Detecting lies, reading people, and getting confessions

Communication skills are the most important skills for those in law enforcement to master — often, it is poor communication skills that lead to our worst problems

Editor's Note: For more than a decade and a half, Lt. Jim Glennon has taught a class called Arresting Communications. In conjunction with Authors' Day at ILEETA 2010, we present the following article, which introduces — in an admittedly shameless plug — the availability of his book entitled Arresting Communication: Essential Skills for Law Enforcement published by PoliceOne Books.

By Lt. Jim Glennon, Lombard, IL (ret.)

I can’t hammer two sticks together. I’m not kidding. For a guy, I’m pretty much useless. A car is a car to me — nothing more than a mode of transportation. I’m not impressed by any model — I seriously can’t tell the difference between a Toyota and a Mercedes. When it comes to maintaining them I’m clueless, although I used to be able to change the oil. Of course, that’s when the engine consisted of about four moving parts, none of which I could name (beyond the cylinders, carburetor, and the flux capacitor).

Around the house I’m no better. A couple of months ago we bought a six-foot tall upright book shelf — it was delivered in a box. I looked at the delivery guy and said; “This can’t be it, it’s too flat.” He looked at me as though I had three heads and said, “Yeah, ya gotta put it together.”

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“Uh oh,” I said as I stood staring at the package and scratching various body parts. My five-foot tall, 100-pound wife walked up and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll do it.”

“Good” was the only reply I could muster as she and my 20-year-old daughter went to work. I did get them some water and ordered Chinese food.

My point? Well, I guess it’s to reveal that I have no real, actual talent. If I was born 100 years ago I would have been cast out of my community for worthlessness. I would have had nothing to contribute (since ordering Chinese wasn’t exactly a necessary skill back then). Dave Smith, one of my best friends, is taking me hunting in October. He talks about muzzle loaders and shot capacity and bullet velocity and I stand there pretending to be a man, acting as though I know what he is talking about.

I grunt, raise my eyebrows, act excited, and say things like, “I’ll bet that round’ll bring down an elk pretty damn quick huh?” All the while, I haven’t even a clue what I’m talking about. What I really want to say is, “Hey buddy, when you see something you want me to shoot, point, say fire, and I’ll pull the trigger. In the meantime ,while I sit here with deer piss dripping off my head, let me drink my hot chocolate and try to stay warm.”

Interestingly, and much to the dismay of my range officers, while I didn’t know much about guns (other than cleaning them, loading them, clearing them, and carrying them) I’m actually a pretty damn good shot. This fact drove my buddy Dan Belanger nuts!

But God does give everyone some talent in some field. I believe that. My talent, luckily, fit perfectly well for my chosen profession. Interestingly, I had no idea I possessed this skill until actually doing the job.

My talent? Getting confessions. Actually, it was more than just getting confessions — it was reading people and knowing how to talk to them. I could do it right away. One of my FTOs asked me during my second month on the job how I was able to tell who was the liar and how I got him to confess so quickly. My response? “I dunno, I could just tell and then I bullshitted him.” It seemed to satisfy his curiosity.

Now don’t get me wrong, just cuz’ I know how to read people and talk to them, build rapport and get them to tell me stuff doesn’t mean I always did it. I’m still me — Irish and a guy — so if my head wasn’t screwed on right I was an idiot at times. I still am.

But when I had my head in the game I was really good. Cocky in fact. I really did have the confidence that made me believe I was going to get a confession every time I needed one, and I believed I was the one who should be sent in to talk to suspects on big cases. I was also supremely good at being able to pick out who in a group was lying.

So the series of articles that follow this one over the next couple of weeks will do two things: address aspects of how this communication stuff works in the real world and highlight (through excerpts) my recently published book: Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.

Yes, that was a shameless plug.

I wrote the book over a ten-year period. It is based on my class that I have been teaching in some form since 1994. It is designed to bring to light one true fact: Communication skills are the most important skills for those in law enforcement to master. From detecting lies to understanding the human animal to learning the 'Principles of Interaction' to recognizing pre-attack indicators, the premise of the book is that communication skills are the foundation of success. It doesn’t matter how well you can decipher case law, shoot, use pressure points, or swing your baton, if you can’t communicate, you are screwed. Your career may falter, and you may literally die.

I had a very successful and fulfilling career. I loved 95 percent of it.  I hit a couple of rough patches over the 29-plus years and while all of them weren’t my fault (I had my share of idiot bosses), admittedly I contributed to each career bump. And if I had to pinpoint the problem, it was in the communication process — often it was the poor communication skills of the guys I had problems with, and sometimes it was all me and the way I came across.

So the book highlights my idiocy. It focuses on how I recovered. It addresses what I discovered.

“What was that discovery,” you ask? That the skills I used to get confessions were the same skills I used when:

• calming the irrational
• building rapport with others
• making others believe they had worth and value
• exhibiting command presence
• recognizing deceit and pre-attack
• interviewing for promotions and assignments

So I hope you both enjoy and find interesting what is to follow. As always I’d love to hear from you. For each story I tell, each idea that is expressed has a kindred cousin and interesting counterpart in your life. You’ll recognize similarities, be able to relate stories of your own, and I hope learn a little something from my experience and research. As I always say, I’m not the expert, I’m just interested in what worked and what didn’t, and I apply it to the realities of our profession.

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