Yeah, that's the ticket.

Let's talk about parking tickets, shall we?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Verbal Judo

The title of this piece does not refer to a character from the movie "The Usual Suspects." No, it is a technique taught to us by the police to diffuse any confrontation we may find ourselves in. You see, they don't give us guns (and a good thing too). We do have pepper spray but my former boss told me that in her more than twenty five years on the job, no one ever used it. Sometimes just taking the canister out of it's holder and shaking it to mix the chemicals is enough to deter a person who is hot under the collar. They know they may be about to become hot around the face and that does the trick.

This then is about talking your way out of a bad situation which is a marvellous skill to have in daily life as well (especially when I have a fight with my wife).

Here's what generally happens:
I am writing a ticket and about to place it on the windshield when the person emerges from their house. You can tell by the redness of their face and the strain showing in their neck muscles that, yep, it's their car and they are already at level 100 on the anger meter. They'll usually ask something stupid like "Why am I getting a ticket?" Generally they already know why and I'm getting very developed eye-rolling muscles myself.

Then the fun begins as I try to calmly explain to them why they are getting fined. Now, here's a problem to watch out for: they are in a completely agitated state and we as humans (most of us), when confronted with this type of thing get an immediate shot of adrenaline, prompting what's called the "fight or flight" response. Since we can't flee (until we've hung the ticket) and we can't fight in the traditional sense, we must use verbal judo (or scalding hot coffee if you happen to be holding a cup but you try writing a ticket with a cup of coffee in your hand. Not easy). The thing to avoid though is, when you get that shot of adrenaline (you've already had enough caffeine, mister), it's hard not to rise to their level and start getting angry yourself. You have to swallow hard (sometimes the coffee is bad, I mean really bad) and set a better tone between you and the angry person. It can get extremely frustrating (hey, I paid four and a half bucks for this coffee [oh, will you stop with the coffee already and get on with it?]), as I was saying it can get frustrating hearing the stupid or clueless reasons or excuses or just plain wrong-headedness of the aggrieved party and sometimes you'd like to say something back to them like: "You're an ass." This won't do. When they train us they tell us: "If you want to say something you think will make you feel better, don't." It'll only make the situation worse. And, you may get a citizen complaint about you. And who wants those? Most people simply want to be listened to anyway, so I do a lot of that. If you listen, you don't have to do a lot of talking which is smart.

I'm very good at verbal judo. When I'm done with a person, they are usually shaking my hand and saying thank you to me. And I just gave them a ticket! I love it. I can usually stop any snarkiness from coming out of my mouth until I'm fully in my vehicle and driving away. You should hear what I say then! It feels sooooo goooood.