Words have weight in regards to what is said and when it’s said. In this episode, Patrick Veroneau is joined by Dr. Andy Young of the Lubbock Texas Police Department as they talk about Dr. Andy’s second book, When Every Word Counts. They discuss the challenges police officers face and the tools and skills necessary to address these issues. Learn the importance of listening as Dr. Andy gives an overview of the training he provides for the officers within his department. Get a deeper look into the area of crisis negotiation and the value of every word when handling a crisis.
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Lubbock Police Officer Dr. Andy Young And When Every Word Counts
My guest is Dr. Andy Young. He is a police officer for the Lubbock Texas Police Department. He’s also the author of two books, Fight or Flight and When Every Word Counts. His last book, When Every Word Counts, is the book that I interviewed him on this show about. What’s interesting about this is that this interview is prior to the unrest that’s going on as it relates to George Floyd, who was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis. What is interesting about this episode is that it provides another face in regards to the challenges that police officers face and also the tools and skills that are necessary. If we are going to address this continuing crisis, it is about developing a better skillset. In this case, it’s around listening and how important that is. What you’re going to know in this show is Dr. Andy Young talks about the focus that he puts on the training that he provides the officers within his department. I know you’ll find it valuable so let’s get into it.
Andy, thank you for taking the time to be on the show, reimagining leadership. I happened to get a post of your book that’s come out and thought it was such a great opportunity to have you on. A lot of your work is in the area of negotiation and conflict. We’re certainly in a place of crisis for many people. I thought it would be a great opportunity to have you to come on, talk a little bit about your background, how you ended up where you are, and then go into your book.
I appreciate you having me. I’m happy to share a little bit. My background is in counseling. I went to school to become a mental health professional and do counseling in an office. One day I was minding my own business, going to church and the chief of police secretary came to me and said, “Andy, I hear you’re working on your counseling license. How would you like to join the Patrol Division of the Lubbock Police Department and help officers with domestic dispute calls that they’re going through? The chief is sick of sending his officers to these domestic disputes over and over again. He wants to get your mental-health types in there so he can get his officers back in service and do what they’re trained to do. Would you like to become part of the Patrol Division of the police department?” I thought that was the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. I was like, “Sign me up.”
That was back a little before 2000?
It was the summer of 2000.
I will say that your chief, that’s pretty forward-thinking to come up with that idea.
It was born out of frustration more than anything. He only had so many guys and they can’t arrest people for what was going on at these calls. In a moment of desperation, he’s like, “Let’s get some counselor people in there so my cops can do what they were supposed to do.”
How did that go?
It’s going well. The program’s still going. I have about 35 mental health professionals who will respond to calls and requests from police officers to show up at their scenes. We probably have 200 calls for service a year. It’s not medic disputes. It could be domestic violence. It could be a death, any call where an officer thinks, “Having a mental health professional or a grief counselor here that might be helpful.”
In your line of work, I know you do work with the fire department as well. Years ago, I was a firefighter first starting out. I remember if there were events that could be very traumatic having to have an outlet to be able to deal with those things.
I was at the Lubbock Police Department for less than a year. We had an officer killed in the line of duty at a SWAT call-out where one officer accidentally shot and killed another one. It devastated the department. At that time, we were then trying to put together mental health services for police officers, especially after a traumatic event. It was trial by fire.
I can only imagine. Many of my good friends are part of the Portland Police Department, where I am here. They deal with a lot. There’s a lot of traumatic incidents that go into suicides, drug overdoses, domestic violence, or seeing kids that are abused. It’s tough.
Law enforcement see that 1% of society that most people don’t believe exists and they see it over and over again, it takes its toll.You have your work, you have your friends at work, but you also got to have a normal life. Click To Tweet
This brings me to a question in terms of that, I imagine much of your work is around that. How do you help to separate that? I see that 1%, but I don’t become jaded that everybody’s like that?
