Motivated by the recent deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner at the hands of police officers, Matt Selker shines a light on the urgent, imperative need for educating those in law enforcement on the use of emotional intelligence competencies.
The past few weeks have been very emotional for many Americans. As a nation, we have been dealing with the loss resulting from the chaos in Ferguson, Missouri and Cleveland, Ohio. In both cases, two young men lost their lives at the hands of poor choice and law enforcement. Both situations were stress-filled, chaotic events filled with stress, anxiety and riddled with poor choices.
Neurologically, we know that when a situation or environment is filled with what is called negative emotional attractors (NEA). Our human brain is unable to innovate, process information efficiently, often resulting in lackluster outputs and/or performance. As Anita Howard, Ph.D. explains it in her groundbreaking research on this phenomenon, these emotions influence adaptive change in a negative way; catalyzing a defensive response.
Negative emotional attractors activate the sympathetic nervous system, which helps us deal with stress and threats; it helps us protect ourselves. It pulls us toward defensive posturing that result in the adaptive response to situations, behaviors or otherwise that threaten our safety and require us to protect ourselves.
When this occurs, cortisol, a glucocorticoid or steroid hormone, is abundantly released in our system as it cooperates with its partner epinephrine. Among other degenerative outcomes related to excessive cortisol release, we tend to experience:
- Decrease in our peripheral vision.
- Difficulty in cognitive processing.
- Inability to handle complex tasks.
- Difficulty to think about new or possible alternatives to a situation.
- Inability to think ‘outside the box.’
It goes without saying, all these characteristics are extremely important to anyone, perhaps none more important than law enforcement as they handle stressful situation daily.
Emotional intelligence (Ei) is the ability to understand, appreciate and manage your emotions and to do the same with those around you.
Dan Goleman, a leading subject matter authority, suggests emotional intelligence refers to the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.
In summary, Ei calls on our ability to harness our emotions for use in ways that add value, as opposed to detracting value, from relationships and situations.
Ei includes the ability to be self-aware (to identify your emotions and how those emotions influence yourself, situational outcomes and others around you), self-management (the ability to use the emotions you’re experiencing, or call on other emotions, to problem solve or think of alternative outcomes for the situation), social-awareness (using skills like empathy, mindfulness and more to understand the emotions of those you’re interacting with or those around you) and relationship-management (the ability to manage the emotions of others to resolve conflict, build bonds, collaborate, influence and develop others). One of the nice things about Ei is that unlike intelligence quotient (IQ), humans are able to develop their Ei through education, practice and intentional change.
In my humble, professional opinion, had law enforcement involved in both scenarios identified above been more attuned or developed in their Ei competencies, they would have been positioned to interpret the high-stress situations they found themselves in and chanced identifying additional alternatives.
While I will not go as far as to say ‘better alternatives’ since I was not a party to either event, I will say that had their Ei competencies been better developed, they would have mitigated the stress associated with their responses and interventions and have a greater repository of situational opportunities to select from.
There are multiple benefits to training law enforcement personnel in Ei; none more important than preventing situations that lead to tragic deaths. Training would aid law enforcement in conflict resolution. Training would also help law enforcement mitigate the impact of stress resulting from their career choice. Ei training would complement recruitment and retention strategies. Lastly, it would improve interpersonal communication within their personal and professional networks allowing improved information exchange to occur. It would aid them in becoming resonant officers or resonant leaders, attracting others to their service by becoming more ‘touchable’ which eventually improves recruitment efforts.
I suggest a national conversation at the municipal, state and federal level pertaining to law enforcement and their mandating Ei testing and/or training of prospective law enforcement candidates before hire or assignment. This practice would identify candidates lacking desirable Ei competencies and either supplement strategic training interventions or eliminate the candidacy. This practice would minimize miss-hires, thus saving their respective administrative jurisdictions scarce resources. In addition, this practice provides opportunity for candidates with higher Ei aptitude. Lastly, this practice would help rookie officers avoid early career pitfalls.
Law enforcement is responsible for delivering service to the community. The community’s responsibility, through their elected or appointed officials, is to make certain law enforcement has the capacity to handle any type of situation they may encounter in a way that yields the best possible outcome. It is our responsibility as a nation to advance the conversation about Ei and law enforcement at multiple levels to ensure these learn-able competencies becomes default behaviors and weapon discharge a distant alternative.
This conversation is long overdue.
Photo Credit: Associated Press/Julio Cortez
This post originally appeared on PATimes.org, a publication of the American Society for Public Administration.
In no manner is this article designed to pass judgment on any involved or take a particular side to the arguments, rather to shine light on the urgent, imperative need for educating law enforcement, and those in public safety or public service and more, on the use of emotional intelligence (Ei) competencies.