A tense verbal confrontation between a prominent British Jewish leader and police in London has triggered a wave of condemnation over the way one of the officers spoke to the man.
Video footage of the interaction has sparked outraged over what the police officer said as he and colleagues sought to dissuade the Jewish man from walking through a pro-Palestinian demonstration making its way through the city’s streets.
Police then physically prevented the man from seeking to walk through the demonstration – before threatening to arrest him.
While at times the officers showed some commendable patience and restraint amidst repeated verbal challenges from the man, poor communication skills let them down disgracefully.
The appalling choice of words by one officer has even triggered calls for the resignation of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Mark Rowley.



These calls have followed the force’s contentious handling of a series of demonstrations against Israel’s attacks on Palestinians and aid workers in the Gaza Strip – in response to the surprise deadly hostage-taking Hamas-led Palestinian assault on Israel on 7 October last year. 
Concerns over anti-Semitic chants and statements by some of the demonstrators have put the police into a state of high alert over what they might potentially lead to.
The news media have focused attention on the point in the demonstration where one of the police officers told the man that his intentions to get closer to the demonstrators were dangerous.
And – seemingly because the man was wearing a kippah (traditional Jewish brimless hat) – the policeman told the man he was “openly Jewish”.
This profoundly un-wise choice of words has led to widespread criticism of the officer and those above him in the hierarchy.
The scene, much played and re-played in TV news bulletins, was highly charged.
The man involved in the verbal confrontation with police was Gideon Falter – Chief Executive of the Campaign Against Anti- Semitism.
The campaign group – which was recording the interaction –
released this picture of the scene, blurring the face of the policeman who uttered the contentious “openly Jewish” comment.



The Metropolitan Police have since apologised for the remark.
You can watch a key segment of the verbal clash between the man and the police on this video clip:



And if you have the time, you can view this longer version, released later by Sky News, at:


While I’m seeking to steer clear here of discussing all the politics surrounding the confrontation, from a communications perspective it’s clear that while police were in a difficult situation, the way one of them worded what he felt he needed to say could have been far better expressed.
It also could have been framed in a way that would not have left the policeman open to criticism that he was allegedly being racially divisive by telling someone their movements needed to be restricted based on their apparent ethnicity or religion.

Pre-Emptive Communications Training To Prevent Verbal Slip-Ups


As someone who is sometimes invited in by organisations to train people to communicate better ahead of expected tricky situations, my assessment is that much of the problem generated by the poor police language usage could have been prevented with some pre-emptive communication lessons.
One of the police officers’ problems at such demonstrations seems to be that they are either following instructions – or a self-imposed direction – about not saying things that could be deemed offensive to any particular group.
The big challenge when people focus on what not to say, is that they often end up wording what they do say in a way that’s clumsy or worse.
Trying not to say something offensive can end up being as challenging as dealing with a situation where you are told – or you tell yourself – not to think about one thing in particular… such as a pink elephant wearing sunglasses.


The more you try to stop thinking about a pink elephant with sunglasses, the more your thoughts tend to drift towards exactly that.
When it comes to being directed not to say something that’s offensive to a particular group of people, it can be hard for people to know what they actually should say.

Focus On What You Should Say, Not What You Can’t Say!


What’s typically needed in such situations is an agreed planned positive message to underpin the direction of everything that’s said.
So police preparing for tense situations on the streets of London could have worked on the basis of conveying a  message such as “We’re seeking to protect people from ending up in unnecessary danger.”
If they had focused on this, they may well have found it much easier to avoid saying something which has been almost universally condemned as highly offensive and discriminatory.
If police had explained simply that they needed to direct the movements of passers-by in order to keep them safe in a dangerous situation they could have come out of it so much better.
Communications training in such situations helps prepare people – and test them out – ahead of likely and potentially difficult situations.
So when the expected situations do occur they can more easily fall back on the approach they decided upon beforehand – and deploy the safe and effective wordings and messages they formulated within the training sessions.
To handle a tricky situation well, it should never simply be a question of just what not to say.
It needs to be much more about what you can say and should say.
Training and practising helps lead to such verbal mastery.

Don’t Fall Into The Basil Fawlty War Trap


The following video features a well-known fictional TV character.
It shows what happens when a particularly idiosyncratic British hotel-keeper is trying to converse with a group of German guests without making reference to World War II.
Because the hotel keeper, called Basil Fawlty, hasn’t worked out what he should be saying, he gets far too caught up in what he’s trying to avoid mentioning.
So he ends up saying the unsayable, in different ever-crazier and more offensive ways.



Tastes vary, but some find this scene painfully funny to watch within a comedy TV show.

You can see it here at:


Alas it’s more likely to be just purely painful when anything like this happens in a real-life workplace.
The good news is that learning to focus on things to say that are underpinned by a pre-agreed positive message is a learnable skill.
Learning and practising this can be part of training sessions on programmes of “Transforming The Communication Skills Of Your Team” set out at:
So whenever you’re facing a tough situation and are worried about what you – or others in your organisation – might say, think in advance of what the positive message you wish to convey and what is can be safely and effectively said that’s in line with this message.
And once you’ve decided upon your message stick with it – without being distracted by anything…even that pink elephant in sunglasses!