Soft Skills You'll Need to Be a Successful Police Officer

These qualities can make or break your career

The nature of law enforcement, corrections, and other criminal justice careers demands that you interact appropriately with a variety of people at any given time in a variety of situations. Not surprisingly, many folks are not going to be happy to see you. The best way to resolve potentially dangerous use-of-force situations is to rely on your cognitive and emotional intelligence. These are not necessarily the hard skills you acquired in your professional training. These are those soft skills you need to develop to be truly effective in your day-to-day job as a police officer.

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Empathy is the ability to understand and share someone else's feelings—to know what it's like to be in somebody else's shoes. It allows for a deeper appreciation of what other individuals are experiencing. In turn, this leads to more positive interactions and communication between police officers and the people they encounter.

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Police officer rescuing a baby
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Compassion begins where empathy leaves off. If empathy is an understanding and sharing of other's feelings, then compassion means putting that understanding into action.

Treating individuals with compassion, whether they're witnesses, victims, or suspects helps build a rapport and brings healing to dangerous and traumatic situations. Compassion is perhaps the most important attribute for modern police officers in their daily interactions.

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Nonverbal Communication

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People often express the sentiment that "it's not what they said it's how they said it" when they make complaints about their interactions with police officers.

Nonverbal communication—those cues we send through tone, facial expressions, gestures, and enunciation—often carry far more weight in how our messages are received than the actual words we use. Police officers must be aware of what signals their nonverbal communication sends to those they encounter in order to mitigate conflict and ease tension.

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Active Listening

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As a police officer, you will deal with individuals who just want to be heard. Whether they are victims of a crime or community members looking for a solution for those who committed the crime, being an active listener helps your audience feel appreciated and understood.

Active listening means correctly interpreting and understanding the needs of others in a conversation. It is key if you want to resolve a conflict.

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Midsection Of Police Officers
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The day-to-day job of a police officer is far from predictable. In fact, each individual call-for-service is often fluid and dynamic. Police officers should be flexible and adaptable, not only to the changing social climate and evolving technologies but to individual situations as they unfold. Officers must be able to anticipate, adapt, and overcome challenges in order to provide real service to their communities.

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Building Trust

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To build trust in the community, police officers must be in constant communication with citizens, listening to their wants and needs, and building a rapport with those they work with day-to-day. The perception of law enforcement is created by its relationships with community members, community officials, and the news media. Trust means keeping promises, acting in a manner that promotes community safety and security, and avoiding actions that can undermine trust.

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Critical Thinking and Observation

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There is no such thing as a routine call in law enforcement. Officers need the ability to quickly and efficiently evaluate and analyze facts, observations, and information so they can make sound decisions. Officers must be able to think critically if they're going to help members of the community solve problems and resolve conflicts.

Keen observation skills are essential. Being able to visually, mentally and emotionally gauge a situation quickly can save your life and the lives of others. Detail-oriented individuals tend to be better observers because they can pick out small (but important) details ​at a moment’s notice. If you're not a detail-oriented individual, try training yourself to be a better observer.

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Conflict Resolution

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Unfortunately, conflict is a huge part of what a law enforcement career is all about. Whether the police are called to respond to an argument in progress or they're taking enforcement action against an individual, the nature of the job is such that it inevitably invites conflict to some degree or another.

Because conflict accompanies much of your job as an officer, you must have the ability to resolve that conflict peacefully.

Consider asking yourself these questions during a conflict:

  • Are there ways to de-escalate the situation?
  • Are emotions too high to try to come to a compromise?
  • How can my words bring this situation to a peaceful end for all parties involved?
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Work-Life Balance

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Between shift work, long hours, and the stresses of the job, there are a lot of potential threats to a police officer's health. Officers must be able to find ways to reduce that stress so they're happier both at home and on the job. Finding hobbies and ways to balance work with your personal life is a must for officers who want to achieve real success in their careers.