Knudsen, Karen


The vicious circle model An illuminating communication model according to Schulz von Thun

An enlightening communication model according to Schulz von Thun

Perhaps you as a parent have often thought "If my child would finally change his behavior, I would also be willing to stop being so strict with him, or to reward him accordingly". However, your child may not change his behavior, because he thinks that he will only be punished anyway and will never be able to do anything right.

The employee believes that the boss must first praise him and appreciate his past performance, so that he will deliver top performances in the future or work overtime. The boss thinks that this employee is only doing duty according to the regulations, becomes suspicious and sharply criticizes him in the next employee appraisal.

The wife would like more evenings together with her husband, but he prefers the skate evenings with "his boys" in the favorite pub, because she always nags about him so terribly anyway. So she makes an offended face when he comes home late and punishes him with disrespect. Then he thinks to himself: "It's a good thing that I didn't have to endure this face all evening".

Surely you too have been in a vicious circle before. Surely almost everyone knows this expression, which stands for moving in a hopeless negative spiral.

The vicious circle model intensively illuminates the behavior of person A and the resulting feeling for person B. Person B will behave accordingly again due to his feeling and this in turn generates certain feelings and behavior in person A. The circle is closed, the spiral runs down from now on, the vicious circle is perfect. In the worst case, he aggravates himself in such a way that the behavior and feelings of the two solidify (frozen feelings),worsen and soon either the shreds fly and it leads to the icy silence or to separation.

"Typically, there is no beginning and no end, and both people experience themselves "only" as reacting to the behavior of the other".1

"Typical of a vicious circle is that both sides see themselves as victims. Everyone believes that he is merely reacting to "misconduct" on the part of the other side".2

In a coaching, one's own behavior, as well as the behavior and feelings of the person with whom one has difficulties, is analyzed and fixed in writing. Just by recording, you suddenly also see your own share, can accept it, gain a distance from it and, in the best case, have now gained a new freedom of choice. Another advantage is that you develop an understanding of your counterpart by also looking at the feelings of the other. You can also look at the behavior of the other person from new angles: so the "do not greet" does not automatically mean that the colleague does not like you, but maybe he is just completely in thought.

Now, in coaching, the client develops new opportunities to step out of the vicious circle and be the first to actively develop a new behavior. He can imagine how his counterpart will feel comfortable and react to the new behavior and can develop alternatives if it does not lead to the desired result.

Let's look again at the example of the married couple, which the renowned communication psychologist Paul Watzlawick already used, under the magnifying glass of the vicious circle model according to Schulz von Thun and examine their relationship dynamics according to "Innerung(feeling) and Ausstellung (behavior)". (Wife: A, Husband: B)

Utterance of B: goes to play skat from this follows Innerung of A: offended, offended, hurt from this results Utterance of A: taciturn, reproachful, disapproving from this follows Innerung of B: feels unfairly treated, misunderstood, repelled, angry from this follows utterance of B: goes to play skat more often, avoids the evenings with the woman, closes himself, distances himself internally.

This would be a first vicious cycle, this could now be sent to a second, third and fourth round and it quickly becomes clear that the house blessing would get into more and more trouble, until eventually the woman threatens with divorce…

If the husband had come into the coaching with this topic, he would have been able to empathize more with his wife and now, for example, as a test, he would have been the first to change his behavior: he would have stayed at home one evening, although his wife still looks sour, might have brought her flowers and asked her how she would like to spend the evening with him…

Now the wife is positively surprised, calmed down and feels valued again after a long time. Suddenly she smiles again and that feels good for the husband now, he is enthusiastic about his investment in his new behavior and is now thinking about doing this more often. The pair is now moving towards a positive spiral.

What reads so simply, crystal clear and humorous here is thanks to this communication model. Because in reality, in everyday life, it is rarely so clear to the actors, they may have been in "this trap" for years and no one is ready to change their behavior as long as the other…

Looking at our communication on a meta-level, the "knowledge about the dynamics and functions of vicious circles, as well as about the exit possibilities"3, expands our scope of action. The door of the vicious cycle opens and you can step out in amazement and actively and creatively shape your behavior.

1., 3. Schulz von Thun, the vicious circle model
2. Quote from communication psychologist Kathrin Zach in an interview of the magazine "Haysworld"