I conducted the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training program at a residential facility in Florida not too long ago. The staff provided care for girls and boys from about five years of age to late teens. As I do with all of our training groups, I stressed the importance of language and staff using their best judgment when choosing their wording. Words are powerful and can influence human behavior. As Certified Instructors in the program, it is especially important to be mindful of what we say. We are role models, and staff will follow our lead.
As I entered the facility on the second morning of training, I saw a teenage girl in the lobby. She had been sitting and talking with one of the administrative assistants. The assistant had been trying to explain to the girl what our program was all about. When the assistant saw me, she asked me if I could explain to the girl the content I was training the staff in, as it appeared that there had been a misunderstanding. I asked the girl what she had heard. Unfortunately, she had overheard some of the staff, who were not being trained, saying that there was a “take down” course going on that week—that staff were learning how to take kids down to the floor when there was a problem. What was most unsettling to me was the fear that I saw in the eyes of this girl. From her perspective, she was speaking to the man who was training people to hurt her. It took quite a lot of effort on my part to convince her that what she had overheard was not the case at all. I explained that, on the contrary, I was training staff on how to avoid using physical restraints and how to provide for the best care and welfare of the children in order to increase everyone's safety and security. I finished by holding her hand, looking into her eyes, and telling her that the staff at that facility were good people and that they had no intention of hurting her. Despite my effort, I felt a bit empty as I walked away from her.
I told the story to the participants that morning, and much to my relief, they appeared very concerned by what had happened. I was happy that they shared my steadfast determination to “get it right” with the language.
Later that afternoon, an employee of the facility walked into our training room and made a beeline for the opposite door. She apologized for disturbing us and said that she was just taking a shortcut, as she was in a hurry. I jokingly wagged my finger at her and told her that if it happened again she would lose some of her privileges. As she exited she laughingly replied, “That's OK. Just as long as you don't take me down!” While I was not surprised by her remark, I couldn't believe the timing. I was actually glad that what had just occurred happened in front of the class. I could see that some of the staff were actually ashamed by what had just taken place. But it gave me yet another opportunity to stress the importance of a paradigm shift in the thinking of staff. How important it is to establish a common, nonviolent language within the workplace. And finally, how challenging, yet worthwhile, that process is.
Changing old habits is hard. Trying to eliminate “old school” thinking is tough. Implementing new approaches can be frustrating. No one says it’s going to be easy. But if you, like me, saw the look in that girl's eyes, you would know how incredibly important and beneficial it really is. Take care when choosing your words. Let's retire the “take down” culture.