You have been appointed by the chief of police to represent the police department in communicating with a newly formed civilian police oversight board. Board members have no law enforcement experience and are very vocal about defunding the police and potentially eliminating the police department entirely. They are concerned with a lack of information from the department when a use of force incident occurs. Using the IMPACT model, detail each of the six steps that you would use to establish communications with the board, address their concerns and emphasize the importance of law enforcement to the community. The chief and administration have committed to make changes in the department’s policies and training to include de-escalation, crisis intervention, and body cameras for all officers. Part of your mission is to communicate these changed to the new board while establishing trust and transparency.
Review the six steps of IMPACT Model from your textbook, Law Enforcement Interpersonal Communication and Conflict Management: The IMPACT Model:
- Identify and manage emotions.
- Master the story.
- Promote positive behavior.
- Achieve rapport.
- Control your response.
- Take perspective.
Using the IMPACT model, develop a 5–7 page plan for addressing the conflict with the civilian police oversight board, in which you:
- Define the conflict between the board and the police department.
- Use the IMPACT Model to address the conflict.
- Explain at least three initiatives that the department can incorporate to help resolve the conflict.
- Use five credible, relevant, and appropriate sources to support your writing. Cite each source listed on your source page at least once within your assignment. For help with research, writing, and citation, access the library or review library guides.
- You may use the two required textbooks, Law Enforcement Interpersonal Communication and Conflict Management and Community Policing Today, for two of your sources, but must provide at least three additional sources to support your selected initiatives.
This course requires the use of Strayer Writing Standards. For assistance and information, please refer to the Strayer Writing Standards link in the left-hand menu of your course. Check with your professor for any additional instructions. The specific course learning outcome associated with this assignment is:
- Review strategies to improve discretionary decision-making.
• 5 •
Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or
her neck that says, “Make me feel important.”
—Mary Kay Ash
The abilities to establish and to maintain rapport are critical aspects of communicating successfully with others. Simply put, rapport is
the process of building mutual liking and trust. When we have a rap-
port with someone, we engage naturally. We feel a sense of comfort and
familiarity, we lower our barriers to resistance, and we become more
receptive to the other person’s ideas. The better we are at establishing
and maintaining rapport, the more effective we will be at persuad-
ing others, promoting positive behavior, diagnosing problems, manag-
ing conflict, and soothing strong emotions. On the other hand, unless we
can build trust and rapport, others are unlikely to share their thoughts
and feelings with us, listen to our advice, or honor our requests.
We begin to build rapport with others by finding similarities and cre-
ating connections. In some cases, rapport occurs effortlessly. Connecting
with the person is easy—we discover quickly that we have many interests
in common, we feel naturally at ease, and we are comfortable sharing our
thoughts and feelings. We listen to and validate the other person, and he
listens to and validates us. In other cases, it is more difficult to build rap-
port. We find ourselves struggling to find common ground. Rather than
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68 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
connecting easily and effortlessly, we must look for ways to build rapport
systematically. In either case, building rapport is an important step to
successful communication and problem solving. It is also instrumental to
our successful use of many of the other techniques outlined in this book.
TRUST AND RAPPORT
Research findings have consistently supported the idea that the “mes-
senger is the message.” In other words, the way we evaluate a message
is a direct reflection of our perception of the person delivering the mes-
sage. The more favorably we view the messenger (the person delivering
the message), the more favorably we view the message itself. This is
because we transfer our feelings about the messenger, whether positive
or negative, to the message, a phenomenon psychologists refer to as the
halo effect. As most people can attest, we are more likely to listen to
messages from people we admire or respect than from individuals we
dislike or disrespect. The more others like and trust us, the more apt
they are to listen to, and to be influenced by, our messages. Our abilities
to build trust and rapport and, in turn, our success at persuading others
are influenced by first impressions, credibility, likability, and power.
Research has shown that in the first few milliseconds of meeting
someone for the first time, we decide whether we like the person or not.
The first impressions we form of others are based almost exclusively on
nonverbal signals. We judge others based on their appearance, body lan-
guage, demeanor, mannerisms, and dress. When we meet someone for
the first time, we generally know very little about the person. Therefore,
the person’s physical appearance and nonverbal messages are all that
we have to go on. Based on what we see, we form impressions about
what the person is like and what types of behaviors to expect. Forming
first impressions is not a conscious process; rather, it is something that
seems to be hardwired into the human nervous system.
To complicate matters further, first impressions can be stubbornly dif-
ficult to change. This is because our first impressions (either conscious
or unconscious) act as filters. They affect how we interpret and react to
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Achieve Rapport 69
a person’s future behavior. If our first impression of someone is negative
(for example, we perceive the person as rude or condescending), we attach
a negative label (such as “rude”) to the person. We don’t label the person
as merely “having a bad day.” Rather, we label her a “bad person.” If a
person is rude in one setting, we expect her to be rude in other settings
as well. On the other hand, if our first impression of a person is positive
(for example, we see her as polite or courteous), we attach a positive label
(such as “polite”). Again, we don’t label the person as “having a good
day.” Rather, we label her a “good person.” If she is polite in one situation,
we expect her to be polite in other situations.
Because first impressions act as filters, once we form an impres-
sion, we interpret the person’s future behaviors in ways that confirm
our earlier conclusions. If we have labeled a person as rude, we look for
other discourteous behaviors while ignoring or discounting evidence
that does not fit our expectations. When the person does something con-
sistent with our first impression, we tell ourselves, “I knew this guy was
a jerk.” On the other hand, if the person behaves in a way that is incon-
sistent with our first impression, we ignore the evidence. “Anybody can
say something nice,” we might say. “This guy is still a jerk.” The old
adage “You have only one chance to make a good first impression” is
especially important in many law enforcement settings, where we often
have only one contact with any given person. By paying attention to our
nonverbal messages (facial expressions, mannerisms, and appearance),
we can influence the first impressions that others form of us and, in turn,
increase our abilities to connect, to persuade, and to motivate others.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle invested considerable time
studying how the politicians of his day managed to persuade voters. He
identified credibility, or ethos, as one of the three principal methods of
persuasion. Contrary to popular belief, credibility (that is, believability),
is not something a person possesses, like eye color or height. Rather,
it is something that can be awarded only by others; it must be earned.
Aristotle further identified three factors that affect a person’s credibility:
competence (or expertise), character (trustworthiness), and goodwill.
Competence involves how much we know—in other words, the type
and amount of expertise we possess. One measure of competence that
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70 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
is often overlooked is physical appearance. As a general rule, the more
knowledgeable, competent, and attractive we appear to be, the greater
our ability to persuade others.
The second factor in credibility, character, encompasses the traits
commonly associated with trustworthiness, such as dependability,
integrity, and fairness. It also includes our beliefs about whether some-
one is communicating honestly and openly. We rate people whom we
believe to be honest, fair, and open as trustworthy. On the other hand,
we view people whom we consider to be dishonest with suspicion.
The third characteristic, goodwill, involves the extent to which we
believe someone has our best interests in mind. Most of us prefer to
interact with others we see as honest, authentic, and transparent. Con-
versely, we tend to judge people with hidden agendas more harshly,
especially if we believe they are attempting to hide something from us.
The third element influencing the ability to establish rapport is lik-
ability. We are all more likely to be persuaded by people we like than by
those we dislike. As Dale Carnegie (1936/1981) observes in his classic
book How to Win Friends and Influence People, liking and persuasion
are inseparable. One important aspect of liking is similarity—that is,
the degree to which we believe others are similar to us in their inter-
ests and beliefs. Our preference for similarity seems to hold whether it
involves opinions, values, personality traits, backgrounds, or lifestyles.
In other words, people like people who are like themselves. This means
that we can enhance our ability to connect with others by communicat-
ing that “we are alike.” While this might seem challenging considering
the spectrum of personalities and attitudes that law enforcement officers
inevitably encounter, it is usually not as difficult as it might appear. We
can almost always find similarities and common interests with others if
we are willing to work at it long enough.
One way of demonstrating interest is to focus on the other per-
son and his needs. We do this by listening actively to the person and
to his behavior, by identifying key words and phrases, and by look-
ing for similarities. It is worth noting, however, that just as similarities
can enhance our abilities to communicate and to connect with others,
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Achieve Rapport 71
dissimilarities often have the opposite effect—that is, they make it
more difficult to establish trust and rapport.
The fourth aspect of establishing rapport is power, or the ability to
influence others. Power can be divided into two categories: positional
and personal. Positional power is determined by our status, rank, or
authority, which includes our abilities to reward and to punish others for
their behaviors. For example, a supervisor has more positional power
than a subordinate employee. Personal power, on the other hand, has to
do with individual characteristics such as knowledge, expertise, deter-
mination, courage, and communication skills. While positional power
is determined by a person’s standing within an organization’s structure,
personal power is awarded by others because they respect or admire
the person. Thus, the amount of personal power someone possesses has
nothing to do with rank or authority; rather, it is based solely on the
person’s character and competence.
Some people have considerable positional power but very little
personal power. For example, a supervisor may have extensive formal
authority—including the abilities to reward and to punish the behaviors
of others—but may lack personal power because subordinate employ-
ees do not respect him. Other people possess little, if any, positional
power but still have considerable personal influence over others. In law
enforcement this is often the case with peer-group leaders, officers who
possess little formal authority but wield significant influence because of
their tenure, expertise, or other personal factors.
As law enforcement officers, we have considerable positional power.
We have the authority to carry firearms, seize people and their belong-
ings, and arrest those suspected of violating the law. Unfortunately, too
many officers rely solely on positional power to compel compliance.
Rather than ask, they demand. Although this can be effective in the
short term, it often creates more problems than it solves. People follow
such orders by doing only the minimum required. In other cases, they
may do the opposite or refuse to follow orders altogether.
While there are clearly times when it is necessary to use positional
power, we should do so only as a last resort. Instead, we should work
72 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
to develop our personal power. Unlike positional power, there are no
restrictions on personal power. Indeed, our personal power actually
increases the more frequently and effectively we use it. The more we
develop our knowledge, experience, communication skills, and other
desirable traits, the more powerful we become.
The next facet of building rapport is our ability to communicate effec-
tively. As noted in Chapter 1, we continuously send and receive mes-
sages whenever we interact with others. While some of those messages
are clearly intentional—that is, meant to transmit information, invoke a
response, or both—others are sent without conscious awareness. How-
ever, regardless of our intent, all behavior communicates something
valuable about our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes.
The messages that we send to others can be divided into two gen-
eral categories: verbal and nonverbal. Verbal communication consists of
the words we use to transmit information, while nonverbal communica-
tion entails those parts of a message sent without words, such as facial
expressions, gaze, tone of voice, proxemics, gestures, and posture.
Research by psychologist Albert Mehrabian (1972) suggests that 93%
of a message’s emotional impact is derived from nonverbal sources. In
contrast, only 7% of a message’s emotional value is contained in the
actual words that are used (see Figure 5.1).
Even without special training, most people are fairly skilled at
decoding many types of nonverbal messages. This means that anytime
we communicate with others, especially people who are irate, frus-
trated, or emotional, we need to be careful about the signals we send,
especially nonverbal cues. This includes ensuring that our words and
behaviors send the same message.
The words we use constitute our verbal messages. Most mes-
sages contain both emotional and logical dimensions. The emotional
dimension entails the communication of feelings (anger, sadness, or
disgust, for example), attitudes (whether we like or dislike something
Achieve Rapport 73
or someone), and predispositions (such as anxiousness or confidence).
Clearly, some ideas are difficult or uncomfortable to put into words
and, therefore, are best expressed nonverbally. The logical dimension of
messages, on the other hand, represents the communication of thoughts
or ideas and relies heavily on the spoken word.
Unlike with other less conscious aspects of communication, we have
the power to choose our words. The language we select can significantly
influence our ability to establish rapport. The right words can go a long
way toward enhancing trust, improving communication, and promoting
positive behavior. Conversely, the wrong words can destroy any chance
we may have of connecting with others. In choosing our words, we
should consider the following elements:
• Greeting: Anytime we contact someone, we should acknowledge the
person with a greeting, such as “Good morning” or “Hi, are you the
person who called?”
• Introduction: In addition to greeting the person, we should begin every
contact by introducing ourselves and by explaining the nature of our
business. A simple introduction should include name, title, agency, and
reason for the contact. For instance: “Good afternoon, I am Officer
Jackson with the Pleasantville Police Department. Can I speak with
you about your neighbor?”
• Use of proper title: Except where it is obviously unnecessary because
of an existing relationship, we should initially address the person by
SOURCE: Adapted from Mehrabian, A. (1972). Nonverbal communication. New Bruns-
wick, NJ: Aldine Transaction.
Figure 5.1 Emotional Impact of Communicative Modalities
74 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
using the appropriate title as well as name. Until we have obtained the
person’s permission to use a less formal form of address, we should
address the person as “Sir” or “Ma’am.”
• Use of person’s name: Addressing a person by name demonstrates per-
sonal concern. It shows that we have taken the time to learn and remem-
ber the person’s name. This can be an important step in establishing trust
and rapport. Nonetheless, there are times when calling a person by his
first name is inappropriate. If there is any doubt as to the appropriateness
of using someone’s first name, we should ask permission. For example,
“Mr. Johnson, is it all right if I call you Steve?”
• Use of polite and respectful language: Regardless of what the other per-
son does or says, we should remain professional and polite at all times.
Simple phrases such as “thank you” and “you’re welcome” are consid-
ered basic civilities. Failure to use these phrases is often considered rude
• Use of proper language: We should try to use language that is easily
and commonly understood. We should avoid using technical terms,
police jargon, and other phrases that are unique to law enforce-
ment when explaining things to people outside the law enforcement
community. For example, “Sir, I understand that you are having a
problem with your neighbor” is more likely to be understood than
“Sir, I was dispatched to investigate a possible civil action against
• Small talk: Engaging in some friendly small talk or chitchat usually
costs nothing but a few moments of time and can go a long way toward
establishing rapport and humanizing the encounter. Not engaging in
small talk when appropriate can appear callous or uncaring. There is
more to interpersonal communication than “just the facts.”
The term paralanguage refers to nonverbal vocal messages such as
the rate, volume, pitch, tone, and cadence of speech. We use paralan-
guage to reinforce messages, to shape impressions, and to regulate our
interactions with others. Our messages can take on different meanings
depending on the vocal qualities of rate, volume, pitch, tone, and cadence,
as well as the words we choose to emphasize. Because paralanguage
can be difficult to control, it often provides important information about
our true feelings and attitudes. More important, studies have found that
when our paralanguage contradicts our spoken words, people tend to
Achieve Rapport 75
pay more attention to the paralanguage and other nonverbal cues than
to our verbal messages. In other words, it is not always what we say
that matters, but rather how we say it. This also suggests that to com-
municate effectively with others, we must ensure that our verbal and
nonverbal messages are consistent. We should be aware of the following
aspects of our vocal messages:
• Consistency of paralanguage and words: Our paralanguage should
always match our spoken words. If we tell a person that we are concerned
about her problem but our tone is harsh or critical, we send conflicting
messages. If we say that we are concerned, our tone should demonstrate
an appropriate level of empathy.
• Appropriate volume: Low to moderate volume levels are typically best
for interpersonal communication. When we bark out orders or yell at
others, we are seen as unprofessional or, in some cases, out of con-
trol. Very few behaviors demonstrate self-assurance as well as “quiet
• Appropriate speech: With a few rare exceptions, our tone of voice
should be calm and professional. There is never a good reason to use
sarcasm or derogatory language. Not only is such language unprofes-
sional, but its use also undermines trust and rapport.
Nonverbal messages are especially important because what we do
is often more meaningful than what we say. If, for example, we tell a
person that we are interested in better understanding his story while
we look at our watch and roll our eyes, we communicate disinterest. In
most cases, people look at nonverbal gestures (such as looking at our
watch and rolling our eyes) as unvarnished indicators of our true feeling
and react accordingly.
Anytime we interact with others, we pay special attention to
their faces for signs of emotion, interest, and attitude. We use our
faces to regulate our interactions with others, to send uncomfortable
messages, and to reinforce or to modify verbal messages. Studies fur-
ther suggest that facial expressions offer unique insight into people’s
76 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
true emotional states. Indeed, some researchers have gone so far as
to suggest that the study of the face is the study of emotion itself. As
early as 1872, in his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and
Animals, Charles Darwin (1872/1998) discussed the important role
of the face in expressing emotion. Darwin believed that our ability
to communicate nonverbally evolved in the same ways as the rest of
the brain and body. Long before human beings mastered verbal mes-
sages, primates used facial expressions to transmit their attitudes and
Psychologist Paul Ekman (2003) has identified six universal facial
expressions of emotion (anger, disgust, fear, joy, surprise, and sadness)
and the distinct positions of the eyebrows, forehead, eyes, and mouth
associated with each expression. For example, happiness and surprise
are noticeable in the eyes and lower face, while anger is visible in the
lower face, eyebrows, and forehead. Although faces can transmit a
wealth of important information, they can be difficult to read accurately.
This is because our faces transmit two sets of signals: the voluntary
messages that we want others to see and the involuntary expressions that
we prefer to hide. Facial expressions can also change very quickly (in
as little as one-tenth of a second in some cases). Therefore, to read faces
accurately, we must learn to pay special attention to the areas around
the eyebrows, forehead, eyes, and mouth. With enough practice, any-
one can learn to pick out even the subtlest expressions with astonishing
Our posture provides important clues about our desire to be closer,
both physically and psychologically, to people we like. Posture consists
of two primary dimensions: immediacy and relaxation. Immediacy is
observable primarily in relationships. It communicates our feelings of
warmth as well as our desire to be closer to others. We demonstrate
our attitudes toward others through approach and avoidance behaviors.
