We have all heard and likely used the term articulation in training. So what exactly does it mean? When I talk about articulation in these blog postings I am simply referring to the officer’s ability to tell a story and explain verbally, and/or in writing why their actions were reasonable based on the totality of circumstances (the BIG picture).
The formal definition of articulation is:
Articulation ( wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn)
- give voice: put into words or an expression; expressing yourself easily or characterized by clear expressive language;
- express or state clearly
- articulated: consisting of segments held together by joints
The ability to express one’s self easily and clearly using expressive language and to join all the elements of the event together is more of an art, than a science. This is the art of storytelling and it is this ‘art’ that is often missing from articulation. Story telling has been used throughout the history of man to pass along knowledge, wisdom and to share our experiences. Books, both fiction and non-fiction, employ the art of story telling to hold a readers attention and help bring the concept and the characters to life. Movies and television use the power of multi media to bring their stories to life. Parents read stories to their children and tell stories around the dinner table and the campfire to both educate and entertain their children.
In coffee shops, lunchrooms, patrol cars and on bar stools around the world officers tell ‘war’ stories to their peers in an easy to understand and free flowing manner. Unfortunately, when they have to tell the same story in a report or on the witness stand their stories become brief, stilted, lacking emotion and expression, and filled with ‘cop talk’. As a result, they have a tendency to leave out important details that would allow the interviewer, judge or jury to form a vivid image in their mind of what the officer was faced with at 0300 hours in that dark alley, or in the dark recesses of that cellblock. Too often the officer comes across sounding more like a robot than a real person who, when faced with a tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving event in which his or her safety and the safety and well being of others was at risk did their best.
In his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future Daniel H. Pink talks about the shift that has occurred over time resulting in society placing a greater emphasis on facts than on stories. One of the concerns Pink has with this shift is that it runs contrary to how our minds actually work. As humans we remember stories more than pure facts. Pink states, “When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact. And that is the essence of the aptitude of Story—context enriched by emotion.” Pink goes on to quote Don Norman Crissply from his book Things That Make Us Smart:
“Stories have the felicitous capacity of capturing exactly those elements that formal decision methods leave out. Logic tries to generalize, to strip the decision making from the specific context to remove it from subjective emotions. . . Stories are important cognitive events, for they encapsulate, into one compact package, information, knowledge, context, and emotion.”
This statement by Crissply identifies the art of articulation and the need for training officers in the art of story telling.
Throughout the next two weeks the search for answers about why officers struggle in their articulation skills and what we can do to fix it will lead us to a variety of locations including the classroom, the training room, and the range. Perhaps most importantly though, it must lead us to take a long look in the mirror. The challenge to all instructors is to find better ways to enhance the decision making skills of your officers while at the same time finding ways to put the ‘art’ into articulation. It is not enough to for your officers to make good decisions in the field. They must also be able to explain in common language why, given the totality of circumstances, the decisions made and the actions taken were reasonable.