Pinch Model: Mapping the Problem of Aligning Expectations and Assumptions
Research fact–Planned Renegotiation and the Pinch Model developed by John J. Sherwood and John C. Glidewell (1973, 1975) is based on the premise that relationships in a social system—a pair, a group, an organization, or a community—seldom proceed smoothly or as planned or expected. The model describes how social systems are established, become stabilized and aligned so that work can get done and how change can enter the system. When these expectations are disrupted it is called a “pinch” and if not resolved to the satisfaction of both parties can lead to uncomfortable and unproductive relationships and even interpersonal “crunches”, like termination of the relationship.
1. Stability and Productivity: This is the period where things are going as we and ours expected they would. This situation is often seen as a period of personal productivity and alignment.
2. Pinch: A pinch is something that is done or not done, that violates one of our expectations/assumptions. Pinches are private. We feel them though the one who caused the pinch may not be aware that we are disappointed or have been offended.
3. Broken promises at the heart of “Disruption of Expectations”: By not acting, we may come to doubt our initial judgment of a situation. We are not sure if we can trust our operating expectations and assumptions because we have been disappointed already. Tension and stress builds as our situation becomes increasingly unpredictable.
4. Crunch: A crunch is open conflict. Both parties are now aware that there is a problem. However, if I have been suffering silently, my crunch may be my partner’s pinch.
Crunch Management Options
Silent Ending: This is where one party terminates the relationship after the fight without any further communication. They just cut you loose and never want to talk or see you again. They abandon or shun you…
Re-Commitment: This is where we smooth things over and play nice (kiss and make-up) with each other, with the hope that the relationship will return quickly to stability and productivity. The pinch, however, remains private and unresolved. It is bound to re-appear under stress or difficult times.
Lower Expectations: By lowering our expectations and just “putting in time,” people hope to reduce the number of pinches and crunches that they are experiencing with each other. Eventually, this can lead to apathy, cynicism and superficial interactions.
Re-Negotiation: By engaging in a difficult, honest conversation after a crunch, information can be gathered, expectations and assumptions clarified and parties can either renew their commitment to their relationship or agree to disagree and explore the final option of a planned and/or agreed upon ending/transition to the relationship.
Common Ways of Dealing with Pinches
1) Let it Go
There is a Congo proverb that says, “It is best to let an offense repeat itself three times. The first may be an accident, the second a mistake. Only the third is likely to be intentional.” Many of us are living examples of this proverb, especially with the small ‘pinches’ we experience in our lives.
2) Complain to someone else
Once the ‘pinch’ has been repeated (or is really significant the first time), we often look for someone with whom we can share our experience. Our motivation for doing this is often positive. We want to release our frustration to someone else, or we are unsure if we have a legitimate reason for being frustrated. The problem is that our search for clarity often stops here and inevitably the behaviour repeats itself. This is a very common strategy in Canadian workplaces.
3) ‘Pinch’ back
After our frustration has reached a certain level and the ‘pinch’ is being remembered days later, our behaviour often changes toward that person. We begin to be hesitant or more aggressive in their company. We are on the lookout for the behaviour to repeat itself. Our initial responses are often very subtle and are not always obvious even to ourselves. We may respond to the other person’s email in a less timely way or delay in responding to work that affects them. We may become quieter in the other person’s company, withholding some of our ideas. We may become defensive in their presence as we look to protect ourselves. Not only the person who is the catalyst, but all others in the room, can invariably feel this defensive energy. In fact, it will likely become a ‘pinch’ for others.
4) Hold on to it
Often we hold on to our hurt, nursing it, reliving our ‘pinches’ in our mind, with our friends, during the day and in our thoughts at night. This thinking often results in feelings of victimization and growing resentment. Medical research says that living with these feelings will increase our stress levels and make us more vulnerable to disease.
5) ‘Crunch’ back
When we have suffered long enough, many of us will say or do something out of character. We will snap back. This is what we call open conflict; everyone who hears the exchange would believe that there is a fight.
6) Talk about it. Constructive dialogue to discuss and seek understanding about missed expectations.
A ‘pinch’ is an opportunity to have an ‘expectation conversation.’ to resolve differences and gain understanding so that the relationship can move forward in a healthy and constructive way. Unfortunately this is done far too seldom.
*Adapted and re-visioned from http://korcos.wikispaces.com/file/view/Pinch+Crunch.pdf