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Preparing For the Oral Interview

January 01, 2001  |  by Andrew Borrello

There is nothing more important or critical to an officer's success in a promotional oral interview than his or her ability to communicate. Even preparation and overall experience are of less importance. How can promotional candidates express their ability to lead-or the important aspects of their experience, education and training-if they can't eloquently articulate their thoughts and speak with confidence, technique and energy?

Words alone fall short in adequately providing the listener (oral board) with a clear picture of who the officer is and what he or she has done. The better an officer's understanding of this disadvantage, the better the officer can compensate for it. The interview performance will be noticeably more effective.

If an officer were asked to describe what beer tastes like to someone who has never tasted beer, how would he describe it? If he said it was cold, would it taste like ice water? If he said it's carbonated, would it taste like soda? If he said it was bitter, might it taste like lemon juice? The fact is, beer tastes like beer and to describe using only words falls far short of what it really tastes like.

In fact, beer is literally indescribable, even for the most talented wordsmith. The only way to really find out what beer tastes like is to simply taste it. Now apply this principle to officers describing themselves to an oral board panel. The key to defeating this limitation of language lies in getting back to and understanding the basics, and then surpassing them.

Advanced Articulation: Beyond the Basics 

Understanding the basics of interpersonal and nonverbal communications while formally speaking is critical. In fact, success in developing most skills comes only when there is a full understanding of the basics. In the police oral interview, however, officers strive for excellence because excellence equals competitive scores.

Officers need to understand that excellence is simply the byproduct of the basics perfected. The basics of communication that must be understood and practiced consists of tonality, diction, enunciation, verbal pace, inflection, resonance, verbal pauses and word emphasis. Understanding these basics-and more importantly, having the ability to use them with skill-can give life to an officer's words and verbal pictures. This will add effectiveness to any interview performance.

To illustrate how the basics can affect our communication, consider the old adage, "It's not what you say, but how you say it." The following six sentences are identical. However, if they are read aloud with inflection and emphasis placed on the bolded words, each has a very different meaning:

I never said you stole the jewelry.

I never said you stole the jewelry.

I never said you stole the jewelry.

I never said you stole the jewelry.

I never said you stole the jewelry.

I never said you stole the jewelry.

Entering a competitive process against dozens or even hundreds of other skilled and talented officers who want the promotion should be treated like an Olympic event. The goal in this process is very simple-to get the highest score. To achieve this goal, officers must understand and utilize advanced articulation and go beyond the basics.

Some of the most important communication is delivered without a single word being spoken or simply in the way in which the words are spoken. Three valuable areas that are seldom considered by officers or utilized for a formal interview include pretext justification, physical communication, and rapport.

Pretext Justification

Pretext justifications are verbal excuses for what is about to be said.  They prepare the listener to hear what the speaker has to say and provide a safety net for officers during an oral interview, allowing them to find a pre-answer comfort zone. Unfortunately, officers often use pretext justification without realizing it. The listener may find this distracting, especially when probing for information during an interview. As speakers, we use pretext justification to prepare the way for an answer and to justify the answer before it is spoken.

Communications expert Kare Anderson explains this tactic in her article. "Speak English Like It Tastes Good." She writes: "Unlike most children under the age of 12 or so, we adults offer qualifiers and chronology before we finally get to the delicious details that are most involving, credible and evocative. By then, well-intentioned listeners have taken several mental vacations."

Examples of Pretext Justification include:

"You probably won't believe this but..."

"The last time we were in that situation, I..."

"Keeping in mind I haven't had any training in this area, I would..."

"The way we usually do that is..."

"Well, I'm not sure if this is correct, but..."

"I think that I would have to say..."

Statements like those above tend to create an image of weakness or uncertainty. These statements have the potential to diminish the panel's opinion of an officer's qualities such as decision-making, assertiveness, confidence and leadership potential.

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