By Dr. George Thompson, Founder of the Verbal Judo Institute
In Part 1 of this special PoliceOne.com series, I shared the first four of seven things I suggest you never say to anyone:
1. "Hey you! Come here!" 2. "Calm down!" 3. "I'm not going to tell you again!" 4. "Be more reasonable!"
Now, I'll share three more…
5. "BECAUSE THOSE ARE THE RULES" (or "THAT'S THE LAW!")
If ever there was a phrase that irritates people and makes you look weak, this is it!
If you are enforcing rules/laws that exist for good reason, don't be afraid to explain that! Your audience may not agree with or like it, but at least they have been honored with an explanation. Note, a true sign of REspect is to tell people why, and telling people why generates voluntary compliance. Indeed, we know that at least 70% of resistant or difficult people will do what you want them to do if you will just tell them why!
When you tell people why, you establish a ground to stand on, and one for them as well! Your declaration of why defines the limits of the issue at hand, defines your real authority, but also gives the other good reason for complying, not just because you said so! Tactically, telling people why gets your ego out of it and put in its place a solid, professional reason for action.
Even at home, if all you can do is repeat, "those are the rules," you sound and look weak because you apparently cannot support your order/request with logic or good reason. Indeed, if you can put rules or policies into context and explain how the rules or policies are good for everyone, you not only help people understand, you help them save face. Hence, you are much more likely to generate voluntary compliance, which is your goal!
6. "WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM?"
This snotty, useless phrase turns the problem back on the person needing assistance. It signals this is a "you-versus-me" battle rather than an "us" discussion. The typical reaction is, "It's not my problem. You're the problem!"
The problem with the word problem is that it makes people feel deficient or even helpless. It can even transport people back to grade school where they felt misunderstood and underrated. Nobody likes to admit h/she has a problem. That's a weakness! When asked, "what's your problem?" the other already feels a failure. So the immediate natural reaction is, "I don't have one, you do!" which is a reaction that now hides a real need for help.
Substitute tactical phrases designed to soften and open someone up, like "What's the matter?", "How can I help?", or "I can see you're upset, let me suggest . . . ."
Remember, as an officer of peace, it is your business to find ways to gather good intel and to help those in need, not to pass judgments
7. "WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO ABOUT IT?"
A great cop-out (no pun…)! This pseudo-question, always accompanied by sarcasm, is clearly an evasion of responsibility and a clear sign of a lack of creativity! The phrase really reveals the speaker's exasperation and lack of knowledge. Often heard from untrained sales clerks and young officers tasked with figuring out how to help someone when the rules are not clear.
When you say, "What do you want me to do about it?" you can count on two problems: the one you started with and the one you just created by appearing to duck responsibility.
Instead, tactically offer to help sort out the problem and work toward a solution. If it truly is not in your area of responsibility, point the subject to the right department or persons that might be able to solve the problem.
If you are unable or unqualified to assist and you haven't a clue as to how to help the person, apologize. Such an apology almost always gains you an ally, one you may need at same later date. Beat cops need to remember it is important to "develop a pair of eyes" (contacts) every time they interact with the public. Had the officer said to the complainant, for example, "I'm sorry, I really do not know what to recommend, but I wish I did, I'd like to help you," and coupled that statement with a concerned tone of voice and a face of concern, he would have gone a long way toward making that person more malleable and compliant for the police later down the road.
Remember, insult strengthens resistance and shuts the eyes. Civility weakens resistance and opens the eyes!
It's tactical to be nice!
About the author
Dr. George J. Thompson is the President and Founder of the Verbal Judo Institute, a tactical training and management firm now based in Auburn, NY. For full details on Dr. Thompson's work and training, please visit the Verbal Judo Web Site.