Approach behaviors include direct body orientation, symmetric position-
ing, and a forward lean. In contrast, avoidance behaviors, actions that
signal dislike or disinterest, involve leaning away, poor eye contact, and
Achieve Rapport 77
a closed posture. The second dimension of posture, relaxation, is influ-
enced by status differences among people. As a general rule, we tend
to exhibit more relaxed posture in nonthreatening environments (when
interacting with others in status positions similar to or lower than ours)
and less relaxed posture when we feel threatened (when interacting with
others in higher status positions).
Understanding posture is important in building rapport because we
tend to increase approach behaviors and adapt a more relaxed posture
around people we like or admire. Conversely, we are more likely to
increase avoidance behaviors and to show signs of tension around peo-
ple we dislike. Generally, we face people we like directly, while we face
away from the people we dislike. People often interpret closed posture
as a sign of dislike and disinterest. On the other hand, an open and
relaxed posture is commonly believed to be a sign of liking and interest.
Like other animals, human beings claim and stake out spaces to call
their own. Proxemics, the study of how people and animals use space to
communicate, consists of two major dimensions: distance and territo-
riality. Distance is the actual physical space between people. One way
that we communicate our feelings toward others is by controlling the
physical space around us. Territoriality involves the claiming of an area.
Animals claim and defend territory for a variety of reasons, including
food and mating. Humans also engage in territorial behavior as a way of
demonstrating their power and status.
According to anthropologist Edward Hall (1966), our choices
regarding personal space—that is, the particular distances we main-
tain from others—depend on how we feel about the other persons. Hall
identifies four distances, or zones, that we use to control our interaction
with others. The first distance, the intimate zone, is our personal space.
It represents our innermost region of interaction, typically in the space
ranging from physical contact to about 18 inches from the body. This
zone is reserved for the few special people in our lives. The second area,
the personal zone, extends from 18 inches to around 4 feet out from
the body. This is the distance we prefer when conversing with friends
78 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
and close acquaintances. The third region, the social zone, ranges from
4 feet to about 8 feet out. We use the social zone to conduct business
or when talking with others in a professional capacity. The final area,
the public zone, begins at around 10 feet from the body and extends
indefinitely. At this distance, communication tends to be formal, such
as a public speech.
When someone violates our personal space, the experience can be
either positive or negative, depending on our feelings for the person.
For example, if somebody we like sits closer to us than expected (pos-
itive violation), we usually do not mind. In contrast, if a person we
dislike comes too close (negative violation), we often feel anxious or
uncomfortable. The outcome in either case depends on our relationship
with the person. The distances that we maintain from others, as well as
the distances that they maintain from us, communicate important infor-
mation about our feelings and attitudes. With proxemics, as with other
forms of nonverbal communication, we should monitor the messages
that we send to others to promote an image of professionalism, warmth,
and respect whenever possible.
Eye contact is usually the first form of interaction we have with
another person. If that exchange is negative, we often have no further
contact. We also use eye contact to express emotion and to decrease the
physical and psychological distance between others and ourselves. Eye
contact is perhaps most important in communicating liking and interest.
We tend to gaze more at things and people we find likable or interesting
and to avoid eye contact with people we dislike. This makes eye contact
a simple yet effective way of demonstrating interest in others. Failure
to establish positive eye contact, on the other hand, can signal our dis-
approval or disliking of others, significantly reducing our abilities to
establish rapport, build trust, and open lines of communication.
Nonverbal Behavior Strategies
The messages that we send to others are affected not only by the
words we choose but also by our facial expressions, gaze, posture, and
Achieve Rapport 79
proxemics. The following strategies can help us send the most consist-
ent, effective messages possible, while helping to establish trust and
• Visual and vocal accord: One function of nonverbal communication is
to clarify verbal messages. As we have seen, perhaps the most impor-
tant aspect of body language is that it matches our verbal message.
When our verbal and visual messages are inconsistent, people are more
likely to believe the nonverbal message.
• Open posture: One of the most obvious expressions of nonverbal
behavior is posture. We should monitor our posture at all times, main-
taining an open posture whenever possible and without compromis-
ing officer safety. An open posture typically involves relaxed arms and
shoulders, appropriate eye contact, positive …
• 4 •
PROMOTE POSITIVE BEHAVIOR
People don’t change their behavior unless it makes a difference for
them to do so.
Regardless of how good we are at managing emotions or listening, we won’t be very effective at dealing with others unless we can gain
their willing cooperation. Too often, officers believe it is their job to issue
orders, and it is the job of others to follow those orders. As law enforce-
ment professionals, we have tremendous authority, including the pow-
ers to detain, search, and arrest. Nonetheless, our abilities to compel or
coerce others are limited. To begin with, most of the people we encounter
are not hardened criminals but honest, hardworking citizens, just like us.
They might be emotional, they might be frustrated, they might be having
a bad day, or they might be experiencing all of the above. In any case,
our challenge is the same: to motivate and persuade others to do what we
need them to do voluntarily, not to force compliance.
Gaining cooperation is not getting others to do what we want them
to do. Rather, it is getting others to want to do what we want them to
do. This is not a trivial point. In the first case, we can compel certain
people under certain conditions to follow orders. Telling people what
to do, however, has its limits. To begin with, most people (regardless
of who they are) don’t like being told what to do. When people feel
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52 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
pushed, they tend to push back. The harder we push, the harder they
push back. If they decide to cooperate, they do so begrudgingly, doing
only the minimum asked of them. Second, whenever we compel people
to cooperate, we run the risk of creating anger and resentment. People
who are angry at law enforcement can be quick to lodge complaints.
Whether or not complaints lack merit, they become a permanent part of
officers’ personnel records in most law enforcement agencies. Regard-
less of the types or outcomes, complaints can have negative impacts on
officers’ consideration for promotion, special assignments, and training.
Angry, frustrated, and emotional people can also be dangerous people.
In extreme cases, they may lash out physically, injuring officers, them-
selves, or others.
It stands to reason that, despite our formal authority as peace
officers, our ability to force compliance is limited. While we can com-
pel some people to cooperate under some circumstances, we clearly
lack the authority to compel everyone to cooperate under every circum-
stance. We can, however, use a number of tactics to promote positive
behavior and get others to do what we need without resorting to coer-
cion. Throughout this book, I use the term positive behavior to refer
to actions that are compliant and cooperative. In other words, peo-
ple demonstrate positive behavior by cooperating willingly with our
requests. By getting others to cooperate voluntarily, we not only make
our jobs easier and reduce complaints but also improve our safety and
effectiveness in virtually every aspect of our work.
The first aspect of promoting positive behavior is our style of interact-
ing with others. Our abilities to communicate and to connect effectively
are critical to building trust and rapport. Saying the right words in the
right way and at the right time can go a long way toward reducing ten-
sion, soothing strong emotions, and securing cooperation. However, the
reverse is also true: Saying the wrong words in the wrong way and at the
wrong time can make an already bad situation even worse. Two critical
aspects of communicating successfully with others are our conflict style
and our words and language.
Promote Positive Behavior 53
Studies have identified three basic styles of conflict communication:
passive, aggressive, and assertive. Each has its own set of strengths and
weaknesses. Understanding all of these styles allows us to approach our
communication with others in the most productive ways possible.
Passive Style of Communication
Our goal when using a passive style is to avoid saying or doing
anything that might offend the other person. We express our concerns
indirectly. However, in doing so, we often fail to set appropriate limits.
Because our goal is to not say or do anything offensive, we go along
begrudgingly, dragging our feet while looking for ways to sabotage the
agreement. The problem with passive communication is that our concerns
go unrecognized and unmet. Over time, our resentment grows, and we end
up blaming the other person for our failure to voice our concerns. When
we have finally had enough, we go on the attack. While this approach may
get us some of what we want, it can permanently damage the relationship.
Aggressive Style of Communication
In contrast to the passive style, our goal when using an aggressive
style of communication is to dominate the other person and to get our
way. We tell others in no uncertain terms just how wrong they are while
pushing them to give us what we want. If they fail to give in, we push
even harder. If they continue to hold out, we punish them. What we
fail to realize is that the harder we push, the harder they push back.
The more we blame others, the more they blame us. Even when they
do give in, they do so reluctantly. While this tactic may get us some of
what we want in the short term, the more we try to dominate others,
the more their resentment grows. Over time, the relationship becomes
increasingly dysfunctional, until it eventually fails completely, making
meaningful communication virtually impossible.
Assertive Style of Communication
The passive and aggressive styles of communication are usually not
well suited for law enforcement. We cannot wait passively for others
54 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
to acknowledge our concerns. We need others to follow our directions,
and we need them to do so promptly and voluntarily. On the other hand,
being overly aggressive usually results in little more than resentment
and resistance. People push back in an attempt to retain their freedom.
They may refuse to follow simple directions, or they may refuse to
cooperate altogether. Fortunately, there is a third alternative. An asser-
tive style of communication allows us to express concerns, set limits,
and motivate others in respectful ways. It provides a way of managing
conflict and dealing with others without ignoring our own concerns or
our safety, and without permanently damaging the relationship.
Assertive messages follow a three-part formula, referred to as a
• Describe the behavior: The first step is to describe the facts as we per-
ceive them. That is, we share our observations of the person’s behavior
as clearly and factually as possible. We do not guess at the person’s
motives or speculate about thoughts, feelings, or intentions. We sim-
ply describe the behavior as factually and objectively as possible. The
more objectively we describe the person’s behavior, the less likely we
are to trigger defensiveness or resistance.
• Express the result: The second step is to express the effects of the
person’s behavior. Again, we need to explain the results as factually
and objectively as possible, without overdramatizing, blaming, or
mind reading. In other words, what were the outcomes of the person’s
behavior? For example, did the behavior result in an unnecessary
delay? Did the behavior result in additional work? Did the behavior
further aggravate someone who was already emotionally distressed?
• Request what you want: The final step is to request a specific change in
behavior. We need to remember that we cannot change another person’s
personality, values, or beliefs. Therefore, asking someone to change her
attitude is pointless. It is simply too vague. “You need to have a better
attitude,” we might say. “How do you know what my attitude is?” the
person responds. “My attitude is fine!” Rather, we should focus on spe-
cific, objective behaviors. The more explicit we are with our request,
the better our chances of getting what we want.
The following scenario, involving an officer attempting to resolve
a family dispute, provides an example of assertive communication.
Each time the officer presents the wife with a set of options, she
interrupts by yelling, “This is his fault!” The officer then describes
Promote Positive Behavior 55
the wife’s behavior in specific, objective terms (the first step in the
D-E-R script): “Ma’am, each time I offer a solution, you interrupt
me by yelling.” Next, the officer outlines the result of her behavior
(the second step): “By interrupting me, you make it more difficult to
resolve this.” Finally, the officer describes the desired change in the
woman’s behavior (the third step): “What I need from you is to let me
finish speaking; otherwise, I cannot be of any help.”
Again, it is important to note that assertive communication includes
specific requests for changes in behavior, rather than vague requests to
modify attitudes or beliefs. Ambiguous statements like “I need you to
be more helpful” are simply too fuzzy. The more specific the request,
the more likely we are to get what we need.
Words and Language
In addition to selecting our style of communication carefully, we
need to be sensitive about the words and language we choose. Words
are powerful. The language that we choose can aggravate an already dif-
ficult situation or help move us closer to agreement. This is especially
true when we are interacting with people who are irate, frustrated, or
emotional. Rather than attempt to coerce others to our way of thinking,
we should strive for a balance of confidence and humility. This usually
requires that we take a softer approach, such as changing our truths to
perceptions and changing our conclusions to hypotheses. For example,
we could soften “The fact of the matter is” to “If I understand correctly.”
Or we might modify “It seems clear to me that” to “It appears that.”
Tempering our language in this way can reduce defensiveness while
making it safe for others to offer their views.
A second way we can increase our chances of communicating and
connecting with others is to focus the discussion on our own thoughts
and feelings rather than on their behaviors. As discussed in more depth
in Chapter 7, we should avoid reading too much into others’ behaviors.
Referring to our own thoughts and behaviors, however, can be an effec-
tive way to facilitate a dialogue. We do this by replacing “you” statements
with “I” statements (see Table 4.1). Because “you” statements express
judgments about others, they often create resentment and resistance.
56 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
For example, statements such as “You are making me mad!” or “You
obviously don’t get it!” are likely to provoke defensive responses. Most
of us do not like to admit our mistakes, even when we are clearly wrong.
“I” statements, on the other hand, allow us to communicate our thoughts
and concerns without accusing the other person of wrongdoing.
“I” statements allow us to reframe a problem in a way that describes
the impact of the person’s behavior without challenging his thoughts or
feelings. Statements such as “I don’t understand” and “Perhaps I could
have explained myself better” are nonaccusatory and, therefore, less
likely to prompt defensive responses. One reason “I” statements are
effective is that we are not telling the other person what to think, what
to feel, or what to do. Rather, we are simply being honest about what
we are thinking and feeling.
Even the best “I” statements, however, will not be very helpful
unless they are delivered in the right way. “I” statements work best
when our verbal and nonverbal messages are harmonious. If our words
are neutral but our voice tone, facial expression, and body language
all send accusatory messages, we are likely to promote resentment and
resistance. To be successful in using “I” statements, we must describe
our thoughts, feelings, and opinions while avoiding the appearance of
judgment. Our goal is to explain the effects of the person’s behavior, not
to evaluate the behavior’s worth.
While “I” statements can increase our chances of being heard, noth-
ing works in every situation. None of us wants to hear how our behavior
caused problems for others, regardless of how the message is delivered.
Table 4.1 “You” Statements Versus “I” Statements
“You” Statement “I” Statement
You are making me angry. I am feeling angry.
You obviously don’t get it. I am not making myself clear.
You need to listen. I need to better explain myself.
You only care about yourself. I need to better understand your
You are not explaining things very
I am not doing a good job of
SOURCE: Adapted from Adler, R. B., & Proctor, R. F., II. (2007). Looking out/looking
in (12th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education.
Promote Positive Behavior 57
In other cases, we are simply too entrenched or too emotionally invested
to listen, regardless of the approach. Nonetheless, “I” statements
will almost always improve our chances of success without making
REMOVE THE BARRIERS
Anytime we deal with irate, frustrated, or difficult people, we can
expect to encounter a number of predictable barriers. In order to build
rapport, gather information, and promote positive behavior, we need
to recognize and remove these obstacles. Three of the most common
problems are failing to meet the person’s basic needs, discounting the
person’s involvement in the process, and disregarding the person’s need
to save face.
Meet the Person’s Basic Needs
Despite our individual differences, all human beings share a num-
ber of basic needs. We can increase our chances of promoting positive
behavior and gaining voluntary cooperation by recognizing, acknowl-
edging, and fulfilling these needs. The following are some of our most
• Safety and security
• Sense of belonging
• Sense of achievement
While each of these needs is important, this list fails to include one
of the most basic, yet often overlooked, human motivations: the need
for respect. Our need for respect runs through virtually every aspect of
our personal and professional lives. Respect encompasses esteem, sta-
tus, and recognition. It also involves our needs for fundamental fairness
and equality. It is important to note that treating another with respect is
58 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
unrelated to how we actually feel about the person. We can have positive
feelings about a person without respecting his behavior. On the other
hand, we can respect someone we do not like. We can respect someone
for being honest, hardworking, or talented but also have no interest in
getting to know the person better. When we fail to show respect for an
individual, the conversation is no longer about the original problem. It
is now about defending one’s self-worth. As history has demonstrated
repeatedly, people will go to great lengths—including a willingness to
die, in some cases—to defend their dignity and self-respect.
If we hope to establish a meaningful dialogue, we must continu-
ously honor the other person’s basic humanity, including the needs for
respect, dignity, and self-esteem, regardless of our personal feelings.
Part of doing so is taking the person’s interests and ideas seriously. In
almost every case, failing to honor a person’s basic needs is a surefire
recipe for disaster.
Give the Person a Stake in the Outcome
It can be one thing to reach a resolution but another thing altogether
to get a person’s buy-in. Too often we focus only on the outcome while
ignoring the process. As discussed earlier, process matters. Others are
interested not only in the outcome but also in the process that was used
to arrive at the decision. One way to ensure a proper outcome is to give
the other party a stake in the process—that is, involve the other person
in the decision-making process. Involving the other person is more than
a technical exercise. It is human nature to reject the decisions of oth-
ers, regardless of how favorable the outcome, anytime we feel excluded
from the process.
One way of involving the other person is to solicit advice. We might
ask, for example, “How do you suggest we resolve things?” or “What
advice can you offer on how to best solve this?” By asking for advice,
we acknowledge the other person, her concerns, and her role in the
process. This includes giving the person credit for any ideas wherever
possible. A second tactic is to offer the person a choice. For instance,
“It appears that we have two options, which one do you prefer?” Once
the person selects an option, it becomes her idea. This increases the
Promote Positive Behavior 59
person’s psychological and emotional investment. The simple truth of
the matter is that we are always more willing to take ownership of a
decision when we have invested in the process.
Allow the Person to Save Face
A third consideration when communicating with someone who is
irate, frustrated, or emotional is that person’s need to save face—that is,
to preserve his dignity, pride, or prestige. Sometimes we want so badly
to save face that we agree to do something that is clearly against our
best interests. Allowing a person to save face is not the same as making
excuses for his bad behavior. Rather, it is about offering the person a way
to maintain his self-respect and dignity. None of us like to admit when
we are wrong, especially when we can avoid it. We allow others to save
face by focusing on workable solutions rather than on assigning blame.
It is important to note that our interactions with others do not occur
in a vacuum. There are almost always audiences of friends, neighbors,
coworkers, or family members whose opinions we value. It is only nat-
ural to want to avoid the appearance of being weak or backing down.
In many cases, people will continue to hold out in a dispute simply to
avoid the appearance of selling out. Our job is to frame a problem in a
way that allows the person to save face while we ensure that our most
important concerns are addressed.
