April 25, 2003
Generally, security officers are the first people that visitors or employees come in contact with at an organization. They serve to protect the organization and help those who are in need of assistance. Since the security officers are often the first contacts, they also serve to provide the first impressions of their security department and the organization as a whole. It is for this reason that human relations is another major role for security officers to fulfill.
Importance of Human Relations
Human relations, which relies heavily on effective communication skills, is an important role of security officers for many reasons. How security deals and interacts with the public influences the public's view of the entire organization. When met with a friendly greeting and empathetic response, customers are put at ease, feel more positive about the organization and are more likely to follow any instructions the security officer needs to give them. Beginning the customers' visit on a positive note sets the tone for the rest of their time there. Security officers must also deal with a variety of people and situations during everyday activities. Without knowledge of human relations skills, these everyday dealings can be difficult and strained, which in turn leads to bad customer relations within the organization and an overall bad image. If and when an emergency incident should arise, the security officers' human relations skills can determine the outcome of the incident, as they are often first on the scene. If the officers cannot deal with and manage the people involved in the emergency, there is no way they can expect to deal with and resolve the whole incident.
Basic Human Relations Skills
There are several basic human relations skills that every security officer should have a working knowledge of. The first is effective listening. By actively listening to the person they are dealing with, the officers show interest in what the person is saying and concern for his/her problems. The officers should allow the person to vent reasonably, express an opinion, and nod to indicate that they are listening. Jumping to conclusions, prejudging, and placing blame should all be avoided as they demonstrate the officer is not completely listening to the person (Rice, 1999). Officers must also be able to effectively communicate back to the customer in a clear, concise and nonthreatening manner whatever they need to get across to the person, whether it be directions or instructions to leave the premises. Good communication also involves smiling when appropriate, making eye contact and displaying open posture. They can build trust with the customer by showing sincerity, credibility and a willingness to help solve problems. Avoiding jargon and keeping vocabulary appropriate are also important. It may not be logical to use some of the same terms one would when talking to a supervisor as to a customer.
Empathy is another important part of human relations skills. By showing empathy, an officer can acknowledge how a customer is feeling. This does not mean sympathizing with or over identifying with, but merely just trying to understand where the person is coming from. If the officers make the person's point of view their own at that time, they can demonstrate an interest in understanding. Without this simple acknowledgement, an officer can appear judgmental (Stiel, 2001). Apologies are acceptable when appropriate and may help to calm upset or angered people. Officers should never apologize for doing their job, but should apologize for inconveniences or frustrations and they should express appreciation when appropriate as well. When an incident or some sort of information is brought to attention, appreciation is helpful in guaranteeing further cooperation and positive interactions. Ultimately, effective human relations skills come down to the golden rule; officers should treat others as they would wish to be treated in the same situation. Keeping customers happy and making them feel important is key to successful human relations (Garner, 2002).
The officer should take initiative when they see a person who may need assistance. To take initiative, the officer should get involved, make an opening move and show care and concern. The idea to remember here is to act, not react, to the person and to remember that "each customer you make feel special will become a special customer" (Rice, 1999). Officers should not treat each customer as a number. It may not be possible to give every person what he or she is requesting, but the officer can make them feel as if they were treated specially. This will do wonders for the image of the security department.
Security Officers and Human Relations
The role of human relations for the security officer is not to be an expert in it but to simply use the skills effectively in everyday work and interactions with others. Human relations skills should be practiced at all times while on the job. They can be used in emergencies, decision making and to improve professional standing. In accordance with these skills, an officer should maintain physical and mental fitness and also have an understanding of human behavior and stress management (International Foundation for Protection Officers [IFPO], 1998). A neat physical appearance is critical as well, as "appearance is approximately 55% of the message the security officer sends out to a person" (Rice, 1999).
Using Human Relations to Maintain Image
One of the most important outcomes of effective human relations is the maintenance of a positive image for the officer, security department and the organization as a whole. Image is valuable; organizations work hard to attain and maintain a favorable image. Image can make or break the success of an organization or individual officer. Poor human relations skills and unprofessionalism can destroy a positive image. Security officers represent the organization that employs them and they must project a positive image in accordance to the image the organization wants to maintain. It should be made clear by the organization to the officers exactly what image they are expected to project and maintain. To help maintain a positive image, security officers should possess the following ten qualities: dependability, politeness, show of interest and concern, tact, discreetness, maintaining confidentiality, impartiality, calmness, patience and helpfulness (IFPO, 1998).
Dealing with Difficult People
Human relations skills can also help when officers need to deal with difficult people. There are several ways to defuse a situation with an angry person, which all relate to human services skills. First, the officer should be a good listener. By letting the person vent a bit, he/she may become easier to deal with. Security officers should empathize when possible to show understanding of why the person is upset, not reacting to another's aggression with more aggression. Yelling back at someone will accomplish little and will make the officer appear unprofessional. One should try to ignore insults and exaggerated remarks. It's appropriate to admit mistakes where they've been made. Security officers should not be afraid to correct false statements, but try to do so as gently as possible. An example of this would be a person saying "It took you hours to get here"; the officer could respond with "Dispatch shows it really took us 30 minutes, but I understand it must have felt like hours," if that is the case. It is also useful to attempt to make an agreement on something. It could be something as simple as the weather, but it's a start that can lead to other agreements in the conversation (Garner, 2002).
