Thursday, 24 April 2008

Calm down dear, it's just a job.

One thing that really irritates me is flapping. Ultimately all it does is distract the person flapping, as well as those around them from dealing with and completing the task at hand. That could be a file that needs upgrading, a member of the public complaining about a Police officer who looked at them the wrong way or a 3 car pile up with severe trauma casualties. Flapping is usually a sign of a confidence issue that is a result of a lack of knowledge or experience, perceived or actual. Flapping also leads to stress which is never a good thing, especially if you don’t know how to deal with it, and to be honest most people don’t because the job doesn’t care until the stressee loses the plot through no fault of their own and they are then obliged to care and deal with it.

Breakdown is usually as a result of some unresolved post traumatic stress, but it can be a build up of unchecked pressure through workload or bad management. We hear every now and then about someone who has gone off on long term stress leave and upon searching is found with file upon file stuffed in lockers, wardrobes and attics. Not good.

I know a few people who I would consider to be consummate and routine flappers, although most people have a flap every now and then which is understandable, if somewhat irritating at the time. I believe my last flap was dealing with an unexploded calor gas bottle that once LFB (London Fire Brigade) cooled down sufficiently was cleared away and disposed of, the scene was closed down and the roads re-opened. The fact that my voice went up a couple of octaves while dealing with it told everyone that I was starting to get too caught up and back at the nick I deservedly had the piss taken over the obligatory tea and biscuits. Virtually everyone on my team has at one point or another done that and the jokes come out every now and then, they serve as a very good reminder to keep calm, composed and to focus, but more importantly – don’t flap.

When you flap you can lose objectivity and concentration, under most normal circumstances (ie in an office environment) the most that will happen is people avoid you and you might miss a deadline or two, these could have business impact consequences but you can be certain no one is going to wake up dead. In our job you might miss a blade or drugs on searching, or not put the right info out over the radio leading to complications in investigation, or possibly insufficient info to the paramedics leading to a lower grading for response which can put lives on the line. Flapping can also occur if you get too involved in a situation and take all the related stress of that incident upon yourself, if you’re the kind of person that does that then you will burn out in no time at all. It’s a very horrible lesson that every one of us has had to learn at some point but at the end day no one has shoulders big enough to take the world’s problems home with them, so don't try. You will fail, and it'll hurt.

There are a number of ways that I have found to tackle flapping and worrying, the most effective being to compartmentalise the situations I deal with. They all go into the great big box labelled ‘work’ in my brain and at the end of every shift I tape the box up and shove it in the corner over the short trundle to the station to go home. This doesn’t always work and every now and then something particularly nasty will creep out and play around, but dealing with situations that we do this is going to happen. I’m not hiding the problems away either, because I know that the box is there, and when I’m at work I deal with the contents of the work box.

If you can accept that thoughts and feelings will haunt you for a bit then you can deal with it. Problems occur when you tell yourself and everyone else that you’re ok but deep down something nasty is bugging you, whether that is fear of consequences, guilt for not doing everything you could or you’re just pissed off that the situation arose and there was nothing you could do about it.

Another way is acceptance. My personal motto is ‘shit happens’ and as soon as you realise and accept that there are many things outside your area of control that will directly affect you then you can deal with the consequences and move on. If you get too hung up on something that happens during an incident then you could get distracted, if you are dealing with a casualty then you might miss a secondary injury, if you are dealing with an uncuffed prisoner the little git might try and do one. All you can do is deal with it, you can’t go back in time and stop it from happening so there is no point in worrying about it.

Situational debriefs are a good way of coming to terms with what happened, they can also help you to understand why a certain scenario occurred that you had no idea about at the time, it will also help clear up the uncertainty the causes flapping in the first place. We actually do a lot of this already, albeit unintentionally, when we sit down to write up arrest or incident notes. I’ve lost count of the times either I or someone else have said “ah that makes sense, so that’s why what’s his face did that and you appeared out of no where” The Police have been slated in the press for sitting down and writing notes together (most recently around the De Menezes incident) but there are reasons for it, both evidentially and mentally.