I get to speak at our Police Academy to the new officers and families coming out on the street. My advice to them is you have your work. You have your friends at work, but you also got to have a normal life. You have got to mitigate that 1% with being at home with your kids, doing normal things, going out and not being on duty, not being on guard, but you’ve got to fight to be a normal person because you get enough of that in the work.
I was a volunteer for a group up here called The Center for Grieving Children, which was all around families that had lost a loved one, not children, but it could be adults that lost a spouse. The whole point of that was the importance of being able to talk about it.
Cops are not inherently open. When I started, walking around the police department, everybody knew, “There’s the mental health guy,” and the nonverbals were outstanding. They would rather I be somewhere else. Showing up at these calls, showing up at SWAT call-outs, and doing the same work that they’re doing, that opened the door. They’re like, “This guy knows what we go through. If I need to talk to somebody, I’ll sit down in his office and talk to him. I don’t have to get him up to speed on what we’ve been going through.”
It’s amazing to me. In this observation that I’ve seen is much more and I do a lot of work within organizations around emotional intelligence that there’s more openness to emotional intelligence and understanding self-awareness and awareness of others. One thing that stands out when you talk about being able to discuss these things is, we know so much more about the research now in terms of the impact that has when we’re able to verbalize things. It reduces our level of stress.
I had an officer who was in a traumatic incident right after I started. He came and sat down in my office eighteen years later. He said, “Andy, I knew I needed to talk to you way back then, but rah-rah I can get through it.” When he came in and finally talked it all out, it was amazing to watch how curative that was.
Do you have many females that are part of the department? Is it easier for them to come and have those conversations?
Not necessarily because sometimes we eat our own, sometimes there’s that personal friendly fire, and being a female in law enforcement has its added layers to it. I would say that they’re on guard as well.
You then became an author. This is your second book. The first is Fight or Flight. Now this one, When Every Word Counts and the subtitle is An Insider’s View of Crisis Negotiation. What prompted you to start writing in the first place?
I’m going to these calls and for my own personal benefit, I started writing them down because it was traumatic stuff. After a number of years, I had a big old stack of stories and I’m a teacher at heart. That’s my day job. I thought, “It’s been therapeutic for me to write these down. It might be helpful for other people to hear these stories too. They might learn something about law enforcement and what goes on behind the yellow tape. They might even learn some things that be helpful in their own life, be it like crisis intervention or grief or whatever.”
That first book was born out of my own therapeutic effort to write the stories down and then the teaching effort to, “Maybe this will help other people, let me write it down and let me publish it and see what happens.” The second book, our negotiating team has been busy since the first book came out and I’m like, “I got to write these stories down.” Some of this stuff you can’t believe and I’ve been speaking a lot of negotiator conferences. To be able to put something in their hands that they can take home and hopefully use on their calls. That’s where the books came from.
I love the title of it, When Every Word Counts because so much of my work is around that too of words have weight in some regards of what is said and when it said. I would imagine it means a little more in your line of work, in terms of the difference between a success and further crisis.
Patrol officers have their mentality about how to control a situation, fix the thing and command presence and all that stuff, which is the opposite of my training, which is listening, empathy, and tree-hugging. For an officer to shift gears from one to the other when it’s needed, that’s where it starts. An officer will come in and say, “I need you to put your hands behind your back,” and to switch from that to, “Maybe we can sort this out together.” Two different ways of trying to get to the same thing so there you have the title.
I will relate this back to an office setting where you might have a manager that has the authority to tell somebody what to do. There’s also a skillset to get somebody to want to do what you’re asking them to do. You’re going to end up in the same place, but if you can get them to want to do it, it’s going to be a lot easier on everybody.
Can I tell a story from parenting that makes the point?
