I recently had the pleasure of training a group of new correctional officers and had the added pleasure of providing the keynote speech at their graduation. Because I knew that many of their friends and family would be present I wanted to relate some of the training the students had received in a way that their family members could relate to.

I began my speech with a universal greeting, “Good afternoon, my name is Mike Delvaux and I would like to create a reasonable doubt in your mind that I am not a jerk. Would you allow me to prove this?” I got a few strange looks from the audience and a few chuckles from the students because they had heard this rational for a universal greeting several times throughout their training.

The role of greetingsThe answer to maintaining a positive attitude is to look at difficult people as “challenging” rather than just a bunch of jerks.

I explained to the guests that the students and I had spent a lot of time together over the last several weeks and over that time period there were a lot of good morning and good afternoon greetings because an appropriate greeting can set the right tone for the rest of an encounter.

I acknowledged that it might seem odd to work on something so simple but explained that corrections can be a very negative business if we let it. Some reasons for this are that we actually “correct” very few people and have to deal with a lot of difficult people whose purpose in life seems to be to make our lives difficult. I explained that the secret to a rewarding career in corrections is to not let the negativity affect us because, if it does, it will not only affect our career but it will also affect our home life.

I explained that if an officer falls into the trap of dehumanizing inmates by labeling them as “just a bunch of jerks” then before too long they will put more and more of the people who make their lives difficult into that same category; visitors, lawyers, the media, supervisors, other officers, etc., etc. The problem really gets out of hand when they bring this negativity home with them and it starts to affect their family.

I explained that we learned that the answer to maintaining a positive attitude is to look at difficult people as “challenging” rather than just a bunch of jerks.

I informed the guests that I would share with them the philosophy behind some of the tactics the officers learned so they could help the officers stay positive especially if they started bringing their work home with them.

Sharing the Five Universal Truths

We discussed the Five Universal Truths, the first being that all people want to be treated with dignity and respect. I explained that even inmates want to be treated with respect so we practiced “good mornings” because many times we don’t feel like saying good morning, especially to an inmate. I asked the guests, “If a universal greeting makes it more likely that an inmate will comply and less likely that they will want to assault your officer do you want them to say good morning even when they don’t feel like it?” They agreed.

I mentioned to the guests that sometimes these officers may not feel like saying good morning to their family either, or may forget to say it, but it is just as important in their personal life so I asked them to help them to remember to say it.

We discussed Universal Truth #2, that all people would rather be asked rather than told. I let them know that the officers learned that inmates are more likely to comply if asked and let them know that that goes for children and spouses as well. Asking is more respectful than telling.

I explained that the officers learned that Universal Truth #3, that all people want to be told why, is more than just saying to an inmate, “because that’s the rules”, because that is disrespectful. In the same way there shouldn’t any “because I said so’s” with our families because that is just as disrespectful.

Then I explained how the officers learned to give options rather than threats, Universal Truth #4, in a positive/supportive tone of voice by starting out with something like, “We’ve got some good options here”, then leading into the not so good options with, “Unfortunately…”, so even these negative options can be presented in a positive/supportive tone. And then lastly they learned to finish with a positive twist such as, “Could you do this for me?” I let the family members know that the officers were able to use these new found communication skills in their required scenarios so if they failed to apply them at home they should ask them to remember the five universal truths.

I explained that Universal Truth #5 is that all people want a second chance so if they see their officer letting the frustrations of the job affect how they act outside of work to kindly remind them of the tactics they learned to stay positive and deal with difficult people and difficult situations.

Mike Delvaux
Verbal Defense & Influence Consultant