Working for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department means you have no choice but to deal with people, not to mention everyone you know in your personal life. Because we have relationships, conflicts are bound to be part of our lives. Tell me if this sounds familiar: You get into an argument and nothing is accomplished, having spent most of your energy reacting to the other person’s reactions. In the end, the problem goes unsolved. Frankly, I’d be surprised if anyone said they had no idea what I’m talking about with this example. We’ve all been there at one time or another. Now ask yourself these questions: 1.) How do I often end up in this situation? 2.) Do I want a different experience?
If you answered something like “too often” and “yes,” please know you’re not alone. The truth of the matter is, people naturally tend to handle relationship problems poorly. After all, handling problems badly doesn’t require any thought, training or practice. The good news? We can change our experiences with conflict by changing the way we handle them.
Here’s the thing, the alternative to bad conflict isn’t no conflict, it’s good conflict. This might be surprising, but engaging in good conflict still includes arguing. The difference is that it also includes working through the problem. When we engage in good conflict, we create a situation in which we’re able to settle things and move past them. We interact and work well with others despite our differences. What we don’t do is fall back into our bad habits no matter how much the other person tries to pull us back with the things they say and/or do.
So what kind of change are we talking about? Well, good conflict requires the use of our “reason muscles” that enable us to do the right thing with the wrongness. Without them, we can’t escape the conflict trap or solve the problems that are causing the conflicts in the first place. So let’s look at the five “reason muscles” that need strengthening and use them in order to gain conflict proficiency.
• Humility: The ability to acknowledge the possibility that you’re wrong. Using this muscle allows us to be open to the possibility that we could be wrong. Notice this isn’t stating we are wrong, just that it’s possible. Using the humility muscle allows us to take the position, “I could be wrong and you could be right, so let’s talk.” Doing this not only helps strengthen our ability to do it, but also allows everyone to stop being defensive and to engage in conversation.
• Awareness: The ability to step back and see our blind spots so we can see our good and bad parts, as well as address whatever needs addressing. While humility enables us to acknowledge the possibility of us being wrong, awareness enables us to recognize when we actually are wrong. As you likely already know, you can’t change something until you know it exists.
• Responsibility: The ability to be bothered once you’re aware of the fact that you are/were wrong. This is sometimes referred to as having a conscience. We see our bad parts, they bother us and then we accept responsibility for them. This doesn’t mean taking 100 percent of the responsibility for the conflict (unless that’s actually appropriate). It does, however, mean we take 100 percent responsibility for our contribution to the conflict. Like awareness, this too is essential for change.
• Empathy: The ability to try to understand the other person, considering the impact of our words and actions, and allowing that understanding to drive our behavior. With empathy, it bothers us if we say or do something that causes another person pain.
• Reliability: The ability to correct ourselves. A reliable person observes his/her flaws, is bothered by them and makes the decision to correct them. The stance here is, “When I’m wrong, I’ll not only acknowledge it, but I’ll change.” Reliability means that actions follow statements of intent and that what we do is consistent with what we say. When people are reliable, it provides hope and encouragement that things not only can, but will, change. Reliability further offers hope that problems can be forgotten and trust can be developed.
Again, no one does this naturally. It’s learned behavior. The good news is, this means that we can all learn it. If you’re tired of nothing being solved when you argue or being stuck in a situation where the past keeps coming up again and again, know that there is another option. You can learn more about how to build or use these “reason muscles” to help you increase your conflict proficiency, as well as other ways to engage in healthy conflict. If you’re interested in learning more, contact the Psychological Services Bureau at (213) 738-3500 to schedule a confidential appointment. To obtain additional information about the services we offer, visit our page on the intranet at http://intranet/intranet/ESS/Index.htm.