Police Interview Newsletter - Personality Conflicts

Personality Conflicts
Volume 2, Issue 11
November/December 2003

In her book, I Love A Cop, police consultant Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D. writes:

“When I walk into a police agency, I often feel as if I have brought my briefcase to a battlefield. I think to myself what I really need now is a flak jacket instead of a flip chart. It is like war inside some agencies. Administrators treat their employees like demanding, willful, impulsive adolescents who cannot be trusted, and the employees regard their administrators as unpredictable, withholding, and punitive parents who cannot be depended upon for support. What is missing in all this mudslinging is any recognition that all ranks must meet challenging and complex responsibilities, and all cops have strengths and weaknesses. Strife can erupt anywhere in a police organization, and it usually does. Labor and management are at odds over working conditions and benefits. Male officers are angry at female officers and vice versa. The black officers' association and the white officers' association are fighting. The detective bureau is unhappy with how patrol officers write reports, and patrol officers think the detectives hoard information. One cop thinks he works harder, answers more calls, and does more paperwork than anyone else on his squad, while his squad mates complain he can't be found when needed. The sergeants can't stand the lieutenants, and the lieutenants think the sergeants are flakes. The captain is angry because the chief is micromanaging and kicked back his council report for the fourth revision. The cops are angry with the way communicators dispatch calls for service at the same time the communicators are furious with the cops for not answering up. Two communicators can't stand working the same shift together. The front desk people are angry with the data- entry folks. Clerks are frustrated because the cops don't check the right boxes on their reports. The detectives are angry because the D.A. won't file on a perfectly good case. The D.A. is angry because the case report is sloppy and weak. Some citizens are angry because the cops won't put up a stop sign on their corner. The city manager is angry at the police union because negotiations are creating bad publicity. The chief is angry at being misquoted by the media, and everyone is angry with the chief. (p. 52-53)

Let's face it. Every job has conflict and frustrations. Some work environments are downright toxic and seemingly beyond repair. “Bad chemistry” develops between you and a supervisor, direct report, or co-worker and nothing you do seems to make things any better. Personality clashes leave us feeling hopeless, stuck, and clueless about how to relate to the other party. So, we tend to avoid personal contact and interaction with the difficult person at any cost-further eroding any sense of relationship or teamwork. We avert eye contact in the hallways and go to extremes to work around that person. This is true at work, at home, and in strained friendships. Very often, however, there are things that we can do to break through such personality conflicts and truly strive to “make peace” with that individual.



The Problem

In Make Peace With Anyone, Dr. David Lieberman offers a general rule of thumb: “If a person dislikes you without good reason, it's not because she doesn't like you, but because she doesn't like herself very much. The arrogant, loud, obnoxious, and rude person who has no respect for other people- or you specifically-really has no respect for herself. Therefore you can turn a lion into a lamb by changing how she feels about herself, which then changes how she feels about you.” (p.22) Lieberman goes on to say that whenever a person acts negatively towards you (without good reason), one or more of the following motivations is always at work:

1. He thinks you dislike him for some reason-based perhaps on a misunderstanding or misperception

2. He feels threatened by you. Compared to you, he feels inadequate in some way or perhaps jealous and envious. 3. He sees in you traits in himself that he dislikes. You may unconsciously remind him of his own undesirable qualities that he needs to deny.

So, if we are truly interested in making peace with that co- worker, our challenge is to successfully communicate what it is that we honestly respect about him. Much easier said than done! This flies in the face of our natural human inclination to write him off or to act rudely in turn. If successful in our efforts, there is much to be gained. When respect is effectively communicated it serves to bolster the person's ego-allowing him to feel better about himself and consequently more positive about us.

Lieberman describes this dynamic of “reciprocal affection”: “We tend to admire, respect, and like someone once we are told that they have these same feelings for us.” (p.24)

The Solution

Lieberman offers the following three-step strategy to solve nearly any personality conflict.

Phase 1: Establish Mutual Respect

“To adjust anyone's thinking about you, tell a third party, maybe a mutual friend, what it is that you honestly like and respect about this person or how you admire her for something she's done or even stands for. Once this information makes its way to her, you will simply be amazed at how fast she becomes an ally. Whether it's a coworker, boss, assistant, neighbor, sibling, child, mechanic-everyone needs to feel appreciated. Let this third party know your genuine warm feelings toward her and watch the magic happen. (p.24)

It is imperative to employ a third party in this process. Expressing positive feelings directly to the individual with whom you are having difficulty may be viewed as insincere.

Phase 2: Allow The Person to Give To You

“Next, follow up your kind words by expressing an interest in this person's helping you with something. We often think that people will like us if we do nice things for them, but the reality is that a person actually likes you more after he does something for you. This is for several reasons: (1) Whenever we invest ourselves in anything, in this case a person-with time, energy, attention-we feel closer and more attached. (2) When someone allows us to give, we feel better about ourselves, as giving reinforces the feeling that we are in control and independent. (3) And finally, doing for another engages a psychological phenomenon call cognitive dissonance, whereby we conclude-partly unconsciously-that we must have a favorable impression of him. Otherwise, we're going around doing things for people we don't like. We'd rather conclude that the person is worthy of our investment.” (p.25)

Phase 3: Show Your Human Side

“Studies show something fascinating when it comes to human conflicts. Often, in an attempt to get someone to like us, we'll engage in what is called self-enhancement behavior. This is when we tell and show the other person how wonderful we are, so that he will come to like us. Yet when you're dealing with a person who feels threatened, research clearly indicates, self-deprecating behavior is the optimum attitude. This would be offering information about yourself that isn't flattering. It shows humility, honesty, and trust-three things that promote a successful resolution to any personality conflict.” (p.25)


Putting It All Together - Police Work Example

To a third party (mutual friend), communicate what you honestly like and respect about the coworker with whom you are struggling. Indicate to this friend that you would appreciate his help in some area of your life. This will help you learn if the message was effectively delivered and should result in that person seeking you out (or at least being receptive) to help you with what you need.


Officer A and Officer B work on the same squad patrolling a particular sector of the city. For whatever reason, they got off on the wrong foot and have never gotten along very well. Officer B refuses to give Officer A the time of day, and is always rude and dismissive when they interact. After eight or ten months of these kinds of interactions, Officer A decides that he truly wants to work towards creating some harmony and peace in the relationship. So, Officer A thinks about what it is that he honestly admires about Officer B. It turns out that Officer B does an excellent job of working radar and has achieved a large number of successful arrests and convictions for speeding violations in their jurisdiction. Officer A then identifies another member of the squad (Officer C) who happens to be a mutual friend.

In a private conversation, Officer A tells Officer C the following: “I am very impressed with the way that Officer B runs radar. He seems to have a really solid knowledge of the technology as well as a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Do you think he would be willing to give me a few tips to help me do this radar thing more effectively?”

Then, a week or so later, after there has been sufficient time for Officer C to relay (because he decides to share the compliment) Officer A's respect for Officer B's work, Officer A may want to look for a naturally-occurring opportunity to speak with Officer B.

Lieberman suggests that in that discussion with Officer B, Officer A should look for areas of common interest, listen intently to what Officer B says, and ask questions that clearly express an interest in him. At an appropriate time Officer A should choose to share something true and mildly embarrassing (Phase 3: Show Your Human Side). For instance, “I was in such a hurry to get to 3:-00 pm briefing, that I locked my keys in the patrol car-kind of embarrassing that everyone found out.” If Officer B has not already offered to help Officer A with his radar routine, this would be a good time to ask about his willingness to help. Try it!!


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