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Dispatchers: Staying Positive in a Negative World

Recently I wrote two articles which delved into the inner monologue of a public safety telecommunications operator. To write these articles, I consulted with several police 9-1-1/dispatchers. Their words along with my experience helped form these works. Although most of the feedback I received from readers was positive and thanking me for writing what has gone on in their heads for years, I did receive one email that chastised me for “an example of unwarranted negativity.” This gentleman who runs a private business training public safety communicators stated, “Though your inner dialog may be true and maybe even comical at times, it was maybe a bad choice to reinforce the negativity that you have for Officers and Citizens.” He then went on to provide me with suggestions for “alternatives to your ‘snarky’ responses.”  He hoped I would write “an upbeat, solution based article” that would “battle the us versus them mentality” that his company strives to eliminate every day.

I kept an open mind as I read through his suggestions, but when I came to the end, I pondered how unrealistic they were. Although on paper and during off-the-job training it is easy to provide examples of how best to respond to requests from both citizens and officers, it doesn’t seem, to me, to be realistic in the world we actually work in. It reminded me of when my husband graduated from the police academy and was hitting the street for the first time. His FTO told him, “Now forget everything you learned.” I believe I was told something to the same effect when I sat with my three trainers on the floor as well. So often things look good on paper but are just not practical. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can’t look at how to stay as positive as we can while still working in an inherently negative environment. Negativity surrounds us and we have to work in it. I’m surprised when I look around at children including the ones I work with. Many have horrific trauma and abuse backgrounds. Many of them stay upbeat and positive. Somebody taught them how to keep a good attitude when the world around them sucks. So, from the angle of how to teach a child to stay positive, I’ve adapted some tips so we as public safety professionals can learn how to maintain positivity as well.

Evaluate your Own Attitude

Some days are better than others. There are days were I just wake up cranky. I just do not like people at all. I understand it’s less about them and more about me, but this is a reality. We cannot be happy, go-lucky all of the time. Some days we’re just not in a good space. The important thing is to recognize this and to understand although we have the right to feel however we feel, we do not have the right to make others feel bad too. We can do an evaluation of our attitude several times a day. Keeping tabs on our own attitude and making an effort to not drag others into it when we feel negative is a good tip on how to not make our work environment negative as well.

Look at Your Citizens/Officers Experiences

It’s easy to get wrapped up in ourselves and our own experiences. If we’re feeling particularly negative, often we want to stay in that place and think only of ourselves. An easy way to pull out of this is to remember why we do the job we do-to help others. When we look outside our own experiences (that officer just snipped at me over the air or that citizen just won’t listen to what I’m saying) and look at their experiences, it helps us move past our own negativity. Try to remember that citizens who need our help are not having a good day and our officers are out dealing with them face to face. An officer or citizen just might be having a worse day then we are and this is our chance to add a little positivity into their experience by being professional and helpful.

Refrain from Using Negative Labels

Some officers and citizens are easier to work with than others. Most of us know of a person or two on both sides of the thin blue line that just illicit an eye-rolling response as soon as we hear their voice. But, going into an encounter with them already in a negative space guarantees it will not be a positive experience. By trying to change our frame of reference and losing the negative labels, especially when we say them out loud or share them with others, we can at least neutralize the situation.

Be Optimistic, Yet Realistic at the Same Time

Bad things happen in our line of work. We deal with phone calls other people cannot even imagine in their nightmares. We work pursuits and shootings and emergency situations frequently. This is our reality. We live in a world filled with negativity. It is easy to get sucked into it. It is also necessary, if we intend on keeping our sanity throughout our careers, to dispel this negativity somehow. Choose to do this in an appropriate venue such as venting with a colleague outside of work, writing in a journal or discussing your experiences with a mental health professional. Thinking that we will never be negative and that we can keep all those “snarky” responses to ourselves all the time is unrealistic no matter how professional we are or how customer service oriented. What is realistic is to use tools to create positivity most of the time and to be forgiving to ourselves when we fall short on occasion.

In reality, I believe public safety communications operators are incredibly positive considering our daily experiences. Some days we interact with citizens and officers in a less than stellar manner but for the most part we try to keep things up-beat and professional. We still have negative thoughts and sometimes we get overwhelmed and our inner monologue brims to the surface. Acting and training as if this doesn’t occur does everyone a disservice. We must realize negativity exists while at the same time working towards improving ourselves and the positivity we can bring to our work places and lives.