Most veteran officers have come to realize that and understand that it's not the emotion you feel that gets you in trouble but what you do with it instead. If someone pushes your buttons, what gets you in trouble is what you do next — something you can learn to control. It's a classic example of what I call the circle analogy. In just the way a circle starts and ends in the same place, what happens to you starts and ends with you.
For example, if a supervisor pisses you off by purposely pushing your buttons and you react with pure emotion by punching him in the face, it might feel good right up to the point when you are turning in your badge and gun. You'll have plenty of time to ponder if it was worth it or not while you're in the unemployment line practicing how to say, "Would you like that supersized?"
Use Your Boundaries
To avoid such pitfalls, practice being aware of the boundaries between your emotions and those of your co-workers, and then putting them to use. Take for instance the tone you use with people at work. If you're having a bad day, be conscious of that fact and don't take it out on a co-worker. On the flip side, if someone is taking it out on you, what's wrong with telling him you don't appreciate it and you'd like for him to stop?
In law enforcement there is some unwritten rule that states we can't handle it that way because it's politically incorrect. But as long as you're not rude about it, this tactic can be effective. Sometimes using a little bit of humor can also help alleviate the tension. It might be as simple as saying, "Damn, no more coffee for you!"
Please don't get me wrong, I know it's not that easy and there are times when you just have to suck it up. Also, I'm not suggesting that you lose your empathy or your ability to care. What I am asking you to consider are the times when you could have said something to de-escalate a situation and didn't. Remember, a boat anchor lives by the credo that misery loves company. There are hundreds of them walking around out there waiting to drag you down to the bottom.
Don't Get Sucked In
I am by no means immune to button pushing by co-workers. Many years ago I worked for a female supervisor who lashed out at me during one of her famous tantrums. It was obvious to anyone who got near her she wasn't having a good day. Her rants always revolved around fixing blame on someone other than herself and, being true to form, this time would prove to be no different. She started criticizing me for following her orders to carry out another of her poor decisions that she pretended to never make. Finally, I'd had enough and interrupted her. It was time for one of my own tirades.
I told her I wasn't her redheaded stepchild, nor was I her husband and she needed to tone it down. I told her she needed to stop yelling at me and give me the same respect she demanded for herself. I reminded her that if she didn't like me personally she was to at least respect my rank. I may have even included a comment or two about her eating some chocolate and leaving me alone but I don't remember. I have to admit, it felt great to stand up for myself … for all of about 10 seconds.
Unfortunately, I let my emotions pick and choose my words for me. The chocolate comment that I will neither confirm nor deny was way out of line. It wasn't that I was being politically incorrect that bothered me. What did bother me was that I had become as big of an ass as she was. In reality all I accomplished was ending up playing right into her hands, and I paid the price later.
I allowed myself to get entangled in her emotions. Instead of just saying, "I'm so sorry you are having such a bad day. I'll look into it and get back to you," I locked horns with her.
Looking back, I learned a valuable lesson from that incident. If I had stayed within my own boundaries and controlled my emotions, I would have fared much better. As you get more experienced in this business, you realize the only person you can control is yourself.
We create much of the drama that happens to us at work by not setting boundaries for ourselves. We react to our co-workers instead of dealing with them. We allow our buttons to be pushed and when bad things happen to us because of it, we blame someone else. Learn to take control of your emotions by setting boundaries. Learn to disengage tactfully and deal with it. You'll be much happier and more effective at work if you learn to identify boat anchors and cut them loose long before they can drag you down.
Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office. He is a retired master sergeant from the Army Reserve, has 23 years of law enforcement experience, and has been involved with martial arts for 37 years.
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