can all recognise a pinch when we feel one – but hopefully this article will make you think a little more deeply about your responses and how talking things through early on is almost always better than letting pinches multiply and overlap. 

Andy.  

Agency Founders Surgery - free 1 to 1.

If you have something on your mind, a challenge you’re wrestling with or just want an alternative point of view, I’d be very happy to lend an ear and maybe help you start to unpick the issues.