After the Webinar: Making Connections to Gain Compliance. Q&A with Joe Smarro

Webinar presenter Joe Smarro answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Making Connections to Gain Compliance: Lessons from Law Enforcement Professionals. Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: Can you repeat what you just said a few minutes ago about what police have paradoxically?

Joe Smarro: Yes, the paradoxical shift between power and authority. So again, sadly, a lot of officers are not taught this. This goes all the way back to criminal justice theory, like social theory. The more order you infuse on a people, the less order you have, the more power you infuse over them, the less order you’ll actually get. So, in policing, it’s like when you show up, and you have a hand on your taser hand on you’re going you’re screaming, “Do this, do this.” Also fascinating, a lot of these videos, we see a use of force incidents or officer-involved shootings, and you hear the officer get caught in the loop where they’re just saying the same thing over and over and over. “Drop the knife, drop the knife, drop the knife,” and screaming. There’s almost zero effect, in fact, that has a negative impact on the outcome. The person’s not more likely to comply if we scream the same thing over and over. And so, we have to understand that the less power that we actually portray. Now, here’s the thing that we must remember. You’ve got to be skilled in your ability to de-escalate. You’ve got to be skilled, in your ability to use force, if it goes to that. You have to be like, defensive tactics, I’m all for it, like people confuse and think, “Oh, this is like the CIT guy that just thinks we should love everybody. And no force is ever going to be justified.” That’s not true at all. But what I also know is, I’ve done both. Like on patrol, I’ve used force before I was trained and knew better. But I also, when I went to the mental health unit, and it wasn’t just the training I got in the mental health unit. I call it due diligence, like what are you doing outside of work, right? As a hobby, I study the brain, like different things about social science or neuroscience, because I want it to be really effective at my job, right? So, the more power we show up as presenting with, the harder it is going to be for us to get respect. The less power we demonstrate, the easier it is to get respect. Now, on a mental health unit, I’ll tell you again from my experience, but this also worked in uniform. If you watch the film Ernie and Joe: Crisis Cops, you’ll see a scene on there where Ernie and I are talking to a ——- on a bridge. We’re both in uniform, we’re working overtime, and the skills still work, right? Even though you’re in uniform because people will assume, well, if I’m in uniform, that’s not going to work. In fact, it’s going to be more important for you, and especially a lot of these uniforms that we have today. People don’t understand this, and we teach this in some of our courses. When you show up with a load-bearing vest, six magazines, a drop holster, a taser, tourniquets, flash bangs, a grenade, all this stuff that you are a real-world Call Of Duty replica. And the first thing out of your mouth is, “I’m here to help you.” You have to understand, everything in that person’s brain is saying, “Not true,” because what I’m seeing right now, is a very strong demonstration of force. And so, you’re going to have to work harder to overcome that, again, acknowledge limitations and barriers, if I go back right here, bring light to any barriers limitations, I would start with this like, “Hey, I know that my uniform can be very scary to some people, I apologize for that. I’m not using this uniform to help you today. I hope that you can see beyond this and give me the opportunity to help you.” But just calling it out, because we have to assume that the way we show up based on our appearance is going to absolutely create a story in their mind, and that’s fear. And so, the more authority present, the harder it is to get the respect in return. I hope that fleshes out and answers the question.


Audience Question: You started off this webinar, basically saying all of this content, all of these techniques, all of these approaches are things that everyone can use, not just that patrol officer or first responders. I wanted to share a comment from Elizabeth. Elizabeth does Pre-sentence investigations, and she says, “I do pre-sentence investigations and preface that, I ask some very personal questions and apologize for that ahead of time and always thank them for answering their questions.” So, I just wanted to say, Joe, this really does apply to multiple disciplines. 

Joe Smarro: Yeah, it’s a trauma-informed approach, which again, doesn’t often get associated with policing practices. But I loved how it’s found its way into the judicial practice. And so, I’m very happy to hear that. And real quick, if anyone’s wondering like, well, what trauma-informed approach is? The easiest way to really break it down into one line is, instead of saying, “What’s wrong with you?” or “What’s the problem?” You say, “What happened to you?” And it changes the opening dialog from you’re the problem to you’re the victim. And that’s what trauma-informed is. Simply, instead of “What’s wrong with you,” you say, “What happened to you?” Or “What’s the problem?” You say, “What happened?” And it gives them a voice where they feel safer. We call it a psychologically safe space to actually convey whatever it is that’s going on. So, I’m happy to hear that. Thank you for that comment.


Audience Question: I find that a lot of people do not believe that behavior can be changed unless people are corrected, shamed, or ridiculed. Do you have any favorite research you can share that supports the non-shaming approach? I’d like to share it with other colleagues. 

Joe Smarro: Yikes, that is a beautiful question. This isn’t a way just to get you to contact me, but that’s something where I would love to extend the conversation beyond this because it’s like going to my Rolodex internally right now of behavioral research. Yeah, I have a whole bunch of books that I’m thinking of right now. I have a reading list I’ll send to Aaron when we get off. And then if you can share I would appreciate it. Yeah. So, I’m sorry, but there’s, I do have a bunch of resources that I’m happy to share with you about, because I agree with what you’re saying. And that has a lot of people’s beliefs about shame, guilt, and embarrassment. It’s just simply not true, and there are all kinds of stuff out there about that. Again, mirroring behavior, you want to see in return. Human beings are more likely to follow behavior, which is a part of that. Even active listening and reflective mirroring is one of them. But one of the things that we flesh out in getting compliance is this idea of guided imagery and you explain step by step by step every nuanced thing that’s going to happen next. So that their brain doesn’t create a scary story, that’s going to prevent them from wanting to do it. And when you use that guided imagery, it’ll actually demonstrate exactly what’s going to happen next for them, which will lessen their anxiety and get them more likely to comply. But, yeah, I would provide that reading list for you. It was our 2022 reading list, and there’s a bunch of stuff where, where we get a lot of our information from as well, that I try to keep updated.


Audience Question: Whether or not you’ve watched the TV show Ted Lasso because Ted uses this phrase “Curiosity is the antithesis of judgment.” Elizabeth is asking that it sounds very similar to what you just said.

Joe Smarro: Yes, so I love Ted Lasso because I love soccer and it’s just a great show. So, I have watched it, and this is honestly, it’s like, I tell people, there’s nothing new under the sun, It’s just people’s reframing of it. None of this is new stuff, right? Even things that, when you go to training, it’s just people’s representation, or how they’re able to create it in a different vacuum to deliver it in a different way. And what we also know, again, about the brain and learning theory, is, like, I can hear one thing today. That you can give me this, I could do this same exact webinar for months and three days, and two hours from this moment. And if the same exact audience shows up to it, someone’s going to get something different about it than they did today. Why? Because you have different experiences now. You had a circumstance that happened earlier in that day. You got to call that didn’t go well, and so, now, you’re always bringing in your newest levels of experiences to the next situation. And so, that’s what I, I love the idea of learning and staying kind of on top of an ahead of things, but also finding ways to take everything that’s out there and making it more tangible or palatable for people to deliver so they can understand it in a different way. So yes, to Ted Lasso.


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