September 17th, 2020
EPISODE 1: The Neuroscience of De-escalation: What Organizations Can Learn From First Responders
Joe Smarro, one of the two police officers featured in the Emmy-nominated HBO documentary, “Ernie & Joe, Crisis Cops,” is helping create a more human society. In the season three premiere of YBAW, Joe joins NLI CEO and Co-founder Dr. David Rock, Senor Director of Neuroscience Research Dr. Kamila Sip, and facilitator Davie Floyd to discuss bringing science-backed de-escalation training to police officers. Together, the panel unpacks how the science of social threat and reward can help us better understand and communicate with each other to reach positive outcomes. And the benefits extend far beyond front-line workers to organizations of all sizes, and individuals of all backgrounds.
[00:00:04] GB: When we sense a threat, say when we hear a rustle in the bushes, or a crash in a dark alley, our brain enters a state of heightened awareness. Our body in-turn, diverts resources from our brain to our extremities, allowing us to react quickly and adaptively. As the threat becomes more pronounced, the rustling gets closer and louder, our bodies recruit all of its resources to do one of two things; fight or run.
This doesn’t leave much time or energy for thinking. What we don’t often realize is that social threats can be as distressing as physical threats and have the same exhausting effect on our ability to recall, reason and communicate. That can spell disaster in high-stakes situations. Luckily, there are ways to curb your threat, de-escalate the situation and return to reason.
I’m Gabriel Berezin and you’re listening to Your Brain At Work from the NeuroLeadership Institute. For this Season 3 premiere, we continue our tradition started in Season 2, by drawing from a weekly webinar series that NLI’s been hosting every Friday. This week, our panel features Joe Smarro, one of the two police officers featured in the Emmy-nominated HBO Documentary, Ernie & Joe: Crisis Cops. From NLI, we hear from CEO and Co-Founder, Dr. David Rock, Senior Director of Neuroscience Research, Dr. Kamila Sip and Senior Facilitator, Davie Floyd. Together, they discuss how the science of social threat reward can help us better understand and communicate with each other. They unpack how the benefits extend far beyond these frontline workers to organizations of all sizes and individuals of all backgrounds. Enjoy.
[00:01:48] DR: It’s a big day for many reasons. Even though I was in Australia at the time when 9/11 actually – I literally just left from New York, literally arrived on that morning as it happened back in Australia. I was watching in horror with all of you. I was not as effective as many, but still affected us all around the world. I think it’s very important day for many people. I think what we wanted to do was do something really meaningful today along the theme of strong emotions, I guess.
As Gabe mentioned, as the human rights crisis unfolded over the last few months, or accelerated really over the last few months, we came out with a piece of thinking that’s influenced a number of organizations. It’s listen deeply, unite widely, act boldly. If you haven’t read that and dug into that, I encourage you to have a look at that framework. We ran several webinars at the end of last season on that. Those should be podcasts now that you could listen to. Really unpacking why you need to listen deeply, how to listen deeply. Then also, why and how to unite widely. Then a big one was obviously, act boldly.
We challenged ourselves and said, what would we do? I said, you know what? We’re going to actually – we know a lot about de-escalation. What we’re going to do is finish the research on that and actually find a way to have an impact, because I believe that the work should have a real impact, or could have a real impact really understanding the science. We put it out to the world and Joe and his organization, MILO Range popped up. As you’ll hear about, we actually already done a pilot with around 40 police officers and police trainers with some incredible results. Joe will tell us a little bit about that coming up.
Later this year, or actually from next month, we’re starting to give away free de-escalation training to first responders and law enforcement across the country. That’s actually happening. What you’re going to hit today is a little bit of a architecture of how we’ve built that, what it is and actually, as we were doing this, we were seeing something that really jumped out, which is this is incredibly relevant to organizations right now.
We’re going to get into the de-escalation science and then hear the story of the pilot. Firstly, I want to start with the relevance and how this matters to all of us right now. For those of you new to NLI, just for some context, we’ve been here for a while, actually our 22-year overnight success as they say, originally founded in Australia, which is my accent. We’re advising out over 50 of the Fortune 100 firms and many, many federal agencies.
As it turns out, we were not affected by the craziness in the federal statements this week around training, because we focused on some different things, on deeper science and less directly on some of the really conflicting issues in that space. We’re working in that space, where we’ve just as I said, run a pilot. I think, Kami, it was about 40 people in the pilot in the last two weeks, literally. We’re going to hear more about it. You were there. I know you were working hard on it. It was quite an experience.
I’ve got a definition, maybe you can – Kami, you can describe the more scientific definition of just what is de-escalation. I mean, very simply reducing the intensity of either a conflict, or a potentially violent situation. Now we think of the potentially violent that really jumps out, but actually, there’s a lot of conflict that needs to be de-escalated right now in our organizations, heck, in our families and in our relationships as well. There’s a lot of de-escalation we need to be better at, because there’s a lot of escalation happening as well.
