The Art of Communication
I know those of you that have been through my Use of Force/Active Countermeasures class have heard me say that the best fight you can have is the one you do not get in to. However, we know that in this line of work, there will most likely be a physical confrontation or two somewhere along the way. Anytime you have to serve and protect, someone does not necessarily play by the rules.
Confrontations, or at least face-to-face encounters, are part of the basic line-of-duty activities we sometimes have to deal with. While there are many techniques we use regarding sizing up a situation, and going through the observation and orientation phase when we must act, one common theme stands true, we can treat a person the way they allow us to treat them. That obviously, is dependent upon them, or at least their actions. Some situations become dangerous and dynamic quickly, and our response to those encounters is usually more reactive and less reflective. We have to respond dynamically when the situations dictates. In other words, if a subject attacks us with a weapon, talking is probably not our first and most important defensive choice.
I speak occasionally about the greatest teacher we know, our Mothers. Mom taught us basic manner techniques and guidelines about being good, treating others well, and picking up after ourselves. What we didn’t know at the time, mom may not have known it herself, is how tactically sound her training was. When Mom taught us: “Breathe son, calm down and breathe!” Mom was teaching us how to control our heart rate when it becomes elevated rapidly during a stress induced encounter or critical dynamic situation. God Bless Mom!
I mentioned that we can treat someone the way they allow us to treat them, most of the time. I do want to point out though, that we can control most encounters by simply remaining calm and thinking through the encounter. Let me be clear by stating that we never relax our officer safety, of course. I am not, by any means, saying that we ignore basic pre-attack posturing, verbal clues or mounting aggressive behavior. I am saying that we should not always jump immediately to volume of aggression just because someone appears excited or fired up. Maintain officer safety, but attempt to listen and try to figure out what the root of the problem is, and attempt to find a solution that doesn’t require us laying hands on. In other words, do not create a use-of-force situation if there is not a use-of-force situation. Enter, the Art of Communication.
We were taught the “Golden Rule” which is: “Treat others as you would like to be treated”. Just because we are in a position of authority doesn’t give us any right to speak down to someone or treat someone in a rude manner. As a matter of fact, I submit to you that it should put us in a category as a professional officer to take the high road, (again, not at the risk of officer safety) and attempt to defuse a potentially mounting situation. Consider how you would like to be spoken to, or how you would like an officer to speak to your spouse or loved one and I am confident you will know exactly how to speak to others when you are faced with a situation. Nice gets nice; mom also taught us that one!
So let us all think about becoming skilled at verbal communications and controlling situations in a professional and pleasant manner. While it is true that what you do will often speak louder than what you say, it is important to carefully select what you are going to say. The following examples are taken straight out of the CLEET Block of Defensive Tactics, “Management of Aggressive Behavior”. Think about these examples and how to apply similar phrases and dialog in the situations and encounters you come across.
- The use of racial names and slurs is inappropriate at any time. Innuendoes cause hostility and resistance.
- This could be called verbal judo, using the right word(s) at the right time to counter an action.
- Firm and polite words in place of weak unclear terms or abusive phrases;
- movement combined with assurances of non-violence; backing up to give a hostile person time to think;
- Countering aggression with thought provoking logic (what will happen) and movement.
EXAMPLE: You are in confrontation with a citizen whom you have encountered and he is mad.
What happens if you say?
1) “Did you see that sign? Can’t you read?”
2) “You can’t talk that way to me! I’m the law”
3) “Would you like your butt whipped?”
It is, or should be, obvious that these terms are about to turn a confrontation into a fight.
1) Listen to what the person is saying to you. Cutting off a person in mid-sentence causes additional frustration. Let them tell you their side of the story. Do not allow others to interrupt.
2) Assure them that you do not wish to hurt them. Jailing someone isn’t the answer to everything. Sometimes, if they are willing to move on down the road, we may have just fixed our problem.
3) Keep your distance, give them time to calm down and think it over. A few extra minutes now could save wear and tear on you and your uniform. Distance is also sound tactics for self-defense, it gives you time to react.
4) Do not use profanity. This will only make a bad situation worse. The idea of these tactics is to avoid a fight, not insult someone into attacking you.
5) It doesn’t matter what they say. You should be smart and tolerant enough to ignore their taunts. Don’t forget that they most often are frustrated with something other than you. It just happens that your job made you the representative. Don’t take it personal.
6) Avoid arguing with citizens, it is unprofessional and does not resolve the issue.
- a) “Yes Sir, Yes Ma’am.”
- b) “Please let me explain.”
- c) “I understand.”
- d) “I’m here to help you.”
When I mentioned earlier that the best fight is the one you don’t get in to, I know all of you can relate. Win, lose, or draw, a punch to the face still hurts. If we keep in our minds that the action by the subject is rarely aimed at us, and that we are simply a representative for a larger problem, it should take the emotional element out of the equation. I want to reiterate that we never relax our officer safety, but the officer that can control a stressful encounter with verbal tactics, and a professional demeanor is the officer with very few bloody noses at the end of this career, and Mom will be proud that we listened to her teaching! What a great Training Officer she is!