Most people know the cliché/proverb -- prepare for "fight or flight" when they are confronted with an unexpected or fearful situation. A surge of adrenaline prepares the body for a quick, immediate response. If you round a pass in the woods and come face to face with a bear then those choices are probably good ones (pulling out a can of bear spray also hits a high mark). An oncoming avalanche probably gives you only one choice. There are even situations within the urban setting where the instinctual responses still may be good -- an unexpected car running a red light and across the crosswalk or a flower pot coming down from an upstairs window.
In modern life, the options of fight or flight are often not sufficient for the situations in which we find ourselves. For example, the situation of driving on the highways and within the streets of a city or a town -- this is prone to generating great stress. Someone cuts in front of you and forces you to go into defensive driving mode. Someone is in a car behind you, at an intersection, and starts honking. Does your adrenaline start moving through your body? Probably. Should you fight or prepare for flight? Not really an option.
Fight and flight don't work well while you are sitting surrounded with 4,000 pounds of metal and plastic -- the use of those options is often called "road rage" -- and that is not constructive. What can work? Nothing. Or, to put it more explicitly -- pause, calm, let it be. Sometimes, I find myself starting to replay scenarios in my mind. "They didn't see me when they moved over". "They can't see what I can see and they think the intersection is clear when it isn't." Perhaps, I may even reach the point of recognizing potential personal responsibility for the situation. "I may have been tailgating the person in front of me and I know the person behind me was tailgaiting and there might not have been enough space for them to safely merge."
My contemplation of the other person and the situation, of course, might not start off quite as constructive as what I listed above. I might start by thinking what an inept, inconsiderate, socially maladroit, ignorant person they are -- or whatever short version may happen to be your favorite. I have yet to meet a perfect driver -- or be able to be one. No one is always able to ignore distractions or be able to see 360 degrees around them at all times or to anticipate strange, illegal, or other types of unexpected actions from pedestrians and cars around them. This is sometimes hard to remember when the event is occurring.
What do you do when you are face-to-face with a person that gets your adrenaline surging? There are two variations on the situation. In the first, there is someone available to mediate -- a police officer, a neighbor, a store security officer, a manager. In the other, it is just you and the other person. The two situations are basically the same -- and almost identical if people are not willing to accept, or make use of, the potential mediator. This process is usually called "conflict resolution". The following principles are often considered to be part of conflict resolution (I add number 0 because I think it is often overlooked).
- 0. Pause. If you are confronting a situation or a scenario where it is not possible, or advisable, to directly work with another person, this may be your only possible initial response. There may be times when it is not necessary to have a reaction. Relax, pause, evaluate, let it be.
- 1. Listen to the Other Person Actively. Listening is not the same as hearing. (For the deaf, seeing is not the same as paying attention.) If you are preparing a response before hearing what they say, you are not listening. Take notes if you are concerned that you may miss a point you want to address. Be ready to echo things that you think you have heard -- they may not have meant that at all.
- 2 Think Before Reacting. Once you have listened and taken notes, it is time to think about what was said -- and what you believe you heard. Find out if what you heard is what they meant. Expand on areas in which you need more details.
- 3. Attack the Problem and Don't Attack the person. An easy trap for some to fall into but name calling doesn't help matters. It really means that you don't have a rational, logical response -- that is, they have won. Best outcome is that you both go forth from the situation as better acquaintances (maybe even friends) with the possibility of mutually solving matters about which you disagree. That cannot happen if you attack them.
- 4. Accept Responsibility. Blaming doesn't help. In a traffic accident where both vehicles are moving, it is rare for 100% of the responsibility to be with one person -- at the very least being more aware to make better defensive moves or better allowance for hazardous conditions. Assumptions often cause problems because each person looks at things from their own unique viewpoint and history.
- 5. Use "I" Statements. You don't know what they feel, or think, or meant. They are the only one who knows that -- and all feelings are appropriate for them. "I was angry when your car moved in front of me and I was scared I wouldn't have enough time to stop". "I felt angry and disrespected when you talked about the idea I had just mentioned to you before the meeting and you didn't tell anyone that I had the original idea." You know your own feelings and thoughts -- but you only know what is externally observable about the other person (and, even there, no one is omniscient).
- 6. Look for What is in Common. Is there something that you can agree on with the other person? Even if it is not all you would like, it may be a beginning from which you can do more later. Concentrating on differences is not likely to help. Everyone is different and unique. A common goal may have more than one way to be approached.
- 7. Focus on the Future and What Can and Needs to be Done. Where do you go from here? Do you have need for a future discussion -- weekly meetings? Have you achieved a common understanding that is sufficient for the time being? Is there even a need to reach a common understanding -- are you heading off in different directions and there is no real need to settle anything further?