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Brian Willis

Brian Willis

Brian Willis is a retired officer, trainer and author who now serves as deputy executive director for the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA).

Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

Eliminate These 'D' Words From Your Vocabulary

The power of the words "defensive" and "don't" should be seriously considered.

September 29, 2010  |  by Brian Willis - Also by this author

Image via Flickr (nevermindtheend).

In the "Do You Want to Win or Just Survive?" blog post, we talked about the power of words and examined winning versus survival. We will continue on the theme of the power of words with an examination of two 'D' words.

The word "defensive" is closely linked to the issue of survival versus winning. The terms "defensive tactics" and "officer self-defense" imply that officers' use of force is always defensive in nature.

In many cases officers are reactive, but that doesn't mean they have to go into defensive mode. Officers need to be taught how to go on offense to take immediate control of subjects or situations.

A good example of this defensive mind-set is the story I've heard about an officer who was attacked by a prisoner in a holding cell area. For approximately eight minutes, the prisoner unleashed a violent, unrelenting assault against the officer. The officer was punched, knocked to the ground, his head smashed against the concrete floor, attacked with his own handcuffs, OC spray, and baton.

The prisoner also attempted to disarm the officer of his pistol. The officer, who was defensive during the entire attack, eventually drew his sidearm and shot the offender numerous times. Even while he was shooting, the officer was moving backward in a defensive posture.

Let me be very clear on this point, I have the utmost respect for this officer for surviving the nightmare and ultimately winning, but I can't help wonder how differently this would have turned out if the officer had been taught to win by taking immediate and aggressive offensive action rather than being defensive.

Does this mean it should be called it offensive tactics? No, but "control tactics" or "subject control tactics" may be more desirable terminology.

Another important strategy is to communicate in positive terms what you want yourself and others to do. This may sound overly simplistic, but the reality is that many people in today's society are conditioned to communicate in negative terms. Instructors, coaches, parents, teachers and peers spend a great deal of time communicating what not to do, instead of using positive terms to directly communicate the desired behavior or outcome.

Some of these negative based statements probably sound familiar: Don't quit. Don't stop fighting. Don't anticipate the gun going off. Don't jerk the trigger. Don't worry. Don't slip and fall. Don't think about it. Don't put your finger on the trigger. Don't panic. Police, Don't Move.

The first step to positively communicate is to delete the word "don't" from your vocabulary. The rationale behind this is simple. When you use the word "don't" as part of your feedback or direction, your mind must first figure out what it is not supposed to do.

To accomplish this, the mind drops the word "don't" and actually imagines the negative behavior. For example, if on the range you say to yourself, "Don't jerk the trigger," the mind actually hears, "Jerk the trigger." And the image of that jerking motion becomes the primary thought. When you jerk the trigger just as you imagined, the cycle of negative self-talk is repeated by you telling yourself, "Next time, don't jerk the trigger."

This cycle simply increases the chances of continually repeating the negative behavior. The more often this cycle is repeated the more powerfully engrained the negative behavior becomes, resulting in a compounding of negative self-talk. Then we start adding descriptive phrases such as, "How could I be so stupid," "I'm such an idiot," "What a loser I am," or "What a dumb ass," before telling ourselves to stop jerking the trigger.

This not only engrains the negative behavior but also negatively impacts our self-image and self-esteem. This vicious cycle can create a great deal of anxiety and frustration for us whenever we go to the range.

The solution is simple: Communicate in positive terms and tell yourself what you want to accomplish. Say, "Be smooth on the trigger" or "Focus on a smooth trigger press." Phrases such as these will have a far more positive result, especially when you follow it up with positive self-talk and repeat the positive directions to yourself. When this positive communication occurs, the mind will imagine a smooth press of the trigger, which is more likely to be replicated physically when you fire your weapon.

For the next two weeks, monitor your language. Whenever you use the word don't, take a moment (if it is safe to do so) and think about what the desired behavior is. Then restate the direct in positive terms. You might be surprised at the positive results.

Editor's Note: Brian Willis is the deputy executive director of the International Law Enforcement  Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA). Contact him via his website Winning Mind Training.

Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

lodall @ 10/1/2010 6:06 AM

Our departmental use of force program has been referred to as "Control Tactics" for almost two decades now for the simple reason that it was recognized that "defense" does not control the subject or situation. We define "control" as the ability to regulate a situation in spite of what the subject's actions are: this instills a "big picture" mindset. This mindset is established at the recruit level and reinforced through annual in-service training. It has served us well over the years with few excessive use of force complaints against our officers - we have never had a finding against an officer - and very few officer injuries (we've never had an injury beyond treated & released).

It may seem like a small thing, the way in which you refer to your program, but it really and truly does have an impact on the mindset of those you train. Stay safe.

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