We tend to consider perseverance as a virtue, it is a value that our society exalts. However, persevering is not always positive. There is a time to persevere and a time to abandon. People afflicted by the “Woodpecker Syndrome” do not know exactly when the time has come to stop and settle an issue, so they continue to insist.
What is the Woodpecker Syndrome?
The Woodpecker Syndrome is the tendency to persevere in an idea, although this does not lead to constructive dialogue, according to the psychologist Nadia Persun of the University of Chicago. It manifests itself when a person is not willing to give his arm to twist, which leads to a loop of toxic discussions in which the same arguments are repeated over and over again, without any breakthrough.
This communicative style ends up generating a toxic cycle in which nobody wins. Ideas are repeated ad infinitum. Nothing is resolved. The problem continues to grow and the relationship deteriorates more and more. As a result, the people involved end up exhausted and move away.
How to detect the Woodpecker Syndrome?
1. The stubborn person clings to his argument, as if his life were in it.
2. Do not accept reasons or assume evidence against his approach, even if it shows that he is wrong.
3. The person repeats the same argument over and over again, as if it were a woodpecker, piercing the skull of his interlocutor, hoping that his ideas will make their way.
4. The person does not give up, so he takes the slightest opportunity to bring to light his recurring theme.
5. It decreases the sensitivity towards the other, so that the connection is lost as well as the possibility of adaptively structuring the discourse according to the interlocutor’s responses.
The truth is that “A mixture of distorted good intentions and self-righteousness, loaded with anger and repetition, does not produce a healthy way of communicating. Woodpeckers are persistent, critical and insistent in their view. They are prone to blame, they do not listen and repeat with enthusiasm the same argument because their goal is not to communicate, but to win at all costs, which leads to compromising trust and losing any hope of connecting and really listening to each other”, as Persun pointed out.
How do people feel when attacked by a “woodpecker”?
People who must deal with someone suffering from the Woodpecker Syndrome often feel extremely frustrated. First they try to find all kinds of arguments to explain their point of view, but when they realize that it is useless, they usually end up disconnecting emotionally, wielding the shield of silence and indifference.
These people often feel trapped in a dead end, so they can also develop a learned helplessness. They simply give up and, to avoid conflicts, they give in to the other’s argument, even if they don’t really agree and it’s not even a good idea.
How to avoid the Woodpecker Syndrome?
Everyone, on occasion, can behave like “woodpeckers.” We behave like this when we get too attached to our ideas and the desire to win over dialogue prevails. To deactivate this “mode” we need to realize that the most important thing is to reach a solution, prioritize understanding. When we prioritize the solution over the discussion, we can go much further and be more willing to accept good ideas, wherever they come from.
We must also bear in mind that sometimes, to move forward, we need to go back. If a person is too stubborn to move forward in the dialogue, it will be better to stop. Sometimes, when the argument is not important, it is also not essential to be right. Sometimes it is better to choose the relationship rather than being right.
Persun, N. (2018) How Not to Talk to (or Argue with) Your Spouse. In: PsychCentral.