Webinar presenters Major Easton McDonald and Dr. Megan Price answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Getting Curious in the Face of Conflict: How to Use Targetted Questions to Control Escalation. Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: Could you repeat those five elements of an interaction again that you talked about right at the beginning of the webinar after the videos?
Major Easton McDonald: Yes, so five responses that I believe are important for every call and that you should document in your report are: number one, What did dispatch tell you? Number 2: What did you see on arrival? Number 3: What did the people tell you? Number 4: What did you do at the scene? And Number 5: what’s going to happen next? Those are the five things. Work through those to start you off as a guide until you’ve got it down packed. And then you can adlib in-between that five.
Audience Question: Using curiosity to de-escalate a conflict seems like a useful tool as long as the other person wants to engage. So, what do you recommend if the person does not want to engage and will not respond to your questions?
Dr. Megan Price: Yeah, that is a fantastic question. It’s, really important to include active listening with your curiosity. We don’t want to just throw questions at people without acknowledging their responses or even noticing what it is that they are telling us. What we teach in our classes is that you want to notice, and then you want to verify. So, everything that you see and you’re interpreting, you want to make sure that you’re on the right path with that. So for example you may notice someone’s emotion and say, “Ma’am, I can see that you’re really upset.” And you want to wait for confirmation of that. “Yeah, I’m upset.” “Okay, help me understand what you’re upset about or what’s upsetting you.” Or, perhaps the person may say, “Well, I don’t want to answer your questions.” The officer would respond, “Okay. I can see you don’t want to answer my questions right now. Is there a reason you don’t want to answer my questions?” Always use those active listening, verification skills to let the other person know that you’re really attending to them, that your agenda is to understand where they’re coming from. That will set you up to get curious. What you’ll find is that they’ll often relax and start to engage, because they see that you’re not trying to get what you need done at the expense of them, but you really want to work with them and help them within the interaction.
Audience Question: Everyone has bad days. So how do you prevent bringing a negative attitude to situations like this and creating an even more explosive situation?
Major Easton McDonald: So, I would say from a law enforcement standpoint, that’s where your partners have to work with each other. Sometimes that particular call might not be the right call for you. Or your partner can tell that you’re going off in the wrong area. You need to be able to tag off and let the next person go ahead and take the lead, and you play the backup role. So that comes from working together and that takes time working and knowing your partners as you go forward.
Dr. Megan Price: I think that’s really an important point, Major McDonald, to rely on your team. The other thing is that when you adopt curiosity, when you adopt these Insight skills as a method for engaging with conflict, it can become something that, even if you’re having a bad day, you can default to. Because it’s a method. It’s a tool, right? You can say, “Okay, even though my husband ate the last piece of toast this morning, and I had to have something I didn’t like, and somebody pulled in front of me, and I’m just having a terrible day,” I can fall back on this skill set of noticing conflict behavior and getting curious. So, you don’t have to be at your top because you know exactly what to do, what to look for, and how to respond. It becomes a habit. And then as the encounter goes well, your mood or the bad day that you’ve brought to the situation, won’t take the foreground and, instead, getting to the root of the problem and effectively engaging the person will take over.
Audience Question: Do either of you have suggestions or tips on how to work with people with behavioral health issues? Are there good questions to ask, or their responses that you’d recommend? I know issues differ from situation to situation. Does this work when people have behavioral or mental health issues?
Major Easton McDonald: So, I will say, yes, it does. You can follow things that would be in line with, say, CIT or crisis intervention training, which is the open-ended questions. And the only difference in the mental health capacity is that you may have to wait longer for the response, but you do want to ask open-ended questions. You have to be trained in identifying what the person is going through. Are there intellectual disabilities? Is it a depression issue? But you still want to ask open-ended questions, listen to them, and then respond because of your active listening, so you can use it on both.
Dr. Megan Price: Yeah, and, if I might add, open-ended questions that are targeted towards that thought process, right. What’s the threat? And why that defense? The pattern of thinking that goes into decision-making is the same for everyone. It’s a matter of, you know, the information is there to discover. The feeling expressed by the individual might be something that may not be feasible or rational, but it feels real to them, nonetheless. And so, if you can uncover that and really help de-escalate the person by understanding where they’re coming from, even if they’re convinced there’s a pink elephant in the street, then you’re more likely to build that rapport in a way that will help you solve the problem.
Major Easton McDonald: Absolutely. And that’s a really great point, because their fear and their threat could be something totally bizarre to you, that you have no idea about. And, as she said, the fear could be that pink elephant that you do not see. And you had no idea it was going to go in that direction.
Host: So, again, understanding what is causing this response, even if it is a pink elephant.
Audience Question: Is your course online slash virtual? Can officers get certified to train insight policing?
Dr. Megan Price: Oh, great question. Yes, so we offer classes, both in-person and virtually, particularly because of COVID. Our virtual trainings are two days, 10 hours and are nationally certified by IADLEST for in-service credit. It’s live, virtual, interactive, experiential, practice-based over Zoom. And we actually have some open dates on our calendar. If you go to insightpolicing.com and you go up to the Register tab, feel free to sign up. It’s open registration. You don’t have to be law enforcement, you can definitely be in corrections, parole, behavioral health, dispatch, any kind of job where you deal with conflict regularly. So, we’re happy to have you. In-person is also two days and nationally certified for 16 hours of in-service credit. If you’re interested in having us come to your department, just send me an e-mail or give us a call. firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 618-0990. We’d be happy to discuss ways to accommodate your agency. In terms of train the trainer, we are also rolling out train the trainer, for later this year, early next. So definitely you can get involved that way, and bring these skills conflict communication skills to your entire agency. One other piece is that you can apply for funding for Insight Policing through the COPS Office and IACP initiative, . It’s an excellent way to avail of our training in a time when budgets can be tight.
Audience Question: It can be difficult to be curious if you walk into a high conflict situation, such as domestic violence. What recommended approach do you have for this situation?
Major Easton McDonald: So, on a domestic violence call, and that is an excellent question and people really need to get the answer to that one. So that’s a good one. Safety first, right? Make sure that everyone is safe: for your responding officers that are coming; make sure that it’s safe for you and the people that you’re dealing with. But when you separate the two parties, and I’m just saying that this is a two-party domestic, whether its mother and son, whether it’s husband and wife, whatever the case may be, now is the time to ask those questions. Because usually those people are very angry, the room is still very hot. Sometimes when you get there, the things are on the floor, broken. Now, when you’ve got them both separated, or at least you can see your partner and your partner’s got the other person separated. That’s when you go into those questions. And sometimes you may not need to wait very long to get those answers right, because they’re still angry they’re calming down a little bit. You’ve got them separated. But, yes, use those targeted questions to get the answers that you need, and this is an excellent call to use this because the report of a domestic violence case is really important, right? Because two months, three months from now, that person doesn’t want to follow through with that domestic violence report. And everything’s made up and they’re better, but if you get a good report, good documentation, in some states, you can go ahead and you can prosecute without that victim’s help because of the information that you took, because of the targeted questions that you asked on scene.
Audience Question: Are there studies or literature that you can suggest that is specific to interrupting that amygdala thought process?
Dr. Megan Price: Well, yes, absolutely. I’ve written an article on how curiosity does interrupt that process and activate critical thinking. It’s called “Change through Curiosity in the Insight Approach to Conflict.” You can find it . A number of studies are cited there. If you go to our website, insightpolicing.com, there’s a resources and articles tab, where you can find more literature about Insight Policing, specifically.
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