The Essential Skill Needed for Law Enforcement

emotionally intelligent law enforcement

Every job has its unique qualities and law enforcement is no different.  The uniqueness of law enforcement is the ever-changing and never-knowing anticipation of each call.  Every day presents a new level of uncertainty for law enforcement officers. This uncertainty includes effectively managing diverse communities of different personalities, races, cultures, generations, etc. Within these communities, law enforcement officers typically respond when events or situations have taken a negative turn or spiraled out of control; law enforcement officers walk into unknown situations with people who are typically expressing a multitude of emotions.  It is situations like this that helped me see the importance of emotional intelligence (EQ) in what we do in law enforcement. I realized in order to take control of the situation and the outcome; I first needed to recognize and understand the moods and emotions in myself and use that awareness to make the best decisions possible.

Is EQ Essential in Law Enforcement?

In 2017, I was blessed with an opportunity to become educated and certified in emotional intelligence (EQ) through TalentSmartEQ.  For the next four years, I was able to take what I learned during the training and teach it to my fellow service members who needed it most. In addition to conducting training within the unit, I was able to use emotional intelligence to provide coaching to leaders at all levels for the remainder of my time on active duty in the military. Although I was proficient at teaching EQ, it was not until I transitioned from the military and into a career in law enforcement, that I truly was able to fully grasp the importance of living EQ.

Now, before I respond to any call-to-service, I practice self-awareness based off my call notes.  I ask myself questions about what caused the incident. What emotions are they experiencing? What is their background and how might that impact how they see the situation? Most importantly, to effectively manage my awareness I ask: how can I better their situation?

With every encounter, I am reminded of the trigger model, a part of the TalentSmartEQ model to help you manage your response to people and situations. Every call represents a potential trigger event for me. However, for the people on the other end of the call, they have already experienced their trigger event.  So, by the time they call the police, there is a good chance they have lost control of their emotions and the situation.  I remind myself, no matter how I feel about their situation, it is important to them and to understand that it is appropriate for them to feel and express that emotion. I now understand that I must be aware and remind myself to not let their emotions hijack my emotions. My job is to stay grounded and know that my actions will yield either a positive or negative result.  And since I am there to help, it is important that I refrain from emotional reactions that could potentially make things worse.

What Happens When EQ is Missing?

There have been multiple times where I have witnessed low emotional intelligence in law enforcement. I have witnessed police officers allowing their emotions to be hijacked and a call quickly going sideways. Throughout every call, I am constantly engaging in self-talk. I am processing what they are saying, empathizing with their situation, and formulating a plan to remedy the situation to the best of my ability. My ultimate goal is to leave them better off than before. Self-talk helps me keep my purpose and focus on them and prevents me from allowing my own opinions or emotions to interrupt the call. The benefits of high self-awareness and self-management cannot be understated in this field and these two blend perfectly with the social competence skill of social awareness. In fact, social awareness is the bread and butter for law enforcement officers when responding to a call.

I have also witnessed officers—who because of their leadership position—mentally consider themselves better than those they serve. This mental barrier prevents them from being socially aware and it affects the relationships they have in their communities. I remind myself that I am no better than anyone else and am potentially only one decision or life circumstance away from being in the same situation. I respond to every call as if I were on the other end, and I give the same level of service to them as I would like to receive. I always greet them by name and base my demeanor and interaction off their body language and expressed emotions. I have experienced a lot of success being able to read the mood and adjust my actions accordingly. On the other hand, downplaying someone’s situation or making them feel inferior is a recipe for disaster and never ends well.

How to Use EQ to Improve Law Enforcement

As law enforcement officers, it is vital that we recognize the situation and manage it effectively. I respond to every call with an open mind and ask as many questions as necessary to gather pertinent information, all while recognizing and acknowledging their feelings. These actions help them feel valued. In some cases, individuals feel embarrassed or feel they are wasting our time on something petty. I ensure them it is not a waste of time and that I am there to help, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Our purpose as law enforcement is to provide a service. We are servants and the best way to continue serving our community is by developing and practicing EQ and seeing it as the essential tool it is.

