C.A.R.E. -- Managing Confrontation

Training Goal: To achieve a better understanding of personal and organizational approaches to working with a disruptive person.

Conflict is a component of living within community. It occurs in the interactions amongst members of cooperative systems such as family, friends, neighbors, roommates, workmates, and intimates. Sources of conflict can include a number of factors such as the possession of different resources or information, worldviews, expectations, lifestyle preferences, and primary values. Generally, most conflict can be resolved in ways that are productive and contribute to cooperation and enhanced understanding of self and others.

In some instances, however, a person(s) may become unwilling to engage in cooperative efforts to construct an agreement or conform to standards of community behavior. Frustration and anger may escalate to the point that a person becomes verbally abusive, threatens harm, and, in the most serious of cases, aggresses against others. Impairment from alcohol or other substances may further complicate an individualís abilities to respond reasonably to differences.

The following model (Acronym C.A.R.E.) is provided as a guideline for managing confrontation with an attitude of care, both for oneís self and others.

Center yourself -- Be aware of how you tend to respond to conflict with others

The physical response to threat....The Alarm Response of fight or flight is often activated when an individual perceives a potential for harm. The autonomic nervous system responds in ways to protect us. For example there may be increases in heart and breathing rates, shallow breathing, heightened awareness of our surrounding, perspiration, nervous stomach, dry mouth, shaky hands, difficulty with speech, and rapid thinking. It is important to remind yourself that these are normal responses to a perceived threat. Taking slow and deep breaths helps to decrease the intensity of these effects. Avoid tensing up muscles in the shoulders or abdominal area....Focus on staying relaxed.

Be familiar with your personal style of conflict engagement. Three prevalent patterns of conflict response are to: withdraw from interaction (i.e., by physically removing oneself or withholding participation in conversation), become verbally reactive and escalate emotionally as a means of self-defense, or attempt to construct rationale and more cohesive communication. Establish yourself so you can think clearly and avoid a compulsion to either withdraw prematurely or engage in verbal behaviors that may escalate the intensity of the situation.

Be aware of other circumstances that may affect your response to the situation. Factors that may contribute to poor judgment or behavior include physical fatigue, time of day and schedule of activities, presence of other persons, lack of perceived support, and the degree of decision making and authority in the situation. Be clear of your stress points.

Attend to your behaviors -- Be aware of your verbal and non verbal responses

Non verbal behaviors make up a great majority of our communication. Periodically take a deep breath....Focus on staying as relaxed as possible. Create and maintain a safe physical distance for yourself and the other person. Make no physical contact with the other person. Maintain an erect posture and keep good eye contact. Avoid quick movements that may be interpreted as aggressive (e.g., flailing of the hands, motioning to the head, stepping toward the other person). Remember that often the other personís anger is directed at your role (position as an authority or institutional representative) and not specifically you as a person. This is particularly the case when others are impaired from alcohol or other substances.

Verbal behaviors are important for both what is said and left unstated. Remember the other person(s) may or may not hear or understand in the same way as you. Take a deep breath periodically to relax and slow down your rate of speech. Keep a measured level and tone to your voice. Try not to drop off the ends of your statements. To reduce blaming statements, use "I or We" pronouns as much as possible. Avoid using the interrogative "Why" as it provokes defensiveness. Unless you know the individual(s), address him or her with a respectful and non-familiar title (e.g., Mr., Ms.).

Respect the problem --

Acknowledge the otherís feelings...Give positive feedback when s/he responds more calmly.

Prioritize your concerns...Focus on one aspect of the confrontation that can be addressed.

Try to provide one option for the individual to think through.

Consider the value in a "Time Out", a breather of several minutes for cooling off.

Be clear about what has to happen to reduce threats to safety and well being and what the consequences are if disruptive behavior continues. Provide a respectful and consistent message. Be aware of how to contact additional helping or law enforcement resources.

Make a good faith gesture by trying, where possible, to facilitate the needed change.

Expect and provide respect --

Address the other person(s) with respect -- Avoid retaliation when confronted with profane and abusive language. This often leads to an escalation of the confrontation and increases the potential for aggression.

While difficult, try to depersonalize hostile accusations that may be demeaning of your role, ethnicity, gender, race, personality, identity features, or beliefs. Take a deep breath and remind yourself this person(s) is not thinking straight. Avoid buying into their emotional world.

Avoid physical contact....Immediately remove yourself from any situation that is physically threatening. Contact your supervisor or on-call administrative resource. When the well being and safety of others are at risk, contact law enforcement for assistance.

Debrief the experience....Talk to a supervisor or other helping resource. Much can be gained from talking about an experience of confrontation. Remember, your health and self-esteem are important to the Division of Housing and University of Florida.

Wayne D. Griffin, Ph.D. 02/23/01