Edwin Friedman said that communication does not depend on syntax, eloquence, rhetoric or articulation, but on the emotional context in which the message is being heard.
He said that people can only hear you when they are moving toward you and are not likely to hear you when your words are pursuing them. He explained that even the best words chosen lose their power when they are used to overpower. “Attitudes”, he said, “are the real figures of speech.”
I’m in Quantico, Va., at the FBI National Academy for 10 weeks. In my Public Speaking class, we were each assigned a day to present a quotation that resonates with us. We must read the quotation and then explain to the class why we chose it.
The goal of the assignment is actually to become more comfortable speaking in front of a group, but the real lesson for me has been listening to the quotations that other police executives from around the world have chosen. It’s interesting to see what inspires and moves people into action.
I plan on using Friedman’s quote because throughout my career and my life, I’ve come to recognize that the real assets are the people with whom we interact.
“People can only hear you when they are moving toward you.” What a powerful and true statement.
Just the other day, I was Skyping with my daughter and I asked how her basketball practices were going. She said she really likes the coach and he doesn’t yell. I found that humorous and asked her to explain. Being a sports enthusiast, she has had vast experience with different coaching styles, and she said the coaches that scream at the team make her want to do the opposite of what they are asking. “I don’t mind running and doing drills with this coach,” she said, “because he talks to us.”
“Even the best chosen words lose their power when they are used to overpower.” I cannot help but think about some of the complaints that we receive from the public about police officers being rude. In some instances, the citizens cannot pinpoint exactly what was said except to say they didn’t feel as though they were treated with respect. This speaks to attitudes being the real figures of speech in that the words someone says might not matter as much as the feeling you are left with after you talk to them.
The perception people have about the police is derived from their own personal interaction with an officer. The largest numbers of people who have encounters with police officers are not the bad guys as you might assume. Instead, they are victims of crimes.
The way an officer treats the victim of a crime can leave a long-lasting impression of the entire profession. If an officer shows empathy and compassion for those with whom they have an encounter, they will invariably earn support for the entire law enforcement profession.
I realize that one shouldn’t have to be a victim of a crime in order to be treated with human dignity and respect. I learned early in my career that treating those I arrest with compassion was a great part of the reason I avoided physical confrontations.
We have nearly 300 sworn police officers in the city of Aurora, and that means that we should have nearly 300 commercials for our organization. Every interaction should be an opportunity to market our police department and our profession, because we all know that one negative experience often translates into all police officers being painted with the same broad brush.
People will only listen to you when they are moving toward you, and people will only move toward you when your words are not pursuing them. It is such a profoundly deep and seemingly simple concept.