Saturdays and Sundays in my house tend to go one of two ways.
Either I wake up early to a long list of places and things my wife and kids have lined up for that day, or I get up late, make my way down for a steak and eggs breakfast, and proceed to sit on the couch to watch old westerns until the motivation to tackle one of my many home improvement projects hits.
This past Sunday was one of those rare and infrequent latter days.
At around noon, I ran out to take care of a few errands and encountered a scene that was uncommon. As I was approaching the exit of our community, I could see a car near the middle of the road. It appeared that the car had been damaged. As I got closer, I could see a little old lady getting out of the car. She was making her way to the curb.
I pulled over to see if she was alright and found a frail, thin, little lady, trembling as she sat down on the curb to compose herself.
I later learned that the lady was a 74 year-old grandmother who inexplicably lost control of her car. For some reason, she veered to the right directly into the curb. The car was completely destroyed. The front axle was snapped and the driver side wheel was turned 90 degrees towards the right. She appeared shaken but not hurt.
I looked under her car and at the spot where she hit the curb. It was obvious that the damage happened as a result of her hitting the curb. I then tried to ask her what happened and she just looked at me with bewilderment. She said she had no recollection and that she probably needs to go see a doctor.
I then called 911 and waited with her until the police arrived.
Once on the scene, the officer climbed out of his cruiser and asked me a few brief questions to determine whether I had actually seen anything.
He was a large, imposing figure over 6 feet tall, all decked out in his bullet proof vest, wearing a cap with the visor pulled down close to his eyes.
Once he concluded that I had no specific information, he turned to the little old lady and proceeded to berate her with questions.
He immediately assumed the worse and said “Cars don’t turn themselves were you drinking or doing drugs?”. He had a brusque and aggressive manner as he spoke with her.
As I was observing this behavior, I started to wonder why this man, who was already an imposing figure would approach a situation with a frail little old lady in this manner.
I had the obvious initial negative thoughts, immediately assuming the cop was on a power trip, but then I thought this behavior must be tied to some kind of training. I have seen police officers behave this way before, so I started trying to correlate his behavior to negotiation tactics.
The cop’s behavior reminded me about a negotiation tactic known as an Accusation Audit.
In an Accusation Audit the goal is to have your opposition dismiss the worse possible scenarios by specifically calling them out.
Your goal is to dispel these notions to get any emotional baggage out of the way of making a deal.
To use an Accusation Audit you develop a list of the most unfair, crazy, or ridiculous thoughts the other side might be having about your position. You then phrase each of these in a statement such as, “You probably think that…”
Here are a few examples:
“You probably think that we are trying to sell you a lemon.”
“You probably think that we don’t care if you make a profit.”
“You probably think we are hiding something.”
This tactic is one that is frequently talked about by Chris Voss author of “Never Split the Difference“.
By making these statements you are immediately taking each of those potential negative ideas off the table and letting the other side know that you are not doing those things. This typically has the effect of creating a sense of empathy and centers the discussion back to one of mutual respect and cooperation.
I’ve never been in police training, so I can only assume that there is some equivalent forms of training that officers go through that teaches them to approach each and every situation with an aggressive worst case scenario mindset.
Obviously this approach is meant to create the opposite effect of an Accusation Audit. An Accusation Audit is meant to calm your opponent down, the Cop’s approach was meant to stir the opponents emotions.
After the initial barrage, the Officer’s tone changed and he went from aggressor to partner. He then began working with the lady to get her car towed to her repair shop and even offered to drive her home.
I would not use an Accusation Audit in every scenario. I use this only when discussions begin to feel emotional or we hit a moment where discussions break down.
Similarly, I don’t think it helps police officers to approach every scenario with the same aggressive manner. This scene was obviously not a nefarious situation and the players were not hardened criminals that required to be dominated.
I would like to believe that the Officer is a kindhearted man that can see glimpses of his own Mother (the same way that I did) in this little old lady. I would also like to believe that he can empathize with an elderly person who perhaps is at the early stages of some disease.
None of that was evident in his initial behavior. He promulgated the image of cops as power hungry bullies and that is not good for law enforcement. I hope that one day someone in law enforcement will recognize that this approach has a negative effect on the image of the police.
What do you think? Should Officers approach every situation in the same manner? Have you used Accusation Audits in your negotiations? Tell me your stories.
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