Kami, do you want to give us the more technical description of this as well?
[00:05:11] KS: Yes, absolutely. I think that a lot of the times when we think about de-escalation, we actually go straight to the really high stake and really high, high-level, high-outcome situations. Sometimes it’s not about high-level conflict. A lot of the times, it’s about the physiological and psychological threats that we experience. I think that for me, when I started digging into the topic, is actually understanding the levels of escalation and moving from the high-tension state, high stress to at least reduce tension, so we can actually have a more optimal conversation and more control over our faculties when it comes to being able to be rational and able to control our emotions.
[00:05:53] DR: Right. It’s not getting rid of the tension. It’s getting it to a manageable level. We’ve developed some language on that. Thanks, Kami. Why is this important now? I mean, right now, the whole planet, pretty much the whole planet. I don’t know. Maybe New Zealand, although they’ve gone back to some issues, but pretty much the whole planet has higher allostatic load, allostatic load. It’s a technical term. It’s a summary of all the different biomarkers of stress, so cortisol and immune system markers, all sorts of things.
The whole planet’s basically experiencing higher stress levels. I don’t know if you saw the data at California and this was pre-fires, 44% had levels of anxiety that would be classified as real anxiety, like an actual disorder. 44% up from 11% a year ago. Roughly, half of California’s pre-fire were really anxious, the level of actual clinical anxiety.
Everyone’s got this baseline, which makes things flare up. When you’re already threatened, things flare up. On top of that, there have been these big divisions between people on COVID. I mean, even in the home environment. One person who wants to take risks, one who doesn’t. There’s big divisions on COVID across the board, on race of course, and also, of course on politics. These divisions are flaring escalations up.
Organizations are definitely experiencing greater internal conflicts and we’re hearing about that. We’d like to hear some of your examples in a minute, not just yet. Of course, first responders are particularly challenged. First responders, including law enforcement, fire, others are particularly challenging this time for all sorts of reasons. It’s such an important issue to be able to de-escalate.
What we looked at was what can really help? Kami and Davie will walk us through this, but what we were thinking about was what can really help in the heat of the moment? You need some language that we call disruptive language, which basically is language that takes almost no effort to recall. It automatically pops up. We built three sets of disruptive language and then really dug into the cases and contexts and then tested this and say, how useful is this actually with police to actually use this, which we’ll hear about. Kami, do you want to take us through those three and what we built?
[00:08:00] KS: Yes, absolutely. I think that that’s a really important component for us to remember about not just understanding what happens in terms of escalation, because I think to be able to de-escalate something, we first need to understand what is actually happening from the perspective of psychophysiological escalation for us and how we react, how we think, what’s happening in our body. The first step is actually understanding the threat response that we have and the level of threat. Meaning, how much – what is happening in terms of the reactivity that is happening for us?
We’ve talked a lot about in the past about the three level of threat. Meaning, that we can go – It’s not that we are either under threat, or we are really relaxed. We can go across the whole spectrum of threat from level one, which is the level of threat that we are alert, something happened, we noticed something to be in our, maybe peripheral vision, but we are not alarmed. It doesn’t create any significant stress response, which means we are still very much aware and capable and able to use all the resources that we have.
Level two threat is highly alert and somehow alarmed, which essentially means that we are getting much more affected by the stress that we are experiencing, either physiologically, or psychologically. Because of that, our level of ability to be able to be rational and collaborate and slow down our emotional reactivity actually goes down as a function of different neural activity that we have in that situations.
At level three is actually the highly alert, highly alarmed, which is almost the panic stage that we experience. Meaning, that there is no more time that we feel, or we don’t necessarily have the ability to slow down our emotional reactivity and we are much more reactive than proactive, which means that at that stage when we experience level three, it’s extremely challenging to de-escalate ourselves, but also to de-escalate the situation. Understanding that, understanding the impact of threats and being able to name specific incidents, or specific things that are happening for us, whether it’s like, “Oh, I’m at level two threat. Oh, I can see somebody else at level two threat,” can actually enable us to slow down and jump out of the escalation cycle that we’ll be going through.
Otherwise, the moment we are unable to do that and we don’t have the disruptive language for us to help us zoom out and name what’s happening, we are going to go in the downward spiral, in terms of going from level one to two to three. Then we are experiencing more of a lose-lose outcome potential, rather than being able to de-escalate our behavior and our actions.
The last bit was also for us to understand the escalation, it’s also understanding the impact of biases, our lenses that colors how we perceive the reality, which means that biases are going to kick in, whether we are under duress, or whether we are relaxed. The challenge is that when we are under stress, when we are under duress, the biases that are going to kick in are much faster and it’s going to take us much more effort to be able to course correct after that happens. Those are the three components when we think about escalation. One, understand level of threats. Two, understand and name the threat to be able to slow us down. Three, would be also understand that we will be impacted, our cognition and perception by biases that are linked very much to the threat response that we’ll be experiencing.
