There are high spots in all of our lives and most of them have come about through encouragement from someone else. I don't care how great, how famous or successful a man or woman may be, each hungers for applause.
- George Matthew Adams
Every Thursday morning for six months from April through October, I make the ultimate sacrifice for the ultimate reward. I sacrifice sleep, which is huge for me since I HATE mornings, by hitting the floor at 05:50 so that I can make my 07:26 tee time. Last year I decided to go out of my comfort zone and joined a ladies morning golf league. Since it was my first time and I had been golfing consistently for only two years at the time, I settled on a 9-hole league near my home.
In those two years I had been playing, I became addicted. I salivated over golf. I dreamt about it, itching for the weekend to arrive so that I could be out on the course with Mike. I outfitted myself with a new set of Callaways, and found the best pink ball I could buy in bulk, and the good people of Golf Galaxy came to know me on a first-name basis. So joining a league was the logical next step, plus I wanted to know other women who loved the sport.
There was risk involved in what I was about to do. The league I was joining was very established and had not had any spots open in many years. Would they accept me into the fold, or would they be standoffish and cold toward me? My skill level at the time was rough and inconsistent and I’d never had a handicap before; would they resent playing with me, feeling I hold them back? Would they be quick to point out my weaknesses (which are many) and would I leave each time feeling deflated and like I didn’t belong? Maybe I needed to slow down and check myself. Why would any of these polished ladies want a “NEWBIE” like me to join in?
The night before my first time out I gathered all my gear and put it out or packed it in my trunk. I ate well to fall asleep easier. I went to bed two hours earlier than normal. I had a fitful sleep full of anxiety dreams about my game since I also have performance anxiety issues; I fear being judged for my imperfections and in golf there are many imperfections. I was scared out of my mind for what lay ahead
It turns out what I feared and what was reality never intertwined. Instead, what I discovered was a group of ladies who cheered me on and celebrated my accomplishments. I have discovered over the years that seasoned golfers do not offer criticism, ask permission before they offer coaching (“can I give you a tip?”), and let you know with enthusiasm when a shot is beautiful. Being around positive people improves my game. On the rare occasions I have been around negative golfers, everyone’s game suffers. More mistakes are made. It’s harder to recover mentally from a bad shot and mistakes become repetitive. When surrounded by positive people it brings out everyone’s best, there is more laughter and an ease about the group, and it is more fun.
A Weird Side to the Police Culture
Recently we’ve attended several events with other officers and one theme seems to remain true: If you were not in attendance, and someone had an issue with you – no matter how slight, apparently, or regardless of whether you were aware of it or not - you were going to be talked about…and not in a good way! I wish I could say this was a dynamic exclusive to these events and it did not exist anywhere else, but as we have traveled the country, this dynamic seems to be more universal than atypical. When we have done our training Police Morale for Supervisors: It Is Your Problem! a concern often brought up by the supervisors is that the culture within their department is often filled with rumors, jealousy, and negativity. They talk of how this environment weighs everyone down, drains energy, goes beyond healthy cynicism, and prevents solution-focused forward movement. Instead of being a place where others want to be, it becomes an agency full of burned out, distrustful people with “retirement countdown apps” on their Smartphones and R.O.A.D. officers.
Creating a Positive Environment
In his classic book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Dale Carnegie explained a very basic - and needed - social skill is to make someone feel good while they are around you. This key skill will determine if you are successful at professional and personal relationships. So imagine a police culture where others felt good to be around their fellow officers with no fear of criticism, but instead each officer truly has their back. Not just on calls or in a dangerous situation but in all situations. One of the most important components in creating a positive environment is the one thing you have the most control over: The words you choose to use. If your words are negative a person will feel negative around you, and if you use positive words a person will feel good when they are with you. It is a simple change that takes discipline to master, but will have huge impact on your own morale as well as the others around you.
Most people define friendship as someone who is there in their time of need. When a marriage has gone sour, or life is pressing down and they need someone who will be there to listen to them and to help them out both emotionally and physically. But more importantly, studies have shown that people who are the happiest in relationships have friends and coworkers who celebrate their successes. Being encouraging and celebratory is actually a rare trait; what is more common is jealousy, which is destructive since it builds resentment, anger, and hostility in the relationship. Imagine, if you are not already, becoming a person who only celebrated another’s success. Imagine if you congratulated a co-worker on a promotion, a good investigation or arrest, or how they backed you on a call. Only talk about your colleagues’ successes or what someone does right instead of how you perceive they failed. A culture of celebrating one’s successes improves morale and workers reported satisfaction because they felt cared about, invested in, and that they serve a purpose for the greater good. They believe their agency wants them there and in turn are more productive.
What my golf league has taught me is the benefits of being positive. Each Thursday I’m surrounded by ladies who encourage me, let me work out my own imperfections, and cheer me on when I nail a drive down the middle of the fairway. With them I grow and improve. Our challenge to you is simple and two-fold in changing morale. It will seem overly simple, but is one you can begin implementing today, for it is the simple changes in behavior that make the biggest impact. Begin today spreading positive gossip. Talk only about another’s good traits to other people, and start directly complimenting other cops when they do something well.
And always remember “criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person's precious pride, hurt his sense of importance and arouse resentment.” ? Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People