Properly organised debriefs should include everyone involved in the incident, from the radio operators, police officers and paramedics to line managers and senior officers if possible. Invariably though it’s only really possible to have the officers at the scene and maybe a random Chief Inspector who was just asked to turn up, due to the hassle in getting radio operators or the other services.

The aim is to help everyone involved come to terms with the incident and to fill in gaps in memory which can lead to doubt. We do these every now and then at the end of a shift or at the beginning of the next one if something particularly big went on or an incident went pear-shaped and there is a lot of ill feeling about it. They invariably start up as a slagging off session but ultimately people have feelings to vent and questions to ask and it is important that these come forward. If you can't vent then feelings can grow into big horrible stinking monsters that eat away at them leading to more potential flapping or worry at the next job. Once you’ve got past the inevitable bitching session you can actually be constructive, as long as whoever is leading the debrief understands that this is going to happen and lets it take its natural path.

Another important issue is that no one should take rank into the room. Everyone should be able to discuss anything relating to that incident, whether that was a Sgt or Inspector who everyone believes made a bad call or if there was something procedural which inhibited a certain action.

Everyone is going to respect someone who can stand up and admit that they made a mistake or bad call (especially if they have rank) and it helps no one to hear the words “well that’s because I’m the Inspector and I don’t have to explain myself to you” We’re not idiots and if there is a reason behind a given decision then whether we agree with it or not, it is better to know that than just think that the person is a knob who you can’t trust to make a decent decision and you want nothing more to do with them. Ever.

Lastly, I have my five point checklist, these are five simple questions that I ask myself when dealing with anything, graded on the severity of the types of incidents that we actually deal with. If the answer to any of these is yes, then obviously there is a need for concern and it needs to be dealt with effectively until all answers become no.

Is action or inaction likely to lead to -
1 You being dead?
2 Anyone else being dead?
3 You suffering any injury either serious or otherwise?
4 Anyone else suffering any injury either serious or otherwise?
5 You or anyone that matters losing their job and/or going to prison?

If at first look all the answers are no then take a second, have a deep breath and ask yourself, why are you flapping?



Happy Met Copper said...

Excellent. No one likes to flap but I think that it is guaranteed to happen to each and every one of us.

I feel that the best de-briefing you can have is from your team. Not sitting down going over the incident minute by minute, but by having tea and biscuits and letting the banter fly.

I think that anyone outside the job who viewed this would be shocked and see it as some form of bullying. In fact it is the best form of stress release there is. Someone will say to you that it was stupid, you looked like the world was going to end and as you say your voice went up an octave or two etc etc.

You will sit there and start to defend yourself, you will then accept that it was actually quite funny, you will then start to remind various members of those assembled around you of the times that they have flapped and so it will continue.

The best team building exercise there is.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it might be an idea to teach something similar in trainings school?

At the moment, most new student officers are terrified of searching people in case the grounds are not 100% waterproof. They stress at 6 crimes on their queue (my colleagues and I were struggling through 20+ with their length of service) and some are leaving the job simply because nobody has told them that they just need to talk through problems with the longer in service officers or their line managers.

It's a horrible feeling flapping, it really is.


XTP said...

Bloody! Best post on any of these blogs and you so inexperienced (in blogging terms, I mean!). You keep getting more and more readable and have hit the bullseye with this one. Feel a bit of a tit blowing sunshine etc but there you go.

Do you know what we need? All the bobbies who read and contribute to these blogs need to get out in Town for a gallon and a king prawn madrass and chew the fat for an evening! Never happen but it'd be great if it did wouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

A good flap can be fun to watch - as long as the incident is not too serious.
I find a good flap falls just behind a good rant in the list of things to witness on the outside. And as an exponent of the Rant I speak from experience.
Angry Dave

Deborah said...

Thanks for this - it couldn't have been written at a better time. I have an exam on Saturday and I know I know all the stuff - just every time I think about it it all goes out of my head and I feel as if I am running around flapping my arms clucking.

Anonymous said...

Having only been doing my job 6 months I've surprised myself with how much I have not been flapping.

Although I must give off the 'rabbit caught in head lights' look! Was repeatedly told to stay calm while dealing with an arrest recently, in my head I'm perfectly calm, just wishing I had another pair of hands!