My wife has the command presence thing. She says to my 8-year-old and 5-year-old, “Get your stuff, we’re going to go to the park. Get your shoes on, we’re going to have a good time, go get in the car.” My 8-year-old and my 5-year-old lose their mind. They throw a fit and they run off crying. She looks at me and she’s all frustrated, “I’m trying to help. I want everyone to have a good time. I’m trying to be good.” I’m a jerk. I turned to her and I winked. I said, “Watch this.” I yell across the house to my eight-year-old and I say, “Ella, what do you think about going to the park today so you can do what you want to do like go ride your bike?” The crying stops. She says, “That’s a great idea, Dad.” She runs and gets her shoes on. My wife looks at me like, “I’m going to stab you.” I winked at her again. Jonathan loves a good time and he wants to be with other people. I said, “Jonathan, Ella is going to go to the park. I bet she’s going to have a good time. Do you want to go with her?” He’s like, “Yes, I want to go have a good time too.” My wife almost killed me.
Along those lines when you’re out there now and helping other people in this area, what’s the most important thing?
A few things come to mind so if I could give you a few important things. It starts internally when I show up to a crisis, if I’m freaking out and in crisis too, that’s not going to help anybody. Calm is contagious. If I’m cool, then maybe that’ll affect everybody else. It’s not about talking. It’s about listening. If people believe that I understand them, if people believe that I have empathy, if I don’t have an ulterior motive other than to be here with you to help, that sets the stage for trying to sort our way through something.
When you talk about showing up and I can’t be panicked or agitated myself because that’s going to come out, I will often hear people speaking in ways that if somebody is in an agitated state trying to talk slower and softer to try and bring them down as well.
We like using the phrase, “The late-night DJ voice.” To have a tone of voice that’s a sedative might start getting things going in the right direction.
It’s not going to work every time.
If you’re absurd about it, people will catch you speaking and think you’re an idiot. You don’t want to do that either.
You’re in the wrong line of work. Maybe it should be a DJ.
It’s like, “Have you been smoking pot? What are you doing?”
You mentioned listening as well. In the work that I do, I will often say, “Listening is a superpower.” If you understand how to listen to other people, a lot of the conflict that we run into can resolve itself.Calm is contagious. If you're cool, then that'll affect everybody else. Click To Tweet
One of the first things is not to be thinking about what do I want to say in response, but how do I understand what is being said and say it back to somebody so they know I understand too.
You hit on such an important point. If you can, why is that so important to not be thinking about what am I going to say next?
You’re already talking to somebody who has something to say and is thinking about what they want to say next. If we have two people doing the same thing, we’ll probably end up missing each other. As a marriage and family therapist, I see that all the time. You have two people who are emotional, who want to be heard and they yell louder.
That’s where I’m in full agreement that oftentimes hearing somebody and listening to somebody is not the same thing. If we’re suspending what we want to say next and trying to listen to somebody else, you’re probably hearing some things that you would have missed.
People notice when you are suspending your agenda and your needs in order to listen to them so you’ve already given them something.
It lowers it. I know my own experience, you can generally tell when somebody is listening to you or they’re not listening or they’re humoring you listening to you. It’s not the same thing. Oftentimes it amps it.
When a cop shows up to a call and he wants to get the information so they can write a report and go onto the next thing, you wonder why he’s getting in a fistfight.
The person saying, “You’re not appreciating my side of this, what I’m going through right now.”
I’m afraid. I’m hurt. I’m angry. I don’t want to go to jail. It’s a quick way to get everybody amped up.
How do you work with the people within your department to help them develop these skills? You could have people out there saying, “I can’t do that. I don’t have the skillset to do that. Where do we even start with that?”
I get to teach our 40-hour mental health police officers certification course. Those officers who want to do that will come and sit down for 40 hours and learn these things. I ask them, “Try this on your calls. Try this with your wife. Try this with your kids. Experiment, come back and tell me what happens.” When they give it a test drive, they come back and they’re like, “My fifteen-year-old said, ‘I’m sorry.’ What is this wizardry?” That’s where it starts, experiment with it. I’m not trying to change your mind. I’m trying to give you tools for your toolbox.
Which that in and of itself disarms individuals because it’s not you trying to force, you have to do this. This is the way to go. It’s to say, “Here’s an opportunity to improve what’s in your toolbox now.” If there was a better solution to this, wouldn’t you want to know it?
