Evy Poumpouras Handles Conflict Like It’s her Job
March 22, 2019 | Filed in: Your Career
Evy Poumpouras had the kind of job that movies are made about—she served in the United States Secret Service during the Clinton, Obama, and both Bush administrations. Today, she’s a sought-after expert in behavior analysis, national security, and personal protection, and is working on a book about overcoming fear. Read on for her advice on handling conflict.
On early conflict:
I was born in the U.S. to immigrant parents, and we lived in low-income housing in New York City where there was a lot of crime. I was always acutely aware of my environment—I couldn’t easily play outside, so I grew up with a sense of needing to be very aware and protect myself.
On conflict’s bad rap:
I prefer the word ‘confrontation’ to ‘conflict’ because, to me, conflict means an all-out fight. In law enforcement, you are taught to embrace confrontation, not fear it or avoid it. I was taught that conflict is inevitable, part of not just your work but your everyday life.
If you are socialized to fear conflict or confrontation, you will struggle. It will twist your stomach into knots: You will be afraid to talk to your boss or your loved one or anybody else because you see conflict as a negative thing.
When I speak to someone, I think, How can I get this person to see my point of view? How can I see it from their perspective? So I see conflict as positive. When you take the stigma out of confrontation, you are much better at dealing with it. You can deal with confrontation or conflict in a professional way. You become a better problem solver.
On the power of de-escalation:
Sometimes, a person you’re confronting may get loud or escalate the situation, and we often think we have to match the other person’s behavior: “Well, I should speak louder and yell louder and get in their face.” When you do that, you lose your professionalism, you lose your ability to think clearly, and you come off as emotional, which can hurt your credibility. If somebody’s acting irrationally, I’m not going to follow suit, because then I’m just playing their game.
On being afraid to stand up for yourself:
It’s one thing to have fear and use it effectively, and it’s a different thing to live in a constant state of fear. That’s when you have panic, that’s when you have paralysis—you’re afraid to leave a bad marriage or a job that’s not the right fit. In my work, I try to help people understand that being afraid is normal. It’s just about understanding how to manage it.
When it comes to personal safety and physical conflict, women feel like they don’t want to offend anybody. If you’re standing on a line and somebody’s really close and rubbing up against you, you can turn around and look at that person and say, “Excuse me,” or get out of the line and leave. But we are often too afraid of offending others or being wrong to take action. The most important thing is to listen to your instincts: If something doesn’t feel right, you should listen to that feeling. As women and as individuals, we have to trust that inner voice, and we often don’t. We shut it down.
On fighting back:
The best advice I can give anybody out there for feeling safer is to take a class where you learn what it feels like to have somebody physically put hands on you. That was a big part of training for the Service. When it happens to you in training, you come away thinking, That wasn’t so bad. And you know what? I handled myself pretty well. And now you have the confidence, if it happens again, to think, I’ve been here before, I’m familiar with this. That is the best advice that I can share. Go take a class, whether it’s a couple of weeks or even just one or two sessions. Learn what it feels like to be hit—and learn how to fight back.
Photographs by Jeff Allen.