9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Phantom Dispatcher Syndrome

Taken from Headsets911.com (The 911 Dispatcher Stress Experts)

Every dispatcher wants to do their best, well, most of them anyway.  Yet within our ranks there is the perception of perfection that manifests in a mindset I call - THE PHANTOM DISPATCHER SYNDROME!

The Phantom Dispatcher gets every call right, never screws up a teletype entry, never flubs a radio transmission.  Know anyone like that?  Didn't think so, but it doesn't stop people from trying.

In the quest to do a good job and consequently stay out of trouble we attempt to become the "perfect dispatcher".  You know, we don't make mistakes, at least we can't tell anyone that.  One of the greatest sources I stress I have observed comes from dispatchers believing that if they make a mistake then they are stupid, unworthy of love and deserve to be punished.  I have seen dispatchers get flustered when they gave out a call with the wrong information and then curse to themselves, "He (the officer) is going to think I'm an idiot!" Of course this just isn't true.  But your perceptions can rule your emotions, which control your actions, that can affect your performance.

We all like to be liked.  Yet our self image is many times dependent on what others (especially in our group) think about us.  We are extremely sensitive to the opinions of others.  This performance-based self worth can cause problems, not only on the job but off as well.  Lots of dispatchers I have spoken to have told me that they are really two people.  The person they are at work and the person you see outside the PD.  We all have been to department parties and have seen people we thought were outstanding, moral individuals act like heathen when they got a few cocktails down them.  The news is full of stories about police officers getting into trouble after duty hours for doing things that are not becoming an officer, and this happens to dispatchers as well.

The cause for this is simple.  We in the law enforcement business live in a world of perfection.  We have appropriate rules, regulations and standards that we work and live by because we work for and within the law.  Yet we know we are not perfect.  So when the occasion arises where one can "let loose", they often do.  This is not true for everyone of course, but more than enough to validate the example.

Here is another example of PDS.

Have you ever been on shift and the supervisor comes in and says something like, "Who left the dispatcher door unsecured?"

If you were there with more than a couple of other dispatchers the response was probably "I don't know, I didn't".  Or, "I wasn't the last one in", or maybe the response was just silence.

The fear of failure that pervades many dispatch centers sets up this scenario.  When something goes down and the boss is hot, the blame game begins.

I know, I spent 10 years doing it myself.  The nature of 911 communications leaves no real room for failure.  If you screw up you're going to hear about it.  This isn't to bash the system.  It has to be that way sometimes.  We are in a high risk business.  The lives of our officers and the public are in the balance.  When mistakes are made they are often addressed quickly and resolutely.  Yet while this is the nature of the beast we don't have to drive ourselves crazy just because we work in it.  We don't have to fear failure.  In fact when you are fearful of a certain result, what you are trying to avoid, you end up doing even more.  Fear is a powerful emotion.  It can save our life and help us if it is properly manifested.  Yet when it becomes chronic it can become very destructive.

There are NO perfect dispatchers.  While we do our jobs and try to do them well there are going to be times when we screw up.  The one thing about mistakes is that everyone makes them.  The best thing we can hope or strive for is that we learn from our mistakes and try not to repeat them.  Yet life is a learning process.  We didn't learn to walk in a day, nor drive, nor talk, nor eat by ourselves all in one day.

In my ten years of dispatching I wish I could tell you I didn't make any mistakes.  I wish I could tell you that I always got a perfect "5" on every evalutation.  No, I didn't.  But I did learn from my mistakes.  I did always get an "Exceeds the Standards" and I always came to work to try and do the best job I could and I am proud of my career.  As we know most dispatchers quit after only two years.  I lasted ten, and retired only to begin this company so I could teach others what I know.

But through my years I saw the PDS rear its ugly head more than I care to remember.  I  saw it ruin partnerships, friendships and people in the process.  I saw dispatchers who were partners to the end - through and through - turn on each other when the heat was up.  To be fair its really because the people affected didn't know there was any other way to be.  But there is a better way, we can break out of the Phantom Dispatcher Syndrome.

To begin change you must come to the realization that you are human.  You are not a machine.  The best you can do is learn from your mistakes and move on.  Life is a practice.  Yet practice doesn't make perfect, just better.  It's just a small start, but an important one.  Fear of failure should never be a motivation for doing a job well.  You do a good job because that is what you really want to do, not because you're afraid that if you don't you are any lesser of a human being.  There are variables to your behavior.  Sometimes these variables are going to cause you to fail.  But this doesn't mean you're a failure, it only means you're human.

For more information on scheduling a seminar contact Headsets911.com today.

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