Of course, the problem is there are people in my field who come in and like, “I’m Dr. So-and-So and I have the authority to tell you what to do.” That’s the quickest way to shut down a cop. They don’t want to hear that.
No more than your line of work or my line of work, you can run into people that think, “I don’t need this. I’ve been doing this long enough. I get by the way I am right now.”
Keep what you got and let me know when it breaks down.
In the book, you talked about stories. Is there one that stands out for you that you’re looking is maybe most gratifying for you in terms of a situation that you dealt with?
There’ve been a number of cases of talking to somebody who is suicidal and contemplating their death in an immediate fashion, be it jumping off a bridge or something like that. Some of those conversations, one lasted two hours, one lasted seven hours, for those to be so close to death and then for that person to make the decision to come down. We continue to talk to them. I’ve talked to them after the fact. There’s the immediate gratification of, “I’m so glad they didn’t make that decision.” Over the long-term, you get to see people change their course and many times improve their lives. This is tremendously honoring to be a part of that.
If you look at those things on those people that didn’t make the decision that was going to go against what you were there to do, is there a theme that you would think flows through in terms of what made it successful?
It’s exactly what we’re talking about here. They can’t see beyond their pain. Somebody shows up and gives them something that the other people in their lives should have been able to give them, respect, understanding, time, patience, and caring. We show up and do that because we indeed do care and that starts to cure things. It’s quite simple. In our society, when things get horrible, those are some of the first things to go.
Specifically, talking about listening, are there certain things that you work with those individuals to help people to understand? How do you build this muscle? I believe listening is a muscle. How do you help people to strengthen this?
There’s the practice and having the right mentality going into it. Another key point, especially assisting officers with this, is to listen for emotion. Police officers aren’t typically listening for emotion, but when I come at you and I say, “I can’t believe this was going on.” I’ve shared my emotions with you. For me, to get out my finger and say, “I need you to back up.” That’s the exact opposite of what’s going to settle this down. If I say in a nice, calm manner, “I see that you’re very angry. Can you tell me what’s going?” It’s a different approach if somebody’s coming at me in anger. People respond in kind, “I’m angry because so and so.” Now we’re grooving.
There are so many parallels between in your world or in an office setting where you might be dealing with an employee that’s completely agitated, upset or angry about a situation and to have a manager or somebody say to them, “With what you know or with what this situation is, I’d be upset myself,” or “I can see why you’re upset.”
That manager has a choice at that moment. I can be here for the job or the institution or whatever. I can be here for this person who is in front of me and try to navigate it from there.
It’s a great point too, if you think about this. We’re all in this together. We have different roles that we play, but in a sense, we’re all human beings trying to figure this thing out.
I may work for a company and go, “Yes, I can see why this rule makes you mad, but here’s the other side of the coin as well.” That’s sorting it out thing as opposed to authoritarian. You need to suck it up and smile.
Another thing in terms of what I hear you saying and it probably doesn’t happen the same way, but on some levels is asking people their thought. You did it with your kids. If you were in my shoes, how would you want to be addressed? What would you do about this?Negotiation is not about talking, it's about listening. Click To Tweet
Respect and honoring people’s autonomy don’t cost us anything. To recognize that and respect it, that is such a great starting place if you’re trying to assist somebody who’s having a tough day.
One last thing, in terms of challenges that you run into, what’s the biggest challenge for you in terms of the line of work that you’re doing?
It’s people who are in extreme psychiatric distress. You have somebody who is homeless or they have troubles going on at home. They have a diagnosed condition like bipolar disorder, major depression, or a psychotic disorder. They’re on drugs. They have schizophrenia, they have an alcohol problem or a drug problem. It’s not that it’s easier, but when you have multiple layers of difficulties to sort through that’s many times why it takes seven hours to have a conversation.
You hit on something would be important in terms of awareness of others and teaching that is because how do you help people to understand or be able to decipher what’s going on here? Is this person having a psychotic episode? Are they diabetic and they’re having a diabetic incident? They have low blood sugar. That is in different situations.
