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<xTITLE>Self-Control and Conflict</xTITLE>

Self-Control and Conflict

by John Willis
October 2004 John Willis
The subject today is the role of self-control, or its absence, in conflict situations. Since this column is addressed to individuals, as well as businesses, schools, and other organizations, let us first think about personal applications.

Individuals who possess self-control are rich, and have real power. When faced with conflict, these persons stop, think, weigh potential consequences, make a plan, and then speak and act. They wait to let their emotions cool from their “temporary insanity” brought on by fear, anger, or revenge. People with self-control have less conflict, or handle better the conflicts they face. Their energy, time, blood pressure, even money, are saved because they are willing to stop, gain perspective, objectivity, and the opportunity NOT to make fools of themselves, or of needlessly harming others. While even self-controlled people have personal illnesses, family or financial crises--which create irritability, impatience, unjustified anger, and sharp words--they have the capacity to see those temporary effects and to say, “I’m sorry for my behavior.”

Persons without self-control often hurt themselves, and others, through impulsiveness and reactions. Most of us have NOT stopped, thought, weighed, planned, and then spoken or taken action. Most of us have harmed ourselves, loved ones, friends, coworkers, and neighbors because we allowed our emotions to overrule our brains. “Open-mouth-insert-foot.” Many of us bear, or have inflicted, the wounds of hasty words or deeds. The most out-of-control persons have reputations as troublemakers, hotheads, to be avoided, even dangerous.

Self-control, or its absence, affects business relationships and outcomes in conflict situations. When someone believes or has been harmed in business, self-control can be more valuable than a full bank account to pay attorney fees. What different results are obtained between a calm tone and confrontational attitude, between listening and alleging, between questioning and assuming. Yet the bankruptcy rolls, prisons, hospitals, and litigation lines, are filled with people out of control. Lives and livelihoods, health and happiness, reputations and financial security, often are put at risk, all because someone believed getting even is better than keeping control and moving ahead.

Self-control can be captured and cultivated. Business and organizational professionals embroiled in litigation, disciplinary actions, terminations, divorces, business disputes, and negative publicity, can exercise and benefit from new applications of self-control. Regaining control of a situation out-of-control requires great self-control. Think about that with the conflicts you face today. JDW


John D. Willis, PhD is an expert in conflict dynamics and drivers, psychological and social; a practitioner in EEO grievances and conciliation; and, consultant to executives on conflict and ethics.  John earned his PhD from the University of Chicago, with concentration on the motives and justifications of the religious wars in the 16th century.  During his tenure at the Commonwealth of Kentucky 's Commission on Human Rights, he excelled in conciliations of employment and public accommodations EEO cases.  He is a member of several ethics panels providing oversight and compliance for professional standards of conduct in the U.S.  He is President of Leadership Ethics Online, LLC.

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