Blue Eyes said...

I think that anyone outside the job who viewed this would be shocked and see it as some form of bullying.

This outsider isn't shocked at all! Having the mick taken is often the best way of being told that you over reacted or made a bad call. Much better than a proper "chat" which is what we call a dressing down in my industry. I think as humans we learn from our mistakes better that way.

It's all about getting some perspective, something that we all lose to greater or lesser extent from time to time. The trick is to realise it before it's too late.

Good post.

Anonymous said...

brilliant post.

had the same thing happen to me a few times. like you mentioned at the end, if nobody is going to be hurt, just stop. take a second and have a look around to put it all into perspective.

there is nothing more infuriating than coming back from a big job and all your team taking the piss....until the next day morning when you wake up and realise they were right and you went overboard a little.

been to only one job in my service where my colleagues asked if i was ok, no banter or anything, and that was a rather horrific child death. just the fact that nobody took the micky at all spoke volumes to what the rest of the shift thought of the job


Metcountymounty said...

thanks for all the comments everyone, I think one thing that goes along with all of this is also being able to say to a colleague "I have no idea what the f&ck I'm doing can you give me a hand?" but again that comes from a trust and confidence issue. I learned that lesson the hard way and it wasn't pleasant.

I heard a probie say to one of the guys the other day "this may sound like a stupid question.." and his immediate response was "the only stupid question is the one you should have asked but didn't, and got in the shit because of it"

Anonymous said...

Great blog, I'm going into the job within the next few months and I think this really helps me realise how to deal with some of the difficult emotions and stress that comes from doing the job. Hopefully I can learn from some of the advice given here.

A good friend once said to me "If you can't laugh at yourself, then your in the wrong job."

I guess that will ring true with what I'm going to come across.

Can't wait and great site MCM. Keep up the good reads.

For The People said...

Great Stuff! PTSD is a mojor problem in law enforcement. I love the way you hit on the totality of those circumstances and the possible problems that it creates. Good Job.

PC Bill Sykes said...

Liking your work!

Anonymous said...

O.K. I'll calm down. I could answer no to questions 1 and 5, but YES to Q's 3,4,5, and yeah, shit really does happen, so thank the Lord for souls like you MCM.
God bless you.

Anonymous said...

Er...correction. That would be a YES also to question 1. I am flapping.

Anonymous said...

I like to flap it calms me down. But only at the station and only over stupid things (like CID jumping the custody queue) Many a time have I stalked the corridors of our fine home from home mumbling (ok shouting) every swear word I can come up with.

1 it’s a safe environment (I think they think I’m nuts)
2 it’s always over things I can’t control
3 It’s never that important so only lasts about a minute, but it makes me feel better

We had an IPILDIP in our car last week who God bless forgot what he was nicking for, the caution, and handcuff on arrest (the guy was not going to come quietly).
We gave our feedback and the one thing he said he appreciated me saying was “take a deep breath,” at the end of the day, if you’ve steamed the flow of blood or secured the one who’s trying to hit you taking a breath won’t make any difference, (oh and swearing at the nick helps)

Bless his cottons he sent me an email of thanks.

Panic, the definition of someone who just realised their parachute hasn’t opened.

Peace, the same person 5 seconds later when they realise there is not a damn thing they can do about it.

Metcountymounty said...

anon 0748, I swear a LOT when I'm at work (in the nick, doesn't look too good if lots of people hear you outside although sometimes tactical communications dictate the necessity) it's one of the quickest and easiest ways to have a vent, and is therefore good! One of the women on my team never swore before she joined, now most people take a pew when she goes off on one! When we do cell locations with someone who has been kicking off and everyones adrenalin is up one of our skippers always shouts "right guys, slow time, everyone take a breath" instant calm is restored.

Anonymous said...

It is more than a job MCM. It's a life mission with NO room for failure, which makes the pressure rather intense. And as one post pointed out, a bit of a flap produces the adrenalin and energy to get on top of a situation. Deep breaths and some positive thinking and hey presto! flapping over, just like magic.