The Voice Of Authority – Part 3
Tactical Communications and Its Components
By Christopher Caile
Editor’s Note: This is the third
in a three part series on NYPD’s Tactical Communication Training.
one discussed the inception of the program and its goals. Part
2 focused on training, while Part 3 provides an overview of the program’s
concepts and principles.
Tactical Communication has been incorporated in the NYPD’s basic
and review training. It teaches how to substitute words for physical action,
how to deflate emotionally charged situations and strategies for getting
citizens to comply.
The psychology, principles and verbal strategies
of Tactical Communication (founded on Verbal Judo) can be used by
anyone. Traditional martial artists have an advantage. They are
conversant with “Mushin” and “non-resistance.”
Meditation, social etiquette and dojo protocols also lead to non-ego
driven, respectful and courteous communications skills and discipline
that help promote social harmony, rather than feeding emotion, discord,
or potential violence – a form of verbal self-defense.
It includes people skills, conflict resolution, aspects of psychology
and communications strategy. The program, originally based on the ground-breaking
work of Dr. George Thompson, a former professor of literature turned police
officer, has been expanded to include additional elements of psychology,
persuasion strategies and eastern philosophy.
“Trust me; this class is not about being nice,” said Detective
James Shanahan, senior instructor at the New York City Police Academy’s
Tactical Communication and trainer for the hostage negotiator team, in
introducing his class to a group of new recruits. “This isn’t
‘let’s hold hands and sing Kumbaya or Hug a Thug 101.’
This is an authentic, tactical course that focuses on what you will do
with 98 percent of your time in police work when dealing with people!
This course in Tactical Communication teaches you how to diffuse emotional
and confrontational situations through professional presence, attitude
and strategy of communication.”
The program recognizes that people too often let their ego, emotions,
attitude and position of authority do the talking instead of their head.
“If you can get these factors out of the equation and listen, appraise
and talk with empathy, but with quiet authority, you can get people to
follow what you request,” says Shanahan.
“This is what the best police officers have always done,”
says Thompson in his book “Verbal Judo – Gentle Art of Persuasion,”
which served as the foundation for the program.
“The best officers know how to effectively deal with others, diffuse
situations and control with words those infused with anger or confused
with drugs or just uncooperative.”
The training is rooted in the skills and communication techniques of
salty old police dogs, as Thompson called them: ”what they said
and how it was said on the street by police officers as they assumed roles
and counter roles in manipulation of people’s energies to calm otherwise
The program recognizes that people too often
let their ego, emotions, attitude and position of authority do the
talking instead of their head.
Verbal Judo is now called Tactical Communication. The original curriculum
of Thompson has been expanded to include western style persuasive speaking,
industrial psychology, and insights from eastern martial arts segments
in ego deflation and raising self-esteem.
Tactical Communication training teaches several important principles.
First is the importance of professionalism in appearance, attitude and
vocabulary. This includes the presence of confidence, but without aggressive
body language. This allows officers to project themselves quietly, but
with authority. In this way they best represent their badge, the NYPD,
New York City and the law to those with whom they communicate, instead
of allowing their own insecurities, anger, need for power, or control.
“As ego rises,” they are told, “safety goes down.”
In his study of police officers, Thompson, also a black belt in Judo,
saw a similarity in what police officers often did verbally and what his
own Judo did physically – not fighting strength with strength. An
old Judo adage goes, “If pulled, push, and if pushed, pull.”
In other words, guide an opponent’s strength in the direction expressed
in order to defeat him.
Officers are taught not to get caught up and be provoked into emotional,
insensitive or belittling responses and how to avoid getting riled up
by other people’s words and emotions. Anger, threats, insults, belittling
or sarcastic attitudes are thus seen as counterproductive. Instead officers
are taught how to act according to their training, their mind not clogged
with thought or emotion.
In class, Shanahan tells his students that the ancient Japanese Samurai
called this “Mushin”. “You can define it as physically
present, tactically ready, but being emotionally detached. This mindset
allows your training to take over. It avoids getting provoked into anger
with words or actions or letting frustration provoke physical action.”
“Mushin allows the officer to think, not just react through emotion,”
says Shanahan. It is necessary to be mentally flexible. This way he can
be detached from fear, anger or emotional reaction – emotions that
if not controlled can prompt an urge to argue, make demands, to strike
back, insult, or belittle. This also allows officers to avoid bullying,
emotional outbursts or actions and negative speech.
Reacting to verbal abuse, insults, or emotional outburst by “fighting
back feeds it,” says Shanahan. “It can inject life and energy
into an already charged situation and invites counter attack. If you allow
yourself to get caught up in emotion, the other person owns you at some
For this reason Shanahan stresses to his students that the most dangerous
potential weapon, one dangerous to them, is their own tongue. “It
can ruin a career, start a fight, or it can send you as a defendant to
court and as a result inflict permanent emotional wounds. You want to
avoid the words that rise readily to your lips or you will make the greatest
speech that you will regret.”
