Dissecting Crisis Communication Author: Benjamin Zaiser

As an interactive and mutual constitutive process between officer, civilian, and often also third parties, interpersonal communication is a crucial variable in the psychology of critical and major incidents involving law enforcement. Insight into the communicative dynamics underlying tactical decision making requires an understanding of the transactional nature of the corresponding crisis communication.

Starting in spring 2017, the Tactical Decison Making Research Group will facilitate a series of consecutive training sessions for the crisis negotiation unit of a federal police service. Designed as a quasi-experimental field study, the training aims to investigate the mechanism at the root of any successfully transactional communication and how it is shaped by the situational circumstances of critical and major incidents: establishing and maintaining rapport.

While literature on building rapport with individuals in crisis is vast in both mental health and in the law enforcement field, the impact of corresponding situations, mediated through both external and internal determinants, on successfully building and maintaining rapport remains under-researched. The study will therefore analyze the relationship between the two key concepts of crisis negotiators’ self control and their capacity to effectively empathize with interlocutors.

Results are expected to increase officers’ awareness and willingness to respond to manifestations of self control failures in actual crisis situations. Accordingly, the results are also expected to improve training and preparation with the goal to mitigate or delay possible impacts on their capacity to empathise, build, and maintain rapport and thus to ultimately de-escalate and resolve crises without the use of force. Furthermore, the results should serve as an evidence-based benchmark for a broad body of experiential knowledge in law enforcement.

In anticipation of the study, cognitive task analyses of expert crisis negotiators will be conducted and analyzed, in order to optimize the research design and maximize both the practical relevance and scientific contribution. Results will be posted – stay tuned!

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