People practice communication every minute of every day. If its non-verbal, verbal, or even with technology. How individuals communicate with others around them is completely on that individual alone. Yes, there are other variables and factors that come into play, but the pace and only oneself controls interactions of one, not by others around them. This concept will be explained by using personal examples, scholarly sources, and interviews with peers and fellow employees. Conflict can happen at any time during any situation. An individual could be joking with another person and take it to far and not even realize and then start a conflict. Looking at someone with a sarcastic expression could flip a switch with someone and cause a conflicting situation. How people handle these moments varies immensely, either takes is offensively or just rolling with it. Working in many different fields over the course of two years has opened my eyes to this idea. Working in sales and understanding needs assessment and how a customer responds to bad news or news that does not favor their wishes and learning how to overcome those moments. Working in the trades doing construction and knowing how to handle situations with fellow employees and mother nature on jobs sites has taught me to empathize and be more patient. Finally, currently working at a facility as a correctional officer has taught me that the slightest thing one can say, that in all actuality is a very small thing in the outside world, could be upsetting and turn threatening in the prison system. I believe that you and only you can control conflict and can defuse any conflicting situation. Actions and how one interacts determines the outcome of a bad situation worsening or becoming better. This paper will talk about five major points regarding conflict; Why does conflict occur? The positive and negative effects of conflict, role of personality types in conflict management, communication techniques, and climate in a conflicting situation.
Why does conflict occur? In my own words, I would say it occurs due to pride when it comes to human vs. human interaction. But according to Laurie Weingart, conflict is; “A situation where people are opposed to one another, advocating for different outcomes” (Thomas, 1992, Weingart, 2015). In an article by Weingart titled, The Directness and Oppositional Intensity of Conflict Expression, the discussion was about conflict in the work place and how understanding conflict can show us new effects conflict has on people. They also talk about how people react and choose to either escalate or de-escalate conflict and how the vibrant effect conflict can influence people in those challenging times. Weingart gets it right when she describes conflict. Two sides and one side is either on the offensive or defensive side, trying to get the upper hand in the end result when it comes to the outcome of the situation. Offenders vs Officers is a great example of a type of conflict when it comes to rules and regulations. Offenders feel that their prison cell is their home, yes it is, but they also feel that also means they treat their cell house (example; housing can hold 448 inmates) as they would their own homes, dirty, pack rats, unsanitary, and at times grossly unlivable. Officers who handle situations like this look at this situation and can agree, yet disagree at the same time. Yes, the inmate is living in their cell but they must maintain a clean cell for the whole house to keep the spread of disease, sickness, and other forms of spreadable bacteria from affecting fellow offenders and other officers. Some officers might even go as far as saying that you have no rights to privacy while incarcerated, thus the notion of saying that a cell is their home is invalid for the inmates to feel. This is one of many possible conflicts beginnings that happen in prisons with both officers and inmates, but the situation shows a form of conflict in which Weingart talks about. Two sides, two different oppositions, trying to get their points across to one another, thus conflict arises from both parties.
The following scenario will be used throughout the course of this paper as a “base example” to go off from and explain by using personal reasoning along with scholarly sources and definitions.
The other day I noticed an inmate walking around during their dayroom hour and a half designated time slot. He was passing things through cells to and from, along with not wearing appropriate attire. I approached him, with the full intent of locking him up in his cell as punishment regardless of what he said. My mind was that he knew he was breaking rules and risked that by continuing to break them in front of other offenders and officers, thus creating the notion to the other offenders that the rules really aren’t that major in reference to passing things too and from cells and dressing correctly during dayroom hours. My mind was made up before I approached the individual due to him being a past offender on the established rules within the facility. I had my arms out with a look of seriousness and confusion; “What are you doing? Why are you not following dayroom rules with your attire and why have I been watching you pass books, food, and magazines from four different cells?” The inmate looked at me and with a raise of his shoulders and the rolls of his eyes I knew he could careless of the rules and wanted all the other offenders to take notice of how he doesn’t care about the current authority. I continued to walk to him raising my voice slightly louder, “I asked you a simple question, looks like you would rather lock up and be put on day room restriction…” on that he turned around and faced me. “Based on what authority? You cant just restrict me from day room!” I knew I had the his attention and he knew that all the other inmates started listening in. For the record, I do/did have that authority to restrict him from dayroom or yard/gym time for that matter, but this young 23 year old thought otherwise. We had a discussion and I informed him either he locks up for me or he gets a ticket AND locks up in his cell. The offender looked at me, smiled turned to serious face bent down, took off his shower shoes put on his shoes raised back up with a step forward and said. “Well CO, if I’m going to lock up, I might as well lock up for a real reason and with a bang…” instantly I knew this could end up horrible if I didn’t act quickly in defusing the situation. All 111 inmates in that wing stopped talking on the phones, stopped their card games, stopped showering, stopped watching TV and watched to see what the next move was going to be. I wasn’t for sure if something would go down if some inmates would come to my aid or get another officer/s or would they join in on the fighting and possibly send me to the hospital. I locked eyes with the offender who just threatened me and said. “You could very well do that, but you know that within an hour you will be in segregation, transported to a max security prison like Pontiac, Manard, or even Stateville in their segregation where offenders and officers treat you 100x worse then you are treated here along with less freedom you will have their then you have here…” I made it obvious I had my hand on red security button on my radio, he looked down saw me bring my radio up to my mouth ready to call for back up and turned around while saying “I’m just going to go lock up…” “Good choice.” I replied. About an hour later I went to his cell and had him come to an interview room and talked with him, after we both cooled down from our previous encounter. I started off by stating I was sorry I came off abrasive and asked him how I might have handled things differently. He was shocked by this approached and instantly responded with an apology of his own for threatening me and for putting on a show. We acknowledge our actions and how we both could have approached the situation differently. He was shocked that an officer, would ask for an apology from him, an offender.