During the day police officers in NYC are often asked to do a variety
of jobs and the “voice” they project, the voice tone others
hear, constitutes an important part of the total message, for it tells
others exactly what you feel about them. It is what people hear you saying,
not what you actually say. It has its own impact as much as actual words.
It can communicate professionalism or unconscious emotion; it can be calming
For example, an aged man on Surf Avenue in Coney Island, Brooklyn New
York, steps up to a police officers and asks,” where Nathan’s”
(a landmark hotdog restaurant) when in fact it is almost in front of him.
If the officer looks down scornfully at him, pointing to the huge hotdog
sign that hangs in front of the restaurant and says, “Right there,
don’t you see the big hotdog sign?” he is really communicating
that the man asking the question is stupid.
Instead officers are taught methods they can use to remain calm and react
with style and dignity. They are shown how to substitute new concepts
and corresponding language that eventually, with use, will feel comfortable
and automatic. They will be able to use simple phrases that establish
immediate empathy, establish credibility and strengthen the relationship
– by using both words and mindset.
“In this state you can shed negative energy and insults and deal
with arrogance in a rational and professional manner,” says Shanahan.
Word choice and attitude is equally important. Officers are cautioned
not to use words that will make others lose face. This can lead to violence.
Cited is an FBI study that found that those being arrested were often
willing to just accept the fact, but became emotionally angry when they
were insulted or belittled, something that contributed to resistive behavior
or outright violent resistance.
Another basic concept stressed in Tactical Communication is the use of
empathy. “It can be a very powerful tool. This doesn’t mean
you actually sympathize, like, agree with the person,” says Shanahan.
“But, it does allow you to focus on the other person, to understand
his thinking and show concern. This way you can avoid rash reactions and
get in synch with him to better communicate.”
Another element in this training includes a number of theories relevant
to personality -- the basics of how to read other people and then how
to decide which method will produce the wanted outcome. In this process,
empathy can help officers see the person as he sees himself, and use the
other person’s language to help him understand what you expect of
Tactical Communication teaches officers how to
work with words, presence and attitude -- how to deflect verbal
abuse, and use an empathic approach to “generate voluntary
compliance” whenever possible.
Shanahan used an example of a man holding a bat. Instead of demanding
compliance, or shouting orders, he notes, it is often more effective,
if there is no immediate physical assault or danger, to use words instead.
”Explain to the perpetuator the consequence of his actions, or give
him choices. Explain, without anger or emotion, but with empathy, how
acting one way he will benefit, and the other he will not. Try to use
words to make the perpetuator an ally to act in such way to benefit both
In sum, Tactical Communication teaches officers how to work with words,
presence and attitude -- how to deflect verbal abuse, and use an empathic
approach to “generate voluntary compliance” whenever possible.
The verbal strategy is multi-layered.
Without training an officer might just order a civilian to do something
to get compliance. Training teaches instead, to start with a simple request.
Shanahan explains that it is ethical to ask and reasonable to explain
to people why it is that we need, what it is we are asking for, such as
“There has been an accident in this building, and I need you to…”
This approach will seem reasonable to everyone concerned. If unsuccessful,
more strategies can be employed. Presenting options for people is another
powerful means to generate voluntary compliance. Shanahan goes on further
to say, “in most encounters, after asking and explaining many of
us in uniform take resistance personally. By giving people options you
make it personal to them and resist the temptation of taking it personally.”
This is his example of Tactical Empathy. Thinking for others the way
they will think for themselves later on when they are less influenced
by anger, alcohol and fear, etc. Verbal options are given by saying “I’m
sure you would rather do this, etc., than face…” (whatever
the consequence of not compiling would be, such as additional delay, inconvenience,
fines, etc.). At this stage the consequences of non-compliance are given
and the officer suggests the advantage of cooperating. The process goes
on until the person has proved he is intractable, or unwilling to comply.
It is only after this multi-stage strategy fails to produce compliance
that a higher level of what is called the “Compliance Continuum”
is entered, force.
“This type strategy is not unique,” says Shanahan. “It
is what the best cops have been doing for generations. But let me be clear,
this training is not sensitivity training, or being nice. Instead it is
using the tools of language and attitude to disarm and control a situation.”
He goes on to say, “Don’t think you can talk your way out
of everything you get into any more than you are going fight your way
through your career. There are times when words will fail -- then you
are going to have to take action.”
About The Author:
Christopher Caile is founder and Editor of FightingArts.com