Situational Assessments: Being Mindful of What’s Important Now!

I read a tip from the Harvard Business Review this morning titled “Boost Performance by Managing Mindfully.” It immediately brought to mind how routine driven we in law enforcement really are. Yes we talk about routine and how it causes complacency can kill us but we all too often still find ourselves locked in to the routine that ultimately keeps us from making fluid observations, orientations, decisions and actions and we miss the novelties, those subtle patterns, signs and signals that can alert us to danger!

All year I have facilitated a program of instruction on dangerous body language to about 900 veteran officers. In this class we show a 15 minute video clip of an officer assaulted and brutally beaten in the line of duty. The officer survives the attack due to a truck driver who decides to get involved and help the officer. This is great but not the main point of the video. The focus of the video is for officers to analyze the problems that led to the assault and identify the lessons. In this analysis we look at the current conditions, as they unfolded on the video. In all of the 30 plus classes the analysis of current conditions that led to the assault where the officer was locked into following a routine, he was complacent, did not see the subtle signs of danger that evolved over the whole 15 minutes in both verbal and non-verbal ways. The officer did not lost control of the circumstances; he never had control …although he believed he did.

“It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.” ~Mark Twain

The belief, that if we follow a routine or a set of procedures leads to controlling adaptive situations is a very dangerous mindset for a cop to possess. As we search inward for what the right procedure to follow is, we miss what happening in front of us or fail to take action in a timely manner. We see this, cops searching for the procedural response while losing control of the situation, all too often on the street.

We believe the routine; watch deadly hands, sit with your back to the wall, keep your distance; stand gun side away; wait for back-up, follow this or that procedure, etc., etc., etc. is all we need to be safe and effective, but the reality is we can do all these things as they are laid out in the book or as part of some school solution but if we are not mindful of our surroundings and the changes to them, we will very often fail to adapt to the changing conditions when necessary.

The Harvard piece explained, “Mindfulness is the process of actively noticing new things. Paying attention to what’s going on around you, instead of operating on auto-pilot, can reduce stress, unlock creativity, and boost performance.” To be more mindful and encourage the practice within your team: Make not knowing okay. Encourage your team to ask, “Why? What are the benefits of doing it this way versus another way?” Such questioning helps you recognize and take advantage of new opportunities.

Remember that stress comes from how you look at events, not from the events themselves. If you feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities, question the belief that you’re the only one who can do a task or that there’s only one way to do it.

Situational assessments require we are constantly exploring the circumstances we find ourselves in. We must continuously observe, orient, decide and act throughout the tactical situation. This means we must step outside our comfort zones and use tactical innovation as we interact with an adaptive adversary.

Stay Oriented!