Police Psychology | What You Can Learn from a 2-Year Old
In police psychology, I have noticed that it is very difficult for people to say “no.”
In police psychology, I find a lot of officers who just can’t do it. There are very few things that toddlers know how to do better than adults. For instance, although sometimes when I’m driving I encounter cars that may as well have had the two-year-old behind the wheel, adults are fairly more competent than their young children when it comes to driving. I’d also rather have an adult monitor my bank account and finances than a child, and rather an adult ran the country than my nine-year-old daughter. You get the point. However, there is one thing that most children do better than their parents: saying “NO.” All you have to do is walk around the park and you’ll encounter countless voices erupting in that favorite word all parents long to hear: “NO.” When you tell your child its bath time, or they need to eat all their vegetables, or they need to get off the IPAD during mealtimes. How about when they can’t wear that outfit in public, or they need to be back by curfew, most children respond the same: “NO.” Damn I wish I could learn that more myself.
It’s funny how we seem to be expert “NO” sayers when we are young, but then we hit a point in our lives when saying that infamous word becomes ten times more difficult. In police psychology, I have many officers who are stressed out, overworked, working double shifts and still can’t manage to refuse to help. It’s funny how such a small word is so hard to master. It’s funny how saying “NO” can be associated with such a negative stigma of being uncooperative and intentionally difficult. It’s funny how Rodgers and Hammerstein so perfectly summed up our sentiments in Oklahoma: “I’m just a girl who can’t say NO.” And although many guys would like to meet such a girl, it’s really not funny. It’s not funny at all. When did we lose the ability to respectfully decline things we simply don’t have the time for? When did we start putting the need to please other people before our own sanity? Why must we overextend ourselves to the point where we are committed to way too many tasks at once—stretched thin, balancing a precarious juggling act? Why is that people in the helping professions and the policing professions, lose track of the word worst than anyone.
Police Stress | The Hardest Word to Say
I have noticed in police psychology that avoiding the word “no” can contribute to a lot of police stress.
Want to hear a police psychology situation? I had a police officer in therapy with me who was hit in his car by a drunk driver. He was having severe cognitive problem and PTSD, and will probably be disabled the rest of his life. His wife’s cousin calls and is with another police officer just having been lifted for minor-level drunk driving. He hasn’t talked to the wife’s cousin in years, in fact never liked him. He was being asked to vouch for him. He asked the cop to cut his wife’s cousin a break, despite it being the same situation that is causing him so much trouble. His wife wasn’t happy; he wasn’t happy. They found a new way to add to police stress. I was now dealing with a guy that had enough going on, but we added one more thing. And because of the PTSD, the officer can’t get it out of his head how he cut a guy he can’t stand a break, so he obsesses. More problems for me. (Notice, it always comes back to me. Hey, I should write about that.)
The truth is, many of us just feel guilty saying this two-letter word, especially to our friends, family, or people we care about or even should care about. So, instead, we agree and agree and agree until we are left feeling angry and resentful towards the people who put us in the situation. This becomes a problem because the people who ask you for favors oftentimes have no idea they are putting you in a difficult position. They don’t think it is a big thing. (This is not to say that there aren’t people out there who will try to deliberately take advantage of you.) We need to relearn a lesson that we never should have forgotten. We need to teach ourselves to be okay with saying “NO” to people. We need to learn how to prioritize ourselves again—we need to learn how to be a little selfish. And police psychology has a bigger problem than most because we are the caretakers in the world.
Police Psychology| Why We Can’t Say “NO”
But that still begs the question: why? Why do we have such a hard time saying NO? I think one of the reasons is because people tend to be sociable and generous. It is an adaptive trait: the more communicable you are, the more people will want to interact with you. It is safe. It is easy. It also feels good when you do something for someone else. It can make them appreciative or complimentary of your talents and skills, and it can put them in your debt (in a sense). Saying “NO” seems too hostile and aggressive to many people—“How can I say no to Jim? He’s only asking me to give up one weekend for him.” We tend to overestimate the effect of this word. We tend to associate “NO” with antagonism and unfriendliness, and these aren’t favorable traits in society. Because of this, it almost becomes easier (at least mentally) to say “yes” because that is the safer response. However, that is a totally psychological misconception. If you say “no” to someone, chances are they will understand (and if they don’t, they’re definitely not worth your time). And they may tend to think through something before they ask again. We need to stop overestimating the power of this word and start accepting it for what it is–an admittance that we need to take care of ourselves.
There are many types of manipulations used to try to get you to agree to do things you don’t want to do. Sometimes they just come natural to people, sometimes they are intended for manipulation. Let me give you a couple that are easy to remember. One is called “foot in the door” technique. This is when they start out by getting you to agree to something small, and once you agree to that, they ask you for a larger request. For instance, if someone asks you to sign a petition and you agree to that, they may follow that up by asking you to donate some money. This works because you are already thinking in your mind, “Wow, I’m such a great person,” or “Well, I must believe in this cause…” and so you are more inclined to comply with the larger request after this. Another technique is called “door in the face.” This is when someone asks you to do something big and you say no, so then they ask for a much smaller, reasonable request. In this case, many people are more inclined to say yes to the smaller request (which is often what they wanted you to agree to in the first place) because of something called the reciprocity norm: you did something nice for me (by reducing the request), so I’ll do something nice for you (by fulfilling the request). Be wary of these tricks. Learn a thing or two from your children.
3 Steps to Saying “NO”
- There are polite ways of saying no (meaning, there are ways of saying “no” without using this actual word): “Not today, sorry,” or “I can’t do that today” or “That doesn’t work for me now, I’m sorry.” It all depends on how you word your decline. Careful of these. Don’t offer an excuse as it creates an opportunity for them to re-word their request and ask you something else. When you turn someone down, say you can’t do it, and skip out on all the sugarcoating explanations.
- If it is just a time thing, offer an alternative time. Sometimes that will be enough to make them look elsewhere. “I can’t help you build a website until next month if that works for you.” Or I won’t have the time to help redo your bathroom until after the holidays. Keep a person limited and focus on your time as the important factor. You can’t make more time, so don’t let it disappear.
- If all else fails, point out the manipulation. Remember this old school psychological advice, the best way to weaken a defense is to point it out. “Wow you’re trying real hard to get me to agree to fix your bathroom. It seems a little manipulative.” “Oh I see, if I agree to a small thing and you want more.” Now these may piss someone off a little, but chances are you are not going through life without pissing someone off. People get over stuff, in fact sometimes they even gain respect for you because of it.
Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.
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