[00:11:30] DR: That’s great. Thanks, Kami. Davie, maybe we can hear from you a little bit. We’re talking about this first piece of disruptive language, which is knowing what threat you’re at is really, really helpful and then knowing that you’ve got to catch it. One of the things that we’re seeing in organizations and I know you’ve been doing some work with firms on this as well, is that people are trying to speak out more at the moment. Driven by COVID and just the need for the psychological, physical safety, but also driven by the human rights crisis, people are trying to speak up more. Do you want to speak a little bit to this framework and what we’re seeing out there?
[00:12:04] DF: Absolutely. As people speak up and we’ll know this when you think about taking the opportunity to speak up, you recognize that the different things you say, you feel different levels of anxiety with regard to them when you put them out there in the world. If you’re just sharing an idea, maybe you have not so much investment in it, may not feel so threatened by it.
If you’re questioning a decision that someone’s made, you recognize, “Okay, I’m questioning someone else’s judgment.” It comes with a little bit more stress and anxiety attached to it. Separately, then when you start challenging someone’s behavior, you see someone do something that looks like it might need correction, or some alteration.
You feel it physiologically. You feel the sense of how is this going to land? How are they going to react? Speaking up in this particular time when our stress levels are already, our threat levels are already enhanced, they are further enhanced by then the communication that we need to have in the social, political situations that we’re in, context that we’re in. It really does become a cycle in which we can get ourselves very wound up. We really do need help to de-escalate, to know how to manage ourselves more effectively, to manage our stress levels, to de-escalate the amount of anxiety and threat that we’re feeling.
[00:13:24] DR: Yeah, that’s great. Thanks, Davie. Kami talked a little bit about the threat levels and the interaction between things. There’s also that second habit, which is actually actively reducing the threat. I’ll just introduce that, then we can maybe go to Joe in a minute. One of the things with threat is it tends to be very social. Obviously, there’s physical threat. Actually, the things that really escalate is when people feel they’re being treated really unfairly, or they’ve been personally attacked and put down. A big one of course is relatedness, when you feel like people are against you, no one understands you.
The really big threats for people are actually when all five domains of SCARF are in attack. If you basically attack someone’s status and tell them that they’re not as good as others, do that in a way that doesn’t make sense, where they have no control and they feel you’re against them and it feels unfair, you’ve just hit the negative jackpot. It’s very, very, very arousing. You’ll get to level three threat very quickly.
The opposite is true. When you could actually send what we call strong positive SCARF signals, you actually turn down the threat. A lot of de-escalation is actually learning scripts for how to directly address these domains, like directly go – relatedness is one that you’ll hear from Joe in a minute about we want to directly address, for example, creating a shared experience and a shared goal to de-escalate. That’s probably one of the most powerful things. We want to directly address people’s status, that they don’t feel like we’re putting them down, or attacking them in any way. We want to directly address the choices that they have, help people see the choices that they have with autonomy.
The first piece of disruptive language is definitely three levels of threat. The second piece of disruptive language, which is really important is sending these positive SCARF signals and seeing where someone might accidentally be experiencing, say a fairness threat, and then working out the signal to send. That’s the approach that we’ve been taking overall.
Then the third chunk as Kami said is identifying the biases. What if someone doesn’t want to see their biases? Our view on the biases is if you teach everyone a sticky, disruptive language, then actually, it’s rare that the individual with the bias ever sees their own bias. It’s actually about helping each other with bias. We’re not trying to make individuals see their own bias. You actually can’t see much of it. We’re trying to have a common language, so that anyone in a team can actually call that out as well.
Anyway, that’s the backdrop and the three pieces that we’ve been teaching. What I’d like to do I think is invite Joe back. We’ve been talking conceptually, but let’s get much more tangible. We had an experience with 30, or 40 police officers and police trainers. You were there involved in the delivery I think in the last two weeks. Before the training, tell us a little bit about what is de-escalation really like in the field. What is it? Give us a story or an example of what de-escalation is actually right from the police context.
[00:16:13] JS: Yeah, David. I appreciate it. It’s a great question. One that sticks out to me that I use in my trainings is there was a suicidal female who called the police. She waited for her husband and kids to fall asleep, took the firearm out of the house, walked outside, sat in the driveway between two vehicles. She called 911.
Law enforcement’s dispatched. Obviously, they show up and they staged down the street formulating a plan. The sergeant on the scene calls me and he says, “Hey, Joe. Can you come out here? This is what we have.” I show up a few minutes later. When I showed up, they were about a block and a half away from the house. There’s probably seven to eight patrol cars. Every one of the trunks was open. I’m seeing people loading up their AR-15s, loading up shotguns, loading up – they’re grabbing the shield. I was like, “What is happening right now?”
