On its face, communication seems pretty straightforward. Your officer talks, the citizen listens. The citizen talks, your officer listens. Wouldn’t it be nice if life were really like that? No misunderstandings. No arguments. No drama.
Of course, it’s not even close to being that easy. To send a message to citizens, your officer encodes it using words and tone of voice. To receive it, citizens decode it using their own understanding of those words and tones. And back and forth. Misunderstandings can compound quickly even in a brief conversation.
To add uncertainty to the situation, there’s background noise interfering with the messages. It can literally be background noise—screaming kids, traffic, loud conversations nearby—so the officer and citizens miss important cues or meaning in their conversations.
Many times, it’s noise from the backgrounds of the people interacting: their experiences, education level, economic status, opinions, fears, biases, race, gender, peer pressure, politics, influence of the media, and a lot of other things.
And if that weren’t enough, there is some shared information between the people, like having grown up in the same neighborhood or region, shopping in similar places, and on and on. But even when people know the same information or have similar backgrounds, they’re making their own assumptions and drawing their own conclusions.
Ok, enough already! This is complicated!
Yes, of course it is. That’s why there can be so much drama in our communities. But I’m not done yet.
Throw on top of that an endless array of nonverbal communication:
- Facial expressions
- Head movements
- Hand movements
- Eye movements
- Body contact
Moreover, communication is the backdrop on which everything happens. It touches every single aspect of the lives of your officers and citizens, so it’s pretty important.
To add insult to injury, whether officers realize it or not, they are always communicating.
Whether they are clear or not, they are always communicating. It’s easy to have a lot of drama in our lives. It’s a small miracle anything gets done at all.