ASK FOR A COMMITMENT
When people give their word, we expect them to follow through. That
is, we expect consistency between what people tell us they are going
to do and what they actually do. We often criticize people who say one
thing and do something else, labeling them as liars or hypocrites, and
we tend to view people whose words and behaviors are consistent as
stable and honest. One way of motivating positive behavior and compli-
ance is to secure a public commitment. This might include, for example,
a person’s guarantee to respect others. When people go on record with
a commitment, they have a natural tendency to maintain consistency
between their words and their behaviors.
60 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
When we say one thing but do another, the disconnect produces
psychological and emotional discomfort, something psychologists refer
to as cognitive dissonance. For example, a person who talks about the
importance of treating others with respect but behaves disrespectfully
can experience feelings of dissonance. The person has two options to
relieve the discomfort: He can either change his behavior by treating
others respectfully or rationalize his actions by creating an excuse for
The human tendency to maintain consistency provides us with a
powerful tool for promoting positive behavior and gaining cooperation.
If we can secure a person’s commitment to treat others respectfully, to
listen while others speak, or to work collaboratively with others, we
can motivate positive behavior by reminding the person of that com-
mitment. It is worth noting, however, that this approach will work only
when the person is forced to conclude that she is solely responsible for
any disparity between her beliefs and her actions.
Techniques Based on Commitment and Consistency
Salespersons and other compliance professionals have developed
a number of persuasive techniques based on the principles of commit-
ment and consistency. Each of the methods described below relies on
the idea that once people make a commitment, they feel both internal
and external pressure to follow through.
The foot-in-the-door technique is named for the efforts of door-to-
door salespeople to get “one foot in the door” as a tactic for getting into
the house to make a sale. It is based on the idea that people who comply
with small requests are more likely to do so with later, larger requests.
For example, if we can persuade a difficult person to listen quietly for
a few moments, this increases our likelihood of gaining his subsequent
cooperation in other areas as well. The trick is to secure the person’s
cooperation on a small matter in a way that does not threaten his freedom
of choice. The reverse, however, is also true: A person who refuses an
initial request is also less likely to grant a second request. Therefore, we
should be careful about what we ask for, how we ask, and when we ask.
Promote Positive Behavior 61
The labeling technique of securing commitment involves, first, assign-
ing the person a positive label and, second, requesting a favor consistent
with the label. People are especially sensitive to positive labels, even when
someone else assigns those labels arbitrarily. Positive labels provide people
with positive reputations, which, in turn, increase the psychological pressure
for them to behave in ways consistent with the labels. For example, people
we label as helpful are more likely to assist us than are people we label as
uncooperative. People are also more likely to comply with later requests
after being labeled positively for cooperating with an earlier request.
One of the most powerful, yet unspoken, rules of social behavior is
reciprocity. Simply put, we have a tendency to treat others as they have
treated us. We tend to respond to the positive actions of others with pos-
itive actions toward those persons, and the reverse is also true. That is,
we retaliate against the negative behaviors of others toward us with neg-
ative behaviors toward them. For example, if someone speaks to us in a
condescending tone, we respond in kind. On the other hand, reciprocity
obligates us to repay the kind acts of others with similar kind acts of our
own. Whenever people go out of their way to acknowledge us or to treat
us kindly, we usually return the favor. The norm of reciprocity is the
foundation of some of humankind’s best moral behavior, but it is also
the source of some of the worst.
We can see the norm of reciprocity at work every time we go walk-
ing or running in a public place. If we wave at other people who happen
to be walking or running in the opposite direction, they will almost
always wave back. If we fail to acknowledge other people, they will
usually avoid acknowledging us as well. The reverse is also true: If
other people acknowledge us with friendly greetings and waves, we feel
compelled to return these gestures.
This means that if we want other people to treat us with respect
and dignity, we should not wait to see how they behave. It is up to us,
not them, to set the bar by proactively modeling positive behaviors.
When we treat others with professionalism and courtesy, regardless of
our personal feelings, they feel compelled to do the same.
62 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
An example of reciprocity might involve someone speaking rudely
to an officer. If the officer has been courteous and respectful throughout
the exchange, reciprocity allows the officer to highlight the person’s
bad behavior. “Sir, I don’t understand why you feel it’s necessary to be
rude,” the officer might explain. “Have I treated you with anything less
than respect?” In many cases, simply pointing out a person’s behavior
is enough to motivate a change. Because we have behaved courteously,
the person is obligated to do the same. While the rules of reciprocity are
usually left unspoken, they can, nonetheless, be powerful motivators.
The door-in-the-face technique involves making an inflated request
(one that will almost certainly be rejected) and following it with a
smaller request. Starting with an unrealistic request increases the like-
lihood that the person will accept the smaller (desired) request. For
example, an officer might tell a person: “I have dozens of questions
for you, but that seems like a lot to ask. So, let’s not worry about that
right now. Is it okay if I ask you just a couple of simple questions?” It is
important to note, however, that this technique does not usually work if
the first request seems completely unreasonable. Again, we need to be
careful about what we ask for, how we ask, and when we ask.
While the techniques outlined above can enhance our abilities to per-
suade others, each has its limits. People, especially those from individu-
alistic cultures (such as the United States, Canada, and England), place a
high value on their freedom. When a person feels his ability to choose is
threatened, he will attempt to regain control, whether by simply refusing
to comply or by doing exactly the opposite of what he has been asked
to do. Our human tendency to resist attempts to control our freedom,
known as psychological reactance, also explains why our attempts to
control others often have the opposite effect. Therefore, to promote pos-
itive behavior and gain voluntary cooperation, we should avoid restrict-
ing people’s freedom of choice to the point where they feel compelled
to resist. In the end, it is up to each person to decide whether or not to
cooperate and, if willing to cooperate, to what degree and with whom.
Promote Positive Behavior 63
CLOSING THE DEAL
Thus far this chapter has addressed the importance of conflict style and
language, meeting people’s basic needs, allowing them to save face, and
securing a commitment. Three final strategies for promoting positive
behavior and gaining voluntary cooperation are to make it easy on the
person, deal with only one issue at a time, and reward positive behaviors.
Make It Easy
If we want others to accept our solutions, we should make it as easy
as possible for them to do so. Rather than arguing with them, we want to
make their decisions as painless as possible. This begins with a shift in
our focus from problems to …
• 3 •
MASTER THE STORY
Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more
listening than talking.
—Bernard M. Baruch
Courses in communication often emphasize the importance of speaking and presentation skills while downplaying the impor-
tance of listening. This overlooks the simple fact that we spend more
time listening than we do in any other type of communication activ-
ity. Studies have shown listening to be the single most important skill
for entry-level workers, supervisors, and managers, influencing career
success, productivity, and organizational effectiveness. Good listening
skills are also a vital part of dealing effectively with people who are
irate, frustrated, or emotional. This is because the better we understand
a problem, the more successful we are at diagnosing issues, establishing
rapport, promoting positive behavior, managing conflict, and soothing
negative emotions. However, despite the importance of listening, law
enforcement agencies provide surprisingly little training in this area.
While most of us acknowledge that listening is important, actually
becoming a good listener can be remarkably difficult. Listening well
is a demanding and complex process. To begin with, listening is a skill
much like speaking. We all listen, but few of us do it well. There is also
a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is a physiological
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38 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
process that takes place when sound waves strike the eardrum at a par-
ticular frequency, causing vibrations that are transmitted to the brain.
In contrast, listening is the process of making sense of another person’s
message. Good listening requires patience, energy, and genuine concern
for the other person.
We often think of hearing and listening as the same activity. We
believe that if we have heard another person’s message, we have listened.
We seldom stop to think about what it means to listen or how we can be
more effective listeners. Listening does not occur automatically. When
we confuse hearing with listening, we mislead ourselves into believ-
ing that we really understand others when we are only hearing sounds.
Because we spend a great deal of time interacting with others, we often
assume that we are good listeners. Unfortunately, studies have found that
there is no relationship between how competently we think we listen and
how well we actually understand others. The good news is that with the
right combination of attitude and practice, we can all improve our listen-
MINDLESS LISTENING VERSUS MINDFUL LISTENING
Listening is hard work, even for the most enthusiastic communicators.
We hear all the time without truly listening. Sometimes we deliberately
ignore sounds and people. Indeed, most of us find it easy to block out
annoying noises, such as television commercials and unrelated con-
versations. Other times, we are so overwhelmed by information and
demands on our attention that we simply cannot help but miss important
messages. While there may be times when ignoring others is necessary,
we should recognize that doing so can cause us to miss valuable infor-
mation. It can also damage our abilities to communicate and to connect
with others by limiting our understanding of their problems.
In addition to the difference between hearing and listening, we do
not process all messages in the same way. Listening can be divided into
two basic types: mindless and mindful. When we engage in mindless
listening, we react to the messages of others automatically, without any
real mental effort. While it may seem counterproductive for us to stroll
mindlessly through our daily lives, some degree of mindlessness is a
necessary evil. This is because the amount of information that we can
Master the Story 39
process is limited. Indeed, many experts on cognition argue that we are
incapable of processing fully more than one piece of information at a
time. By being selective about which messages we ignore and which we
process, we save our mental energy for only the most important people
The second type of listening, mindful listening, involves the careful
and thoughtful analysis of others’ messages. We are more likely to listen
mindfully when a message is personally important or when it is delivered
by someone we care about or respect. Mindful listening requires our full
attention and energy. It entails not only listening to the other person’s
words but also observing the person’s body language and tone of voice
and being alert for signs of anger, frustration, and other emotions. Our
tendency to listen mindlessly is one of the main reasons that relationships
fail, problems remain unresolved, and conflicts spiral out of control.
BARRIERS TO EFFECTIVE LISTENING
Even careful listening does not guarantee that we will send and receive
messages accurately. Every attempt to communicate with others is
complicated by some form of “noise”—that is, anything that disrupts
or distorts the message’s intended meaning. Noise can be divided into
two types: physiological and psychological. Physiological noise comes
from biological factors that make it difficult to communicate accurately,
such as illness, fatigue, or hearing loss. At the end of a long shift, for
example, an officer can find it difficult to listen mindfully because of
fatigue or hunger.
Psychological noise, on the other hand, results from internal forces
that interfere with the sending or receiving of messages. Anytime two
or more people listen to the same information, we typically assume that
they have received and understood the same message, but this is simply
not the case. Because everyone brings a different set of expectations,
beliefs, values, assumptions, and goals to the process, no two people,
regardless of how similar they are in background and experience, will
interpret the same message in exactly the same way.
The ways that we make sense of and respond to the messages of oth-
ers are affected by a combination of physiological and psychological fac-
tors. In most cases, however, the greatest barriers to mindful listening are
40 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
not physiological (noise or hearing loss, for example) but psychological
(expectations or closed- mindedness, for example). In fact, nothing can
derail our efforts to build rapport and gather information faster than the pre-
existing ideas, assumptions, and stereotypes held by the people involved.
While a certain amount of mindless listening is inevitable, we need to be
aware of the many obstacles to good listening so that we can avoid them
during those times when listening really counts.
Past Experiences and Expectations
Our past experiences shape what we expect to see and hear. It is a
fact that we don’t see the world as it is; rather, we see what we expect
to see. Anytime we look hard enough for something, there is a good
chance that we will find it. A person who was treated rudely by an
officer in the past may expect to be treated in a similar way every time
she encounters law enforcement in the future. Not surprisingly, some-
one with prior negative law enforcement experiences is more likely to
judge officers as rude or hostile than someone whose prior contacts
have been positive. In fact, not only is such a person likely to look
selectively for evidence to confirm her beliefs, she is also more likely to
overlook positive behaviors that don’t fit her expectations.
Stereotypes and Prejudices
Stereotypes and prejudices are types of hasty generalizations based
on limited evidence. While we are all prone to snap judgments, stereo-
types and prejudices can be especially damaging. They can cause us to
pay attention to only those aspects of a person or message that confirm
the stereotype or prejudice, while ignoring others. This often occurs
when we encounter people whose ideas or interests are different from
our own. The same is true of criticism. We are less likely to listen to and
consider criticism from those we have stereotyped negatively, despite
the fact that their comments may be true.
Closed-mindedness can occur anytime we believe that we have noth-
ing new to learn about a person or topic. When we close our minds to the
Master the Story 41
ideas, information, and feelings of others, we limit our understanding of
those persons and their problems, as well as our ability to offer solu-
tions. In order to solve problems, resolve conflicts, and deal effectively
with irate, frustrated, and difficult people, we must remain flexible and
open-minded, regardless of our personal opinions, feelings, and past
We all make assumptions. Sometimes our assumptions are right;
other times, they are wrong. When our assumptions are right, they serve
us well. However, when they are wrong, they can damage our abilities
to listen and to communicate effectively. Whenever we assume that we
know more than we really do, we are likely to stop listening. The same
thing happens when we erroneously assume that a problem is so sim-
ple or so transparent that the answer is self- evident. Mindful listening
requires us to be aware of our assumptions. It also requires us to take
precautions to ensure that our assumptions don’t interfere with our abil-
ities to gather information and to connect with others.
Anytime we are preoccupied with our own thoughts, feelings, and
needs (for example, we might be thinking about how we are going
to find the time to handle our pending calls for service as well as to
complete our remaining reports before the end of watch), we find it
difficult to give others our full attention. While it is only natural to
place one’s own needs above those of others, we must be aware that
mindful listening is possible only when we offer the other person our
full attention. This requires that we suspend, at least temporarily, our
We are simply incapable of processing all of the messages that we
are exposed to every day. Even under the most ideal conditions, we can
find it nearly impossible to focus on every detail of other people’s mes-
sages, much less when we are preoccupied, closed-minded, or fatigued.
42 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
We should be aware that when this happens, we might choose, either
consciously or unconsciously, to listen mindlessly rather than mindfully
Mindful listening is difficult under the best of conditions. It can
quickly drain our limited resources of physical and mental energy. In
many cases, it doesn’t take long for the effects of listening carefully to
show. Once fatigue sets in, we become less willing to listen mindfully,
less tolerant of others, and less likely to put forth the effort necessary to
understand others and their problems.
The final barrier to effective listening, rapid cognition, is physio-
logical in nat ure. The human brain is an amazing machine. We have
the capacity to process information more rapidly than others can speak.
Our brains can understand as many as 600 words per minute, while
the average person speaks between 100 and 150 words per minute. We
often use this space (the space between 100 and 600 words a minute)
to daydream, to plan our responses, or to ignore the other person alto-
gether. This can cause us to overlook or to misinterpret important words
and behaviors, hindering our abilities to connect with others, manage
strong emotions, and solve problems.
DEVELOPING THE RIGHT ATTITUDE
Listening effectively is as much about attitude as it is about skill. We
often assume that we know more about a person or a situation than
we really do. This can limit our curiosity and lessen our willingness
to learn. Instead of staying curious, we jump to conclusions. Rather
than remaining flexible, we make assumptions. In place of learning,
we close our minds. Mindful listening begins with an attitude of heart-
felt curiosity. This means that rather than simply going through the
motions, we try honestly to understand the situation from the other
Master the Story 43
person’s perspective. Instead of reacting reflexively or plotting our next
response, we do everything possible to engage the person in meaning-
ful dialogue by asking questions, listening to his answers, and taking a
genuine interest in the person and his problem.
When we listen mindfully to others, we do so because we want to
gain a better understanding of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. To
understand a person or problem fully, we must engage the other party
in meaningful dialogue. One of the best ways to facilitate dialogue is to
ask open-ended questions. Unlike closed-ended questions, which require
nothing more than yes or no responses, open-ended questions do not limit
a person’s replies. For example, questions such as “What happened?” or
“Can you tell me what’s going on?” cannot be answered with a simple
yes or no. Rather, they require narrative responses. Open-ended ques-
tions allow people to build their answers around what they believe are the
most important issues. The information provided then sets the stage for
follow-up questions, which should reflect the same formula. Examples of
follow-up questions include “What happened next?” and “Can you give
me an example?” Open-ended initial questions and follow-up questions
are both important, and both can generate valuable information.
Asking the right questions is important; however, doing so is of
little value unless we approach the conversation with the right attitude.
This is not a trivial point. Our words and behaviors reflect our attitude.
Our attitude—as well as the words and behaviors that follow—should
communicate interest in the person and her problem. Displaying such
an attitude is not always easy, especially when we are dealing with
someone who resists or refuses to cooperate. While it may be natural
to react to resistance by pressing our point, this approach is usually
not very effective. The harder we push, the harder the other person
resists. Contrary to popular belief, the best way to overcome resistance
is to apply less pressure, not more. If we want others to hear what we
have to say, we must first listen to what they have to say. If we want
others to acknowledge our concerns, we must first acknowledge their
concerns. If we want to persuade others, we need to listen, not talk.
Indeed, listening with an attitude of sincerity, curiosity, and patience
is arguably the single most important tool that we have for motivating
and persuading others.
44 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
If we expect others to engage us in meaningful dialogue, we must
be sincere. The way a person sees us, our interests, and our reasons for
asking will affect his decision to tell his story and how much of it he is
willing to share. Simply put, perception matters. Before we can convince
another person to share his thoughts and feelings, we must first commu-
nicate genuine interest in the person and his problem. Others can usually
see through disingenuous attempts to appear sincere and often react to
such attempted deception with anger. People pay attention not only to our
words but also to our nonverbal messages, including our posture, facial
expressions, and eye contact. If our body language and emotions are
insincere, nothing else that we do (for example, how intently we appear
to listen or how sincerely we attempt to behave) will really matter.
In order to establish and maintain a dialogue, we must create an
environment in which the person feels safe to talk. This includes demon-
strating appropriate levels of curiosity and open-mindedness. Genuine
curiosity permits us to withhold judgment until we fully understand
the facts. Rather than jumping to conclusions, we remain open to new
information and ideas. Open-mindedness allows us to acknowledge that
there is always something more to learn about the person and about his
problem. Simply put, the longer we withhold judgment and the more
we know, the better our abilities to diagnose the problem and to find
Understanding and listening can be hard work. Considerable time,
patience, and persistence are often required to gather enough informa-
tion to fully understand a person’s thoughts and feelings. To complicate
matters, people are usually reluctant to share their thoughts and feel-
ings with someone they do not know very well. This is especially true
when people are irritated, frustrated, or emotional. Adrenaline and other
bodily chemicals that fuel strong emotions often require considerable
time to dissipate. During that time, a person’s thoughts, feelings, and
Master the Story 45
behaviors can vary considerably. What was important one moment can
be completely forgotten in the next. People often need time to figure out
why they are upset or emotional. This means that if we hope to get to
the root cause of a problem, we need to be especially patient.