The sergeant is like, “All right, Joe. What do you think?” I was like, “I think this is way too much. Permission to speak freely, sir.” I don’t know what the plan is here. If we’re going to march down the street onto this one woman who’s asking for help, I don’t see how we’re going to have a good outcome here. I said, “Let me just call her.” When I called her, I heavily relayed on, without knowing what SCARF was. This is what was beautiful about getting to pilot this last week to be a part of that.
When I called her and I talked to her and I just empathized with her and I shared just a similar, like fears, what I did. I told her. I said, “Brenda,” for the case of this. I said, “Brenda, I feel scared.” Before I could even finish my statement, she said, “Well, why do you feel scared?” I said, “Well, because I’m afraid of what’s going to happen if all these officers march down the street and confront you. I don’t want something bad to happen to you and I don’t want something bad to happen to them.” I said, “I know that you’re asking for help and I want to be able to help you.”
In that moment, just me saying, “I feel afraid. I feel scared.” What I was going to say is, “I feel afraid when you’re holding a gun, because I don’t want these officers to approach you,” it immediately de-escalated the situation, because I was able to communicate effectively with her. She ended up putting the gun down. Walked out. It just took that moment of pause to see the person as a person, not to see the person as a gun-wielding problem.
[00:18:19] DR: Yeah. No, thanks for sharing that. It’s very powerful story. The sense of social pain in desperate people is so prevalent. If you watch the Waco movie, or series, which was really scarring in some ways and very scary, same thing there. People, just such strong social emotions, a sense of unfairness driving the behavior, a sense of being downtrodden with status. They controlled the situation with relatedness, with trying to find that shared goal and then it fell apart when someone just escalated externally and it was a total tragedy. It’s a powerful story.
Let’s change gears a little bit. Teaching this to law enforcement. It might be easy for people to say, why would you talk to law enforcement about the brain? Would they be even interested? What was it like? What was your experience of actually doing that?
[00:19:03] JS: Yeah, it’s incredible. Just one step back quick, is for probably four years now, I had this realization of like, “Man, we should really be teaching just basic human psychology, understanding human behavior and where it comes from in police academies.” Police officers are asked to do so much and yet, we don’t understand what’s driving human behavior. When this opportunity came up, partnering with MILO and when NLI came forward and said, “Hey, can we use one of the schools that you’re going to be training to pilot this?” I was like, “Absolutely.” That’s dream come true stuff for me.
Some of the feedback was so profound, because the initial feedback was like, “I didn’t even know I had a limbic system, or a prefrontal cortex and yet, I’m learning about what they do and what their functions are.” That was the immediate feedback. Then the way they took that content and throughout the week, to hear the stories and the sidebar conversations about, I realized that in over the span of my career, if I had this knowledge, if I knew what this was, what level one, two and three were, I was probably at fault for a lot of these situations that escalated, because I didn’t understand my own level of threat and I didn’t understand the other person’s threat level. Maybe that could change how I communicate with people when they are in crisis, or when they feel threatened. It was just really, really powerful to be a part of that experience and see how they took it.
[00:20:22] DR: Right. That first piece of disruptive language, like in the heat of a moment, it’s a simple enough framework. It’s not a ton of science on the surface of it. There’s lots of science under it. From the surface, it’s a simple enough to remember framework that you can go, “Oh, what threat level am I? Oh, I’m a two heading to a three. I wonder what they are. Oh, they look like a three already. We should change tag.”
It’s a very simple framework of just what level are they probably, what level am I, what should we do? Because once people are two heading towards three, things are just starting to get really, really strong and you’ve got to bring both of you back to one, or one, heading towards through there.
Kami, do you want to share also what was it like in the in the program from your perspective in terms of teaching this?
[00:20:58] KS: Yes, absolutely. Thank you so much. I was just going to thank you Joe for mentioning that, because I think that with debrief, after the pilot, we run the pilot. Then you mentioned that even though this was a briefing, it wasn’t necessarily a training with manual do this step by step. You noticed that on Friday and we run the pilot on Monday, the officers were still using the language, which is so impactful. They were saying like, “Hey, you’re going to put me in level two right now. You need to back off.” That is really, really important, because the simplicity of the language that we use with so much complexity of the science that we communicate, the fact that it’s landing fast and we can move and change the needle so fast for somebody, just shifting somebody’s perception can make a huge difference and also, understanding the contextual aspect.
In the story that Joe was mentioning, it made me think about the specific context, when you think about the law enforcement versus civilian, there is such a power dynamic automatically. It’s similar in a hierarchical organizational structure, both versus direct reports, that that already is projecting and setting the stage. The fact that Joe actually pulled back from that positioning and shifted the paradigm in terms of how he interacted with the female, Brenda, I think she was, it’s just profound. In terms of just small things thinking about, this is another person. It’s a human to human conversation.
