There’s No Need to Yell When You’re the One with the Gun


You know that moment when you hear the roar of a siren and see the flash of the blue light in your rear view mirror?

Yeah, that moment.

One Sunday morning when I ran out to do what I thought would be a few quick and peaceful errands before I could enjoy the rest of my day, a police officer caught sight of the fact that my front license plate had fallen off and rightfully (I admit reluctantly) pulled me over.

I was sitting in my car on the side of the road, trying to recall what I might have done with my registration when the officer charged toward my car window, shouting at me for not pulling over faster enough. I rolled down my window to hear him continue to berate me, now for not having my plate on my car.

While he was yelling, my inner two year old wanted to cry. Fortunately, my outer adult took over and calmly asked the officer to stop speaking to me that way. Surprisingly, he did. Then, he took my license and wrote me a “fix it” ticket and off I went.

As I left the scene of the crime, the adult part of me was really perplexed as to why someone who so clearly had the position of authority needed to raise his voice as he did. (My inner two year old was still completely freaked out). But it led me to a very important conclusion: When you are in a position of power, understand that you do not need to scream to be heard.

Think about it: The man is a police officer. He has the power of the law behind him, not to mention a fully loaded gun at his hip. Did he really need to shout to be heard when I was sitting in my car, pulled over, ready to cooperate?

Yet, how often are we guilty of being harsh with our students, athletes, subordinates or children?

I know I am guilty of it.

Too often I will continue to hammer long after the point has been made, despite the fact that the person in front of me is clearly remorseful. Too frequently I will forget that my words and actions can shake someone to the core or make them feel like a million bucks. Too many times, I miss the opportunity to be the “good cop.”

We all are the “police officer” in someone’s life. We need to be gentle with our words and our tones. The power we carry as teachers, bosses, coaches and parents is more than sufficient without further traumatizing by being harsh or even scary.

Sure, perhaps the officer’s rant was effective: I will get the license plate replaced. But I would have done that anyway. Besides, think instead of the powerful story I could have told of the gentle officer who enforced the law but did so without bullying or unkindness.

Another important conclusion: in any leadership position everything you say (of things you don’t say) sends a message. Be careful of what that message is.

In the meantime, my outer adult is off to the DMV and then to take my inner two year old out for some ice cream. It was, after all, a hard day.