Sometimes in this law enforcement profession, if you’re lucky, you can learn from another officer’s knack for talking to people. You can learn to emulate these skills and take them on as your own. However, we still often see some officers resort to force because they just don’t know another way to resolve the situation. These officers were never taught the correct way, nor did they get to witness the expertise of a skilled communicator like my former FTO.
They may not know the profound effect speaking ‘tactfully and tactically’ can have on a given situation. Many of these unenlightened officers are probably following the herd of their peers who think talking to someone in a nice or tactful way is a sign of weakness. It’s not!
As Earl Nightingale, author and motivational speaker said, “If the best rule of thumb is whatever the majority of people are doing, do the complete opposite and that will serve you well.” Sadly, I found that statement to be true too often.
Are you the type of person who reacts emotionally to someone who defies your authority? Do you feel such defiance is a direct threat to your ego? Sometimes, with some people, especially law enforcement officers, making concessions can make them feel vulnerable or like they will lose control.
Truthfully, a law enforcement officer’s emotional response to someone else’s emotional stimulus can easily escalate a situation and today, we all need to be more aware of what we say and how we act. In fact, the one resounding word we are hearing everyday connected to police reform is the word “de-escalation.” As a training company, we have been fielding many requests, daily, for our de-escalation instructor certification training. Obviously, many Chiefs and Sheriffs believe their officers can benefit by developing better de-escalation skills.
As we always say in our training classes, “As a cop, you don’t have to win every argument, you just have to win!” This means to avoid approaching every confrontation as if you must out shout the other person. Your goal is to gain cooperation. You can turn an argument into a discussion with a few tactfully administered words and win the other person’s cooperation through concessions. It may mean using language, not often found in a law enforcement officer’s dictionary, like “sorry”, “I made a mistake”, or “How can we work together?”
Through the proper use of words and phrases for tactful or tactical communication, an officer can increase their ability to turn an argument into a discussion, turn a violent person into a compliant person, and turn a volatile situation into an opportunity to show professionalism and humanity.
This suggestion has become so pertinent to today’s current law enforcement climate. Law enforcement is the most over-scrutinized, over-criticized profession in America. It is more important than ever to look professional and not like a bully. With the proper communication tactics, the officer who is the effective practitioner of tactical communication will gain ground, legal and tactical, and evolve as an officer of the law and a human being. Even though law enforcement officers are on the front lines of the war on crime, it is imperative to never lose sight of the “Serve” of “Protect and Serve.”
To better understand the goal of Tactical Communication, let us delve into the subject of interpersonal communication. Let us see what it looks like when dealing with adverse situations and difficult people.
Interpersonal communication is, at its foundation, the exchange of information between two people. It’s something we all do every day and we do it without much thought. In fact, it’s this lack of thinking when we speak that tends to get us into trouble. Like my dad used to say to me when I was a teenager, “Think before you open your mouth.” That statement was so simple, yet so profound. I had no idea what the consequences could be some ten years later while working the street and answering calls.
The interpersonal communication skills used in Tactical Communication involves the words you use, not just to speak to someone, but to fully communicate with that person in a two-way exchange. Well, what’s the difference between merely speaking to someone and communicating?
Communication is the how you speak, how you use your voice, body language and other methods. The purpose is to send a complete, effective, message to another person which elicits the intended response. Additionally, communication includes the ability to read, or decipher, the other person’s actions and response, which can include listening (active and perceptive), deciphering body language, and more. This type of communication can be like a two-way street.
A criminal, for example, may expose his or her true thoughts and feelings to an officer who is using Tactical Communication while an officer who is merely speaking to that person may not fully decipher what the criminal is telegraphing, consciously and subconsciously. This can be the difference between confrontation and compliance, cooperation and resistance, and life and death. A good example of Tactical Communication in action is illustrated in the following story:
To set the stage for Interpersonal communications, all officers should practice verbal and nonverbal conversation habits. These include eye contact, body position, vocal tones and inflections, facial expressions, gestures, proximity and touching. Officers also should use open requests to talk, such as encouragers and closed and open-ended questions. Contacts should be treated in a conversational tone. I am not suggesting you invite citizens to your home for a BBQ but depending on the situation there is nothing that says we can’t act more human.
A professional should do his, or her, best and refrain from the robotic autocratic non-human demeanor and focus on being more confident, secure and able to relate to others. Not only will this increase rapport, but it will also reduce citizen contacts and complaints.
One of the most common complaints from citizens, against officers is “rude and discourteous behavior.” Yet most of these officers deny they were rude in any manner. They will tell their SGT or the Internal Affairs Lieutenant that they referred to the citizen as, “sir or mam”! This is where we sometimes miss the boat. Just because you call someone sir, doesn’t automatically mean you are being respectful.
Sometimes it can be condescending or sarcastic the way it is being delivered. It goes back to the cliché that “it’s not what we say, but how we say it”. Since over 50% of how we communicate is non-verbal, recognizing interpersonal communications is vital for our personal safety, as well as ensuring we communicate respectfully. This, will, in turn, help build bridges and partnerships within our communities.
“Above all, it’s about going home at the end of the shift … “
We couldn’t agree more.
Lou enjoys hearing from his readers – EMAIL
The preceding article has been written by Ruben Salamanca and Lou Savelli. Ruben Salamanca, an active-duty police sergeant in Kansas, is the Vice President of Homefront Protective Group, law enforcement training. Lou Savelli, President of Homefront Protective Group, is a retired NYPD sergeant. The authors can be reached through their company’s website, https://homefrontprotect.com
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