[00:22:21] DR: Yeah, it’s really [inaudible 00:22:21].
[00:22:26] GB: I want to share a story with you and ask a quick favor. A couple years ago, the NeuroLeadership Institute ran a study that asked people to engage in mock negotiations. Each person wore a heart monitor. At the end, people were told to give their partner’s feedback. Only for half the participants, the roles were flipped and people were told to ask their partners for feedback.
The study found something really interesting. It turned out that giving feedback and getting feedback were equally stressful. When people ask for feedback, both partner’s stress levels got cut in half, their heart rate steadied, their anxiety faded. That’s where the favor comes in. Will you give us feedback on our podcast? We created a survey that takes less than two minutes to complete. In return, you’ll receive a free copy of NLI’s latest journal paper, The Fact Model: A Framework for Managing Cognitive Capacity.
To fill out the survey, all you need to do is go to neuroleadership.com/podsurvey. That’s neuroleadership.com/podsurvey.
[00:23:24] DR: I want to shift gears slightly. Maybe this is a little contentious, but what do you think the training agencies have been missing, such that we’re still having so many tragedies happening out there? What is it that you feel that they’ve been missing?
[00:23:38] JS: Yeah, I think one of the biggest issues is that when we understand the context of culture and understand the culture of law enforcement as it is, so many training academies today in 2020 are doing things because this is the way it’s always been done. I think, we evolve at a very different pace than the society around us and I think that creates disconnect number one. What data supports and suggests is that what the type of training is that officers are receiving in training academies oftentimes is really, there’s so much energy and effort and emphasis placed on the fear-based tactics. Yes, you understand the law. Yes, you understand rules and regulations and policies and all this, but then there’s a whole lot of time spent on learning how to shoot your gun, learning about tactics, learning how to bridge a door, learning about takedown techniques and fighting.
We’re not doing a good enough job of preparing police officers to be better humans. That’s not a slight to cops. I know a lot of police officers are great humans, but we just don’t have the knowledge set. We don’t understand that when we’re deploying from, graduating from the training academy into the communities that 95%, 98% of the calls we’re responding to are just people in need of something.
Usually, what that something is is a listening ear, an empathetic response, or a heart to listen to. That’s it. That really is de-escalation. I think the shift needs to be prepare the officers more to understand the brain, human behavior, how can we connect with one another, instead of seeing people as problems.
[00:24:59] DR: 84% of the time spent teaching the police is to look for threats. If that’s what they’re trained to do, that’s what they’re going to do.
[00:25:06] JS: A lot of it is fear too of you’re going to die. “You’re going to die. You’re going to die.” Last year, 59 police officers were killed in the line of duty by firearm. 228 killed themselves. It’s like, we have to be willing to take an honest look about how are we responsible for the problem that’s happening.
[00:25:22] KS: The one thing that contextual aspect and also the fear-based and looking for threats, I think that that was something that we also mentioned in the in the training, the double whammy. Our brains are so designed to look for threats from a survival perspective. In first responders, whether those are law, or police officers, or firefighters, or EMTs, they are never called when things are going right. Nobody’s calling them to say like, “Hey, come to the party.” No. They are called to shut down the party.
It’s almost the double negative that they are going to action, or to respond to the cause that makes it so much more difficult from a psychological perspective, to unplug and try to de-escalate, because they’re already escalated. They’re already at level one most of the time when they’re getting called in.
[00:26:08] DR: That’s right. Just going to work, they’re starting at level one and probably spending a lot of time at level two. The three threat levels is a really important foundation of disruptive language. That’s the first piece. The second piece is really, the how do you actively de-escalate? SCARF provides a fantastic reminder of what to do. Then the third piece is maybe a little less in the moment for you personally, but a little bit more about building protocols between partners and between squads, between people to support each other, to reduce bias, and also, to plan ahead.
One of the best ways of reducing bias is what we call an if then plan. “If I turn up and someone looks in distress, then try communicating first,” for example. If then plans will reduce bias ahead of time. For those of you who haven’t seen it, the bias framework we have is also very disruptive, in the sense that it’s really sticky. It’s a really sticky framework for being able to see buyers as it happens and call it out. Not just necessarily in yourself, but also in each other in a team.
Davie, maybe you want to talk a little bit about the framework and some of the insights you’re having and Kami as well. Let’s spend a few minutes on this.
[00:27:16] DF: Sure. Certainly, when people are under stress, as you’ve said, they will default to these biases that come naturally, or that are well-rehearsed in their minds, even if they’re not aware of it, because most of this is happening below our conscious awareness. I think, one of the questions that’s come in that I’d love to have is talk a little bit about is what some of the techniques are to de-escalate some situations.
