©2020 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
Policing in America is being re-evaluated in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, Black Lives Matters protests, and a societal groundswell for racial justice and equality. One aspect of that is a national call for improved training for police and heightened awareness of the communities they serve. The following are some skills we have taught in law enforcement trainings and are currently offering to police departments anywhere. They are also skills that everyone could benefit from learning.
Calming People with EAR
EAR Statements™ are a technique that we have been teaching conflict resolution professionals for fifteen years with a great deal of success. This technique emphasizes approaching and responding to others with a statement that shows empathy, attention and/or respect, including tone of voice and body language that communicates the same message. Within 30 seconds, anyone can calm down another person in most situations using this approach. It is a simple de-escalation technique that police officers can learn and practice on a regular basis, especially when dealing with potentially tense situations.
Setting Limits with EAR
Police are often involved in stopping or redirecting the behavior of others. While a “show of force” may be necessary in some situations, most situations should be able to be handled with simple directions, an explanation of possible consequences, and an EAR Statement—one that shows some empathy, attention and respect for the person(s) involved. This approach not only calms the person in question, but it also tends to calm the person setting the limit. Imagine it was your brother or your sister.
Building a Team Against the Problem
The human brain is highly influenced by those around the person. We tend to have two extremely different types of conflict resolution mechanisms in our brain: Logical problem solving and defensive reacting, generally associated with the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere, respectively. We tend to mirror the one that others are using around us. If you want a person to respond calmly with problem-solving, then it helps to approach them calmly with a problem-solving statement or question. The idea is to create a sense of Us against the Problem, rather than Me against You. We can influence which type of brain response we get by how we decide to initiate our interaction with the person.
Understanding Mental Illness
Many of the confrontations that police have had in recent years have involved people with a mental illness. While many recommendations include having social workers or other mental health professionals handle these situations, it is still likely that police will be dealing with them part of the time. Some have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or drug-affected behavior and are suffering from delusions or hallucinations. But they tend to respond to the emotions of those around them, so that a police officer may be able to calm them with the skills described above. While a show of force is necessary in some situations, when it is feasible and there is no immediate threat these extra tools may be used in order to decrease the use of force.
Understanding High Conflict Personality Disorders
High conflict personalities are preoccupied with finding targets of blame. Three personalities in particular have this pattern. Repeated antisocial behavior is a characteristic of sociopaths, who make up about 4% of the United States adult population. Likewise, the impulsive anger and abuse often associated with borderline personality disorder will be discussed (about 6% of the population), as well as the arrogance and insults of those with narcissistic personality disorder (also about 6% of the population). These three personality disorders drive the most difficulty in domestic disputes, workplace conflicts and community confrontations.
People with these personalities can look reasonable, but they often resist doing what will help them, so that they frequently get into confrontations with those around them (which makes them “high conflict”). How an officer understands and approaches such a person can make a huge difference in the response they get. This training gives the officer the insight and verbal skills necessary to avoid the traps these personalities often set for verbal power struggles, in order to calm them and obtain their compliance.
We will always need police, especially to rein in the high conflict people with criminal behavior. While there will be many discussions and changes over the next few years in regard to policing, racial justice, and equality, learning these skills is something that police and everyone can do without much controversy or delay.
BILL EDDY, LCSW, ESQ. is the co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer of the High Conflict Institute in San Diego, California. He pioneered the High Conflict Personality Theory (HCP) and is viewed globally as the leading expert on managing disputes involving people with high conflict personalities. He has written more than twenty books on the topic and has taught professionals in the U.S. and more than ten countries.