EIGHT-STEP STRATEGY FOR EFFECTIVE LISTENING
While mindful listening may appear to be a single process, it actually
consists of several activities that occur simultaneously or in rapid suc-
cession. We can improve our abilities to listen and to respond by break-
ing up the listening process into the following eight specific, easily
Step 1: Offer an Invitation
The first step to engaging someone in meaningful dialogue—that
is, a respectful exchange of information and ideas—is to offer an invi-
tation. Friends do not intimidate or coerce one another into providing
information. People choose whether or not to participate in a dialogue
because they have something to say or because they want to hear what
the other person has to offer. In other words, both parties must decide
whether or not to participate and, if they participate, how much infor-
mation they are willing to share. One way of improving our odds that a
person will participate is to offer an invitation. We might say, for exam-
ple, “Sir, I would like your help in better understanding what’s going
on,” or ask, “Ma’am, do you mind talking about what happened?”
Step 2: Eliminate Distractions
Distractions come in two forms: external and internal. External
distractions are the things occurring around us—for example, ringing
telephones, traffic, and radio communications. Internal distractions are
the physiological and psychological influences that interfere with our
abilities to listen and to communicate effectively. Before we attempt to
facilitate a meaningful dialogue, we should eliminate all possible dis-
tractions. This might include, among other things, turning off the tele-
phone, turning down the radio or television, and closing the office door.
46 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
Step 3: Pay Attention
The third step is to devote our full attention and energy to the other
person. Mindful listening requires us to do more than simply listen to a
person’s words. We must listen with both our ears and our eyes. In other
words, we should listen not only to the person’s words but also to her
voice (for example, pitch, tone, and cadence) and observe her nonverbal
behaviors (for example, facial expressions, gaze, and posture). Because
the messages that people send are communicated through a combination
of verbal and nonverbal signals, we need to pay close attention to the inter-
play of both types of messages to maximize our listening effectiveness.
Step 4: Listen for Key Words
When people speak, they often provide important insights into
their thoughts, feelings, and concerns. Most of the time, neither the
speaker nor the listener picks up on these clues. This makes it especially
important for us to listen actively to the person’s words and behaviors,
including listening for background messages, key words, and unspoken
emotions, many of which are communicated nonverbally. Identifying
key words and emotions can be especially helpful as we try to define
issues, formulate questions, and guide the conversation.
Step 5: Acknowledge
When someone fails to listen, we often assume that it is because
the person doesn’t care. This is almost never the case. The main reason
that others fail to listen is because they don’t feel heard. Before we can
expect a person to listen to our concerns, we must first acknowledge
his concerns. Acknowledging a person is one of the simplest and most
cost-effective ways of demonstrating empathy, interest, and sincerity,
all of which are critical to effective listening.
Step 6: Provide Feedback
One of the best ways to demonstrate interest and involvement while
listening is to provide appropriate feedback, which can be verbal or
nonverbal. Verbal feedback involves prompts such as “Okay” or “Please
go on,” as well as requests for clarification or more information, such
as “Please tell me more about that” or “Can you give me an example
Master the Story 47
of what you mean?” Nonverbal feedback can take such forms as head
nodding, making eye contact, and offering appropriate facial expres-
sions. Both types are important, and we should use both types anytime
we interact with others.
Step 7: Mirror Feelings
When we mirror another’s feelings, we describe what we are seeing and
hearing from the other person. Mirroring can be especially helpful when a
person’s words and behaviors don’t match. A person may say, for example,
that she “feels fine” while her voice and body tell a different story: her face
is fixed in a scowl, her posture is closed, and she refuses to make eye con-
tact. Mirroring provides a way of describing how the person’s words are
saying one thing while her voice and body are sending a different message.
This not only provides the person with important feedback but also gives
her the opportunity to revisit or to clarify her thoughts and feelings.
Step 8: Paraphrase and Clarify
Paraphrasing involves restating the person’s problem and concerns
in our own words. This allows the person to hear his words and problem
framed in a slightly different way. It also allows us to check for accuracy
and understanding. If our understanding of the problem is wrong, the
person can provide us with immediate feedback. We should never try
to diagnose or solve a person’s problem without first checking with the
person for understanding. Simply put, if we don’t understand the prob-
lem, we are in no position to offer solutions.
WHAT TO AVOID
In contrast to the behaviors described above, which can help us bet-
ter understand others and their problems, certain behaviors seldom, if
ever, improve the quality of our interaction with others. These should be
avoided, as they usually do little more than make a bad situation worse.
It can be difficult, if not impossible, to understand a person’s behav-
iors and feelings fully without passing judgment. As we have already
48 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
seen, everyone is prone to snap judgments and first impressions. However,
we need to be careful about how those judgments influence our attitudes
and behaviors. When we form a positive first impression of someone, we
are more likely to remain open and interested in the person’s thoughts
and feelings. On the other hand, when we form a negative first impres-
sion, we are less apt to invest the time and energy necessary to better
understand the person or her problem. Although we cannot eliminate
snap judgments altogether, we can raise our level of awareness. If we
find ourselves judging others too harshly or too soon, we can make a
deliberate effort to remain neutral and to listen actively until we more
fully understand the problem.
It can be difficult to maintain the mental energy and focus necessary
to listen to someone talk about his problems and feelings for an extended
period of time, even under the best of circumstances. Rather than lis-
tening mindfully, we often find that our attention has drifted. Before
we know it, we are too lost in our own thoughts or too busy thinking
about our next responses to actually listen to the person’s message. To
listen effectively, to connect with others, and to understand their prob-
lems fully, we must suspend our thoughts and concerns while offering
nothing less than our undivided attention.
Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing
Good questions are arguably the single most powerful tools that
we have for gaining information, diagnosing problems, and soothing
strong emotions. Good questions provide a way of learning more about
people and their problems. Thus, we should use questions as learning
tools, not as value judgments. This means that we should never disguise
assertions or judgments as questions. Doing so only confuses people. It
also creates resentment and resistance. For example, “Why did you start
arguing with him?” and “Did you have to call her names?” are accusa-
tions, not questions. Judgments and assertions disguised as questions
do nothing to provide us with the kind of information we need to under-
stand people and their problems. Rather than help us engage others in
meaningful dialogue, questions like these usually do little more than
Master the Story 49
put people on the defensive, stifle further communication, and inhibit
collective problem solving.
While the purpose of questions is to gather information, the object of
cross- examination is to point out flaws in a person’s argument. For exam-
ple, “If you tried everything that you could to avoid fighting with her, why
did you yell at her?” and “I guess you think that I am responsible for this,
but how many mistakes did you make?” are nothing more than thinly veiled
attempts to prove the other person wrong. People typically respond to
cross-examination with irritation and defensiveness. Rather than facilitat-
ing meaningful dialogue, cross- examination makes it more difficult to diag-
nose problems and to find solutions. Before we ask a question, we should
first examine our motives for doing so. If our goal is to better understand
the person or the problem, we should go ahead and ask. On the other hand,
if our goal is to prove that we are smarter than the other person or to prove
that we are right, we need to revisit our reasons or rethink our questions.
Closed-ended questions force a person to choose between lim-
ited possible responses, often yes or no—for example, “Did you start
the argument?” or “Did you swerve into the other lane of traffic?” In
many cases, closed-ended questions imply that there is only one right
answer. Such questions naturally limit the amount of information that
we receive. We should keep in mind that the longer a person speaks,
the better our chances of gaining information, and the more we are
able to learn. Whenever possible, we should avoid using closed-ended
questions, opting instead for open-ended inquiries that require narrative
responses. This …
• 1 •
INTRODUCTION TO THE IMPACT
Communication works for those who work at it.
On the evening of September 21, 2010, Iraq War veteran Brock Savelkoul decided to end his life. Brock was one of more than
2 million troops who had deployed to Iraq since 2001. During his two
deployments, Brock survived two bomb blasts. The first occurred early
in his first tour; the second took place in January 2009, when an enemy
rocket exploded near his trailer. The blasts left Brock the victim of both
a concussion and traumatic brain injury, and the aftershocks left him
struggling with a difficult mix of psychological and cognitive problems.
Over time, Brock’s behavior became increasingly bizarre. Eventually,
he was picked up by U.S. embassy and military officials and admitted
to Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, where he was diagnosed
as suffering from a psychotic breakdown. Brock was again admitted for
treatment later in 2009, this time to Fort Riley Medical Center in Kan-
sas. Doctors now labeled him as suffering from posttraumatic stress dis-
order (PTSD). In March 2010, Brock was honorably discharged from
the army and placed on temporary disability due to PTSD. His military
awards included the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal, and
the Army Achievement Medal.
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AN: 2274124 ; Brian D. Fitch.; Law Enforcement Interpersonal Communication and Conflict Management : The IMPACT Model
2 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
Brock returned home to Minot, North Dakota, but his problems
continued. He had trouble sleeping at night, often waking while thrash-
ing his arms and legs. He even found himself panicked by the explo-
sions at a local July 4 fireworks show. Brock struggled to regain control
of his life. He wanted to continue his psychological treatments, but the
nearest Veterans Administration Hospital was 271 miles from his home.
By this time, Brock was unable to remember birthdays, anniversaries,
or the date his mother died. Finally, it all became too much for him to
bear. On the evening of September 21, Brock sent his father and sister
a message: “I love you guys more than anything. Never forget it. I can’t
do this anymore.” His father rushed to the family home, only to find
another note from Brock: “No hope for me. Love you so much.”
Brock armed himself with six guns—a DPMS AR-15, two hunting
rifles, and three handguns—and several hundred rounds of ammuni-
tion. The next time anyone heard from Brock was around 6:20 p.m.,
when he walked into a convenience store about 120 miles west of Minot
and pointed a rifle at one of the patrons. “Do you want to die?” Brock
asked before fleeing the store. A Watford City police officer responded
to the scene. The officer spotted Brock’s vehicle a short time later and
activated his vehicle’s lights and siren. Rather than pulling over, Brock
sped up, ultimately reaching speeds of 105 miles per hour. He contin-
ued down the highway, across the river, and toward the North Dakota
Back home, Brock’s father and sister had told a friend from the
local police department about Brock’s past, that he was a veteran suffer-
ing from PTSD and heavily armed. The friend relayed the information
to the police.
Eventually, Brock’s truck ran out of gas. He pulled over on a farm
road. Within seconds, he was surrounded by sheriff’s deputies, police
officers, and highway patrol troopers. “Drop the gun,” the officers
yelled. “Drop the gun.” Over the next two hours, Brock engaged in a
tense standoff with law enforcement. He paced, smoked, brandished
weapons, and even went so far as to fire a round into his truck. At one
point, Brock walked within a few feet of a patrol car, raised a 9 mm
handgun to his side, and yelled, “Go ahead, shoot me!” But the officers,
demonstrating tremendous discipline, held their fire.
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Introduction to the IMPACT Principles 3
Throughout the incident, Megan Christopher, a junior officer with
no real training or experience in crisis negotiation, talked to Brock non-
stop. She tried to put herself in Brock’s shoes and to empathize with
the former staff sergeant. She worked to identify what Brock was feel-
ing and thinking, listened carefully to his concerns, and monitored her
words. As Trooper Christopher remained safely behind the door of her
patrol car in the cold, the rain, and the sleet, she never stopped talking.
Finally, she said, “Brock, I’d like to meet you. Please put the gun down
so we can meet.”
At around 9:30 p.m., more than three hours after the incident began,
Brock fired his gun into an open field. Christopher promised to give
Brock a cell phone if he put down his weapon. Brock laid his gun on
the ground in front of him. The trooper walked toward Brock holding
the cell phone. As Brock turned to face her, another trooper, fearing that
Brock was spinning to attack, fired a Taser. Brock stiffened, fell to the
ground, and was quickly handcuffed by officers. When it was all over,
Christopher knelt down next to Brock, put her hand to his cheek, and
said, “I’m Megan. I’m glad to meet you.”
INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION IN LAW
It is impossible to say what might have happened that evening if Trooper
Christopher had failed to pick up the public address microphone in
her cruiser and start a dialogue with Brock. Certainly, all of the law
enforcement professionals on scene that day demonstrated exemplary
discipline and courage. Nonetheless, it was Trooper Christopher’s abil-
ities to identify and manage emotions, listen actively, promote positive
behavior, build rapport, control her response, and empathize with Brock
that helped bring about a peaceful resolution to what might have other-
wise been another statistical tragedy.
All law enforcement officers have one thing in common: We are
in the problem-solving business. People don’t call the police when
everyone is at their best. They request our assistance when someone is
hostile, angry, frustrated, aggressive, intoxicated or under the influence
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4 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
of drugs, or emotionally or psychologically disturbed. In other words,
people request law enforcement’s assistance only when someone is at
his worst, when he has lost his ability to think logically about his behav-
iors or the consequences of his actions. To make matters worse, many
of the people we contact have histories of violence. As any veteran
officer can testify, there is no such thing as a “routine” call for service.
Every call and every contact has the potential for violence. Fortunately,
criminal justice professionals throughout the nation are very good at
managing people in crisis. While this is hardly news to anyone serving
in law enforcement, it has only recently been validated empirically.
A survey conducted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police
(2001) found that less than 1% of all calls for service result in a use of
force. Rather, officers are able to gain compliance by demonstrating
command presence, building rapport, and communicating effectively.
As Trooper Christopher’s encounter with Brock illustrates, officers’
abilities to connect and to communicate effectively are critical to their
success in virtually every aspect of law enforcement. Officers’ success
at everything from vehicle stops to homicide investigations hinges on
effective communication. Yet many officers fail to recognize the impact
of their words and behaviors on others. To complicate matters further,
few law enforcement agencies offer comprehensive training in commu-
nication skills, emotional management, and conflict resolution.
Even those officers who understand the importance of communica-
tion often dread the idea of attending a course on interpersonal skills.
Being lectured on the value of nonverbal communication and practicing
listening drills are not high on the “to do” lists of most officers. Most
criminal justice professionals are doers. They believe that learning is
best accomplished on the job. Law enforcement officers interact with
peers, supervisors, victims, witnesses, subjects, and other members of
the public on a daily basis, and many officers operate under the assump-
tion that communication skills are something they develop naturally
during the course of their normal job experience, without the need for
special training. While it is certainly true that officers acquire a number
of unique and valuable skills during the course of their daily activities,
there is always room for improvement, even among the most expert
communicators. It can also be argued that while many officers function
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Introduction to the IMPACT Principles 5
competently in the absence of formal training, they never realize their
full potential as communicators.
Regardless of how skilled, or unskilled, an officer may be, with
the right attitude and process, everyone can learn to connect and to
communicate with others more effectively. By building the right pro-
cess, any officer has the potential to calm even the most irate, frus-
trated, or difficult person. Every law enforcement encounter consists
of both process and outcome. The outcome is our goal, what we hope
to accomplish. It may be calming an emotionally distraught motorist,
reassuring an irate citizen, or convincing a suspect to surrender peace-
fully. The process consists of the tactics, strategies, and behaviors that
we use to accomplish our goal. Too often, we focus only on achiev-
ing a particular outcome while overlooking the importance of process.
Rather than concern ourselves with the long-term outcomes of good
process, we emphasize the short-term benefits of satisfying our imme-
diate needs. This approach, however, is shortsighted. The simple truth
is that process matters.
Anytime we can create good process, we are more likely to get more
of what we want—and less of what we don’t want. Creating a success-
ful process is not always easy, especially when time and resources are
limited by staffing shortages, unfinished reports, and pending calls for
service. Good process requires listening, patience, and empathy. And,
while taking the time necessary to create good process might not always
be the shortest distance between two points, in almost every case it will
dramatically improve our chances of soothing strong emotions, resolv-
ing conflict, and gaining voluntary compliance.
BENEFITS OF EFFECTIVE INTERPERSONAL
The abilities to communicate and to connect with others have mean-
ingful impacts on virtually every aspect of law enforcement. For those
officers who are willing to invest the time and effort, better interper-
sonal effectiveness offers a number of advantages, including improved
officer safety, heightened investigative awareness, fewer complaints
6 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
and lawsuits, career advancement and recognition, better relationships
(both on and off the job), and decreased stress and anxiety.
Improved Officer Safety
The abilities to communicate and to connect are vital officer safety
skills. Angry, hostile, and emotionally distraught people can be dan-
gerous people. By learning to recognize the messages that others are
sending, officers are better able to detect and evaluate strong emotions
before they spiral out of control. Similarly, by better understanding and
monitoring their own words and behaviors, officers can avoid the hos-
tilities that may arise when they unintentionally send the wrong signals.
Officers are often unaware of how even the simplest behaviors can esca-
late a contact into a physical confrontation. Learning to pay attention
to the behaviors of others, as well as to monitor their own words and
actions, is an important step toward better officer safety.
Heightened Investigative Effectiveness
Good investigators recognize the importance of communicating and
connecting with victims, witnesses, and subjects. They understand bet-
ter than most the significance of building rapport, listening actively, and
reading nonverbal behaviors. Good investigators realize that everything
they do and say has important consequences. They realize that obtain-
ing confessions, closing cases, and improving the safety of the commu-
nities they serve can be accomplished only through communication. In
addition to being tactically sound, familiar with case law, and physi-
cally fit, interpersonal skills are among the most important abilities that
any criminal justice professional can possess.
Fewer Complaints and Lawsuits
Regardless of the agency, location, or demographics, the most
frequent complaint against officers involves “discourtesy.” Time after
time, it is not what officers say but how they say it that people find
offensive. Complaints and lawsuits against officers and their agencies
Introduction to the IMPACT Principles 7
have been on the rise for years—a trend that shows no sign of slowing.
