15 Mar 2021

Understanding Lawful Authority and Social Skills for Effective Communication

By Stephen J. Sampson, Ph.D.

To build confidence and become better communicators, law enforcement officers need to learn and understand the lawful authority granted to them as part of their job. Possessing this knowledge and, better yet, understanding this authority will prepare officers to speak to citizens not only more intelligently, but with greater confidence. Simultaneously, the most successful officers are ones who combine their knowledge of lawful authority with “Pro-Social” abilities. Pro-Social abilities are the abilities to engage others without anger or fear. Pro-Social officers exhibit non-verbal and verbal communication skills that attract people to them. When agencies are developing officers to be more effective communicators with citizens, training around lawful authority and pro-social abilities will be beneficial.

Step One: Know the Federal and State Constitutions and Law

The most obvious approach to an officer understanding his/her lawful authority is for that officer to learn as much as possible about the Constitution of the United States of America, its amendments and relevant case law associated. This knowledge is the foundation of every officer’s lawful authority. So too is learning as much as possible about the applicable state constitution, its amendments and relevant case law associated. State, county and municipal law knowledge is vital to building upon a strong foundation of lawful authority knowledge. It is also imperative that officers continuously review and study federal and case law to stay abreast of any changes and to ensure they adjust communications with citizens accordingly.

Step Two: Understand How Pro-Social Abilities Help

Emotions are the most under-studied phenomena in science. Some cultures teach people to freely express their emotions, while others teach the complete suppression of emotions. This probably is due to the fact that emotions are powerful in their influence over us and others. Emotions are biological in nature. Their primary function is to move us to act or not act in a certain way. They are the foundation of what we call motivation; without them, we appear lifeless.

The problem with emotions is their possible negative influence on our thinking and behavior. People who have lost control will often say, “I don’t know where my head was at when I did that.” They are referring to the fact that extreme emotions of anger, fear and sadness control the rational part of your brain to think straight.

Officers who can manage their emotions effectively, regardless of the situation, are more successful in performing their duties. These officers exhibit Pro-Social behavior as mentioned above. They rarely are at a loss for words and their non-verbal behaviors display confidence when engaging with others. Those who are not Pro-Social are described as introverted, insensitive and difficult to talk to.

By adding social intelligence skills to an officer’s repertoire, we are increasing their chances of success in all types of officer-citizen encounters. From a law enforcement perspective, every officer must be equipped with Social Intelligence to ensure the success of Community Policing. This means officers must have Pro-Social abilities. Remember, the individual actions of every officer are the critical key to success regarding community relations.

Step Three: Putting It All Together

To be successful communicators with citizens, law enforcement officers must know and properly understand what they are permitted to do and not permitted to do in the performance of their duties. Possessing this knowledge is essential to effective communication. Additionally, law enforcement officers must be equipped with Pro-Social abilities. An analogy is the repertoire of a baseball pitcher. A professional pitcher, who has only one type of pitch, such as a fastball (aggressive), is going to be in trouble because some of the hitters aren’t intimidated by it. The smart pitcher has additional types of pitches (curveball, slider, etc.) in their repertoire and so is more likely to win.

Want to Learn More?
To find out how our company approaches these challenges with our clients, contact Sampson at info@sampsonpsychtesting.com. Or, read more about our flagship training, Applied Social Intelligence.

About the Author

Stephen J. Sampson, Ph.D. has been teaching social intelligence, conflict resolution and interpersonal skills for over 40 years. He brings both academic knowledge and practical experience to his seminars.