Habits are amazing. Just look at the definition from Dictionary.com:
habit – an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary
The last part of that definition really struck me this week. I think that “involuntary” is the key word in the definition of habit. In fact, I have noticed that habits can become so strong that even conscious thought may not override them.
Here is an example of how strong habits can become.
Because the winters in Indiana can be pretty dry, we keep hand lotion beside the soap dispenser at the lavatory in our bathroom. The hand lotion is opaque and light green. The soap is clear and yellow-orange. Both containers are about the same size and both have similar pump dispensers. Both dispensers sit to the right side of the faucet. Normally, the soap dispenser sits between the faucet and the hand lotion.
A few days ago, I stepped to this lavatory to wash my hands. I immediately noticed that the two dispenser positions had been switched. The lotion is normally to the right, but on this occasion it was to the left.
I consciously thought: “Use the pump on the right.” As I thought this, I reached down, and I pumped hand lotion into my palm.
The learning point is this: despite my conscious awareness of the right thing to do, my habit took control of my behavior.
In the realm of relating to people and resolving conflict, this observation has major implications. Just like I have a habit of using the dispenser to the left to get hand soap, we all have habits relating to the way we interact with others. Because interactions with people generally trigger emotion more than logic, these interaction habits are even stronger than my “hand washing” habit.
Because our words and actions contribute to the direction of a conflict situation, these habits can either lead to escalation or descalation.
If we tend to defend our position, attack the other person, or avoid the situation, we will probably escalate many conflicts.
If we tend to listen empathetically, calmly receive feedback, and engage in open conversation, we will probably descalate most conflicts.
Thought for Thursday – Work to develop interaction habits that lead to conflict resolution.