It reminds me of a story if that’s all right. State troopers had a driver pulled over on the highway and they’re yelling at the driver, “Get out of your car.” The driver is not getting out. They’re like, “This is a tactical situation.” They call in more people. It’s amping up. The driver is sitting in the driver’s seat, hand on the steering wheel, eyes forward, not moving. They’re thinking, “This guy’s disobeying. Maybe we need to go on hard and fast. Maybe we should send in the dog.” We’re like, “Let’s slow this down.” They walk some people out behind ballistic shields and they try to talk to the person. The person is a stone, looking straight forward, hands on the steering wheel. They hold up a dry erase board and they write on it, “Please talk to us. Please come out.” The person slowly turns their head. They read it and they do sign language. The person is deaf. That is why they’re non-responsive. They’re scared. We knew what was going on. It wasn’t my story. Once they knew what was going on, “This person is deaf.” It changed everything.
One of the things that you said in there was let’s slow things down. You need to do that. There’s reacting and then there’s responding, which takes that what else might be going on here, which to me is part of listening? It’s not with our ears, but it is a form of listening where we’re listening besides what our gut is.
The difficulty in law enforcement is what situation do I have here? Is this lethal and I’m about to get killed or do I have the latitude to slow it down and talk?
To me, that was the question on that is to say, “That can be difficult.” Who’s to say which way this is going to go to be able to work that muscle? How do you develop that?
You’re looking for opportunities that are clearly safe to do so. You gain your experience and you get better at-risk assessment, then you know when you need a hammer and when you need to listen.
Andy, I’ve enjoyed this so much. What you’re doing is important. If people want to reach out to you certainly get your book, what’s the best way to do that?
I have a website for my book and it is DrAndyYoung.com. I’d be happy to sign a book for you.
I appreciate all that you’re doing. Especially in the times that we’re in when we talk about stress and crisis, I’m sure your skillset is even more needed.
I am very busy. I still enjoy the work after many years. ER docs are the same way. I love being an ER doc, but I wish I didn’t have to do this.
Thank you for your time. Wishing you all the best. Have great success with the book.
Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure being here.
We are certainly in such high-tension times. Dr. Andy Young outlined some very important things around how we listened to other people. He speaks about it from the standpoint of professionally his career in trying to reduce the anxiety and high tension that they might be experiencing and how to do that. I truly believe if more people were to develop these skills, a lot of the conflict that we experience would resolve itself. I don’t think that’s a Pollyanna approach either because what tends to happen and as he said in his conversations, is that oftentimes people need to feel heard. When that doesn’t happen, oftentimes bad things come from that. If you know somebody that you think would benefit from this show, I would ask you to forward it on to them. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please go ahead and subscribe. It would mean the world to me if you would leave a rating or a comment regarding this or any other episode. Until that next episode, I hope you were able to go out there and rise above your best. Peace.
About Dr. Andy Young
Andy Young received a bachelor’s degree in Bible from Lubbock Christian University in 1993, a masters degree in Youth and Family Ministry from Abilene Christian University in 1995, a masters in Community Counseling from Texas Tech University in 1999, and a doctorate in Counselor Education from Texas Tech University in 2003. He has been a professor at Lubbock Christian University since 1996 and currently teaches in the undergraduate Behavioral Sciences Department and graduate Nursing department. He has also taught in the graduate Counseling and undergraduate Bible departments. He has worked with the Lubbock Police Department since 2000 and the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office since 2008 and currently serves on the negotiating teams for both agencies. He also serves as a clinical director for the Critical Incident Stress Management Teams for the South Plains Regional Response Team, the Lubbock Police Department, and the Lubbock Fire Department. Dr. Young is a founding member and current coordinator for the Lubbock Police Department’s Victim Services Crisis Team, which has now grown to 40 members. He has many published academic articles and speaks frequently on crisis intervention, and has spoken at many state association of hostage negotiator conferences. He married his wife, Stacy, in 1995 and they have two young children.