At the May Safety & Security Meeting we were happy to hear from the Executive Director of the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center. Moonwater has over 15 years of experience with mediation and spoke to the group about strategies for escalation when interacting with agitated individuals. Moonwater started her quick introduction to conflict resolution reminding the group that while we have the ability to influence someone else’s behavior we can’t control them. The best way to affect change is to start with ourselves.
In general, as humans we carry negative associations with the idea of conflict. We can think about conflict in a different way. Conflict is an opportunity for growth, awareness and change. With the right frame of mind we can help to positively influence the person we are engaging with through patience, curiosity, body language and word choice.
We share a common set of basic needs and one way to think about conflict is unmet needs. In moments of conflict, it is important to keep in mind how you can meet your own needs and the needs of the other person. It is in this balance that the resolution lies.
We’re wired to loop with one another. When someone comes in to a room in an escalated state, we are wired to emotionally relate. Fortunately, there is an immediate spike of hyper awareness when we are particularly clear and rational before our emotions escalate. If we can train ourselves to recognize our triggers of strong emotion, we are more likely to be able to stay in an elevated state of awareness and can make better choices about how to connect with our needs and the needs of the other person.
Moonwater asked us to take the time to identify our major triggers of conflict and then to identify which need is likely not being met that causes us to become upset and angry. What kinds of physiological responses do you associate with being triggered into conflict? Figuring out what that is will help you know when you are entering the cycle of strong feelings. The handout she provided to help identify these things can be found here.
Neighborhood Officer Eric Osterkamp spoke briefly, providing additional information to the group about what to do when conflict dispute resolution tactics don’t work. People who are inebriated or are currently experiencing certain forms of mental illness may not respond to our efforts to deescalate and may cause us harm. If your tools for conflict resolution don’t work, Officer Eric recommends that you get physical distance between yourself and the agitated person and seek help.
Officer Eric echoed Moonwater’s reference to the moment of hyper awareness at the beginning of a potential conflict and talked about how the Bellingham Police Department refers to a technique called a “tactical pause” in this moment where you can focus on your breathing which allows you to make clear decisions.
Officer Eric warned against utilizing any self-defense device or weapon without being properly trained first sighting that he himself no longer uses pepper spray because it always ends up getting on him as well.
As a preventative measure it is in our best interest to be aware as much as possible. Looking down at your cell phone or appearing fully engrossed in your phone conversation can make you more susceptible to being caught off guard by someone wishing to do you harm. However, Officer Eric suggested your cell phone can be a tool in situations where you feel uncomfortable. Holding your phone as if you are in conversation but speaking clearly to the imaginary person on the other end saying phrases like “I’m almost to you. Yep! I see you, I’ll be right there!” can throw off a person who may be hoping to intercept you while you are on your own.
Carrying your keys in your non-dominant hand keeps your dominant hand free to ward off a would-be attacker. Using the panic button on a key fob when you are in danger attracts attention to your situation. When you approach your car or home, you should be focused on getting in safely and quickly, not engrossed in digging around in a bag for your keys.
Staying aware, calm and being prepared to get distance between yourself and someone interested in harming you are effective tools to staying safe. Don’t forget to seek help after you are safe. Making the police aware of potential violent aggressors will help prevent others from being harmed.
In lieu of a June Safety & Security Meeting, we will be hosting a Downtown Neighborhood Association Meeting on June 22nd (venue still TBD). Please join us at the DNA meeting where we will here from Katie Franks from the City of Bellingham’s planning department about their latest initiatives to address homelessness. Planning Staff will also join us for our next Safety & Security Meeting on Tuesday, July 12th about city initiatives regarding safety. Please look for an online survey to be sent out after the DNA meeting to help us identify which initiatives you want more information on. Surveys will inform the content for the July Safety & Security Meeting.
Safety & Security Meetings are held at 8am on the second Tuesday of every month at Backcountry Essentials at 214 W Holly Street in downtown. Coffee and scones are provided by Woods Coffee.
Today's post written by Marissa McGrath, DBP Operations Manager.