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Monday, 20 June 2011

Having a sense of humour

I have just finished two days management training sergeants and inspectors at Greater Manchester Police. This comes only two weeks after training the police in Abu Dhabi in community policing and problem oriented policing.  Two police organisations thousands of miles apart with different philosophies and different styles.  And yet there are many links and comparisons. Yes, they face similar basic crime and public order issues, but the scale and frequency vary greatly.  However, the one issue that does link them is story telling. Having worked with police in USA, India and China, it is apparent that police officers love to tell stories.  Maybe that is why programmes based on stories, such as The WOW! Awards are so successful when it comes to policing.

The stories almost always involve people in vary stages of distress or anguish or a particular crime that is unusual.  The story tellers then add their typical police style humour and you have a story that will keep people engaged for hours, and once you let them start you cannot stop them.  My Father was a police officer and he would often be found holding court at family gatherings telling stories about his time as a police officer.  However, only once have I met a police officer who would actually start a sentence with '...and here is another story'.  That honour goes to my friend Officer Dave Schmidt from Green Bay Wisconsin and boy could he tell stories.

The great thing about police stories, especially those that the teller has been involved in, is that they give a tremendous opportunity to learn.  For example, when I deliver the lesson on Management by Walking About I punctuate the story with two examples of the right and the wrong way to do it.  The first involved a senior officer who would come and sit at the desk next to me, rock back on the chair, put his feet up and say "what's happening?". That was it.  The conversation would then flow from issues at work, how staff were feeling, what was annoying them, what motivated them to issues surrounding home life.  Yes he would test me and ask about missing radios and the money float in the safe, but he invariably asked about me and my team.  Compare that with another senior officer who would come and sit next to me and then tell me all about him.  What was happening in his world, how his house was coming along, what issues he was facing at work and at home.  In the end I had to ask this officer to go away as he was preventing me from doing my work and other staff would create opportunities to leave their desk if they saw him approaching. Two very different styles of management, but only one was engaging and motivating.

When you add humour to stories you are almost guaranteed to have the ear of your audience as they know that a punch line is coming.  But the ability to use the humour and the story to punctuate a learning point is a powerful tool.  As I get ready to head to back UAE again I began to reflect on the challenge of using funny stories via an interpreter.  There are those stories that become slightly lost in translation, but that is where numerous cop related videos come in handy.  This is because the other endearing trait that police officers have is their ability to laugh at themselves.  So when we make a mistake, it almost always go public within the police and if a camera is there to catch it, then you can guarantee that it will be shared.  Like the US cop who goes to speak to someone about jumping a red light only to see his patrol car roll backwards across the road and hit a parked car as he forgot to put it in park.

Having a laugh, telling stories are all key parts of relieving the stress of what is often a harrowing job.  So I encourage those involved in policing, wherever you are and whatever your role, keep telling those stories....... "now here is another story........"

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