What do you know?!!! What do you know, King??! What do you know!!
I remember the police academy instructor yelling this at me over and over. Loud, forceful, aggressive. In my ear, behind me, while in a scenario-based training. I was tasked to handle the situation very quickly, and make a decision based on the information I had at that time. The information I had been given was very little.
“Man in the apartment building with a gun.”
I am at the bottom of the stairs. The man is standing at the top of the apartment stairs, his side facing me, a handgun in his right hand, pointed slightly downward towards the landing front of him. He is not making any moves, nor saying anything. Just quiet, not yet appearing to know I am there, almost as if hiding in plain sight. I do not know if he is an undercover, a criminal, an armed citizen, under the influence, deaf, mute, etc.
I remember thinking to myself in that moment that I have to announce myself, (with gun drawn of course), call out to him and try to establish what he was doing, and determine what his intentions are, yet, I have nearly nothing other than what I can see and hear in that moment.
In those first few seconds I am supposed to figure out who he is, why he is there, what his intentions actually are, and consider if the gun is real, or even loaded. Essentially, is he a threat or not? The problem is I have no actual understanding as to the TOTALITY of the situation.
Quite often this is the same issue that arises when dealing with someone in crisis. We arrive on the scene or are in the room with the individual, and we enter that space (either physically or figuratively in our mind) and believe that we already understand what is going on. Time after time, crisis after crisis, I have seen this situation play out where the responder arrives with the idea that they already know what is going on and have selected a course of action. They then feign listening to the individual and attempt to demonstrate empathy for a few moments, all the while going over in their mind what they are going to say next, or even do next.
Now, keep in mind there is something I want you to enter into these situations with at the forefront of your mind (Law number 11 will address this in depth-“What’s In It For Me?”) though right now, in this initial few moments of contact with the individual your focus is safety, and keeping yourself and the individual as “safe” (physically and psychologically) as possible.
You should be concerned with nothing other than “Am I safe?” and “Are they safe?”.
All of us want to avoid feeling threatened. I cannot listen, nor function at my highest levels if I am concerned for my safety, or uncomfortable in the physical surroundings. In the simplest of explanations, your brain and my brain escalates into a state of hyper-arousal in its efforts to protect our physical and psychological being. It places the majority of our thoughts and brain activity on “survival” activities.
Therefore, there is a lowered ability to reason, have complex thought patterns, and perform complex motor skills such as is needed during effective listening. All of these apply just the same for the individual I am seeking to de-escalate.
When you are speaking with someone, even if not extremely escalated (just in a Disagreement or Resistance Emotional Response Levels©) their brain is still scanning and listening for something that may be “threatening” on a physical or psychological level.
When you present yourself as either “all-knowing” or are “confrontational” to their world view (in that moment) due to thinking you already have all the answers to their issues without even have heard them out, you become a psychological threat to that individual. I have seen this process play out many times, when a responder makes up their mind about the individual in the first few seconds of the encounter, and instead of placing that perspective/judgement as something that may need to be altered or adjusted once the TOTALITY of the situation and circumstances are known, they stick to that first assessment. They refuse to change their attitude or feelings towards that person, even after hearing more of the facts surrounding it.
*Emotional Response Levels – CCG Crisis Escalation and De-escalation model
“Ego” which I have heard referenced as “easing God out”, takes over. Being “right” is more important than potentially recalibrating to the facts that are being made known and adjusting doesn’t happen and both the individual in crisis feels more confrontational, and the responder refuses to back down.
“Man in the apartment building with a gun”
Turns out, I yell out to the man at the top of the stairs “Sheriff’s Office!” “Drop the gun!!”, he quickly stiffens, and freezes.
I get even louder with my commands “SHERIFF’S OFFICE!!” DROP THE GUN!” as I feel the rush of intensity building.
I don’t want to get shot, and I don’t want to fail the exercise.
He now turns his face to look at me, just his head.
I KNOW that the speed at which a person facing me with a gun pointed at the ground, can actually be brought up to eye level and fired at me, faster than I can squeeze the trigger of my gun already pointed at that individual. (This has been tested and empirically proven – See Force Science Institute® for more on this)
Action will always beat reaction.
Yet in this moment, I KNOW only his head is facing me. I KNOW that in order for him to take the shot, he has to turn around and make a major twisting movement with his upper body and arms, swinging the barrel of the gun around in my direction. Obscuring this action from my view is not possible. If he chooses to attempt that action, to try and turn around to shoot, I KNOW I will beat him to the trigger, and I will put him down. This I KNOW.
For this reason, I am able to hesitate and recalibrate, and seek to gain as much information about the situation as possible, as quickly as possible. I attempt to read the body language and facial expression that I can now see.
He is fearful. He is not aggressive. This could be a ploy. This could be real.
I again yell out, “DROP THE GUN, NOW!!” After what seems like an eternity, he does.
As the weapon begins to fall from his hand, he deliberately angles even more downward, in such a way that I can now see the bright red tip on the end of the barrel. (While this was a training evolution and I know we are using blue rubber training guns, we are told at the beginning to treat them as real weapons)
For this scenario, I now see that the instructors deliberately taped this one with red tape to simulate the toy-guns you see in the stores.
It was meant to be a toy gun for this “shoot-don’t shoot” scenario.
I immediately feel a huge rush of relief, as I realized I didn’t end up shooting a man with a toy gun.
The man says to me “Ok, ok, please, please…!!” “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!” “I’m just playing cops and robbers with my kids” “I was trying to sneak up on them!” “It’s fake, it’s fake!!”
The scenario ends shortly after and I breathe a few more sighs of relief. The instructor says, “Good job King.”
“You had limited information. You of course had your belief about what you were facing and dealt with it the right way.” “Though instead of making an instant decision based on very little information, you gathered more information in just a few more seconds on what you were facing and made a different decision than many others have.” “We deliberately placed you in that location, at the bottom of the steps, with limited information.” “Many others to come through have used these few circumstances to justify taking the shot right away.” “You did not, good job.” While shoot/no-shoot decision making is not the same as choosing to pre-judge someone who is simply upset and/or challenging you on a topic, the results can be just as critical. Do everything you can to weigh out all the facts before you make a decision. Consider you don’t know everything. Safety first, then open yourself to consider there is more than just your perspective on the situation. Think back to other times in your life when you “just knew” everything about a thing, and without a doubt were right, only to later realize (either on your own or someone else telling you) that you were incorrect, and really missed the boat. I heard not long ago, that when you find yourself saying “I know all about this” you likely only know about 50% of all there is to know on it, as you have already convinced yourself that you know all there is on it, and are closed off to learning more.