I know, not only in a law enforcement, or first responder sense, but also in our organizations, as you mentioned earlier, in our homes, around our Thanksgiving tables, the energies and anxieties are turned up. I see several questions in the chat around how do we begin to de-escalate some of this? I’d love to hear you and Joe and Kami talk a little bit about that.
[00:28:07] DR: Yeah, absolutely. Some of the practical things. Kami, you want to go first and maybe Joe?
[00:28:11] KS: I can refer to almost going back two steps; one the event plan that David, you are mentioning. When I was doing some of the training to see what it’s actually like to go through some of the simulations with MILO Range, I realized, because I wanted to understand what does it feel like from a police officer, some of the situations that they are experiencing, so I can design a program with that in mind, not projecting what I think it’s happening. I think that I realize the if-then plan and the level of communication between officers before they go somewhere to address a situation, it’s already happening.
Adding that language, meaning that the two officers are deciding, “If this happens, you’re going to do this. I’m going to take this part of the interaction, you’re going to be handling another part of the interaction,” especially if there are partners in the same vehicle. I think that incorporating some of the knowledge that we are serving in terms of checking in with each other, what level of threat are you in? What level of threat do you feel? What is the most triggering thing for you, for SCARF, for example? Is it when somebody’s questioning your authority and the status kicks in? Or is it when somebody questions your fairness? When they say, “Oh, you stopped me because I’m X, or you stopped me because I did this,” not because something else.
I think, realizing those and almost having that in a preparation while approaching the situation can already put down some of the threat and the reactivity of the officers. The other thing is that I wanted to come back, somebody mentioned that oh, they called the police officer and to de-escalate a situation and the police officer was angry already. I think that that speaks to me. Yes, they are human. They reacted with the frustration, but there is also a symptom of the fact that they don’t necessarily may have had all the tools, like Joe was mentioning.
If you don’t know what’s happening to you, you’re going to go with the most natural instinct. Out of fear, anger is the next step. We react angry as to mask the fear and stress that we are holding. That for me points back all the way to we need to talk about what’s happening. To equip officers, first responders with tools and language that can allow them to name what’s happening.
[00:30:25] DR: I want to make a comment about that and then we’ll hear from others. The word disruptive, what do we mean by that? It means disrupting a pattern, disrupting the normal pattern. Disruptive in the sense of giving you the ability to take a pause like, “Oh, that could be that. Let me just pause and try this instead.” It’s like some language that has you see something and bring you to consciousness. It’s almost like if you’re eating food and you had no word for salt. Then suddenly, something was salty and now you have a word for salt, you know what’s going on. It’s like, “Oh, that’s salty. I know what’s wrong here. It’s salty, right?” Now you can do something with it.
In a similar way, this language because it’s simple, but based on deeper work should come up in the moment many times. The power of any tool is how often you use it. What we imagine with this is particularly three levels of threat and SCARF are going to be used just about every day by police officers in consciously and unconsciously. I become a part of their fabric of how they see the world. Then bias probably many times a week. Davie, do you want to comment some more and Joe?
[00:31:25] DF: Yeah. I think practice is what makes this work. I would say, we’re talking about this in the context of first responders in law enforcement. These same principles apply across the board when we’re dealing with anxiety in our personal lives, as well as in our organizational and corporate lives. Conflict is inevitable wherever we are and it can be – it can produce really, really magnificent things, and understanding how to manage it, beginning to use the disruptive language that NLI is introducing really can help everyone across the board to better manage themselves when they’re in a state of crisis and threat.
[00:32:02] DR: Joe, do you want to comment as well? What have you found has been really helpful, people asking for practical things? What can you do to de-escalate in the moment? What are some of the techniques that you use?
[00:32:10] JS: Yeah. I think, understanding the power of this whole – especially in law enforcement, this paradoxical shift of power and authority. We know as police officers when we show up, that ultimately, we have the scene to control, discretion to make and all this. In my world, especially in the mental health arena, anytime it becomes time to make a decision of, “Okay. I have to take you to a hospital.” Let’s just say that I’m dealing with someone who’s suicidal. By law, I have to take them in for treatment. When they say, “No, I’m not going with you,” this is a very important moment, because now they’re challenging my authority.
I could see that as, “Well, hold on now. I have the right. I have the law by my side. I have to take you to the hospital. You just told me no. Now I can make you do it.” Or, what I do is I say, look, and this is where that shift comes in. I want to empower the individual, because what I understand about human behavior is anytime a stranger walks into your home and says, “Okay, you have to do this,” anybody’s going to have a strong reaction to that. I would. We all would.