Emotional intelligence for me extends beyond protecting those in the streets. It has given me the opportunity to be more effective when dealing with other law enforcement officers in the workplace. EQ, when practiced, can improve the workplace atmosphere and comradery amongst the team. Our squad is very diverse. We have officers from different backgrounds, cultures, experiences, and education levels. This diversity translates into different values, morals, mindsets, and emotions within a job that is loaded with situations that challenge all those things. Some officers love the job and serving the community. Other officers like the sense of authority and security that can come with the badge. And still other officers are disgruntled by the organization. Regardless of the motivating factor, I have found that not pushing back or arguing, and instead understanding the emotions about a given situation has helped me build a trusting relationship amongst fellow officers.

In a job that is ever-changing, I stay curious and ask questions of senior officers. I have found this makes them feel appreciated and knowledgeable. It demonstrates a level of humility and desire to learn the job which goes a long way in gaining trust within the team. After each call or situation, I am always asking for feedback. I genuinely want to understand and get better at the job. Senior officers can see when it is genuine and the more you consume and apply, the more willing they are to provide. What has worked best for me is allowing others to be who they are and express their emotion and not combating them. Staying open and curious, accepting feedback, and learning something valuable from others will strengthen a team, every time.

In my short time as a law enforcement officer, I greatly contribute who I am in the role to my understanding, development, and application of EQ. I have been able to grow and EQ has become second nature in most situations.

How EQ Hits Home

Emotional intelligence skills are as essential outside of work, though admittedly, for me, this is one area in my life that practicing EQ is more challenging . The reason EQ is important at home is because that is where we recharge. It is where we can leave work, come home, and be thankful for all that we are blessed with. I take the uniform off, focus on my family, and forget about what I saw or responded to that day. Here’s the challenge: my family wants to know all the details about my day. What calls did I go to, what did I see, what was funny, etc. They know I am in a professional that is under a microscope, disliked by many, and very dangerous. Every time I leave, there is a probability that something bad may happen or that I will not come home.

The expectations of a law enforcement job can cause a rollercoaster of emotions in the family—not just for the officer. I feel that it is important that I acknowledge and respect these emotions, especially for my wife. The most important way I have found to practice EQ with my wife is to put myself in her shoes. What if the roles were reversed, and she had this job—how would I feel about it? What if she worked 12 hours a day with limited contact? With the constant chaos on the news and not knowing what was happening, would I constantly be worrying? What emotions would I experience? The practice of putting myself in her shoes has helped me understand the questions she has and how to practice EQ with her outside of the job.

Another area I am working on is leaving work at work. It is easy for work life and home life to blur and it is a balancing act that has not always worked well for me. To address this, I have started to watch myself like a hawk. This means before every action, ask myself why I am doing it and if it matters. Sometimes, it is ok to let go and let things be. When I am able to do that, I realize it is better for everyone’s emotional well-being.

EQ & the Future of Law Enforcement

EQ development will improve any job or organization. I have seen the successful effects of it for many years in the military and now I have witnessed its importance and success in law enforcement. Before I understood EQ, I was arrogant. I believed emotions were a sign of weakness and used my wittiness to belittle others to win. Having a greater understanding and appreciation of EQ, I now use it to be the best version of myself possible. If the entire law enforcement community were to be trained, developed, and coached in EQ, it would completely redefine the law enforcement culture and would be the solution to many issues we face both in the departments and in the community.

Mike Milk, is a guest contributor for our blog. He is a TalentSmartEQ certified trainer and a law enforcement officer in Florida.

These strategies were adapted from the Mastering EQ curriculum from TalentSmartEQ.  To learn about how TalentSmartEQ is teaming up with police departments across the country on emotionally intelligent strategies & solutions, please contact us

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