In the above example one can find both positive and negative techniques used and see possible outcomes that could have ended this situation differently. An interesting way to look at this scenario is that, according to Todorova and Weingart wrote an article regarding how conflict could actually be energizing for some individuals. A Study of Task conflict, positive emotions and job satisfaction found in the Journal of Applied Psychology introduces the idea that people find energy from a conflicting situation. So looking at the above example it could be argued that either offender or officer both found something energetic about the conflict that took place in that wing, something almost like adrenaline and they both enjoyed it? or perhaps they both knew that all eyes were on each of them and that whoever came out “victorious” in the end in front of the other inmates was the more dominate individual. To think that would more then likely be most accurate in this scenario. One of the major key understanding ideas in prison that one needs to understand is the presence of dominance and winning and losing. For most outside of this environment that’s a very childish way of thought, but if further looked at and experienced it’s better understood. Negatively, this conflict, after further thought about, started with the officer for his abrasive and hostile start in reference to tone that was used. This tone, as the inmate took from it (when in the interview room talking about the situation with the officer) instantly was insulted and felt disrespected, and disrespected in front of 111 other inmates. The officer could have gotten seriously hurt not by one offender but by a total of 112, all by simply using the wrong tone. This is the negative effect on communication. Now looked at on the positive side. Both offender and officer learned what not to do/say in future relating situations. Both took the importance of tone and nonverbal tone, like when the inmate put on shoes and stepped forward to the officer.
Personality is very important when it comes to communication management and plays a huge role in conflicting situations. The officer in the above example has a very dry sense of humor and has very sarcastic jokes with both officers and inmates daily. Some might look at it and say “awww that’s just so-and-so, he is a easy officer to get along with, just don’t get on his bad side…” some could very well be confused by this and might all this inconsistent with the normal actions of the officer. Point is, personalities, for example the officers in the story above, could end up causing confusion and by doing that, causing conflict, regardless if rules are broken by the inmates.
In the end, both offender and officer used great communication techniques when it came to understanding each others actions. The officer acknowledged his mistreatment and listen to constructive criticism from the inmate rather then believing the majority of the conflict came from the offender. The offender listened to the officers point of view when it came to rules and guidelines that both him and the offender have to follow on a daily basis in the facility. The officer knows inmates will do inmate things while the inmates acknowledges that officers can and do at times truly don’t intend to handle situations in a negative form. Listening and understanding the opposing side in any situation is educational for both parties. It teaches individuals how, in this situation, they could have approached each other differently and more respectfully by understanding the thought process each party had/has.
The climate in a prison is already a sad, hostile and at times depressing one, along with being an angry one for some. Throw in the above situation and anything could happen to either an offender or an officer. Understanding that inmates don’t get to walk out anytime like officers can at the end of a shift is critical. Understanding that if somethings happens to an officers spouse they can leave for emergencies, if something happens to an offenders spouse or loved one they can’t. Birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years, and Anniversaries, all create both a sad and hostile atmosphere. Just the other day, in inmate was visiting with his wife, who just informed him that her cancer has returned. The same day another inmate was sitting with his wife and two daughters along with their newborn son, the offender cried because he missed the birth and one of his daughters birthdays. Both of these very true and sad situations happen everyday for both male and female prisoners. How they handle themselves after the visit could be unpredictable.
How one handles situations is soley on them, an individual chooses their actions regardless of the horrible variables that come into play. An inmates choses to react based off what an officer said. An officer choses to mistreat an inmate due to the fact that a ticket that was previously written on the offender gets thrown out and nothing is done about it retaliates due to the decision. An officer finds out that his wife or her husband has cheated on them, goes in and mistreats everyone including both fellow officers and inmates due to their misfortune How about an inmate finding out his wife has cancer again and while walking back to his cell house he attacks an officer. Everyone has that “F*** it” moment. I have, and every time I have to think, “calm down, everything will be ok.”
Conflict is around us everyday, our tone we use and master daily, our choices we make every day affect our days and at times months or years down the road. After looking at sources and reading the articles I still stand by the idea that we control our actions, Every. Single. Time. Regardless of the hardships we might face throughout life. It’s how we choose to overcome, settle, avoid, the actions laid out before us.
January 11, 2016
Crawley, E. (2002). Bringing It all Back Home? The Impact Of Prison Officers’ Work On Their Families. Probation Journal, 49(4), 277. Doi; 10.1177/026455050204900403
Goulston, M. (2015) How People Communicate during Conflict. Harvard Business Review. 93(6)., 22
Todorova, G., Bear, J. B., & Weingart, L. R. (2014). Can conflict be energizing? A study of task conflict, positive emotions, and job satisfaction. Journal of Applied Psychology, 99(3), 451-467. Doi; 10. 1037/a0035134
Weingart, L. R., Behfar, K. J., Bendersky, C., Todorova, G., & Jehn, K. A. (2015). The Directness and Oppositional intensity of Conflict Expression. Academy of Management Review. 40 (2)., 235262. Doi; 10.5465/amr.2013-0124