Want ads for our profession often say, "Excellent communication skills required." And with good reason. An officer's ability to avoid escalating a situation is precious. An officer's ability to de-escalate or completely defuse the situation is priceless.
As officers we generally don't suffer fools gladly. So when it comes to dealing with a loud-mouthed Adam Henry, we sometimes have a tendency to get right back in the jerk's face, telling him where and how to stick it. But repress that urge.
Interpersonal skills are a huge priority when you are engaged in a profession that ensures contact with everyone from highstrung, strung-out dopers; to low-down batterers; to high-brow celebs; to out of their friggin' mind wackos. Indeed, words are a viable use-of-force option, capable of escalating or de-escalating many volatile situations.
With the foregoing in mind, here's some food for thought on chewing the fat.
Suppress Your Machismo
There will always be exceptions (See "Alpha Commands" on page 16), but the bottom line is that you are the authority figure on the scene. Your uniformed presence can be enough to induce anxiety, resentment, and fear in others, any of which can be cause enough in the minds of some to challenge you. Recognize what you might be in for. Hostility can be nonverbal, verbal, personal, and downright assaultive. In law enforcement, it isn't unusual to encounter direct escalations from one to the next.
Getting citizens on the same page as you can be an uphill battle. So when heading into uncharted waters such as calls or traffic stops, it's incumbent upon you to do what you can to keep things on an even keel. Remember, shifting gears from a palliative approach to a more assertive one can be swiftly accomplished. But doing the reverse-going from Officer Hard Ass to Officer Nice Guy-might be a harder sell.
The Golden Rule
And when it comes to selling to the emotionally compromised, try the...soft sell.
Consider it preventative maintenance. It helps to retain your own calm and depersonalizethe antagonistic language you're apt to hear on the street.
Adhering to the Golden Rule helps, too. Knowing your emotional triggers can help prevent you from provoking those of others.
Here's a good exercise. Th e next time you talk with someone, be conscious of your tone and manner. Listen to what and how you communicate and evaluate it as objectively as possible. Is there a hint of sarcasm? Are you overly dogmatic? Do you talk down or otherwise come across in a condescending manner? If your interpersonal skills are lacking, it's in your best interests to improve them.
One approach is to try mirroring. By subtly mimicking the body movements and posture of the person you interact with, you encourage a dialogue. People feel more comfortable dealing with those who are similar to themselves.
A huge exception is when the person is off the wall, screaming, yelling, and generally being a belligerent ass. Th en a two-fold approach might be in order. First, lower your own voice, speak quietly but assertively. Make sure that whatever you have to say is important enough for the person to want to hear it. Second, remind them that you will deal with them in a respectful manner, and you'd appreciate it if they'd reciprocate the posture. Of course, not everyone will prove to be susceptible to the suggestion.