In short, perceptions matter. While many of these complaints may be
unfounded, the simple truth of the matter is that complaints, even merit-
less complaints, can damage an officer’s reputation, career, and promo-
tional opportunities. One way that officers can reduce complaints is by
better monitoring and managing their words and behaviors. The more
skilled officers are at managing perceptions, the better their chances of
avoiding frivolous complaints and lawsuits.
Career Recognition and Advancement
Regardless of officers’ job knowledge or experience, they must be
able to work well with others if they are to have any hope of recognition
or advancement. When given a choice between two employees, one who
is a “competent cop” but skilled with people and a second who is an
“outstanding cop” but lacks interpersonal skills, most supervisors and
managers will opt for the former. This is because few supervisors and
managers want to work with officers who cannot communicate effec-
tively, empathize with others, or manage their own emotions. This is
especially true in specialized units, where one “difficult” personality can
create an uncomfortable environment for everyone. Interpersonal skills
have a greater impact on career opportunities than many officers realize.
The better officers are at monitoring and managing their behaviors, at
communicating, and at connecting with others, the better their chances
of recognition and advancement.
We rely on interpersonal skills to develop and maintain our personal
and professional relationships. The relationships that we develop with
the signifi cant people in our lives are important to all of us. Our rela-
tionships help us celebrate our victories and overcome our defeats, and
they give us something and someone to look forward to at the end of the
day. Officers who have poor interpersonal skills—those who, for exam-
ple, are unable to recognize or manage emotions, are poor listeners, and
have low empathy—can find it difficult to build lasting relationships,
8 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
both on and off the job. The better officers are at communicating and
connecting with others, the more successful they can be at developing
and maintaining the important relationships in their lives.
Decreased Stress and Anxiety
Law enforcement, like life in general, is full of stressors. Traffic,
bills, kids, supervisors, illness, taxes—all create stress and anxiety. The
inability to communicate or to control emotions can add unnecessary
feelings of stress and anxiety. Officers who have received a number of
frivolous complaints, been passed over for opportunities, or have dif-
ficulty developing and maintaining relationships can suffer from the
psychological, physical, and emotional effects of stress and anxiety.
Building and maintaining important relationships, receiving deserved
recognition, and avoiding frivolous lawsuits can significantly improve
the quality of officers’ personal and professional lives while reducing
or, in some cases, eliminating unnecessary stress and anxiety.
While the ability to communicate with others effectively is a critical
law enforcement skill, communication is not capable of solving every
problem. The idea that talking more will always make things better is
one of several common myths. In many cases, people understand each
other just fine—they simply disagree. Their disagreement may center
on values, beliefs, cultural issues, assumptions, or experiences. Officers
often accept myth over truth because they do not know the difference. To
make the most of our interpersonal skills, we must first understand what
we can and cannot accomplish using communication.
Myth 1: Logic Makes Communication More Effective
While we like to think of ourselves as rational, analytical beings
who make decisions based solely on logic, this is simply not the case.
As the eminent psychologist Donald Hebb (1949) observed, man is the
Introduction to the IMPACT Principles 9
most emotional of all animals. Effective communicators recognize that
every decision they make and every action they take is somehow influ-
enced by emotion. Problems often occur when we forget the importance
of emotion and focus instead on constructing logical arguments. Effec-
tive communicators look beyond words and logic to focus on emotion.
They recognize that persuasion is not a logical process but an emotional
one, and they construct their messages accordingly.
Myth 2: Learning Communication Makes You a
It is not true that learning communication will make someone a better
communicator. There is a difference between knowledge and application.
Understanding how to communicate is only part of the equation. Learning
the skills and attitudes necessary to be an effective communicator can
make a person a better communicator only when that learning is grounded
in behavioral change. To be truly effective, the person must be willing
and able to perform the required skills. Knowing what to do is not much
help unless that knowledge is put to work. This is not the same thing as
performing a new skill perfectly the first time out. Improving interper-
sonal skills is a process, not a destination. It takes knowledge, practice,
and feedback for an individual to become a truly effective communicator.
Myth 3: Communication Is a One-Way Process
People not only send messages but also receive signals in the form
of feedback. Feedback provides information about the receiver’s reac-
tion to the message in ways that allow the sender to correct inaccura-
cies, clarify perceptions, and adjust subsequent messages for the best
response. Feedback can be verbal, nonverbal, or both. To use feedback
effectively, the person sending the message must observe and interpret
the receiver’s reactions immediately following the message, especially
nonverbal cues, such as shifts in voice tone, posture, eye contact, ges-
tures, and facial expressions. Effective communicators understand the
importance of feedback, monitor the reactions of others, and adjust or
modify their behaviors to send the most accurate messages possible.
10 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
Myth 4: The Message Sent Is the Message Received
People often assume that the meaning of a message is “out there,”
that it exists independent of the parties sending and receiving the com-
munication. The processes through which people construct and inter-
pret messages, however, are uniquely personal, varying widely among
individuals. We all interpret messages in light of our own expectations,
assumptions, beliefs, values, goals, and experiences. As a result, in our
decoding of messages we may not receive the intended meanings of the
senders. Arguably, the most difficult part of communication is ensuring
that the message sent is the message received. Learning to anticipate
differences in perception while crafting the most effective messages
possible represents the very foundation of successful communication.
Myth 5: You Can Refrain From Communicating
Many people assume that they can avoid communicating with some-
one simply by ignoring the person. However, we communicate contin-
uously whenever we are in the presence of others. While some of our
messages are intentional—that is, meant to transmit information or feel-
ings, invoke a response, or both—we may send other messages without
conscious awareness or intent. Regardless of our objective, every mes-
sage contains important information about our thoughts, feelings, and
attitudes. For example, facial expressions, gestures, and posture can all
transmit subtle signs of interest, boredom, impatience, anger, or disgust
without our conscious awareness that we are sending such messages
and without our awareness of their effects. Effective communicators are
self-aware. They understand that they communicate anytime they are in
the presence of others and manage their behaviors appropriately.
Myth 6: Meaning Is Conveyed Only in Words
Perhaps the biggest mistake that communicators make is assuming
that messages are contained only in the words they use. We react not to
the words people use but to the meanings we ascribe to those words. The
meanings that we assign are affected by our culture, experiences, val-
ues, beliefs, and expectations. The ways we interpret messages are also
Introduction to the IMPACT Principles 11
influenced by the context in which the communication occurs. Indeed,
the meanings that we assign to messages can vary widely from one
situation to the next. For example, a supervisor discussing an officer’s
performance with that officer in a formal setting (in the supervisor’s
office) can send a message that is different from that sent when the
same issue is discussed in an informal setting (in the field over a cup of
coffee). In fact, even the slightest change in context (for instance, where
the supervisor and officer sit in relation to each other) can alter the ways
messages are received and understood.
Myth 7: Good Communicators Are Born, Not Made
The idea that good communicators are born, not made, is grounded
in the belief that to be an effective communicator, a person must be
extroverted, social, and outgoing. In contrast, people with more reserved
personalities are often viewed as less effective at connecting with others.
While certain people seem to be naturally gifted at relating to others,
anyone, regardless of personality or temperament, can learn to commu-
nicate more effectively. Communication is a skill and, like other skills,
can be improved with the right combination of study and practice.
While officers with reserved personalities may never feel as comforta-
ble interacting with others as do their colleagues with naturally outgoing
temperaments, they can still improve their interpersonal abilities in a
number of areas. For example, officers’ abilities to recognize emotions,
listen effectively, and resolve conflict can all be improved with time,
training, and practice.
THE IMPACT PRINCIPLES
While every encounter is unique, officers’ abilities to motivate and to per-
suade depend to a large extent on their interpersonal effectiveness. One
element that separates effective officers from their less effective coun-
terparts is their purpose. Communicating and connecting with others
begins with a clearly articulated plan. Arguably, many of the com-
munication breakdowns that take place between officers and others
occur because the officers approach the exchanges with no clear plan
12 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
or purpose. While many law enforcement agencies require officers to
attend some form of communication or human relations training, no
standardized, systematic model of interpersonal skills has been avail-
able to help officers manage the myriad interpersonal challenges they
encounter on a daily basis. As a result, officers are often unsure how
best to overcome strong emotions, resolve conflict, and manage irate,
frustrated, or difficult people.
The IMPACT model was designed specifically to provide law
enforcement professionals with a systematic, easy-to-follow model of
interpersonal communication and conflict management skills that can be
applied to virtually any type of law enforcement contact. The IMPACT
model focuses on building successful process. As stated earlier, process
matters. If we build the right process, we will be more successful at con-
necting and communicating with others, avoiding unnecessary hostilities
and frivolous complaints, and getting more of what we need. The model
is built around six core principles:
• Identify and manage emotions.
• Master the story.
• Promote positive behavior.
• Achieve rapport.
• Control your response.
• Take perspective.
While the use of all these principles is critical to officers’ dealing effec-
tively with difficult or angry people, managing conflict, motivating others,
and solving problems, the order of their application may vary. Every law
enforcement contact is unique. An officer may find it helpful to begin with
the first principle (identify and manage emotions) and work methodically
through the model in one instance, but may discover it is more effective to
begin with, for example, the fifth principle (control your response) before
reverting to the second (master the story) on another occasion. Similarly,
in one case an officer may find it necessary to work through all six steps,
while only two steps may be required during a different contact. And while
the principles that officers select and the order in which they are applied
may vary according to the unique demands of particular situations, the
core principles of the IMPACT model remain constant.
Introduction to the IMPACT Principles 13
Identify and Manage Emotions
Trooper Christopher recognized Brock’s emotional distress early in
the encounter described at the beginning of this chapter. In police work,
it is not a question of whether strong emotions will emerge; rather, it is
a question of how they can best be handled when they do. Strong emo-
tional responses occur when the emotional parts of the brain (limbic
system) override the rational, thinking areas (neocortex). Strong emo-
tions make it difficult—in some cases impossible—for people to think
logically about their behaviors or the consequences of their actions.
Before we can expect a person who is experiencing strong emotions
to think or act logically, we must first identify and manage those emo-
tions. To whatever extent we can decrease the emotional arousal, we
should see a corresponding increase in the person’s abilities to listen
and to reason.
Three of the most effective tools for managing strong emotions are
asking questions, reframing, and paraphrasing. The first of these, asking
questions, requires the person to pause and to reflect—in other words, to
think. While answering questions might not seem to be a difficult task,
it requires deliberate mental focus. It also forces the person to engage
the rational, thinking areas of the brain. The second tactic, reframing,
involves describing the problem while eliminating emotionally charged
language. Reframing allows us to acknowledge a …
• 6 •
CONTROL YOUR RESPONSE
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
None of us, regardless of our law enforcement tenure or experience, are immune to emotions. We are subject to the same kinds of frus-
tration, anger, irritation, hostility, fear, and depression as everyone else.
While emotions perform a number of important functions, strong feel-
ings can create a host of problems: They can interfere with our ability
to listen, make it difficult for us to concentrate, and lead to aggressive
behavior. Considering the range of irate, frustrated, and difficult people
that law enforcement officers encounter on a daily basis, there will almost
certainly be times when we will find ourselves overwhelmed by strong
emotions. When this happens, we have two choices: We can control our
emotions, or we can allow our emotions to control us. Anytime we allow
our emotions to control us, we become part of the problem rather than
part of the solution. As law enforcement professionals, we simply don’t
have the luxury of surrendering ourselves to strong emotions. The costs
of anger, frustration, and hostility are simply too high. Rather, we must
master the self-awareness and emotional management skills necessary to
control our response.
As we learned previously, our lives are influenced by two mental
systems: one emotional, the other logical. The first system, the emotional
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84 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
“go” system, is concerned primarily with the emotional significance
of people and things, particularly fear-related stimuli. It continuously
scans the environment for threats and, at the first sign of danger, acti-
vates the body’s stress response (“fight or flight”). The second system,
the neutral “no” system, is emotionally objective. It is a consequence
of the rational brain and is responsible for the higher-order functions of
logic, planning, and language, as well as for modifying the duration and
intensity of our emotional responses. Which brain system is currently
in charge is determined by the reticular activating system (RAS), a kind
of “toggle switch” located in an area beginning at the top of the brain
stem and continuing into the cerebral cortex. The RAS switches brain
systems at two different times: when we become emotionally aroused
and when we relax. When we become emotionally charged, the RAS
shuts down the cerebral cortex, allowing the emotional brain to assume
control. Once the threat has passed, the RAS switches the cortex back
on, letting us regain access to our logical brain.
The two systems—the emotional “go” system and the neutral “no”
system—are connected by a collection of nerves that link thinking with
feeling. These connections also allow the brain to control the rest of
the body by regulating our physiological systems, including the auto-
nomic nervous system and the endocrine system. Due to our unique
abilities to use and understand language, we humans are the only organ-
isms capable of thinking ourselves into an emotional state. By simply
thinking hard enough about something frightening, we can increase our
heart rate, intensify our breathing, and dilate our pupils. Because our
thoughts can produce measurable physiological changes, the first step
in managing our emotions is to manage the language that we use to
label people and events.
Most experts agree that we have only two options for manag-
ing emotions: We can change the environment, or we can change our
response. As law enforcement professionals, we are often unable to con-
trol our environment. We are dispatched to calls for service and sum-
moned for assistance by forces beyond our control. In most cases we
have no choice but to respond, and once on scene we have no choice but
to handle events to conclusion, even when we feel ourselves overcome
with strong emotions. When we are unable to change the environment,
we have only one option left: We must change our response.
Control Your Response 85
THE TRUTH ABOUT ANGER
Three common myths about anger influence many of our emotional
responses. All of these myths have been repeated so many times that
some have assumed an air of legitimacy. Some of the misinformation
feeding these myths can be traced to early theories in psychology; other
beliefs about anger are the products of childhood experiences. Regard-
less of how we acquire our beliefs, they influence the ways we think
about and respond to anger in a number of important ways. By under-
standing the truth about anger, we will be better able to manage our
emotions in positive, productive ways that allow us to be part of the
solution rather than part of the problem.
Myth 1: Other People Are Responsible for My Anger
The first myth is that others are responsible for our frustration, anger,
and hostility. According to this view, we do little more than respond to the
behavior of others, similar to a puppet operated by a set of strings. The
puppeteer pulls a string and we become angry. The puppeteer pulls a differ-
ent string and we become happy. Other people are somehow to blame for
our emotions. This belief is perhaps best expressed by the statement “You
made me mad!” Despite the popularity of this view, nothing could be fur-
ther from the truth. We are responsible for our emotions. Nobody can make
us angry. Nobody can make us happy. We choose anger and hostility in the
same ways that we choose happiness or joy. What we feel, how intensely
we feel it, and whether or not we act on those feelings are choices.
Myth 2: Expressing Anger Is Healthy
The idea that expressing anger is healthy stems from the historical
view of anger as a form of catharsis—that is, a way of reducing stress
and unhealthy emotions. The problem is that each time we respond with
anger, we practice anger. We are, at our core, creatures of habit. Not
surprisingly, much of how we respond emotionally and behaviorally is
the product of conditioning. We develop habits, or automatic ways of
responding, by repeatedly practicing the same patterns of thoughts and
behaviors. In other words, the more we practice anger, the more likely
we are to respond with anger in the future.
86 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
Myth 3: My Only Choices Are to Express
My Feelings or to Hold Them In
Many people believe that there are only two ways of managing
negative emotions: We can release our anger, hostility, and aggression
on others, or we can hold those feelings in. Despite the long-standing
acceptance of this belief, it is simply not true. There is a third choice.
By improving our self-awareness and emotional intelligence, we can
tone down or modify our emotions, much as we can turn down the heat
on a pot of boiling water. We can do this by identifying and modifying
unhealthy beliefs and labels. Additionally, we can adopt an assertive
style of communication to help us set appropriate boundaries without
ignoring the interests of others.
We can draw three conclusions from the debunking of these myths:
• We are responsible for our anger.
• We can control our anger and other negative emotions.
• Poor emotional management skills have serious negative consequences.
THOUGHTS, FEELINGS, AND BEHAVIORS
Too often, the first casualty of an encounter with a difficult person is
our objectivity. An uncooperative citizen makes a nasty remark and
we respond with an equally caustic comment. This type of “eye for
an eye” thinking typically results in an unproductive cycle of action
and reaction that continues unabated until constructive dialogue is no
longer possible. While we might win the battle, too often we lose the
war. Tit-for-tat tactics seldom accomplish anything; rather, they alien-
ate others, generate complaints, and damage public trust. Effectively
managing the emotions of others begins with effectively managing our
own emotional response. If we want to be successful with irate, frus-
trated, and difficult people, we must first learn to identify and manage
our frustration and hostility.
All of our experiences as human beings consist of some com-
bination of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Because the parts of
the brain responsible for thinking are connected to the areas of the
brain responsible for physiology, emotion, and behavior, we have
Control Your Response 87
the ability to control our emotions and behaviors by controlling our
thoughts. Simply put, our thinking has a direct influence on how we
feel and how we behave. This means that the ways we think about
people and things are important determinants of our responses.
Unfortunately, most of us are largely unaware of the ways our
thoughts influence our emotions and behaviors. We are also largely
naive about the beliefs, self-talk statements, and labels that occupy
much of our thinking.
Many of our beliefs, self-talk statements, and labels develop early
in life, long before we are aware of their importance. As children, we
develop beliefs based on our experiences with parents, teachers, and
peers. Young children are acutely aware of behavioral reinforcements
and punishments. Behaviors that are rewarded and reinforced are more
likely to be repeated, while behaviors that are punished are less likely to
occur again. Anytime we express anger, either as a child or as an adult,
and that behavior gets us what we want, it becomes more likely that we
will respond with anger in the future.