I empathize with them, but I say, “Look, we don’t have a choice as to whether or not we’re going to leave to go to the hospital. We have to go. I promise you, that it’s going to happen. Here’s what you get to decide, you get to decide how we’re going to leave this house. You get to decide the vehicle that we’re going to go into. You get to decide what music you want to listen to, what hospital we’re going to go to.” I try and put as much as I can on them, so that they feel they have some sense of control. Because ultimately, that’s what it’s coming down to.
Again, this is on both sides of it, law enforcement or not, is how much of this situation can I control? Then that’s going to play a big role into how am I going to respond, especially when I’m not operating on all cylinders if I’m in crisis. Just understanding that shift. I’m going to make the decision, yes, but it’s easy for me to go in and say, “Did you just tell me no? No, we’re going to go.” “I’m not going.” Now we’re like, I go snatch them up and we’re in this use of force incident, all because someone challenged my authority. It doesn’t have to escalate.
We can pause and sit back and just say, “Okay. Well, I must not have enough rapport yet. Let me rely more on the SCARF model.” Now I can see how I can leverage this relationship and I can build rapport and get more relatedness, or I can leverage their status, or let them see us as equal parts in this and that they want the help that I’m trying to portray that they need. It’s really powerful. That’s why I’m super excited about what you’re doing, David, with your team and bringing this into law enforcement, because I can see the value of how this is going to be added into training academies, or wherever it’s going to land.
I can see how this is going to really impact, not only the individual officer for their own self-awareness and wellness, but how it’s going to change the way they interact with their communities.
[00:34:41] DR: Right. Absolutely. Autonomy is such a big one. Often an overwhelming stress is overwhelming because you feel out of control and that you feel like you have no choices. There’s a lot of research on this. Is this variable of feeling that you have a choice is huge. In fact, there’s a lot of studies from decades ago about in an aged home, they gave people on one floor just three simple choices, like which plant, where the bed was and what art.
In a controlled study over a year, they halved the death rate on that floor a large-scale study, compared to folks who didn’t have a choice. Give people a little choice within the cubicle of what they put in the cubicle and you get 36% more productivity across large numbers of people. In animal studies, the perception of choice for the same distressor is the difference between life and death, when one animal is experiencing uncontrollable stress that another one actually has a sense of control. It’s a complex story how that happens, but it’s a real study.
This variable of control, or feeling like you have a choice is one of the things that really brings it back. Definitely, autonomy is how can you actually find a way to give that person a sense of control here? What can you let them be in charge of? The other big one is going to be relatedness. How can you be on the same side with them? How can you have a shared goal with them, where they see you as a supporter, not an enemy? That’s such a big one. Then of course, status. People feeling like you’re putting them down, versus you’re supporting them with some similar things. Any other big tips coming to mind, Joe or Davie?
[00:36:14] JS: Yeah. For me again, I think it’s without just rambling on while I’m thinking, I think it’s a matter of better preparing officers to do the realities of the work. I saw one of the questions come up in the chat of why are police officers responding to people in mental health crisis, even if there’s this whole movement that’s shifting towards having social workers make these calls, understand that and I saw this was answered as well. Legislation the way it is is that there’s an obligation, or if someone meets a certain for them to have to go into treatment, a social worker doesn’t have the authority to bring them into treatment. It has to be a judge or a police officer.
Until laws are changed, again, even if you have these other types of units responding, I think it’s important that law enforcement still receives this training. Even if it’s completely stripped away and civilian response units make mental health calls, it doesn’t mean that police officers shouldn’t have this training that NLI is providing, because it can help them in every aspect of their job, even violent confrontations.
[00:37:11] DR: Yeah. No, that’s great. Self-determination theory. In some ways, SCARF is a evolution of that that is just more biologically based, because I found there is a fairness function in the brain independent of, say status, although it had some relationship to it. SCARF is the five primary colors of what’s driving human behavior. While they have some links, we found there are actually individual variables. As you learn the framework, you start to see people having these reactions in different places in a disruptive way.
I mean, there’s a general theme that agencies could really benefit from just general emotional intelligence training. I mean, I think what we’re trying to do is more powerful than that. I mean, I agree. What we’re trying to do is provide, not just a general knowledge and understanding of human emotion, but actual disruptive language. It’s a really big difference.
We work a bit with Stanley, Black & Decker, the tool makers and I realized in working with them the value of each tool they have is the number of times that you use it a week. It’s actually the same with our tools, like SCARF. It’s valuable and useful, because you use it constantly. I think that’s what we’re trying to do. Absolutely, yes. Emotional intelligence training generally. In the heat of the moment, we remember a complex training, probably not. You might remember just three levels of threat. The trouble with the heat of the moment is that literally, your ability to recall things goes down. You can’t remember stuff.
You need very simple, quick heuristics for being able to be able to do things differently. That’s something that we’ve learned both in a management context and also here as well. Let’s hear from you, Davie. I would love to hear from you what’s been going on in your organizations around de-escalating. What have you learned out there?
