Avoiding confrontation seems to be human nature. The idea of arguing with someone will send many people into flight mode in an attempt to stay away from the stress of heated debate or worse — fisticuffs.
But what if confrontation is an integral part of your job? What if instead of avoiding confrontation, you are required to jump in and try to calm the situation? Sound scary? That’s the reality for law enforcement officers every day.
Last Thursday, the Town of Benson hosted law enforcement from Johnston, Harnett and Sampson counties for a workshop on “verbal de-escalation” or as presenter Chance Meng calls it, “the art of being nice.”
Meng is the founder of Level Six Academy in Nevada. He was in Benson last week to discuss the “verbal tactics” portion of his popular de-escalation course — training he has refined with experience in the military, law enforcement and in private security.
Inside Benson’s Conference Center, Meng explained where he first learned to handle potentially dangerous situations by keeping a level head and maintaining respect.
“Ironically, I honed my public speaking skills with my college job. I was supervisor at Alamo Rent-A-Car. When you are dealing with the late flight from New York that arrives at midnight in Vegas and its 150 people and they’re all drunk — and they want to rent a car. You have to tell them no. They react a certain way,” he said with a chuckle. “You get really good at calming people down.”
Following a four-year stint as a police officer in Henderson, NV., Meng entered into nightclub security in 2001. It was there he saw what happens when people approach confrontation incorrectly and began using his own method to deal with unruly customers and tense situations. “I was the head of human resources training for a private security company and I saw there was a need, so I created this course. Somebody told me to just write down what I do — so that’s what I did,” he said. “It goes from verbal tactics to defensive tactics to incident report writing to club dynamics. The entire course is an eight to nine hour course. [Thursday morning] is just the verbal tactics part of it.”
Benson Town Manager Matt Zapp and Benson Police Chief Kenneth Edwards welcomed the room full of officers to begin the workshop. With the town’s massive Mule Days celebration coming up later this month, the timing of Meng’s visit was spot-on, said Mr. Zapp.
The essence of the verbal training can actually be summed up rather easily, explained Meng. “It really breaks down to being nice, honestly it really is, and demeanor. You need to give the recipient of your message respect to earn their respect. I think that’s something that is missed. I’m a citizen, you’re a citizen — if want me to listen to something or respect you or respond to you, then show me that respect,” he said.
Of course, he continued, when someone is in danger or if the situation becomes violent, there may not be time to talk, but using the de-escalation methods detailed to officers Thursday morning, Meng teaches that many of those situations can be avoided through common understanding.
“I have found when that respect is given freely, it changes the mind and demeanor of the recipient and they are more willing to listen to what I have to say. And what I have to say becomes much more powerful.”
Meng has been presenting his de-escalation course nationwide since 2005, but Thursday was his first time in Benson. “It was a good opportunity for our officers and we were happy to invite those in surrounding towns and counties as well. We enjoyed the workshop and hope to implement these de-escalation tactics in the future,” said Chief Edwards. The workshop was sponsored by Glatfelter Public Practice.