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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. Part 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 dangerous situations.”

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 level.”

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 or threatening.

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 him.

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 of you.”

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.”

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About The Author:

Christopher Caile is founder and Editor of

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Verbal Judo,NYPD,James Shanahan,,New York City Police Academy,Dr. George Thompson

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