|Empathy works wonders|
At times like these, when that gray matter above your neckline is as murky as Louisiana swamp-water, finding the right words to keep a verbal situation from escalating into a physical confrontation can be as difficult as understanding all those miscellaneous charges on your phone bill. However, unless you've been blessed with 21 inch biceps and a neck as thick as a truck tire, being quick with your mind can be one of the best disarming techniques to use on the streets. It can save your body a lot of wear and tear, and even reduce those nights you come home feeling as if you've been the canvas bag at a PR-24 demonstration.Let's face it. Those "I can whip you" hormones which permeated the air during our younger days eventually evaporate. To compensate, a little effort in bulking up your verbal skills may be the ticket to keeping you in an upright position when facing a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal who doesn't like being told what to do by the police.
In my dual roles as a pharmaceutical sales representative and reserve lieutenant for the Washington County, Tennessee Sheriff's Department, much of my time is spent trying to negotiate an outcome that is in the best interest of all involved. Obviously, my "customers" vary depending on what attire I'm wearing, but I've found some basic communication strategies work equally well in both arenas.
These strategies, or verbal counter-moves, fall into the following three categories:
1. THE IF/THEN ALTERNATIVE
This is straight from Psychology 101. When you give someone a perceived choice instead of a command, it is usually received better. It also demonstrates that your actions will be dependent upon theirs. People are more likely to comply when they are given some options. For example, "if you'll go with me quietly, then we'll see how quickly we can get this worked out," and "if you'll act like a gentleman, then I'll treat you like a gentleman." Or, in more extreme circumstances, "if you'll quit squirming, then I'll take my foot off your head."
2. SOFTEN THE VERBAL BLOW
Be diplomatic. Cushion the verbal blow when delivering the bad news by selecting words or phrases that take some of the "sting" out of what must be said. This may come in handy while serving subpoenas or when trying to locate a subject who may not wish to come to the door. Instead of "I've got an arrest warrant/order of protection to serve," soften it up with "I just have some papers I've been asked to deliver to them," or "I just need to talk with them a minute then I'll be on my way." Sure, you may be on your way after you hook them up, but why spoil the surprise?
These types of greetings may increase the odds of getting past whoever is running interference at the door, and put you face-to-face with who you're looking for. By changing the way you deliver a negative message, you may become less of a threat. If people think you've come by on a routine matter, all the better. Besides, a little bit of vagueness as to why you're casting a shadow on their doorstep may pique the perp's interest enough to where they crawl out from hiding under the bath mat.
3. SHOW EMPATHY
Offering empathy and understanding to someone in the heat of the moment can put their emotions in neutral. It can also buy some valuable time for gaining control of a situation. For instance, a 6'4", 275 lb. steelworker comes home drunk, trashes his house and threatens to beat his wife because she served beans and franks for supper when he wanted fried chicken. You don't have to approve of what he did, but by offering a sympathetic word or two, you may momentarily defuse the situation. "Look pal, I've had my moments when I've gotten out of control. It happens to all of us. Let's go outside and cool off for a minute before this gets out of hand . . . " Be creative. Find something to take his mind off the current situation. Talk about his car, the stuffed possum mounted above the fireplace, or even his Barry Manilow CD collection. The point is to allow time for backup to arrive. Then, if wrestlemania breaks out when you attempt to take him into custody, your tag-team partner will be close by.
As both a cop and sales representative, I've found a lot of common ground between the two occupations. With each job, the eventual outcome of a situation can be influenced by the words that you use. In police work, finding the right ammunition to fire a verbal shot instead of automatically relying on the tools hanging from your duty belt can drastically reduce the need for filling out a use of force report. It might also give your body a needed break from all the battle scars that tend to make rolling out of bed in the morning an unwelcome challenge.
Scott Fielden is a reserve lieutenant with the Washington Co. (TN) Sheriff's Office, and is a contributing writer for several law enforcement publications. His book, "Music City Blues" is available on Amazon.com. He can be reached on the web at www.policewriter.com/Members/sfielden.htm