Interacting Tactfully and Tactically: Is This a Strategy, Law Enforcement Can Use?


"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." ~Mark twain

Dr. Michael Asken has a great piece I read a couple of weeks back titled; “Being simultaneously tactful and tactical”  Tactics is “the art and science of winning engagements and conflicts. Tactics refers to the concepts and methods we use to accomplish a particular objective. Can you be both tactful and tactical and accomplish law enforcement objectives? Will the combination of tactful communication and tactical skill give you the edge you need to win on the street? I believe so!

The Friendliness Factor can it be deadly?

Being tactful, too many of us in law enforcement forget about. Many cops believe if they show compassion and follow the golden rule of treating others like they want to be treated; it is some form of weakness. That somehow magically because we use a tactful approach, the person we are dealing with will get the upper hand. Some of this attitude may come from what’s known as “the friendliness factor” which is well known attribute in the law enforcement community and has been studied since 1992 by the FBI in three major studies “Killed in the line of Duty (1992)”, ‘In the Line of Fire (1997)” and “Violent Encounters (2006) which list behavioral descriptors of officers killed and assaulted.

  • Friendly
  • Well liked by community and department
  • Tends to use less force than other officers felt they would use in similar circumstances
  • Hard working
  • Tends to perceive self as more public relations than law enforcement
  • Service oriented
  • Used force only as last resort (peers claimed they would use force at earlier point in similar circumstances)
  • Doesn’t follow rules, especially in regard to (arrests, confrontations with prisoners, traffic stops and waiting for back-up)
  • Feels he/she can “read” others/situations and will drop guard as result
  • Tends to look for the good in others
  • Laid back and easy going

Friendliness alone does not lead to an assault. Instead it is the deadly combination of all or some of these traits including a naïve form of friendliness. Friendliness can be a powerful tactic when used appropriately in combination with superior situational awareness. Friendliness and tact, the ability to show respect, empathy and concern for another, even as a false front has a powerful effect and can wear down an adversary, even dangerous individuals. Tactful communication is as powerful a tactic as in other tactical concept we have in our moral, mental and physical tactical bag of tricks. Tactical communication combined with awareness and tactical ability to position ourselves to a more advantageous position, of strength through persuasion and understanding there may be a need to escalate. 

Tactful and tactical approaches should be a central part of our strategy when dealing with emotionally charged people or people in circumstances where an anxiety and stress are high. a great method, when constant adaptation to shifting conditions and circumstances in a world where chance, uncertainty and ambiguity dominate. The essence of winning and losing is in learning how to shape or influence events so that we not only magnify our spirit and strength but also influence potential adversaries as well as the uncommitted so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic towards our success.

How does a tactful and tactical approached help us shape and reshape these events in our efforts to gain control?

“Control takes the form of feedback, the continuous flow of information about the unfolding situation returning to the commander, which allows the commander to adjust and modify command action as needed.” ~USMC, Warfighting Manual

To shape and reshape the situation in an effort gain control we must use our knowledge operationally. In other words we apply what we know to the street and the specific circumstances we find ourselves in. This also means we must also be able to figure out what’s going on by gathering as much information about the situation as we interact with a person who may become potential adversary. In the dynamic world we work on an understanding drawn from partial clues only. This means we must choose a strategic logic or rationale to decide what short-term concrete ends are achievable, reflect progress and allow us to learn how to make even more progress. Whatever an officers strategic rationale of the moment, it is only as good as his current understanding. We must be aware and be continually exploring the situation to reach the outcome we seek. We want a certain outcome yes, but we must remember the person we are dealing with wants his own way and outcome, that may be very different than ours. In conflict there is a give and take during our interaction our goal is to get the person we are dealing with to come around to our way of thinking if possible. The good news is most people will come around to our way of thinking if we communicate effectively. This takes leveraging our emotional intelligence and social skills as well, as tactical skills.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups. Social skills, is the ability, to assess people’s strengths and weaknesses, and then use of communication skills, and the art of listening with both our ears and eyes to gain insights as to what’s going on. This interaction between cop and person allows us to read the situation better by what’s being said verbally and non-verbally and allows us to maintain the initiative, and in the best case scenario resolve it peacefully through persuasion and in the worst case allow us to use reasonable force. Why? Because we have a better understanding and hence can utilize more tactical options that include verbal and/or physical means to reach our goal of resolving the situation safely and effectively. 

"The less people know, the more they yell." ~Seth Godin

Dr. Asken has a great play on the first for letters of tactful and tactical (TACT) I feel we cops should all attempt to understand and apply when handling dynamic encounters. He states; TACT is the root of both the words TACTful and TACTical and as an acronym, TACT stands for Think, Aware, Courteous, and Tactical:

Think-The first T — Think — is the general reminder to “use one’s head” during a response. Think also refers to making use of the other three components of TACT; to think about your Awareness, Courtesy and Tactical readiness.

Aware-The A refers to situational awareness. It is the need to integrate all the information available to an officer before and when arriving on scene. While some situations do not allow for “thoughtful analysis” of the situation, even here it is important to mitigate the impulsive behavior that can easily occur with a raging adrenaline dump. Action without a consideration of options and a back-up plan can be problematic. Awareness promotes a reasoned and appropriate response.

Courtesy-There are very few — if any — situations in which initial courtesy would aggravate matters and not have the potential to defuse more intense behavior. Being courteous is not inconsistent with being firm or presenting a command presence. If an officer’s courtesy is rebuked, that will:

  • be obvious very quickly,
  • provide valuable information about the subject’s state, and
  • Indicate that more direct and forceful action will likely be needed.

Tactical-The last T refers to always having a tactical plan should the situation so warrant. Even with a subject who appears to respond to courtesy, an officer always needs to maintain an on-guard mindset with tactical action to back it up until a situation is totally secure or concluded.

“Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.” ~William Butler Yeats

Conflict and confrontation are inevitable in the law enforcement world. The challenge is to take an angry or uncooperative person and have him/her cooperate. Thinking, awareness and tactfully using courteous persuasion to manage and manipulate conflict and gain voluntary compliance is our main goal. Being tactical is both art and science and takes skill to apply. Both tact and tactics is part of interaction between people in which we must be able to diminish an their ability to communicate or interact with their environment while sustaining or improving ours, so we must also, always be, prepared to adapt, and balancing a persuasion and force tactfully and tactically. Try this strategy on your next call you may just be surprised by the results.

“Practice is the only way that you will ever come to understand what the Way of the warrior is about…Words can only bring you to the foot of the path…” ~Miyamoto Musashi

Stay Oriented!


5 thoughts on “Interacting Tactfully and Tactically: Is This a Strategy, Law Enforcement Can Use?

  1. Very interesting, Fred! Would you ascribe the correlation between friendliness and officers killed or assaulted strictly to naivete and letting their guard down, or do you think that being seen as nice and easy going made those officers more tempting targets?

  2. Alex i believe its a combination of those reasons you mention, plus the circumstances. Many officers hear the term be courteous and believe that the if they do they have lost the tactical advantage, not true. If we understand what makes people tick and quite frankly WORDS do we begin to understand the power of interaction and the opportunities tactical its opens up, or as Boyd would say the strategic game of interaction and isolation to helps us shape and reshape the circumstances. Another problem is, as soon as communication and social skills are mentioned some officers assume that it always works (hence the naivete)and that sir is not the case, as their is always the deadly mix of cop, subject and circumstances. Adaptation is the key. Knowing when to talk verses when to fight always important as well. The reason we must be tactful and tactical and keep a fluid OODA.

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