Successful business people have it; defense and plaintiff attorneys must have it; entrepreneurs need it; and certainly politicians at all levels require it. ‘It’ is communication. It has been stated that communication is the thread that binds our society together. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines it as “the act or process of using words to express or exchange information or to express your ideas, thoughts, feelings, etc., to someone else.” The key phrase is “to express or exchange information.” The former connotes written communication and the latter part of the phrase denotes oral communication. Both must be mastered to ensure success in any of the occupations related to criminal justice (or criminology).
Writing skills are paramount because police officers write reports; criminologists issue proposals, policy papers and studies; forensics science technicians produce written records of their findings and conclusions; probation officers prepare detailed reports for the court. These are a few examples when written communication is intrinsic to your performance. Any of this written material could be entered into a court of law as evidence. Also, state and district attorneys may decline to prosecute defendants if the original arrest document is wrought with errors of fact or if it reads incoherently.
Reports need to be well organized and written so that they clearly articulate the thoughts you are trying to convey. If they fail to get your point across, they serve no purpose, and your efforts have been done in vain. A poorly written recommendation regarding a piece of legislature or a new policy may be ignored. The reason could be that the report is disjointed and/or incomprehensible.
The other component is verbal communication. By the very nature of the profession, those in law enforcement and related criminal justice occupations, must have impressive speaking skills. Working in the field of criminal justice or criminology will require the ability to pose pertinent questions, conduct interviews, interrogate, lead discussions, and confer with colleagues. In all of these instances, your speaking proficiency is essential. Also, in a confrontational situation, your communication skills may result in voluntary compliance instead of physical coercion.
There are 4 key elements to add to your verbal communication arsenal: focusing, paraphrasing, reflecting, and confronting. Focusing requires analyzing what you’ve said and what to say next as you are talking. Paraphrasing is when you restate someone’s thoughts in different words and in a nonjudgmental manner. Reflecting involves feelings as you articulate an individual’s emotions, whether stated or implied. Finally, confronting is utilized when you detect discrepancies in a story.
Not all verbal communication is going to be done face-to-face. There will be situations when information and glean details will be provided over the phone. Telephone communication is best accomplished if it can be done where there are no distractions. This will also aid in listening to every word as well as any emotions being conveyed while the other party talks. It may be useful to try closing your eyes and concentrating on listening. Take handwritten notes as this is less of a distraction than typing. Phone interviews necessitate greater attention-meaning your listening expertise.
This leads to another interpersonal quality that is integral to communication, and this is listening. As stated in the first paragraph, the dictionary definition of communication requires the “exchange of information”. This exchange cannot be accomplished without intent listening. Not just hearing what the other person is saying, but giving your undivided attention to what is being said and how it is being expressed.
Wherever your degree in Criminal Justice takes you, your success can be magnified by skillful communication. Think of communication as a triumvirate: refers to a group of three men holding power in ancient Rome. The triumvirate of compelling communication is: writing, verbalizing and listening.