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Correctional Officers – Disagreements with the Boss
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 12/02/2013

Debate Wherever there are subordinates and bosses there will be disagreements. In any kind of work, including law enforcement, disagreements are common. Finding a constructive way to handle such disagreements can make the difference between a positive or negative work relationships and either provide constructive or detrimental solutions to the problems faced inside a prison. Therefore, how you handle a disagreement can determine good outcomes or bad outcomes and may affect your long term relationship with your boss or administration.

First make sure there is a disagreement. Listen carefully to the other person and make sure there really is a difference of opinion or engagement. Ask and confirm by paraphrasing the other person and determine whether or not there are options on the table for a compromise or whether it is a “do it my way or hit the highway” situation. The most obvious situation in a perfect world a place where there are no disagreements but such a place does not exist and although disagreements are undesirable, they are a necessary element that may lead to productive outcomes and unexpected solutions if handled right. Failing to listen is often the first mistake of a disagreement and flaws the communication from the beginning.

How you resolve a disagreement can be determined by how you approach and respond to the encounter as well as how it impacts serious side effects such as workplace violence and other conflicts. Playing off disagreements as being funny or ridiculous could in fact escalate a situation if you are not careful. Using humor in a disagreement is not encouraged as it borders on humiliation and embarrassment for those involved as bystanders will draw from the incident and take sides creating further conflicts.

Don’t take a response personal and don’t personalize the situation. Keep it professional and separate yourself from your position so that you don’t end up taking the disagreement as a personal attack on your ability to do your job or infringe on your own ego or character. Keep it logical and rational and use common sense with your responses. Avoid using profanity. You will find the process easier to resolve and go better if you don’t internalize the comments made and know when to drop the subject or the disagreement. The more reasonable you remain the less subjective your words will be taken. Raising your voice does not help your position. In fact it may escalate the situation. Lowering your voice has a positive result that can be managed and not taken with anger.

In some cases, you may need to take a “time out” and think about what was said. Waiting a few minutes to regroup cannot hurt in some situations. Under stress or duress such things are often taken wrong and create communication barriers without intent. When not engaged in the conversation and backing up a little to sort things out, try to “re-listen” what was said and try to understand it from the other side. Empathy is a powerful tool when used right. Disagreements do not have to be long winded and most can be summarized in a short and concise statement. How you express yourself can carry the message much more effectively than your body language or tone.

The bottom line is you have to remember that it is your boss you are talking to and whether you like it or not, you have to listen and obey the directive. Additionally you have to watch what you say. Attacking the directive or your boss is a waste of time if you didn’t listen carefully what was actually said and for all practical purposes, disputing or attacking the boss is ethically wrong and if done deliberately can result in insubordination and disciplinary action against you.

You may end the disagreement by stating that “you agree to disagree” and let it go at that. Once the matter has been settled think of it as “water under the bridge” and don’t burn any bridges for the future. Look at how you handled the situation and learn from this approach to improve on the next disagreement.

Having disagreements with co-workers or other persons can be handled in a similar manner. Think about yourself and the experience you have gathered. Take your training, your mentorship and advice or guidance in the past and shape an approach and demeanor how to deal with disagreements. The more you pay attention to control yourself during such a conflict or encounter the better you become in mastering the art of learning how to agree to disagree.

Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

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