Proponents of rational emotive behavioral therapy maintain that
people and things have no intrinsic emotional value. Rather, our think-
ing is mostly responsible for our frustration, anger, and other negative
emotions toward people and things. The three-step model proposed by
psychologist Albert Ellis, described below, illustrates the relationship
between events, beliefs, and emotional responses.
A: Activating Event
An activating event (A) is a person or thing that acts as a stressor. It
could be a motorist who refuses to sign a citation, a citizen who “pays
Figure 6.1 Relationship Between Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors
88 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
your salary,” or a supervisor who wants things done a certain way. In
either case, the event triggers our appraisal, including our beliefs and
B: Beliefs and Self-Talk
We use beliefs and silent self-talk statements (B) to evaluate the
person or event. Some of our beliefs are rational and positive. They
help us cope with frustration and soothe negative emotions. In contrast,
other beliefs and self-talk statements are irrational and negative. They
frequently lead to frustration and anxiety. In either case, it is the auto-
matic nature of our beliefs and self-talk that makes them so powerful.
Consequences (C), including emotions and behaviors, result from
our beliefs and self-talk statements. Depending on the beliefs and state-
ments involved, our emotional consequences can range from frustration
and anger to patience and satisfaction. Behavioral consequences, such
as violence and aggression, may also occur.
The commonsense view of anger is the belief that we have little
or no ability to control our emotions and behaviors (see Figure 6.2).
Rather, people and things are to blame for our responses. This type of
A-caused-C thinking is reflected in statements like “That idiot really
pissed me off!” This, however, is simply not the case. In fact, it is not
the other person, or “idiot,” who is responsible for the officer’s emo-
tional distress; rather, it is the officer’s own labels, beliefs, and self-talk
statements (see Figure 6.3). Although it is clearly impossible to elimi-
nate all negative emotions, we can still influence the duration and inten-
sity of our responses by challenging our irrational beliefs and labels.
The fact that we can control our emotions by monitoring our
thoughts is good news. It means that if we can learn to control our
beliefs, labels, and self-talk, we can better control our emotions and
behaviors. This is because, contrary to conventional wisdom, the acti-
vating events in our lives are neutral. In other words, people and things
have no inherent emotional value. The only value they hold is the value
we assign. Because the labels we select influence our emotions and
Control Your Response 89
behaviors, we have the power to choose different responses simply by
selecting different labels.
BELIEFS, LABELS, AND SELF-TALK
Psychologists have identified three types of cognitions that have impacts
on our emotions and behaviors: beliefs, labels, and self-talk statements.
By improving our abilities to manage our beliefs and self-talk, we can
learn to manage our emotions and behaviors when it matters most—that
is, when we are dealing with others who are irate, frustrated, or emo-
tional. Learning to manage our emotions will also make us more effec-
tive at connecting with others, managing conflict, and solving problems.
We all have beliefs about the ways we should be treated, how oth-
ers should behave, and what is fair. These beliefs are especially salient
when we are dealing with irate, frustrated, or difficult people. We tend to
have particularly strong beliefs about the ways that we, as law enforce-
ment professionals, should be spoken to and should be treated. Some
of our beliefs are rational and lead to appropriate emotional responses.
Figure 6.2 Commonsense View of Emotions
Activating Event Consequences (behaviors, emotions)
SOURCE: Adapted from Clark, L. (1998). SOS help for emotions: Managing anxiety,
anger, and depression. Bowling Green, KY: Parents Press.
SOURCE: Adapted from Clark, L. (1998). SOS help for emotions: Managing anxiety,
anger, and depression. Bowling Green, KY: Parents Press.
Figure 6.3 Correct Model of Emotions
90 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
For example, we might hold a belief that it is all right for a person
who is emotionally upset to raise her voice. Our rational beliefs help us
cope effectively with difficult situations and people. However, we may
hold other beliefs that are irrational and harmful. Rather than helping
us better control our response, they exacerbate negative emotions. For
instance, we may believe that people should respect our authority at all
times and regardless of their emotional state. Obviously, there will be
times when otherwise intelligent, rational people will not respond to
our authority. The very nature of strong emotions can make it difficult
for people to reason, much less to demonstrate unquestioning respect
Four types of beliefs that can be especially harmful are should/must
thinking, all-or-nothing thinking, awfulizing or maximizing, and “why”
Should/must thinking occurs when we place demands on people
and things; it is associated with words like “never,” “always,” and “have
to.” When we engage in should/must thinking, we escalate our wishes
and preferences to demands. We may become emotionally upset, for
example, when a person fails to demonstrate an appropriate level of
respect or when a person fails to comply with a direct order. One prob-
lem with should/must thinking is that other people rarely see the world
in the same ways we do. Their rules and beliefs can be different from
ours. Absent obvious officer safety concerns, the key to changing our
irrational beliefs is realizing that many of our rules are based on pref-
erences and choices, not categorical imperatives. While we all have
preferences for certain behaviors, there are very few absolutes.
We engage in all-or-nothing thinking when we evaluate people and
things in absolute terms. In other words, things are good or bad, posi-
tive or negative, right or wrong. There is simply nothing in between, no
middle ground, no gray area. Most of us recognize that few things in
life are completely “good” or completely “bad.” For example, it’s rare
Control Your Response 91
that someone is “always” a jerk or that someone “never” cooperates.
The key to changing this type of thinking is to challenge the under-
lying rules responsible for our beliefs. Is it realistic to believe that
everyone, everywhere, and every time must treat us with the utmost
respect? Or might there be times when our job requires us to work
with difficult people? Considering the nature of police work, there
will almost certainly be times when we will be forced to work with
irate, frustrated, and emotional people. The sooner we accept that fact,
the sooner we can adopt healthy, realistic beliefs and take control of
Awfulizing or Maximizing
Awfulizing or maximizing occurs when we exaggerate a minor
problem into something more serious. It is associated with statements
like “This is terrible!” or “This is awful!” For example, an officer who
labels his contact with a difficult citizen as “the worst day in months”
is likely to talk himself into a negative emotional state. The best way
to challenge this form of thinking is to realize that very few things are
truly “awful” or “horrible”; they are merely inconvenient. Anytime we
discover ourselves awfulizing, we should immediately replace that ter-
minology with more reasonable, emotionally cool descriptors, such as
“inconvenient” or “unpleasant.”
The final type of irrational belief is actually a disguised form of
should/must thinking. It occurs when we repeat the same question—
usually beginning with “why” or “how could”—over and over. This
type of thinking is associated with questions such as “Why is this hap-
pening?” and “How could this occur?” For instance, an officer who
asks, “Why do I have to deal with this idiot?” is likely to talk herself
into a bad mood. Because we label the event as unfair, we refuse to
accept responsibility or to deal with the consequences. Simply answer-
ing the question is one of the best ways to challenge “why” thinking.
This allows us to evaluate the question logically, acknowledge the
reality of the situation, and take appropriate action.
92 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
Human beings are not neutral observers. We label virtually everyone
and everything that we encounter. We label people and things that help us
move closer to a goal as positive. Conversely, we label anyone or anything
that prevents us from reaching a goal as negative, especially irate, difficult,
or hostile people. We learned many of our labels during early childhood,
and, like other irrational beliefs, they have become unconscious habits.
Like all forms of self-talk, the labels we select act as emotional filters.
While it is easy to label somebody a “jerk,” we seldom realize that doing
so can influence our emotions and behaviors in a host of negative ways.
The trick to correcting negative labels is to ask ourselves whether they are
truly accurate. For example, is a motorist who is upset about receiving a
speeding ticket truly behaving like a “jerk,” or is he simply being difficult
because he is concerned about his insurance rates? Because labels are
powerful, we should periodically check the accuracy of our labels, as well
as the effects those labels have on our emotions and behaviors.
Internal dialogue, or self-talk, is the real-time conversation that we
have with ourselves about what is occurring in our lives. Whether we
Table 6.1 Beliefs and Self-Talk Statements
Dysfunctional, Unhealthy Beliefs and Self-
Results (unpleasant and
“He can’t talk to me like that!” Anger, frustration, arousal
“Who does this guy think he is?” Anger, frustration, arousal
“I’ll show this idiot who is in charge.” Anger, frustration, arousal
Functional, Healthy Beliefs and Self-Talk Results (unpleasant but
“This guy must be having a bad day.” Irritation
“This guy is angry, but getting upset won’t help.” Annoyance
“This is frustrating, but it’s not worth getting
SOURCE: Adapted from McKay, M., Rogers, P. D., & McKay, J. (1989). When anger
hurts: Quieting the storm. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
Control Your Response 93
realize it or not, we engage in a continuous internal dialogue that reflects
our beliefs and labels. Self-talk is what we say to ourselves about the
people, events, and things that we encounter. Most of us have engaged
in self-talk for so long that we are not even aware we are doing it. Our
self-talk can be either positive or negative, and it is one of the major
influences on how we respond emotionally and behaviorally to others.
Self-talk can heat up our emotional response or it can cool it down,
depending on the language that we choose. A statement like “This guy
is a real idiot!” is almost certain to heat up our emotional response,
while saying “This guy must be having a really bad day” is more likely
to cool our reaction.
While we develop many of our labels, beliefs, and self-talk state-
ments during early childhood, many of these patterns continue unchal-
lenged throughout our adult lives. If we continue to use the same
irrational labels, beliefs, and statements long enough, they become
patterns—that is, automatic ways of responding to people and things
without any conscious awareness of the process or consequences. The
fact that most of us are unaware of our self-talk is one of the main
reasons that negative patterns develop and take root. Fortunately, early
childhood conditioning is not fate. With a little effort, we can change
the habits that we acquired early in life.
In the end, there is nothing automatic about anger or hostility.
It all comes down to choice. We choose what to think about and we
choose what not to think about. We have control over the content of
our minds. Anytime we find strong emotions getting in the way of
our personal or professional effectiveness, we can, and should, iden-
tify and challenge our irrational and unhealthy thoughts before they
become habits. We also need to replace our irrational beliefs with
more realistic cognitions.
STEPS TO IMPROVING EMOTIONAL MANAGEMENT
Anger and other caustic emotions can damage relationships, undermine
public trust, and reduce officer safety. Moreover, anger and hostility are
not very effective at facilitating communication and problem solving.
Now that we have a better understanding of emotions, as well as the
roles played by irrational beliefs, labels, and self-talk, we can use the
following strategies to recognize and manage our reactions.
94 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
Recognize the Signs
The first step in controlling anger, hostility, and other negative emo-
tions is to recognize the physical and mental cues. Because strong emo-
tions produce noticeable bodily sensations and shifts in thinking, the
better we are at recognizing these changes, the more successful we will
be at managing our responses. The key to recognizing emotions, par-
ticularly negative emotions, is learning to diagnose the changes early,
including the following:
• Elevated heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure
• Elevated body temperature
• Difficulty concentrating
• Muscle tension, especially in the shoulders, neck, and back
• Strong impulse to act
Once we understand the cognitive and physiological changes that
accompany strong emotions, we will be better able to recognize the
early signs of emotional distress. Strong emotions cause the release of
adrenaline, cortisol, and other bodily chemicals, which take time to dis-
sipate. If necessary, we may need to step away from the situation for a
few moments—or minutes—until our thoughts and physiology return
to normal. In this case, forewarned is forearmed. The earlier we can
diagnose signs of emotion, the earlier we can intervene and the more
effective our intervention is likely to be.
Once we become aware of a strong emotional response, the next
step is to take responsibility. This is in direct conflict with our natural
tendency to blame our negative emotions and hostility on others, argua-
bly the main reason that we feel justified in our anger. When somebody
else is responsible, we do not need to worry about changing ourselves or
about the consequences of our actions. Fortunately, every situation offers
Control Your Response 95
a choice. Although we may not always be able to choose our circum-
stances, we can always choose our responses. Once we realize the ways
thoughts and language shape our emotions, we can no longer blame our
bad behavior on others. Managing our emotions and behaviors effec-
tively means assuming responsibility for our thoughts, including our
beliefs, labels, and self-talk statements, as well as the consequences of
Make a Proper Appraisal
The third step focuses specifically on the appraisal process. The
ways that we think about events and people significantly influence our
abilities to manage our emotional and behavioral responses effectively.
People and things have no intrinsic emotional value. Our emotions and
behaviors are not caused by objects or people but by our beliefs, labels,
and self-talk. Because all emotions start with essentially the same state
of general arousal, the specific emotion that we experience has more
to do with how we evaluate things than with those things themselves.
In fact, people often vary widely in their reactions to the same event
mostly because they differ in the appraisal process.
Identify Hot Buttons
We all have hot buttons—that is, people, events, and things that
upset us. The fourth step in effective emotional management is learn-
ing to identify and recognize our triggers ahead of time. This pro-
vides us with important opportunities to prepare ourselves mentally
and emotionally for those times when someone invariably pushes our
buttons. In many cases, it is helpful to visualize the situation or person
beforehand. This can help us develop and practice specific strategies
for how best to respond, including the beliefs, labels, and self-talk
statements that we will use. In the same way that we rehearse men-
tally for tactical situations, we can prepare for emotionally charged
encounters. Taking the time to practice our emotional responses and
self-talk is one way of increasing our odds of responding effectively
while under pressure.
96 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
Improve Emotional Literacy
The fifth step, improving our emotional literacy, focuses on our
abilities to recognize and acknowledge specific emotional states. Rather
• 2 •
IDENTIFY AND MANAGE EMOTIONS
The emotions aren’t always immediately subject to reason, but they
are always immediately subject to action.
We all experience an assortment of emotions every day. Joy, fear, surprise, anger, disgust, and other feelings are such a fact of life
that we seldom stop to think about what they mean, how they occur,
or why they occur. When managed properly, emotions can enhance
our motivation, improve our relationships, and protect us from dan-
ger. When handled improperly, however, emotions can destroy careers,
damage relationships, and stifle our abilities to communicate and to
connect with others.
Emotions are complex feeling states that produce a host of cogni-
tive, physiological, and behavioral changes. Cognitively, we experience
emotions as a shift in focus as our attention becomes fixed on a person
or object. Physiologically, we undergo a number of bodily changes,
including accelerated heart rate, elevated body temperature, acceler-
ated breathing, dilated pupils, and muscular tension. Behaviorally, we
experience emotions as an impulse to act—that is, to move toward or
away from a person or object, a response commonly described as “fight
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Emotions do not occur in a vacuum. They have specific causes. We are
angry with someone or about something. Indeed, it is the all-consuming
focus of emotions that makes them so difficult to ignore. This seems espe-
cially true for anger, which can range in intensity from mild irritation
to full-blown rage. Because emotions urge us to do something and do it
quickly, they often create more problems than they solve. This has led some
philosophers to conclude that before we can live a happy and fulfilled life,
we must first learn to subjugate our emotions to the cold logic of reason.
HISTORY AND THE STUDY OF EMOTIONS
The Greek Stoics of the early third century b.c. believed that the
“passions” do little more than cloud one’s ability to reason. The Stoics
taught that emotions, which result from errors in judgment, are some-
thing to be controlled. They further believed that a “sage” person of
“moral and intellectual perfection” would not suffer the defect of emo-
tions. Several centuries later, the French philosopher René Descartes
proposed a “duality” of mind and body. Descartes suggested that the
mind is completely separate from the body, an immaterial “thinking
thing” driven by pure logic and void of self-defeating emotions. Logic
and emotion, he maintained, are isolated processes, occurring in sep-
arate spheres—one in the mind, the other in the body. Descartes did
not deny the existence of emotions; rather, he believed that rational
thinking is unaffected by feelings. However, despite the long-standing
popularity of these approaches, their authors could not have been more
Every decision that we make and every action that we take—from
selecting which car to buy to deciding whom to marry—is somehow
influenced by emotion. Because of the way we value logic in Western
society, we are naturally inclined to view ourselves as rational and
decision making as a purely logical pursuit. We observe and assess,
identify our options, and choose the most logical course of action.
Recent scientific evidence, however, suggests that our decisions and
actions are heavily influenced by emotion. On one hand, we use logic
to analyze data and assess outcomes. On the other hand, we rely on
emotions to provide visceral feedback, intuitive insights, and “gut
feelings.” It seems that rather than simply weighing the logical costs
Identify and Manage Emotions 23
and benefits of a decision, we use emotions to guide our choices and
then engage in a post hoc search for reasons to justify our actions. The
better we understand how and why emotions occur, the more effective
we will be at soothing hurt feelings, managing conflict, and dealing
with irate, frustrated, and difficult people.
Functions of Emotions
In addition to their role in problem solving and decision making,
emotions serve a number of other important functions, including pro-
tection, attention, motivation, bonding, and communication.
• Protection: The primary purpose of our nervous system is to keep us
alive. In simplest terms, the faster we respond to potential threats, the
greater our chances of survival. Emotions have evolved as the primary
way of alerting us to the presence of danger. At the first sign of threat,
the emotional centers of the brain activate the body’s stress response,
sending signals to other areas of the brain and body to prime us for
• Attention: Emotions affect what we notice, what we process, and what
we remember. Negative emotions like fear and anger make it difficult
for us to concentrate or remember, while positive emotions can gener-
ate energy and attention as well as enhance memory and recall.
• Motivation: Emotions are the driving forces that compel us to act. The
things that motivate us are generally the same things that move us emo-
tionally. The positive feelings we experience when we achieve personal
goals motivate us to pursue other ambitions. Conversely, the negative
emotions that follow a disappointment deter us from performing certain
• Bonding: Emotions make it possible for us to form important relation-
ships and to bond with others. The bond that a parent shares with a child
and the connection between a husband and wife are simply not possible
• Communication: We use our emotions to initiate and to regulate
social interaction with others, as well as to reinforce or to modify other
aspects of our communication. We do so through our facial expressions,
posture, eye contact, and bodily movement—all of which provide
important clues about our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes.
