In police departments, some colleagues are easy to work with, while others can be tough. Using your skills to get along with different personalities can be very unpleasant, but it can also be rewarding.
With the increased demand for more public engagement, equity, diversity and transparency, both sworn and non-sworn employees have to deal with many more emotionally charged situations and people. We live in a highly stressful world of constant change.
We all face stressful or emotional situations, whether it is an argument with a friend or a toxic colleague. This article contains tools to help you deal with these and other stressful scenarios successfully.
One police department recently held virtual community stakeholder meetings prior to its team-building workshop (TBW). It wanted to seek input on what the public thought was working well and what was not. In these meetings, emotions ran high as some individuals tried to dominate, others sat silently and a few appeared quite angry. By applying some of the tools discussed in this article, the facilitators were able to stay neutral, engage the participants, let everyone have a voice and feel heard, and help build positive perceptions for the department.
Listen with empathy
Communication styles often clash, and some problematic behaviors may be habitual, caused by low tolerance for others’ mistakes. Others can act in an overly aggressive manner or just withdraw and avoid communicating.
Are the negative behaviors circumstantial or habitual? If possible, before you react to others’ negative behaviors, assess the circumstances that are causing you problems or stress. If someone you know is reacting in an unusual way, your best response may be empathy and giving them the benefit of the doubt. Step back and assess the situation. What do you guess the other person is feeling? What do you think they need? If appropriate, ask them something like: “Are you frustrated? Or anxious? Would you like support?”
As retired Newark, California, Police Chief Mike Carroll observes, “Responding positively to a different style of communication is very challenging, but often reaps the greatest successes. This mindset must be in place prior to engaging others in an open dialogue, otherwise you will only hear what you want to hear.”
Kim, a communication center manager, was very frustrated with one of her dispatchers, who recently became sullen and withdrawn and avoided her. Kim, upon reflection, realized that she was no longer holding weekly one-on-ones and guessed that the dispatcher might be feeling disrespected and needed more attention. Kim needed open two-way communication to effectively manage her staff. So she agreed to meet weekly and dedicated more time to listen mindfully and show empathy toward her dispatcher’s frustrations. After a few weeks of these positive changes, the dispatcher felt relieved and thanked Kim. Both got their needs met.
Match others’ pacing
Many conflicts happen because we have different communication styles and pacing. We often can’t accurately process each other’s information. Even when we could agree, we often misread the other’s point of view and fall into conflict. There are two basic styles of pacing, which when at odds can result in conflict.
- Fast-paced communication: Do you need brief responses? Are you listening for the bottom line? Are you thinking, “Make this quick?” Then you are probably a fast-paced communicator.
- Slow-paced communication: Do you explain things in detail or in a logical sequence? Do you like to draw pictures to explain your ideas? Do you ask questions for more information or clarification? Then you are probably a slow-placed communicator.
Hayward, California, Police Chief Toney Chaplin observes, “When dealing with fast and slow-paced communication, being a personal communicator is a must in public safety. Use emotional language as a tool to uncover what your colleagues are genuinely thinking. Consider the others’ feelings instead of noticing what is merely said. Personal communicators tend to be excellent listeners and are effective at resolving and avoiding conflicts.”
We often feel frustrated, unheard or confused when we encounter someone with the opposite pacing. Knowing your own predominant pacing and determining that of others can be super helpful.
Try to mirror another’s spacing in order to make them feel comfortable. Slowing down or speeding up is an easy shift that can create rapport.
Be appropriately assertive
When facing really difficult personalities, our tendency is either to aggressively confront the person or to ignore them (fight or flight), but a better choice is to be assertive. Which are you?
- Assertive: People who are assertive are active, direct and honest. They show respect for self and others and seek “win–win” situations through listening, collaboration and negotiating. They encourage honest, open relationships. Their behavior communicates, “I have my opinion, and I’d like to hear yours.” When you are upset, being assertive and voicing what you need usually works better than withdrawing or being overly aggressive.
- Silent/passive: People who respond passively, or who are unable to respond at all, send “I’m not good enough” or “I’ve checked out” messages. They can feel disregarded or just disengaged and have a negative mindset. Their behavior communicates, “Whatever you say,” or “I don’t care.” Or they may just go silent because they don’t feel speaking up does any good.
- Aggressive: People who are actively or passively aggressive can be perceived as having superior attitudes or even being a bully. They put their own needs first, allowing others little choice but to follow their lead. Either they must win or they might retaliate. Their behavior communicates, “My way or the highway.”
Strive to be assertive by using a positive mindset and listening mindfully to counter difficult behaviors. Mindful listening helps you discern what’s behind someone’s words and body language. It allows you to pay attention to what is being said using active listening phrases, such as “I see” and “Can you say more?”
Here’s a simple practice to increase your listening skills. It is a good one to try at home. Your partner, spouse or kids might be delighted. Count two seconds after someone stops talking before you start talking. If you feel the urge to interrupt, take a deep breath instead and focus on what the other person is saying. You may be surprised how many times you may think someone has stopped talking when they have just paused to collect their thoughts. Pausing can be a powerful tool.
Applying any of these communication tools can reduce your frustrations and build trust in your relationships. Practice using mindful, empathetic listening, matching the other’s pacing and being appropriately assertive, rather than aggressive or passive.