Blue Line


May 21, 2013  By Brent Snook

518 words – MR SCIENCE BEAT

Catching flies with honey: The pathway to compliance

Communicative accommodation? Trust? Cooperation?

by Brent Snook


Most people would agree that a defining feature of a good police officer is strong communication skills. In fact, some would probably argue that communication is the bread and butter of the policing profession.

Some research suggests that the most common citizen complaint about police has to do with poor communication skills (or downright rudeness) – but what does it mean to have good communication skills and how can human communication research help produce productive police-citizen interactions?

In a study titled “Police-Civilian Interaction, Compliance, Accommodation and Trust in an Intergroup Context: International Data,” published in the , a team of researchers led by Valerie Barker (Howard Giles, Christopher Hajek, Hiroshi Ota, Kimberly Noels, Tae-Seop Lim and LilnaBeth Somera) examined how communicative accommodation, trust and attitudes about complying with police requests are related.

The authors asked 684 university students from Korea, Japan, Guam and Canada to complete a 38-item survey on their attitudes toward police. They were asked questions about police officer accommodation, trust and compliance. Some of the questions about perceived officer accommodation pertained to pleasantness, respectfulness and politeness.

To measure trust, the researchers asked questions about how well police protect the rights of citizens, confidence in the ability of the police organization to do its job and satisfaction with the police. Attitudes towards compliance were estimated by asking questions about the extent to which people should obey police, whether the person would follow an officers’ requests and whether people should obey the decisions made by police officers.

The results of their analysis revealed a strong positive relationship between officer accommodation and reported trust. In other words, students who gave police officers high ratings on their communicative accommodation also gave them high ratings on how much they trust police. Following on from that finding, Barker and her colleagues also found students who gave police high ratings of trust were more likely to have positive attitudes towards complying with officer requests. So, being accommodating to the public is related to perceptions of trust, which in turn, is related to attitudes towards compliance.

Canadian students rated Canadian police officers as moderately accommodating but much more so than students in the other countries who rated their respective police organizations. Canadian students also gave high ratings of trust for Canadian police officers and rated the importance of compliance higher than the students living in other countries.

These findings support the old adage “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar”. They also suggest that organizations struggling to have positive ratings of trust and assistance from the community – for example, with intelligence led policing initiatives, interrogating suspects, looking for obedience during traffic stops – should ensure that their officers accommodate the public (when there are no threats to police officer safety) through quality communication skills.


Brent Snook, B.A., M.Sc., Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Psychology branch of Memorial University in St. Johns, Newfoundland. Contact him at or 709 864-3101 for more information.

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