Choosing Your Conversational Style
Since getting to present at the 2015 WINx Conference, I’ve really come to appreciate the amount of time and effort that Roy Bethge and Brian Willis put into creating this excellent event each year in Lisle, Illinois. With the goal of helping police officers continually elevate their performance and achieve excellence in their field, the 18-minute long videos on the WINx site are certainly worth the time and attention of law enforcement professionals looking to be inspired. While the 2017 conference is just over a month away, I was recently re-watching the talk above by Chelly Seibert that she gave at the 2016 conference.
In this talk, Seibert highlights the need for police officers to adopt different conversational styles while responding to calls depending on the type of situation they find themselves in. Referring to the different conversational styles as characters to be played, she showed how officers might find themselves portraying one of three characters in any given situation. They might take on the behaviors of “The Enforcer,” “The Compassionate Consoler” or “The Composed Stabilizer” in order to get to a successful outcome in the encounter. By taking the time to consider and develop the ability to display the type of body language, tone of voice, facial expression and other non-verbal and verbal styles of communication to fit your character’s behavior and the situation, you can begin to take control over the way that other people see you.
Before I talk about how these three main characters listed above tie in with our approach to situational awareness, threat recognition and behavior-based conversations, here is how Seibert defines each of the three different characters.
The Compassionate Consoler is the persona you would take on when dealing with situations that require a gentle and empathetic touch. To play this role, you may consider giving off the following behaviors:
- Make yourself look smaller by bending your knees, lowering your head, and bringing your elbows in closer to your sides.
- Keep your eyes large by looking up at the person.
- Use proper English and never use profanity.
The Enforcer is the persona you would take on when the situation requires strong and authoritative action. To play this role, you may consider displaying the following behavior:
- Make the body look as large as possible: weight on the balls of the feet, arms away from the body, shoulders back, head up and with thin lips.
- Use short sound bites, give commands and don’t ask questions.
- Use a well-timed F-Bomb to make your point.
The Composed Stabilizer is the role you would take on when the situation calls for you to remain calm and not let on that the scene is impacting you. To portray this persona, you may consider displaying the following behavior:
- You act like you have been there and done that before.
- A borderline bored facial expression.
- Your actions and words are lower and slower.
- You aren’t animated.
- You aren’t rushed.
One of the reasons why I enjoyed this talk so much is because, as readers of Left of Bang probably recognize, these three roles correspond to three of the four primary clusters of individual behavior. The behavior and cues associated with the Enforcer are what we assess as people displaying dominance. The Compassionate Consoler displays behavior that we would assess as being submissive. The Composed Stabilizer is displaying behavior from the comfortable cluster as they work to not appear stressed, regardless of how disturbing the crime scene might be. Here at The CP Journal, we also add in a fourth choice to correspond with the fourth cluster, uncomfortable, as there may be times when a situation requires an officer to display the uncomfortable cluster in order to get to a successful outcome. In order to be successful, an officer has to be capable of adapting their style to fit the situation they find themselves in if they are going to be able to influence the situation in the way that they want it to go.
Is this something you do already? Probably. Behavioral analysis is really just “organized common sense,” and well-adjusted human beings learn as children that, in order to get along with others, they need take on certain behaviors in response to the people around them. But for police officers, members of the military and protectors to influence the situations they are in, the character you choose can’t always be what comes natural to you; sometimes it has to be a deliberate decision. As Seibert talks about in the video, this is something that requires practice to develop your characters that perhaps don’t exemplify your natural responses to stress.
While it doesn’t really matter to me which of the clusters/characters an officer chooses to display (that is always the call of the person on the ground), the point of understanding these behaviors is to help you ensure that the way you display the behaviors of any of these characters is consistent. In many of the videos we have seen of police encounters that have turned out badly, the officer likely thought they were displaying one type of behavior (one of the characters), but were accidentally letting behaviors from the other characters/other clusters slip out. Sometimes this is a person who is trying to appear dominant, but because that isn’t natural to them, bits of discomfort are displayed, revealing that the person is actually not as strong as they are trying to portray. Sometimes this is an officer who is trying to be in the comfortable cluster, but lets dominant behaviors leak out, causing the person to question if the words coming out of the officer’s mouth are true representations of their intentions. Sometimes it’s a officer who is trying to be in the submissive cluster for a situation requiring The Compassionate Consoler, but unintentionally lets behavior from the comfortable cluster slip out, causing the person to see the officer as not truly understanding them and not empathetic, perhaps even disengaged. When the behavior you think you are displaying does not match with the way people see you, the opportunities for miscommunication are high, and the resulting confusion can make it harder to get to the outcome you are seeking in the conversation.
As Seibert says, the choice of character isn’t about the ego; it is about being successful in every encounter and about being a professional. Elevating your performance in the field and being able to adjust your approach to any situation requires practice. When you look at the best sales professionals, negotiators, hiring managers, leaders and other influential people, they have learned how to adapt their behavior to influence those in that particular situation, and then adjust again for the next audience they are speaking to. Learning to recognize the way your feet display the four clusters, how your hand gestures reveal the four clusters, how your facial expressions reveal the four clusters and how your word choice and tone of voice display the four clusters takes repetition, takes time and requires feedback from people.
But the payoff is immense. If you are able to master the four ways you can portray yourself upon entering a scene, you don’t have to waste any time or effort trying to predict how the situation will turn out. You will simply be able to adjust your behavior to fit the scene that you encounter and will have the confidence to know that you are playing the right character the right way and for the right reasons.
If you would like to continue reading about this topic and how it relates to de-escalation, I wrote an article for LawOfficer.com, titled “Training For Adaptability Means Creating More Options, which talks about the four ways these behaviors can be applied in the field, which you can read here.