By improving interpersonal skills, 911 dispatchers can let callers hear the smile in their voices to improve communication and relationships with callers.

As a retired police communications operator, I talked to a lot of different people during my 12-year law enforcement career. I handled the full spectrum of all types of incidents. Reporting Parties (RPs) calling in shootings in progress to reporting things that are not even public-safety related, and everything in between. Thus, I talked to several different types of RPs: hysterical, frantic callers reporting emergencies to those calling to ask the most mundane of questions not even public-safety related.

Recently, I sat in on a training class instructed by Kim Turner, the Founder of Kim Turner, LLC, a private consulting and training firm that provides training for public-safety professionals. Turner is a tenured law enforcement professional with experience in the field and in the communications center, both as a front-line employee and as a manager. I sat in the back of a room full of dispatchers who were taking a training class called, “Interpersonal Skills & Career Survival”.

During Turner’s class, she addressed the obvious issue… a greater majority of interpersonal communications is shared through body language, but dispatchers routinely communicate through technology: advanced telephone, radio, and computer operating systems. Therefore, dispatchers must practice improving their interpersonal skills for career survival because those skills can diminish due to the technology barriers. Dispatchers cannot show their body language through the phone while talking with callers; dispatchers cannot show their body language through the radio while talking with officers and firefighters. Made perfect sense and the class was following along. So how do dispatchers address this challenge to improve their interpersonal skills then? And that is when Turner suggested a solution that surprised me.

Dispatchers can best solve this issue by matching their body language with the words they are saying. Turner called it, “the smile in your voice”.

As I sat in the back of the class, I thought about the thousands and thousands of calls I answered during my career.  How many times did I sit behind my computers and answer a call saying, “yes sir/no sir”, trying to sound professional and respectful, all the while I rolled my eyes at the caller shaking my head in utter disgust for him calling police to complain about something not even public-safety related? No matter how professional and respectful the tone of my voice, callers could probably see right through my facade because my body language clearly was not matching the words I was saying. There was no smile in my voice. I had my bad days, sick days, and exhausted days. And of course, things like working short-staffed, long shift hours, and mandated overtime never helped my outlook.  But are these issues valid excuses for letting my interpersonal communication skills fade? Are these valid excuses for the poor ways in which I sometimes treated my coworkers?

In short, the best way for dispatchers to improve their customer service, as well as their professional relationships with coworkers, is to improve their interpersonal skills. Dispatchers need to practice matching their body language with the words they are saying. By doing so, dispatchers will sound more genuinely concerned and empathetic, not only in handling emergency calls, but also handling the mundane calls that may not even be public-safety related. If the smile in a dispatcher’s voice is evident through the phone, then callers might be more eager to work with public-safety in the future to resolve recurring problems, which will improve police/fire and community relations.

 

Kim Turner, ENP, is a Communications Manager and the owner of Kim Turner, LLC. Her private consulting firm provides immersive and relevant training for the next generation of 911 professionals. To learn more about the training classes she offers, please visit her website: http://www.thekimturner.com/