[00:38:47] DF: Being able to work toward a common growth is fundamental to our feeling related to one another. When we feel related to one another, we feel some similarity with one another. We are much more likely to empathize, to see ourselves in the other person and immediately, that begins to provide some kinship and some community.
Some other things, social engagement, opportunities to talk to each other and keep the level at homeostasis, rather than stimulated and activated. Another beautiful thing; just working on relatedness, particularly now in this time when we are so socially distant, becomes really important to reach out and connect with one another.
Other things that we’re seeing, asking and listening and listening with empathy. Very important. I want to go back to the SCARF model and just say that when we’re in these – in situations where we are activated and we’re dealing with another individual, or group of individuals, recognizing that in the same way that we have SCARF triggers, they also have SCARF triggers, that we’re not operating in isolation, but actually that they have needs for status and they have needs for certainty and autonomy and relatedness and fairness, in the same way that we do.
I love what I’m seeing here in terms of really listening to each other, having opportunities, creating opportunities, to invite conversations that help people get on the same page and understand each other’s humanity.
[00:40:20] DR: Number of questions coming up about what’s this program you’re doing, what’s going on and what’s happening. Let me tell you a little bit more about it. Joe’s involved in an organization called MILO Range. They’re actually one of the biggest providers of education to first responders and law enforcement in North America. They deal with pretty much the whole of law enforcement in North America. We’ve partnered up with them to be able to scale this quickly.
What we did, we just did a pilot called the neuroscientific de-escalation. We may rebrand at some point, but that’s the program so far. We are going to run this for free. For the rest of this year, we’ve got four sessions scheduled. We’ll add more if we need to. This is free. It’s only free for people from law enforcement and first responders, so we’re not inviting folks who are not law enforcement or first responders. They can be trainers in that space. If they’re educators and wanting to learn this work. It’s happening. It’s real. It’s a one-off session, Joe. Kami, do you want to talk a little bit about the program itself, the structure of it, just give them folks an overview for a minute or two?
[00:41:20] KS: Yes, absolutely. The program is designed right now for 90 minutes. It’s a 90 minutes briefing that is interactive. We are going through discussing the science behind and the disruptive language. Also, in partnership with Joe, who was one of the actors in our videos in collaboration with MILO Range. We’ve actually designed and used quite a few videos to show visibly how the different level of threats and SCARF can show up in interaction between two people, between law officer and a civilian.
Those are really important, because the audience can actually relate and see like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve been in this situation.” I realized, it makes the connecting all the information much easier between the understanding the science, but also how it shows up in our general behavior. Again, it’s a 90-minute session. It’s interactive and it’s going to be – I’m delivering this with Joe and also Joy from MILO Range. We are doing this in a little bit of a partnership to go back and forth and have the conversation going from different angles and translational aspects.
[00:42:24] DR: It’s being delivered virtually at the moment. 90 minutes virtually and free for first responders and law enforcement and these are the times and date. We want to get the word out. This is the official launch of that. We’re also aware that organizations are interested in this work and we have a solution called voice, which is the neuroscience of speaking up, which contains very similar work and goes into de-escalation. Organizations who are interested in getting people to speak up and encouraging de-escalation, voice is a fantastic solution for that.
Thanks so much, Joe. Really appreciate it. Davie, Kami, Gabe, everyone. Look forward to seeing you next week, where we’re going to have an equally – maybe not as emotional, but definitely important topic. Thanks very much everyone. Take care of yourselves.
[00:43:03] JS: Thank you.
[00:43:04] KS: Thank you.
[00:43:05] GB: Thanks, David. Thanks Kami and Davie and of course, Joe. Thank you for your work and your incredible impact on law enforcement.
I wanted to share just a few virtual events coming up that David was hinting at. On Thursdays at noon we run product demos. Next week we’ll be sharing a brain-based approach to building listening sessions. This is so central to building an environment of psychological safety.
As I’ve mentioned, if you can’t get enough of Your Brain At Work Live, going back the same day next week, Fridays at noon and we’ll be sharing how we can manage performance management in a [inaudible 00:43:34] world with one of our newest colleagues at NLI, [inaudible 00:43:37].
Lastly, you can hear those Friday sessions like we do today on-demand by subscribing to our podcast, Your Brain At Work. That’s available on the platform of your choice; Apple, Spotify, Google, you name it.
I’m just going to say our goodbyes now and we’ll see you next week, I hope. Bye, everybody.
[END OF EPISODE]
[00:43:56] GB: Your Brain At Work is produced by the NeuroLeadership Institute. You can help us in making organizations more human by rating, reviewing and subscribing wherever you get your podcasts. Our producer is Danielle Kirshenblat and Cliff David is our production manager. Original music is by Grant Zubritsky and logo design is by Ketch Wehr. We’ll see you next time.