Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Resolving conflict

Mental Notes with Hilary Valdez: Resolving conflict

by Hilary Valdez
Stripes Okinawa

In today’s busy and competitive world, conflict resolution techniques are critical for every day life. When I worked for the Justice Department, we needed real life solutions for successful negotiations and simply staying alive. Chasing bad guys required self-reliance and emotional stability, which are key factors for personal success, but it takes time develop those attributes. When I started, I had the shakes. I learned the goal was to stay calm, increase my psychological hardening skills and strengthen my mental toughness. With practice, this came to be. I was inexperienced when I finished school, but I had to challenge my irrational beliefs, increase my optimism and self-regulate my behavioral responses.

My father once said, “You’re a smart guy, but you’re not thinking.” I said, “Huh?” Justice Department training helped me to understand the how and why people start arguing and fussing about small stuff, which can lead big problems. Life is one huge on-going negotiation, and often times the negotiating environment is filled with high-emotional content and tension.

As an investigator, I was at a community meeting one night trying to resolve a dispute between two motorcycle gangs. The main issue between the two gangs was the color of the scarves that could be worn by the opposing clubs. Unfortunately, this led to three members being shot.

Conflicts don’t have to end in violence. The focus is to elicit opinions and clarify issues, not examine or criticize the person. Disapproval ends a discussion; disagreement stimulates it. Statements such as: “We’re not ready for that.”; “It’s not in the budget.”; “Put it in writing.” “It’s never been tried before.”; etc., stop ideas and creative action.

When reducing conflict, avoid irrational actions, reduce social anxiety, and resolve problems. Don’t create problems. Or yell, “Hey idiot!” These are fighting words and some people don’t fight fair.

In most cases, people are adaptive and willing to make social adjustments for success. Most of the time, people will do what is asked of them, providing they know what is expected of them. The critical insight is being attentive to the expectations we put on people who lack skills or fundamental levels of insight to make sudden or logical changes.

Life is a journey. No person lives free from inner or outer conflict. Life has no end of difficulties. A critical insight is the ability to harmonize with people and deal with them at their level of functioning.

I was raised in New York City, where yelling led to shoving, and shoving led to punching. Stay away from physical fighting. Especially if you can’t fight. I was in a fight and one of the guys yelled, “Stop! I can’t fight!” I yelled back, “Too late!”

So, how do you increase your ability to respond to stress? Well, learn to handle criticism.

Learn detached concern and care for others, but don’t assume their stress.

Here’s a key critical insight: Develop your own communications style. Speak with candor and directness. When speaking to others, encourage an open exchange of ideas. But, pay attention to the impact, emotions, and feelings of the other person: observe them for a moment.

Wait-Think-Respond. Don’t rush to respond. The Justice Department taught me to not tell a suspect: “You have three minutes to come out or else!” What if he doesn’t come out? Then what?

I was taught that waiting helps with thinking and formulating a correct response to a situation. Adjust your tone and temperament according to the people you are speaking with; especially with older people, your superiors, or gangsters. These aren’t your homies, so be careful. Just find the balance between being blatantly open and selectively open.

Openness must have a purpose beyond just being open. A person is open because they care enough about improving a relationship. Openness breed trust. Being closed leads to mistrust and suspicion. The other person has to be willing to be open, otherwise openness becomes coercive.

When feelings are shared, the other person feels trusted and positive. I was conducting a debrief with Navy divers after one of their EOD divers died during a sensitive mission. That was emotionally tough for me and the other divers. When I returned to base, I had two psychologists debrief me. My emotions were off the chart, I cried. Don’t be afraid to talk, especially under stress. Don’t be Mr. MACHO. Talk to express, not impress.

Every time you open your mouth, your brain is on parade. But every heart is the key to the heart of other people. Heart talks to heart, soul speaks to soul. Criticism, indifference and pessimism close the door of the heart. But, if two hearts become one, it is very difficult to disunite them. The critical insight is to put a layer of understanding on top of subjective or gut feelings. The heart is the path to wisdom and the road to intelligence.

Instant Insight: Be true to your own nature.


Hilary Valdez is a retiree living in Japan. He is an experienced Mental Health professional and Resiliency Trainer. Valdez is a former Marine and has worked with the military most of his career and most recently worked at Camp Zama as a Master Resiliency Trainer. Valdez now has a private practice and publishes books on social and psychological issues. His books are available on Amazon and for Kindle. Learn more about Valdez and contact him at or at

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