While emotions perform a number of necessary and important func-
tions, an inability to recognize and to control emotions can create a host
24 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
of problems. For example, emotions can cause an otherwise rational
person to act in ways that are clearly contrary to his best interests, such
as yelling at an officer who is doing little more than attempting to keep
the peace or to issue a traffic citation. What is it about emotion that
causes people to behave in ways that are so clearly irrational? More
important, what can we do to communicate effectively with irate, frus-
trated, and difficult people?
THE EMOTIONAL BRAIN
Over the past few decades, neuroscientists have learned a great deal about
the origins and roles of emotions. This includes the identification and
study of specific brain regions responsible for both logic and emotion.
As human beings we are, by our very nature, emotional. Whether we
realize it or not, emotions touch every aspect of our lives. Emotions influ-
ence not only how we make choices but also what we think about. While
Descartes’s notion of a disembodied mind is almost certainly wrong, it
appears that he may have been right about one thing: We are literally of
two minds—one emotional, the other logical. The emotional brain is intu-
itive, fast, and instinctual. It is concerned primarily with emotional signif-
icance and with survival. The logical brain, in contrast, is rational, slow,
and heavily influenced by experience. It is concerned with precision,
logic, and getting things right. Together the two brains integrate thinking
and feeling in ways that make the many nuances and complexities of our
intellectual and emotional lives possible (see Table 2.1).
Table 2.1 Emotional Brain Versus Logical Brain
Emotional Brain Logical Brain
Learns slowly Learns quickly
Requires little energy Requires considerable energy
SOURCE: Adapted from Lehrer, J. (2009). How we decide. New York: Mariner Books.
Identify and Manage Emotions 25
We don’t normally think of our brains as collections of distinct
parts, each responsible for particular functions, such as basic life sup-
port, vision, speech, logic, movement, memory, and emotion. Rather,
we experience our brains as fully integrated units, capable of combining
logic and emotion into one seamless experience. Scientists, however,
divide the brain into three major areas: the brain stem, the limbic sys-
tem, and the cerebral cortex (see Table 2.2). This division, although
somewhat artificial, can nonetheless help to clarify the basic structures
responsible for different functions and assist us in better understanding
the relationship between logic and emotion.
Brain Stem Functions
The brain stem, or reptilian brain, as it is sometimes labeled, is a
continuation of the spinal cord. It is responsible for basic vegetative
functions, including the regulation of heart rate, breathing, sleeping,
eating, and consciousness. The brain stem also connects the sen-
sory nerves and motor nerves of the brain to the rest of the body. All
information relayed from the brain to the body and vice versa travels
through the brain stem. Damage to the brain stem can result in coma
Limbic System Functions
The limbic system, or emotional brain, comprises the clusters of
nuclei associated with emotions, particularly fear. It is not truly a separate
system; rather, it is a collection of structures that include the hippocampus,
Table 2.2 Brain Functions
Brain Stem Limbic System Cerebral Cortex
Regulation of cardiac and
Emotional arousal Thinking
Consciousness Learning Logic
Regulation of the sleep cycle Memory Memory
Eating Motivation Language
SOURCE: Adapted from Carter, R. (1999). Mapping the mind. Berkeley: University of
26 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
amygdalae, anterior thalamic nuclei, septum, limbic cortex, and fornix. In
addition to emotional arousal, the limbic system plays important roles in
motivation, learning, and memory.
Cerebral Cortex Functions
The cerebral cortex, or logical brain, is the region commonly referred
to as gray matter. The cerebral cortex is divided into right and left hem-
ispheres. It encompasses approximately two-thirds of the brain’s mass
and lies over and around most of the brain’s other structures. It is the
most recently evolved part of the human brain and is responsible for
thinking, logic, planning, learning, memory, and language.
One especially important part of the logical brain is the prefrontal
cortex, the region located just behind the forehead. It is the brain area
responsible for impulse control as well as learning about the social
norms and values of a person’s culture. The frontal cortex is the last
part of the brain to develop, typically maturing around age 25—a fact
that explains much of the impulsive behavior common among young
adults. Although all mammals possess some functioning frontal cor-
tex, the area is most highly developed in human beings.
Understanding the various brain structures and their functions is an
important step in recognizing how and why people become emotionally
distressed, as well as why it can be so difficult to reason with a person
who is distraught. Losing control, failing to respond to reason, and, in
some cases, behaving violently can all be traced to specific areas of the
LOGIC VERSUS EMOTION
Our thoughts, decisions, and actions are the products of the two brains:
one rational, the other emotional. The rational brain thinks. It per-
forms detailed analyses of data from the outside world, compares that
information to past events stored in long-term memory, and plans the
best course of action. The rational brain is responsible for conscious
thought, logic, planning, and language. It is also tasked with using the
information gathered by our senses to create a cohesive picture of the
Identify and Manage Emotions 27
world. The neocortex, which represents the crowning achievement of
millions of years of evolutionary pressure, is primarily responsible for
the rise and dominance of human beings over other species.
In contrast to the cold, logical analysis of the more recently evolved
neocortex, the emotional brain feels. It is responsible for emotions like
anger, fear, and love. It is also the source of our intuitions, or “gut feel-
ings.” One particularly important cluster of neurons is the amygdala,
a set of structures located deep beneath the brain’s temporal lobe. The
amygdala specializes in emotions, especially those associated with fear.
It continuously scans the environment for potential threats and activates
the body’s alarm, commonly referred to as the “fight or flight” response,
at the first sign of danger. Unlike the slower, more logical neocortex, the
emotional brain is designed for speed rather than accuracy.
Normally the two brains operate as a tightly orchestrated system.
We are able to connect feeling with thinking and thinking with feel-
ing in ways that allow us to integrate our two ways of knowing. There
is a comfortable balance. On one hand, we use feelings to inform our
rational brain, to help us make decisions, and to add color to logic.
On the other hand, we integrate information from our rational brain to
better inform feelings and occasionally to override unhealthy emotional
responses. In most instances, our thoughts and feelings work together
as one coordinated unit, but this is not always the case. There are times
when the emotional brain seizes control, filling us with rage, anger, or
other strong emotions, and leaving us seemingly beyond the reach of
logic or reason.
“FIGHT OR FLIGHT”
The human brain developed from the bottom up. Because the higher
brain centers of the neocortex developed as elaborations from the more
primitive emotional brain, the two brains are connected by a network of
neurons that allow us to integrate thoughts and feelings. We are able to
“think” about our “feelings” as well as to articulate our emotions and
intuitions. These connections also provide the more primitive emotional
brain with a way of overriding the neocortex during an emergency—
even if temporarily—to ensure our survival.
28 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
Anytime the emotional brain senses a threat (real or perceived), it
activates the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, trig-
gering the release of adrenaline and glucocorticoids into the bloodstream
to prime the mind and body for action (see Table 2.3). This produces
a rush of nervous energy and muscular tension, which we experience
as an elevated heart rate, rapid breathing, dry mouth, sweaty palms,
and butterflies in the stomach. We may also find ourselves behaving
in uncharacteristically aggressive ways, such as pointing our fingers,
clenching our fists, or yelling. Not surprisingly, strong emotions can
make it especially difficult for us to listen or to concentrate. The more
intense the feeling, the more dominant the emotional brain.
The body’s stress response has been etched into the human nerv-
ous system over hundreds of millennia and thousands of generations.
Table 2.3 Stress Response (Fight or Flight)
Activation of the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system
(“hot” go system)
Release of glucocorticoids, including adrenaline, noradrenaline, and
Increases in heart rate and respiration
Elevation in blood pressure
Flushing or paling
Inhibition of stomach/digestive functions
Dilation of pupils
Constriction of blood vessels
Diversion of blood to large muscle groups
Inhibition of tear production and salivation
Increase in blood sugar
Suppression of immune system
Increase in blood clotting
SOURCE: Adapted from Kagan, J. (1998). Galen’s prophecy: Temperament in human
nature. Boulder, CO: Basic Books.
Identify and Manage Emotions 29
As hunter-gatherers, our ancestors faced an untold number of
dangers, including hungry predators, aggressive neighboring tribes,
and unpredictable turns of nature. When our ancestors encountered
hungry predators, they did not have the time to pause and formu-
late the most logical response. They needed a system capable of
almost instantaneous action. The emotional brain, with its ability to
prime the mind and body for an immediate response, provided the
advantage necessary to ensure our ancestors’ survival in such hostile
environments. However, the rapid, emotional response that served
our ancestors so well is poorly adapted to the challenges we face in
Today, our chances of encountering man-eating carnivores are vir-
tually nonexistent. The human brain, in spite of its complexity and flex-
ibility, has been unable to keep pace with our rapidly changing world.
Over the span of a few thousand years, human life, particularly in highly
developed countries, has changed so dramatically that many of our
ancestors would be unable to cope.
Because our brains have failed to evolve at the same speed as the
rest of our world, we continue to demonstrate the same hardwired
responses to threats as our early ancestors, engaging in either “fight” or
“flight.” This is further complicated by the fact that the emotional brain
responds to psychological threats in the same way it responds to physi-
cal threats—that is, as if our personal safety were in jeopardy. Thus, we
respond to threats to our self-esteem in the same ways we respond to
threats to our physical safety.
When a person is irate, frustrated, or angry, we can be almost cer-
tain that his emotional brain is running the show. The rational brain is
on hold while the person focuses his energy, attention, and resources
on the threat. His body is full of adrenaline. His mind is focused on the
threat. And he is driven by a primitive urge to attack or to defend. His
thoughts and emotions are no longer integrated. Rather than thinking
rationally about the long-term consequences of his actions, he is con-
cerned only with immediate survival.
As law enforcement professionals, how can we best respond to some-
one whose rational brain is disengaged? How do we motivate or per-
suade someone who is driven by pure emotion? Fortunately, the person’s
temporary insanity is just that—temporary. By correctly identifying a
30 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
SOURCE: Adapted from Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can
matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books.
Figure 2.1 Connections Between the Emotional Brain and the Logical Brain
person’s emotional state and by reconnecting with the rational brain, we
can overcome many strong emotional responses, direct the person back
to a state of calm, and manage conflict effectively.
A Silver Lining
The networks that link the two brains allow strong emotions to override
logic during an emergency. This, however, does not mean that the rational
brain has stopped working altogether. While the emotional brain prepares
the mind and body for danger, the rational brain continues to analyze possi-
ble courses of action and ultimately decides on the best one. In other words,
while we may have little control over our initial reaction, we can consciously
affect the duration and intensity of our response. If, for example, a felony
suspect reaches into his pocket, our emotional brain sounds the alarm and
activates the body’s stress response. Meanwhile, our rational brain continues
to analyze, taking in additional details, comparing those facts to informa-
tion stored in long-term memory, and continuously updating the emotional
brain. When the rational brain determines that the suspect is retrieving a cell
phone and not a firearm, it sends signals to turn off the alarm.
This is possible because the neural networks that connect the two
brains travel in both directions (see Figure 2.1). In other words, neurons
transmit messages from the emotional brain to the neocortex, and other
Identify and Manage Emotions 31
connections send signals from the neocortex to the emotional brain.
These networks allow the logical brain to manage the duration and
intensity of our emotional responses. Under certain conditions, how-
ever, it is possible for the rational brain not only to modify the duration
and intensity of our emotions but also to override them altogether.
The connections between the rational and emotional brains offer a
ray of hope, or silver lining, for managing the responses of irate, frus-
trated, and difficult people by providing a way of reengaging the rational
brain. To manage such a person’s responses effectively, we must be able
to identify that individual’s emotional state as well as to reengage the
rational brain. This includes learning to recognize the symptoms of gen-
eral arousal and other nonverbal signs of affect, including facial expres-
sions, paralanguage, posture, proxemics, and eye contact (all of which
will be discussed in greater detail later in the book). If we expect to
communicate and to connect successfully, we must increase our sensitiv-
ity to the nonverbal messages of other people as well as to the messages
that we send to others. This is especially true when we are dealing with
irate, frustrated, and difficult people. In the same way that we watch the
behaviors of others, they observe our actions as well. Transmitting the
wrong messages (for example, disinterest or impatience) is almost cer-
tain to make a bad situation worse. Rather, we must make every effort to
communicate interest and objectivity while using appropriate strategies
to reengage the person’s rational brain.
TOOLS FOR MANAGING EMOTIONS
Strong negative affective responses occur when the more primitive emo-
tional brain triggers the body’s stress response (fight or flight). When
this happens, we respond emotionally rather than logically. We are less
concerned with the long-term consequences of our actions than with
focusing our energy and attention on the immediate threat. All of us
have, at one time or another, been fearful, angry, depressed, irritated, and
hostile. Emotions are entangled in every thought we have, every decision
we make, and every action we take. When dealing with irate and emo-
tional people, there is no “one size fits all” solution—no magic bullet
or special phrase that will work on every person and in every instance.
32 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
The approach we should take depends on the unique environmental and
personal variables of the situation as well as the number of tools we have
available. The more techniques we have at our disposal, the greater our
chances of success.
Be Aware of Your Response
Managing the emotions of others begins with managing our own
response. Responding emotionally to someone who is already irate,
frustrated, or angry will almost certainly make a bad situation worse.
Everything that we do and say is potentially important. To make the
right impression, we must send the right message. This means con-
trolling our verbal and nonverbal behaviors to ensure that we commu-
nicate appropriate levels of professionalism, interest, and objectivity.
Carefully monitoring our actions also allows us to influence the behav-
ior of others by demonstrating the kinds of conduct that we want the
others to model. If we appear anxious, nervous, or emotional, they will
respond in kind. On the other hand, if we appear calm, professional, and
interested, they are more likely to respond in ways that facilitate, rather
than inhibit, successful communication and problem solving.
The simple act of listening can go a long way toward reducing emo-
tional distress. Listening provides people with important opportunities
to express their feelings, attitudes, and concerns. Listening, however, is
not as easy as it might appear. To listen effectively, we must do more
than simply process information. Good listeners pay attention not only
to people’s choice of words but also to their paralanguage and other
nonverbal cues. This means that we must listen with our eyes as well
as with our ears. It also requires that we take an interest in others. We
must learn to listen to people with the same concern and respect that we
expect from others, regardless of our personal feelings.
Paraphrasing involves the restatement of a person’s message in
another form. It can be used to clarify, summarize, or expand on the
Identify and Manage Emotions 33
original message. Paraphrasing also offers a number of advantages
for managing highly emotional people. To begin with, it allows us to
interrupt someone without making things worse. For example, after
listening long enough to grasp the crux of a person’s complaint, an
officer can politely interrupt by stating “I want to be sure that I under-
standing what you have told me so far” or “Okay, if I understand you
correctly . . .” One of the reasons that paraphrasing is so effective is that
it requires the other party to stop talking and listen to discover if the
officer has, in fact, gotten the story right. Further, similar to active lis-
tening, paraphrasing provides a way of modeling appropriate behaviors
and reducing tension.
Strong emotions are products of the emotional brain. One way of
reengaging the rational brain is to ask questions. Because answering
questions requires the person to process the request, search for informa-
tion, and formulate a response, questions naturally engage the rational
brain. This is especially true of open-ended questions that require an
extended search for information and a narrative response, such as “Tell
me more about that” or “What happened next?” Unlike binary ques-
tions, narrative questions cannot be answered with a simple yes or no.
The more we can engage the person in answering narrative questions,
the greater our chances of reengaging the rational brain.
Let the Person Vent
One of the most effective ways of dealing with someone who is
angry or frustrated is to allow the person to blow off steam. Rather than
arguing, debating, or disagreeing, our best course of action is to let the
person vent. The simple act of venting provides people with a form of
psychological release. Our job is not to react to emotional outbursts or
to personal attacks. Rather, we should listen quietly, acknowledge the
person’s concerns, and demonstrate interest. This includes allowing the
person to have the last word. If she stops talking, we should prompt
her to continue. Not only does letting someone vent allow that person
to blow off steam, but it also demonstrates our patience, empathy, and
genuine desire to listen.
34 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
Reframe the Problem
One final tool for managing anger, frustration, and other strong
emotions is reframing. The way we frame a problem has a lot to do with
how we respond. When we reframe a problem, we describe it …
• 7 •
If there is one key to success, it lies in the ability to see things from
the other person’s perspective.
How we see the world has a lot to do with where we stand. Dealing effectively with irate, frustrated, and difficult people has almost
nothing to do with “facts.” This is because the things that people disa-
gree about usually have less to do with objective reality than with indi-
vidual perspectives. Whether we are dealing with a frustrated motorist,
an irate neighbor, or an angry parent, it is differences in perspective that
both define the problem and offer solutions. It is not enough, however,
to realize that people differ in their perspectives on the same event. If
we want to be truly effective at communicating and connecting with
others, we must learn to appreciate their perspectives, with all the power
and intensity that go along with them.
Seeing the world from another’s point of view is not easy. It requires
healthy doses of patience, curiosity, and empathy. Too often, rather than
investing the time and energy necessary to fully appreciate other people
and their problems, we try to proselytize them to our way of thinking.
We assume that if they better understand the “facts,” they will see the
error of their ways. If, for whatever reason, they fail to “get it,” we con-
tinue to press our case while ignoring their feelings and their concerns. If
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100 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
they still fail to see the light, we conclude that there must be something
wrong with them. Perhaps they are controlling. Perhaps they are stub-
born. Perhaps they are ignorant.
Not surprisingly, this approach rarely gets us what we want. Arguing
usually does little more than lead to more arguing. Our persistence leads
nowhere and nothing is resolved. This is because “facts” are simply one
more thing to argue about. Even when everyone agrees, “facts” do little,
if anything, to address differences in perspectives and emotions. Our suc-
cess at communicating and connecting with others depends on our ability
to appreciate the perspectives of everyone involved well enough to make
sense of them. This makes our ability to take perspective—that is, to step
to the other side or to “walk a mile in the other person’s shoes”—one of
the most important interpersonal skills that any officer can possess.
