By PoliceOne columnist Dr. George Thompson
In my last piece, I talked about 7 things never to say, and why. Now I want to provide a balance by presenting some phrases that should be said...often!
We teach in Tactical Communication (Verbal Judo) that "Natural Language" is disastrous. If, as peace officers, we allow words to rise readily to our lips, we are liable to create speeches we live to regret! Our 'inner voice' expresses our real feelings, and since much of what we see is negative, any time we let that voice out, it can cause us great trouble!
As I have watched officers work the streets over the last 25 years, those who were most successful at calming and redirecting others talked differently than the rest of us. As Peace Officers, they talked like Peace Officers. They use what I now call "Tactical Peace Phrases" -- language tailored and shaped to bring peace out of disorder.
Such peace language is not "natural" to most of us but it can be learned and should be employed by all of us. Certainly we should teach this in the recruit academies!
Let me discuss several of the most potent phrases.
"Can you go along with us here?" vs. "Do it or else!"
Police are authority figures and as such tend to order rather than to ask. Indeed, in the academies we hear for 16 plus weeks during our training, "Verbal commands, verbal commands," so when we leave the academy few of us remember to ASK!
Asking people for their cooperation shows them REspect and allows them to save personal face in front of their peers, where 'Do it or else' almost forces the other to resist to save face.
Hint: when you ask, if you turn your palm up, it reinforces the question; if you keep your palm down, it becomes closer to an order. Palm up softens people up! Using the interrogative tone softens people up. Good for everyone!
"You don't need this kind of trouble, sir" vs. "You want a problem?"
The first is tactical, the second more natural, hence worse! The aggressive officer uses the second, the assertive officer the first.
The first phrase has a positive impact, hence "assertive," because it shows a concern for the welfare of the subject.
The second is "aggressive" because it is pushy and combative and encourages resistance. In all cases "Peace Language" is professional language because it enhances the opportunities for achieving voluntary compliance and masks any inner feelings that might be naturally negative.
Any language that stimulates conflict is unprofessional. The utterance of, "You want a problem?" or the closely allied phrase, "You want trouble?" clearly reveals the officer's desire for conflict rather than peace, and generates it! Such phrases are also much closer to the natural inner feelings the officer may have towards a resistance subject.
Remember, the rule of thumb is, never give voice to your inner voice!
"Let me be sure I understand what you're telling me" vs. "Quiet down!"
This former phrase is the most powerful peace sentence because it projects empathy -- "I am trying to understand your position" -- while simultaneously shutting the other person up! The word empathy means to see through the eyes of the other, and it is perhaps the most powerful English word. Hence any phrase that suggests it will likewise be powerful.
If you need to interrupt someone, for example, "Quiet down!" doesn't work! It only exacerbates the situation, making the other more resistant.
To interrupt someone effectively, use the other phrase because no one continues to talk when you say it. All people want to hear their point being given back to them! You are now in control, talking, and they are actually listening rather than just waiting!
People calm down when they think you are trying to understand them and, when you paraphrase back to them what you heard, in calmer language, they almost always modify their original, extreme statements, thus becoming more reasonable! A wonderful verbal tactic!
Consider, the more someone thinks you will not understand them, the harder they will listen to prove it! This is a great example of a judo principle, using someone's negative energy against them and redirecting it into more positive channels!
'I appreciate you doing what you were asked' is a phrase calculated to help a subject save personal face in front of others, particularly after having been resistant! It's the last thing an officer might want to say (naturally), given a resistant subject, but it works, partly because it does not make the subject look as if he gave in. Compliance was his choice! It thus calms the subject and stifles future resistance-almost every time! Hence it makes the officer SAFER!
'For your safety and mine' is a phrase I encourage officers to use every time they meet any kind of resistance. It's good to emphasize both the "yours" and the "mine" so it isn't heard as a threat. It also places the event in a context where officer safety and public safety are the key issue -- not personalities!
For example, if you stop a car, contact the driver, and then plan to return to your vehicle to further conduct business, the last sentence you should say to the driver is, "For your safety and mine I will ask you to remain in your car until my return. Thank you!" Now should the subject later get out as you are trying to write the ticket, he would be in violation of your lawful, legal order based on public safety. Had the officer not said it, or had he just said, "Stay in the car," and the subject had gotten out, the officer would find himself in civil rights argument -- "I have the right to stand outside and smoke!" for example.
Moreover, the phrase always sounds good to those gathered around because it does not sound personal, only professional. I would go so far as to suggest that anytime you give an order, or ask someone to do something they might not wish to do, use this phrase. It's the peace officer talking peace and public safety!
'Can you help me help you' is another Peace Phrase calculated to make the subject see you as a helper rather than as an enforcer. The focus is on "we" not just "you," and the stress is on working together -- a parity of effort rather than in opposition.
The phrase shows concern for the welfare of the other and minimizes the officer as the only real force at the moment. The subject can suggest something and not lose any personal face. Anytime you can help a subject save personal face you greatly increase the chance of generating voluntary compliance!
Indeed, Peace Officers should make themselves experts at finding ways to help others save personal face if for no other reason than their own personal safety! We know that if you can help someone save face you almost never have to fight him!
And finally, that marvelous phrase, "Is there anything I can say to get you to do X,Y & Z? I'd like to think so!"
This most powerful of Peace Phrases puts the ball of verbalization back into the other's court, sounds caring and concerned that words will work, and allows the other to save face should he wish. Those of you who know Verbal Judo know that this is the last verbal attempt in our Five Steps to Persuasion, Step #4, and immediately precedes action should the answer be a resounding NO!
The phrase indicates the officer's hope that words will work and physical force can be avoided. As an opinion-seeking question it allows the other to suggest a verbal resolution, giving him some power as to the direction of the event, thus allowing him to save personal face. Those of us trained in Tactical Communication also know this to be a sign that action is about to happen should the subject continue to resist, so no one is caught by surprise when the officer moves beyond words.
The argument is simple: Peace Officers must not talk as all others do. They must talk the talk of peace, always and under all conditions, and this requires training and practice.