If you want to be understood … LISTEN
Chaplain Rex Wolins
Pomona Police Department
The most important skill sworn and non-sworn law enforcement personnel can possess is the ability to communicate clearly and non-threateningly to those people whom we encounter everyday. In effect, the attitude we take toward others will be the primary way our community judges the success (or failure) of community-oriented policing. Getting along with others is the philosophical basis as well as the practical application of any community-oriented policing policy. Improving the verbal and non-verbal communication skills of sworn and non-sworn department personnel should be an important consideration.
It is obvious, is it not? The first contact the public has with law enforcement is, most of the time, with the person behind the desk at the station or on a call out. First impressions, at this point, cannot be overestimated. By intentionally assisting the sworn and non-sworn employee to present a non-threatening, non-challenging posture to the public, we have gone a long way toward improving the understanding of the department in the eyes of the community.
Yet, such an apparent truth oftentimes gets lost in the shuffle of everyday administrative and patrol functions. Forgetting such an important fact obviously is not intentional. Rather, it happens because of attitudes and stresses inherent within the law enforcement profession itself. Given the nature of law enforcement, it is built-in to carefully examine and be aware of all persons; what they are wearing as well as general appearance. The stress of this orientation on sworn and non-sworn staff has been widely documented.
Communication theory tells us HOW we say words is just as important as the words themselves! Moreover, the body language we use, coupled with the words we say, cause persons to react either positively or negatively towards us. When persons come into contact with law enforcement, for whatever reason, it is an anxiety producing experience. We in law enforcement should do all we can to minimize as much stress as we can in those with whom we come in contact
There is a way in which respect for the individual can be maintained as well as the integrity of the department employee. The way to accomplish this is by teach
ing active and positive communication skills to department personnel. Every sworn and non-sworn employee needs to know those skills that diffuse tension and calm those with whom we come in contact. “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger….Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad. Proverbs 15:1,12:25
Instead of only reacting to the anxious or defensive individual, we need to know the techniques and skills that can dilute and calm the potentially explosive situation.
For the sworn and non-sworn employee, this means staying calm and controlling our attitudes and emotions towards people in stressful situations. If the individual is demanding or haughty, personnel should be taught to stay in control of their feelings and not react in kind. Our purpose is not to respond negatively, but to make sure WE don’t return spite for spite and make the situation worse.
This does not mean a milquetoast approach in dealing with the public. It DOES mean that, by being aware of what “pushes our buttons”, we are in a better position to control and dissolve any tension instead of adding to it.
Secondly, the sworn and non-sworn employee should be instructed as to the importance of “body language” in communication. The posture of the employee says more than words to the public. This is the dimension of professionalism sought by any organization; a capable and efficient manner of doing business that soothes and eases anxiety. It is not an external bravado that seeks to intimidate or control. Persons who are nervous, for whatever reason, tend to focus on non-verbal signals. The tone of the voice, the volume used in speaking and the speed or cadence of the words influence how the public receives the message of the law enforcement employee. If we improve not only what we say but how we say it, situations which could be explosive can be defused.
This calling that we in the department, sworn and un-sworn have said yes to comes with a lot of baggage, how we handle it for the most part depends on the tools we have and how we choose to use them. A good look through the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament reveals to us some great tools of wisdom for handling those stressful times when we hold the key to letting a situation explode or defuse it.
“Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge.”
- Proverbs 23:12
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