THE POWER OF PERSPECTIVE
Differences in perception exist because of differences in the ways peo-
ple experience the world. Our perceptions are shaped by our beliefs,
assumptions, goals, values, and expectations. Because no two people
share precisely the same beliefs, assumptions, values, and so on, each
person experiences the world in a unique way. We all have beliefs about
how we should treat others and how they should treat us. We also have
beliefs about what is fair and what is just. When we believe that oth-
ers have treated us fairly, we respond in kind. We are open, receptive,
and friendly. Conversely, when we believe that others have treated us
unfairly, we become defensive and emotional.
A second reason that perspectives differ from person to person is
that we all notice different things. There is simply too much informa-
tion available to us at any given moment for us to process it all. Inev-
itably, we must pay attention to certain things and ignore others. Our
beliefs, assumptions, and expectations act as filters that influence what
we notice, how we respond, and what we remember. The stronger our
beliefs or emotions, the more likely we are to select “facts” that best
support our self-interests.
It is important to recognize that we can never fully appreciate the
complexities of another person’s perspective. While we recognize and
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Take Perspective 101
understand (or at least we think we understand) the experiences, emotions,
assumptions, attitudes, and beliefs that shape the way we view the world,
the many factors that color others’ perspectives are simply too complex
for us to grasp. The reverse is equally true: Other people can never fully
appreciate the complexities and nuances of our experiences. Invariably,
we end up filtering the views of others through our own lenses in ways that
produce biased, self-serving conclusions about those others, their behav-
iors, and their intentions. We often go through entire conversations with
other people without realizing that their perspectives and ours are based on
different information. Our failure to recognize differences in perspective
can stifle our abilities to manage conflict, soothe strong emotions, and
persuade others. However, by understanding how we evaluate and explain
the behavior of others, we can better appreciate differences in perspective
and, in the process, enhance our abilities to connect and to communicate
Human beings have a natural need to understand and explain the behavior
of others. Indeed, we often spend considerable time thinking about why
others behave as they do. Social psychologists refer to the explanations
we offer for the behavior of others as attributions. We generally attribute
the behavior of others to either internal or external causes. The first kind
of explanation, referred to as a dispositional attribution, focuses on inter-
nal causes of behavior, such as temperament, personality, and character
traits. The cause of the behavior, in other words, resides within the per-
son. The second kind of explanation, known as a situational attribution,
emphasizes external causes—that is, factors in the environment beyond
the person’s control.
If, for example, we merge into a lane of traffic and another motor-
ist responds in a rude or hostile manner, we can attribute that behavior
to either internal (dispositional) or external (situational) causes. If we
conclude that his behavior is the result of internal factors (personality or
character)—for example, “This guy is an idiot” or “What a jerk”—we
have made a dispositional attribution. On the other hand, if we decide
that his behavior is the product of external factors beyond his control
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102 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
(for instance, he was just fired from his job and is still upset), we have
made a situational attribution. The kinds of attributions we make about
others, including their motives, intentions, and character, are important
because they influence how we interpret and respond to their behaviors.
Because we have a tendency to jump to conclusions while assuming
the worst, we need to be careful about the kinds of attributions we make.
To complicate matters further, we often respond very differently to the
same behavior depending on our attributions. It is one thing for a person
who is having an especially bad day to behave rudely, but another thing
altogether for a “bad” person to behave rudely. As most of us can testify
from experience, we treat “bad” people very differently than we treat
“good” people who are simply having a bad day. One problem with
dispositional attributions is that the more harshly we judge the other
person’s character, the easier it is to justify our own bad behavior.
When we make a dispositional attribution, we judge a person’s
character based on a single incident of behavior. For example, if a per-
son is rude or hostile in one instance, we conclude that she is a “rude”
person—that is, behaving rudely or hostilely toward others is part of her
character or personality. The same is true of a person who is courteous or
polite. We assume that if she acted kindly in one instance, acting kindly
is part of her character or personality. Perhaps the greatest problem with
dispositional attributions is our tendency to downplay the importance of
situational variables (factors beyond the person’s control) and to focus
instead on the person’s character or personality. Indeed, our tendency
to look exclusively to dispositional factors to explain the behavior of
others is so pervasive that psychologists have labeled this phenomenon
the fundamental attribution error.
Despite our natural tendency to offer broad, sweeping indictments
of others based on single events, it is virtually impossible to assess a
person’s character properly based on an isolated incident of behavior.
In a famous study on “Good Samaritans,” researchers recruited a group
of religious seminary students to test the effects of situational and dis-
positional variables on helping behavior. The subjects first completed
personality questionnaires about their religion. Later, they were told
to go to another building to continue the experiment. The researchers
varied the amount of urgency and the task before sending the subjects
to the other building. One task was to prepare a talk about seminary
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Take Perspective 103
jobs, while the other was to prepare a talk about the story of the Good
Samaritan. On the way to the other building, each subject encountered
a man slumped in an alleyway whose condition was unknown—similar
to the biblical account in the New Testament of a man lying near the
roadway in need of help.
In one experimental condition, the subjects were told that they were
already late for the task; in the other condition, the subjects were told
that they had a few minutes but should get going anyway. As the subjects
walked to the other building, they encountered the man in the alleyway,
who moaned and coughed twice. Overall, 40% of the subjects offered
some help to the man. Much to the researchers’ surprise, they found no
correlation between religion and helping behavior. Rather, the single
most important predictor of whether or not the subjects stopped to ren-
der aid was the amount of “hurriedness.” In other words, the greater the
urgency to arrive at the other building, the less likely the subject was to
render assistance. Of all the subjects, those who described themselves
as being on a religious “quest” were least likely to render meaningful
There is little doubt that the subjects in the experiment were good
people. Why else would someone choose a life dedicated to helping
others? Yet, despite their good character and best intentions, the situa-
tional variable of time available, or “hurriedness,” had the greatest
impact on their decisions to stop and to render assistance. The results
of this experiment do not cast doubt on the character of the subjects;
rather, they serve as a stark reminder of the powerful effects of situa-
tional factors on behavior.
Choice and Intention
The kinds of attributions we make about the behaviors of others are
influenced by two factors: choice and intention. To begin with, we are
more likely to hold someone responsible for his behavior if we conclude
that he chose it freely than if we believe that it was caused by something
outside his control (that is, by something in the environment). If some-
one bumps into us in a crowded market, for example, we are more likely
to express anger if we decide the person did so deliberately. The way we
evaluate behavior is also influenced by our perception of the person’s
104 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
intentions. If someone hurts us, we are more likely to experience anger
if we believe the person did so intentionally than if we determine the
harm was unintentional. In the example of the bump in the market, if
we fall because the person deliberately pushed us, we are more likely
to be angry than if we conclude that the person bumped us accidentally
because of factors beyond his control, such as being struck by another
person’s shopping cart that knocked him off balance.
While we typically blame the behaviors of others on internal fac-
tors, we tend to be more generous about our own mistakes. When we are
at fault, we are more likely to blame our bad behavior on external, envi-
ronmental factors than on internal, dispositional factors. If, for example,
a motorist cuts into our lane of traffic, we tend to label her discourtesy
as part of a larger character flaw or personality deficit. However, if we
cut into somebody’s lane a few miles down the road, we blame the situ-
ation (for example, we had no choice because of heavy traffic).
One reason that we are so quick to blame the behavior of others on
internal factors is perspective. The way we observe others is different
from the way we observe our own behavior. To begin with, we are aware
of the many situational factors that influence our behaviors. To cite the
previous example, if we cut into another motorist’s lane, we excuse our
bad behavior by pointing to heavy traffic and other drivers who refused
to allow us the space necessary to merge safely. If the other drivers had
been more courteous, we would not have found it necessary to change
lanes so abruptly. We also stress the fact that cutting in front of others is
not part of our normal driving habits. In other words, we are a “good”
person who did a bad thing because of situational factors beyond our
control. On the other hand, when we observe the behavior of another
person, we know almost nothing about the situation. As a result, we
focus exclusively on the person and attribute whatever happens to her
personality, character, or other internal factors.
We not only try to understand the behaviors of others, but we also try
to read their minds. In other words, we try to deduce, based on behav-
ior, what other people are thinking or feeling. One problem with our
Take Perspective 105
attempts at mind reading is our tendency to assume that others think,
feel, and react in the same ways that we do. We conclude that what is
true for us must be true for others as well. The problem is that others
often think, feel, and react very differently than we would given the
same circumstances. Because we assume that we know more about
what others are thinking and feeling than we really do, we fail to watch
or listen very carefully. Instead, we act on our assumptions as if they
Despite our best efforts, we are usually not very good at reading
others’ intentions from their behavior. This is because people’s inten-
tions are invisible. Our attempts to read others are further complicated
by the fact that intentions—ours as well as theirs—are complex. Some-
times we act with good intentions but do the wrong thing. Other times
we act with bad intentions but do the right thing. In still other cases we
act with mixed intentions, or we act with no intentions at all—at least
none related to the other person.
Our explanations and expectations about the behaviors of others
are important because they set the stage for future behavior. One exam-
ple of the power of expectations is the self-fulfilling prophecy. A self-
fulfilling prophecy occurs when our expectations of a person’s behavior
cause the individual to act in a certain way. If, for example, we smile
at someone, he is likely to smile back. If we take a class and expect
to learn something, we almost certainly will. If we expect a person to
behave rudely or inconsiderately, he will probably not disappoint us.
A self-fulfilling prophecy involves the following four stages:
1. We hold an expectation of behavior for the other person.
2. We treat the person in a way consistent with our expectation.
3. The way we treat the other person causes him to act in a particular way,
fulfilling our expectation.
4. The person’s behavior reinforces our original expectation.
For example: An officer stops a motorist in an area where residents are
known to be hostile toward law enforcement. As the officer approaches
the car, he thinks, “Great, another idiot!” Although the officer tries his
best to be professional, his voice and nonverbal behavior betray his true
feelings. His tone is sarcastic, and he appears irritated by the contact.
106 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
The motorist notes the officer’s behavior. Predictably, he offers a curt
response and little eye contact, and he seems annoyed at the officer’s
requests. This confirms the officer’s original expectation. As the officer
returns to his vehicle, he says to himself, “I knew this guy was a jerk!”
The officer’s initial encounter with the motorist was strongly influ-
enced by his expectations (stage 1). He expected the motorist to behave
rudely, so he treated him accordingly (stage 2). Because of the officer’s
treatment, the motorist behaved in ways that confirmed the officer’s
expectation (stage 3). The motorist’s rude behavior reinforced the
officer’s expectation (stage 4).
The self-fulfilling prophecy is one example of how our expectations
can shape our encounters with others. Although our expectations do not
always result in self-fulfilling prophecies, people do frequently behave
in ways consistent with our expectations. In this way, the expectations
that we hold of others shape the nature of our interactions. Thus, we
need to be careful about the kinds of expectations we form of others, as
well as about the verbal and nonverbal messages that we send.
Empathy is the ability to understand or imagine an experience from
another person’s perspective. Our ability to empathize is an important
part of communicating and connecting with others. It is also an important
aspect of managing conflict, soothing hurt feelings, and dealing effec-
tively with irate, frustrated, and difficult people. Our ability to empathize
begins early in life. Indeed, young infants can engage in a variety of
self-comforting behaviors when exposed to the cries of another child.
By 2 years of age, nearly all toddlers engage in some helping behavior
in response to the distress of others (emotional empathy). Around the
time that children enter elementary school, they already begin to show
signs of accurately imagining the perspectives of others (cognitive empa-
thy). Among other things, the development of empathy allows children to
offer more effective help to others.
It is important to note that understanding another person’s perspec-
tive is not the same as agreeing with it. For example, we can empa-
thize with a person addicted to drugs without condoning her behavior.
Take Perspective 107
Similarly, we can understand the anger of a motorist receiving a traffic
citation without sanctioning his hostility. Learning to appreciate the
perspectives of others is not simply an exercise in helping them feel
better; it is a vital skill in every social relationship.
It is always easy to blame others for their “bad” behavior, especially
when we conclude that they are unreasonable, ignorant, irrational, or
controlling. While it might be easy and, in some cases, natural to blame
others, it is usually counterproductive. Rather than helping us to soothe
strong emotions, promote positive behavior, and manage conflict, blam-
ing others only makes things worse. None of us responds well to blame,
especially when we believe that we have not done anything wrong. By
increasing our capacity to empathize, we enhance our abilities to con-
nect with others and to be more persuasive. We can improve our ability
to empathize by listening actively, separating problems from people,
and acknowledging and validating others’ concerns and emotions.
Listen to Be Heard
The first key to empathizing with others is listening. In their book
Becoming a Person of Influence, authors John C. Maxwell and Jim Dor-
nan suggest, “Instead of putting others in their place, try to put yourself
in their place” (p. 49). In other words, instead of offering advice or criti-
cism, try to see the situation from the other person’s perspective. Advice
and criticism only generate resistance. Rather than changing their minds,
most people react to criticism by becoming further entrenched in their
position. If we want someone to listen to what we have to say, we must
first listen to what she has to say. If we want to be heard, we must first
allow the other person to be heard. In short, we must take the time to
understand the experience from her perspective.
Part of listening effectively is asking the right questions. Unlike
advice, proper questions do not criticize or blame. Rather, they allow
the person an opportunity to share his story without feeling blamed or
criticized. They also provide us with important opportunities to listen, to
acknowledge, and to validate the person’s feelings and concerns. We are
all egocentric to some degree, concerned mostly with our own wants,
needs, and fears. As a result, we often treat the concerns of others as
unimportant, merely obstacles to be negotiated or ignored. The actual
108 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
truth of the matter is very different. If we were truly able to experience
events in the same ways as the other person, we would probably reach
the same conclusions.
While it is important to provide others with opportunities to voice
their concerns, simply listening is not always enough. Hurt feelings
and unresolved needs do not mend themselves. Before we can com-
municate, connect, and persuade effectively, we must acknowledge
and address the person’s emotions and interests, regardless of how
unrealistic they may appear to us. Instead of rejecting someone’s
concerns, invite the person to explain them. We should listen atten-
tively, demonstrate concern, and then reframe the person’s story in
light of what we have learned. As we have seen, there is more to
managing conflict and dealing effectively with difficult people than
“just the facts.”
Separate Problems From People
The second aspect of empathy is separating problems from people.
Every disagreement involves two types of problems: the practical prob-
lem and the people problem. The practical problem is the actual person,
event, or thing that requires our attention. It is the issue that must be
recognized, addressed, and resolved. In contrast, the people problem
encompasses the parties involved, including their feelings, concerns,
and behaviors. Problems occur when we treat the practical problem and
the people problem as one and the same—that is, when we see the per-
son as the problem, not as a person with a problem. When a person is
frustrated or rude, we assume that the behavior is part of his personality
or character. We seldom look to the situation for an explanation. We fail
to recognize that he is frustrated or angry about something or someone.
Rather, we simply assume that he is a rude person.
Anytime we fail to separate practical problems from people prob-
lems, we risk treating problems and people in the same way. Rather
than listening and asking questions, we blame the other person. Rather
than trying to understand events from the other’s perspective, we jump
to conclusions. Rather than remaining open-minded and curious, we
assume that the person is stubborn, inconsiderate, or ignorant. We forget
Take Perspective 109
that we can be hard on problems yet soft on people. Separating problems
from people allows us to look at problems and solutions more objec-
tively and to solve practical problems without unnecessarily damaging
Acknowledge and Validate
The final strategy for improving our ability to empathize is acknowl-
edgment and validation. One common theme among highly emotional,
irate, and angry people is a desire for acknowledgment and validation.
The need for recognition appears to be a universal human motivation,
and the simple act of acknowledging a person’s emotions, interests, and
concerns can go a long way toward managing their response. This can
be as simple as stating, “So, if I understand you correctly . . .” or “This
must be very difficult for you.” We all crave acknowledgment and have a
strong need to be heard. This is why we continue to press our point until
we feel validated. Perhaps the single biggest mistake we can make is
advising someone to “calm down” because the problem is “no big deal.”
Again, it is worth noting that acknowledgment is not the same thing
as agreement. For example, we can acknowledge a person’s feelings
without condoning his bad behavior or lack of emotional control. More-
over, the simple act of acknowledging a person’s concerns and feeling
can go a long way toward building rapport, promoting positive behavior,
and opening lines of communication.
How we see and define problems has a lot to do with where we stand.
Seeing things from another person’s perspective is not always easy. It
requires plenty of patience, curiosity, and empathy. However, the abil-
ity to see things from the perspectives of others is more than an exercise
in helping them feel better; it is critical to the success of every social
relationship. One reason people have different perspectives is that we
all experience and remember events differently. Because no two people
have exactly the same expectations, beliefs, assumptions, values, and
needs, no two people experience an event in precisely the same way.
110 LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
These differences are further complicated by the kinds of attributions
we make in explaining our behavior and the behavior of others.
While we typically attribute the behavior of others to internal causes
(personality or character), we tend to attribute our own behavior to situa-
tional factors (something in the environment beyond our control). This is
because we often forget that what we say and do depends as much on sit-
uational factors as on personality or character. Our abilities to understand
the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others depend on empathy—that
is, the ability to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” We can improve
our ability to empathize by listening actively, separating problems from
people, and offering acknowledgment and validation. Finally, it is impor-
tant to remember that we can empathize with people without condoning
their “bad” behavior or lack of emotional control.
Chapter 8 offers suggestions for improving our communication
competence in each of the areas covered in the preceding chapters.
This includes discussion of how we can use the Johari window and the
conscious competence model of learning to improve our attitudes and
skills in virtually every aspect of communication. The final chapter also
provides an overview of the importance of assessment, practice, and
feedback. While improving our abilities to communicate and to con-
nect with others is often hard work, with the willingness to invest the
necessary time and effort, we all can be more successful in establishing
rapport, connecting with others, solving problems, managing emotions,
and dealing effectively with irate, frustrated, and difficult people.
1. List three reasons our perceptions and perspectives differ from those of
2. Describe the two types of attributions we use to understand and explain
the behaviors of others.
3. What is the fundamental attribution error?
4. What two factors influence the kinds of attributions we …