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Winning tactics for speaking with subjects

Since the Rodney King beating on March 3, 1991 society has been slow to give officers the benefit of the doubt they once enjoyed — making tactical communication more important than ever

A couple of years ago I had an epiphany — and it has reshaped the way I view professional interactions with people who are unlike me. As a result, I want to suggest to officers a way of thinking about the populace they serve that can help them act with dignity and professionalism at all times, regardless of any differences — a perspective, if you will, that can help officers control their inner emotions and act with professional civility in all situations.

The ancient Greeks believed that all actions flow from philosophy — that philosophy directs the actions one takes. I offer the “Five Universal Truths” as a philosophy to guide officers in their daily interactions with difficult, often violent people, often from cultures and/or preferences different from themselves. I have used it on the streets and in the home, and it works.

Instead of focusing on how very different we all are (culturally, sexually, racially — the list goes on) what about reshaping the question? How are we all alike? What is true of all cultures?

The things we hold in common are the keys to treating people with professionalism, no matter what. They are what I call the “Five Universal Truths.”

1.) All cultures want to be respected and treated with dignity, regardless of the situation. When treated with disrespect, all people want revenge and fight.

2.) All people would rather be asked than told what to do. To ask is a sign of respect. To tell is often a sign of disrespect.

3.) All people want to know why they are asked or told to do something. Telling people why is another sign of respect and it calms 70 percent of difficult people. Not telling people why is a sign of disrespect and lowers morale in all organizations — including one’s own family.

4.) All people would rather have options than threats. Again, offering people a choice of action shows respect and allows people to save personal face. Threats are not only disrespectful, they force people to resist and fight if they have any backbone!

5.) Finally, all people want a second chance to make matters right! People are human — we err and act in ways we wished we hadn’t. Whenever appropriate, people value being given a second chance to get it right.

These “Five Universal Truths” are indeed universal, desired regardless of culture, color, race, gender, or sexual preference.

Think of a boss shouting at you in a hallway of your corporation — “Hey you, get in my office now!” How many of the Universal Truths did he violate? He was 1.) disrespectful, 2.) he didn’t ask but ordered, 3.) he didn’t say why, and 4.) he left no choice!

Four out of the five! Nice! How many times as parents have we done the same? “Hey, clean up your room!” Or a teacher to a student: “Pick up your book!”

Are you beginning to see why we are becoming an increasingly uncivil society?

If you often deal with people from other countries or cultures, you cannot make a mistake of substance if you obey these Truths. I believe that the first, treat everyone with dignity and respect, has no exception and should always be followed, regardless of the situation. No exceptions.

But the other four are conditional, subject to “SAFER” concerns, my acronym for the five times words alone fail.

Sometimes, words by themselves do not work, and other action(s) must be taken.

Here’s a brief rundown of the SAFER acronym: The S stands for Security of others or property under your control. When there is a security threat, action is required and the ability to exercise the other four Truths becomes impossible. We may have to order, may not have time to explain why or give options.

The same applies for the A in SAFER: when under Attack, act! No time for making talk primary.

The F stands for unlawful Flight from one’s lawful presence. The police example is clear — the prisoner runs — but also consider should your child suddenly try to dash into the street or a patient under your authority try to flee the hospital. You have no time to talk, only act.

The E stands for Excessive repetition, a state we define as existing when we have covered all our verbal bases — see our Five Steps of Persuasion — and we have no compliance forthcoming. When we have both of these criteria, we must take action, foregoing the other Universal Truths.

The R stands for Revised priorities. Sometimes when in dialogue with someone, something happens suddenly that is of a greater concern or severity which we must handle immediately, no time for talk. You must act.

During the past 27 years that I have traveled across this country (and others) teaching Verbal Judo/Tactical Communication, to police, security, and corrections departments and have often been asked: does your course help develop sensitivity to cultural differences? Can it help officers be more “sensitive” to people different from themselves? I believe it can, so I said, yes it does.

But make no mistake: This is not the “touchy-feely stuff” that has earned a negative reputation — many departments and organizations have spent thousands of dollars on in-depth “cross-cultural training,” (a training they hoped would create more sensitive and understanding officers on the beat). Too many times, the training had slight positive effect and even some negative effects. It often polarized people, setting one culture against another, unintentionally.

The guiding rule I teach is this: The more different someone is than you, the more you must treat them tactically. Let no one see a revealed bias, for to show another a bias is to give him a weapon to use against you.

Peace Warriors (which is what we define and teach) do not hand people weapons to use against them!

This philosophy rings true for many officers. Many bought in to our “performance-based philosophy.” It is “showtime” all the time!

Over the past two decades — really since the Rodney King beating of March 3, 1991 — society has been slow to give officers the benefit of the doubt they once enjoyed. The biggest change in police work is the shift in how officers are evaluated: the video has replaced the still picture as the pivotal point of judgment.

Where prior to 1991 if an officer shot someone or threw someone to the ground and cuffed him, the question was: did the officer, at that moment, have the elements to do the action? If he did, game over, good move, good action! That is the still-picture analysis. Your actions were viewed based on what could be gleaned from the snapshot.

Now the world views our actions as a video. People want to see how the officer began the event, how he or she handled it in the middle scenes, and how it ended.

In other words, since officers are being evaluated by their ‘video’ — their street actions — we should help them, as they are interacting with the public on the street, ensure that their video has a strong and positive beginning, middle and end.

The “Five Universal Truths” are fundamental to that script, without exception.

Dr. George J. Thompson is the President and Founder of the Verbal Judo Institute, a tactical training and management firm based in Auburn, NY. He has trained more than 500,000 police officers and his Verbal Judo course is required in numerous states. The course has been tailored for Corrections, and all kinds of businesses and other organizations.