Police Interactions, Communication Breakdown, and Conflict Resolution (videos)

Police deal with difficult situations every day that require communication and conflict resolution skills. Sometimes they do well and resolve the situation, and sometimes they go overboard.

You can learn a lot from police interactions–the good, the bad and the ugly.

It gives you a window into the extremes of human behavior and what it takes to communicate in tough situations. Including when communication is breaking down altogether.

Effective police officers are able to keep their cool, remain unaffected by cursing and belligerent behavior from people, and still manage to resolve the situation.

Poorly trained officers ratchet up the aggression, get into arguments with others, and increase the risk of violence.

When I was managing events in New York, you better believe I encountered disruptive, cocky, rude and disrespectful people. Especially during fashion week when tensions are high and there is a lot of “diva” behavior.

The first few times it was hard and stressful. But over time I was able to rise above it and not be affected by it emotionally. I had some perspective and I could resolve a situation and move on to the rest of my job.

The key is to not let your ego take over.

And ego doesn’t just mean being Mr. Tough Guy. It also means getting offended, outraged or wounded by the words someone uses against you.

In office or professional settings, this is usually not because of direct or explicit arguments. More often, it’s passive-aggressive behavior that increases tension and stress:

“what did he mean by that?”

“she’s always needling me with her little comments and suggestions”

“that guy is so damn smug, who does he think he is?”

If you can maintain mental distance from your ego, and not let words really penetrate, then you will be able to keep your cool, even when you’re right and the other person is wrong.

Keeping your cool means you can be productive and focus on important things instead of trying to read people’s minds and stewing about their motives.

A great book on the ego and overall mindset is The Power of Now, which I recommend a lot for personal growth and psychology lessons.

Unfortunately, because police training is not uniform across the US (or the world), there is a massive range in police responses to stress and conflict.

Take two examples of uncooperative, but nonviolent subjects interacting with two different police officers:

The first officer handles the situation with patience and professionalism:

It’s obviously a tense situation, the civilian (the guy recording) has a gun on his hip, which makes the situation dangerous.

The officer and the subject obviously have two different opinions about the law. But it’s resolved without any violence.

The officer has a dialogue with the guy, and is willing to talk to a point. He is also not affected by the personal attacks and cursing that the subject throws at him. He just does what he needs to do.

Compare that to this incident:

Again we have a person refusing to cooperate with the officer, but again, not violent or threatening violence in any way. But this one has a very different outcome.

Within seconds of seeing the guy is uncooperative, the officer pulls out his pepper spray, sprays him in the face even though he is not violent, and proceeds to twist the guy’s arm to force him out of the car.

Even if those actions (pepper spray, arm twisting) would have been appropriate eventually, some more patience was probably warranted on the cop’s part.

(Apparently, that officer was eventually forced to resign after this incident.)

We’re not interested in who’s right or wrong in either of these cases, or even the legality of what was happening.

Instead, from a communication perspective, what matters is that one officer escalated the situation extremely quickly, and the other did not.

Managing tense emotions is an important skill.

Unfortunately many police in the US and around the world will be all to happy to allow their ego or emotions get out of hand, and escalate things prematurely.

Given that they are often dealing with unstable or uncooperative people (because of drugs, booze, anger or whatever), it’s a recipe for disaster.

The good news is that most police in most situations are able to keep their cool and deal with cursing, ranting, angry outbursts, obstinance, stubbornness, rudeness, and general asshole behavior just fine.

If you can rise above rude and emotional behavior, not only will you be much happier in general, but you will also avoid or resolve conflicts much more easily.

Maturity and professionalism, even in the face of an asshole, is a key quality of leadership.

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