The Masks We Wear

Fall, the season when there is a crispness in the air, the smell of Autumn replaces the dog days of summer, leaves turn the trees to a beautiful canopy of color and of course Halloween! My favorite holiday. Halloween is the one time of the year when people put on masks to become someone (or something) else for a night, right? Well, not exactly... You see we all wear masks everyday; behavioral masks. Masks that we learned to use to manage our world. Masks, that many people are not conscious of wearing. These masks are worn seemingly to protect us in some way. Early in life we developed a habit to put them on to deal with our feelings, to deal with other people, and to deal with situations. These masks are not necessarily good or bad, but our habit can sometimes be hazardous if we've developed unhealthy ways of dealing with emotions, people or circumstances. On the other side of the coin, when we deal with other people it is too easy to no longer see the person (Life Value) behind the behavior (mask) and thus begin to disrespect the individual if they are not acting in a way that we see as acceptable.

You may be thinking what?! In English please...  Ok, simply separate the person from their behavior rather than having their actions determine their (life) value and how you treat them. Why? Simple, if our goal is to manage conflict more effectively, having a plan, a map and some tools really helps us to be much more effective in dealing with emotions, people & situations.

It helps us to understand that every person wears a mask and that behind every mask (behavioral habits) there is a person (Life Value).  Using this concept can be a powerful tool when dealing with conflict either inside of ourselves or with another person. Remember we are not our masks no more than other people are theirs.

Masks? What do you mean Masks?

You don't really have to be a psychologist to understand some basic human behaviors. I've had the pleasure of being around some master conflict managers, persuaders & de-escalators. They came from all walks of life; some of them were cops, bartenders, teachers, managers, parents, body guards, grand parents, sales people, military personnel, martial artists, bouncers, correctional officers, counselors, P.I.'s  and cabbies (to name a few). I have ridden with police officers that could have the most violent person thanking him as he was being put in the back of the cruiser, and others who through their mere presence would exasperate a mildly annoying individual or inconvenient situation into a full on brawl. Amazing indeed. I realized quickly that some people acted as a fire extinguisher and others as gasoline.

What was their trick?

I saw some similarities that the professional ones all had in common, among these similarities were:

1) The ability to be confident and keep their cool under pressure and emotional stress.
2) Treat the individual with dignity and respect, despite the their actions.
3) Deal with the person's actions professionally fairly, without malice, greed or serving their own ego.
4) Know when to stop talking.
5) Have a plan if words weren't enough to resolve the situation.

(Of course they had other similarities I was able to gleen into a usable approach, but that's for another day...)

Now where were we?! Oh yes, masks... As I was saying Halloween reminded me about masks that people wear. Basically we all have developed habits for dealing with:

1) Emotions.
2) People.
3) Situations.

These habits turn into behaviors when we interact with other people and those behaviors we wear as masks. We could go on and on about all of these different pseudo-psychological nuances about these so called masks, but for our purposes we can categorize all of them into three basic types:

That's right all of you spaghetti western fans: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly! Sometimes we wear our Good Guy Mask: We do as we are told, we act nice, we are polite and do what is expected of us. Sometimes we wear our Bad Guy Mask: We are stubborn, cranky, cantankerous or just an outright asshole, however if treated in the right way we will come around and change our behavior. Other times we put on our Ugly Mask: Everyone has acted ugly sometime in our life, you know, we've said yes, but meant no, we went behind someone's back, we told little white lies to get our way or believed that the "ends justified the means" in some way. It takes some people a lot to get to the point of putting on this mask, others wear it all the time to deal with their everyday lives.

Regardless of what mask the person is wearing, if we are to better manage the conflict, we need to see behind their behavioral mask to the Life Value (LV) of the person. We have to respect that LV while dealing with their actions. By seeing through the mask to the person while we professionally deal with their behavior, our chances of positively managing the situation increases dramatically.

If you disrespect the person's LV they typically resist... In other words even if you get them to comply with your request you probably created an enemy, which will require constant management in order to keep that person complying. If you treat the person with respect while dealing with their behavior you can often gain an ally even if you have to discipline them or correct their behavior in some manner. This can be very beneficial for you in many ways, among which increasing the likely hood of them being inspired to help you even if they don't have too while reducing the chances of you developing PTSD if you have to make some difficult decisions while dealing with the person or situation. You see, we make most decisions emotionally and then use logic to justify those decisions. The state we want to achieve is the ability to make the best conscious decision we can rather than reacting out of habit to our emotion, a person or a situation.

So here is your homework:

1) Try to see what emotion, person or situation causes you to put on your mask?
2) What mask do you commonly put on?
3) Try to see through other peoples mask's to their Life Value.
4) How can you protect and respect the Life Value while professionally dealing with their actions?

Whew, that was quite a mouthful! So on that note I hope that all of you have a wonderful Halloween and remember, when you put on your costume to go to your All Hallows Eve party, think about the masks that we wear everyday and how we often make value judgements on people because we aren't looking behind their mask. If we want to better manage conflict, keep a cool head and treat the person behind the mask with respect while professionally dealing with their actions.

Trick or Treat!


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