A discussion on the challenges presented by fatigue and bias when dealing with difficult people
Being exposed to ongoing conflict is a stressful and emotive experience which most people will go to major lengths to avoid. This stress is magnified where the other person in the mix is a “high conflict” person. Essentially, the high conflict person thrives on being uncooperative, uncompromising and vexatious. Remaining in conflict often seems to add a sense of excitement and meaning to their life. It is often extremely difficult for a high conflict person to disengage from the conflict which often unwittingly traps the other party in a conflict cycle from which they can not escape.
Irrespective of the drive and motivation of the other party, it is always advisable for a party trapped in a conflict cycle to be alert to the role that their own fatigue and bias may be playing in keeping the conflict alive.
THE PROBLEM OF FATIGUE
Fatigue and tiredness keeps conflict in circulation. Tired people lose their ability to control what comes out of their mouths. Tired people are less able to filter out negative and vexatious discussions and responses.
It is critical that one is never be afraid to call for time-out or a strife-break in such situations. Experience teaches that not every issue needs to be immediately discussed. Many issues can wait over to the next day.
THE PROBLEM OF BIAS & ASSUMPTION
When dealing with difficult people it is essential to avoid thinking that is not based on truth or reality. If left unchecked, false beliefs and assumptions gain a life of their own. The same is true of biased or faulty reasoning. One needs to be alert to the possibility of wrong interpretation of the situation. Wrong interpretation of action or motive intensifies the cycle of conflict.
Exercise caution before challenging another about an assumed bias. Find out where your own bias may lie before discussing another’s bias.
If you believe that a person may be operating from a position of bias or false assumption gently point this out to them. Avoid assuming the moral high ground in such discussions. No-one is immune from bias, the test though is what a person does about their bias when it is brought to their attention. When discussing bias and faulty assumptions remain humble and avoid being seen to be combative or aggressive. Keep a check on your tone of voice. Give the person an opportunity to think about what you are saying, and to rectify it where relevant.
Never assume that you are free from bias, the very reason you may be taking issue on a point may be due to your own bias on the matter.
In conclusion, always tread carefully when exposed to a conflict situation with a high conflict person. Adopting a “bull in a china shop” approach to the problem serves little long-term purpose, and may only heighten the conflict. Wherever possible, take yourself out of the firing line. Detach yourself emotionally from the problem. Be cognisant of the fact that the conflict is probably not about you but about that person’s inner turmoil and chaos. Listen earnestly and attentively. Remain diplomatic but firm. Be alert to options for resolution of the problem. Work through a bias checklist and consider the possibility of your own bias. Be truthful to yourself about your own fatigue and the role it may be playing in keeping the dispute alive. Don’t engage in lengthy discussions as to what should have been said or done. Rather, watch and listen out for the other person’s expressed (and unexpressed) fears, concerns and pain. Reflect back to the person what you have heard them say about the issue and get confirmation as to your understanding of what they have said. Ask the person to put forward proposals for resolution and let them know that you will also do so. Give them a fair hearing on their proposals and remind them that you require the same. Try to work towards resolution of the problem, but if that is not possible then seek outside professional assistance.
Dont be hard on yourself if resolution is not achieved. The critical point is that an attempt was at the least made to bring the conflict issues to finality. You cannot control another’s outcome. You can only control yourself.