Importance of Training
Human relations training is obviously the most efficient way to ensure security officers have effective human relations skills. Training will increase the officer's overall knowledge of human relations. In knowing more, the officers will become more confident in the skills they have and their job. Training exposes officers to situations they may encounter on the job, preparing them to deal with any real incidents that occur. Human relations skills are not natural to everyone; it never hurts to reinforce any skills with training. With training, human relations skills can become an integrated part of the security function.
The Supervisor's Role in Training
The supervisor plays an important role in the security officer's training, whether it concerns human relations or another topic. In order for job performance to be increased, a significant training effort is required. To ensure continuous improvements, supervisors must also ensure that training is an ongoing process. The following are a few things supervisors should keep in mind when it comes to training:
- Training should be spread out, not just concentrated into one session.
- Training should include some education about the history and philosophy of the organization.
- A variety of educational techniques should be used to keep training interesting.
- Input should be taken from the officers as to what they want to or feel they need to learn.
- The supervisor should be knowledgeable and familiar with the material taught in the training.
- Different instructors should be used, such as outside experts and other security officers (Hertig, 1999).
If the supervisor keeps these things in mind, it will help ensure the success of the training and also ensure that the officers get the most out of their training. Successful training includes a successful, informed and involved supervisor.
The Training Process
There is a training process, which is useful in planning human relations training. The process consists of six steps: objectives, lectures, scenarios, test exercises, individual tests and reviews or refreshers. Before the training ever starts, the security department or whoever is conducting the training should determine goals. All objectives should be outlined and clearly defined. Once the training starts, lectures can provide an introduction and general overview of the material that will be covered. Lectures should include multimedia tools, such as videos, and encourage discussion among the trainees. It helps to end lecture training with some sort of evaluation, usually written. Lectures set the basis for and can be reinforced by hands-on training, such as offering scenarios. Scenarios are best utilized when drawn from real situations that fit the environment the officers work in; ideas can be drawn from the organization's own incident reports, journals or even newspapers. If real scenarios are not readily available, hypothetical scenarios can be developed and used as well. The scenarios should be played out to various outcomes with different threat levels to expose the trainees to as many different possible situations. The trainer or trainees can be used to play out the different roles needed for the scenarios. Test exercises are used to follow up scenario training. They will test the trainee for performance and proficiency in the material taught. Individual testing completes the training. This testing should be formal and documented. It may show where further training is needed in the future. Periodic reviews and refresher courses reinforce what was taught in the training program and ensure that the skills remain fresh in the officer's mind (Kane, 2001).
There are two specific training strategies that can be implemented usefully in human relations training, role-playing and penetration testing. The basis for role-playing is scenarios, as described earlier. They are a sort of dress rehearsal where officers will need to respond appropriately to real life situations. Role playing is most effective as training when the trainee is aware of the general situation to be played out in advance, but does not know exactly how the situation will be played out by the other participants. The other participants could consist of other members of the security department or outsiders. Role-playing is effective because it directly mirrors real life situations and, at times, there may not be one right way to deal with a situation. It is useful to engage trainees in discussion after role-playing to discuss what happened in the exercise and what any other possible courses of action could have been. Penetration testing is having an outside person go into a building or organization to test an officer's ability. It is most often used for testing access control but it can also be modified for the purpose of testing human relations skills. Evaluators can be chosen who are unknown to the security officers. They come in and test the officer's human relations skills in a variety of ways, from simply asking for directions to causing a major disturbance. This is an effective strategy because the officers will not know they are being tested and will react in the manner they would normally on the job (Kane, 2000).
Human relations really is a necessary role for all security officers. Security officers, as the front line, need to make sure they are projecting a friendly and positive image to the public and anyone else they come in contact with. Effective human relations can determine the success of an individual officer's career or the success of an organization. For this reason, it is important that human relations is included in training for security officers at all levels. Even though human relations is not something that is normally connected to security, it still plays a major role. If an officer can master human relations skills, it will aid in advancement of his/her career.
Adria Strausbaugh is currently a junior at York College of Pennsylvania. She is a sociology major, with a minor in criminal justice.
Garner, G. (December 2002). Exceptional customer service. Law & Order, 50 (12), 99-101. Retrieved February 15, 2003 from the Criminal Justice Periodical Index database on the World Wide Web: http://proquest.umi.com
Hertig, C.A. (1999). The Supervisor's Role in Training. In S.J. Davies & R.R. Minion (Eds.), Security Supervision (pp. 95-106). Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann.
International Foundation for Protection Officers. (1998). Protection Officer Training Manual. Human Relations (pp. 152-159). Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann
Kane, P. R. (August 2002). People skills are paramount. Security Management, 44 (8), 31. Retrieved February 15, 2003 from the Criminal Justice Periodical Index database on the World Wide Web: http://proquest.umi.com
Kane, P.R. (October 2001). Practice what you preach. Security Management, 45 (10), 55-62. Retrieved February 15, 2003 from the Criminal Justice Periodical Index database on the World Wide Web: http://proquest.umi.com
Rice, R.J. (1999). Customer Service and the Protection Officer. In S.J. Davies & R.R. Minion (Eds.), Security Supervision (pp. 302-308). Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Stiel, H. (September 2001). Smile when you say that. Security Management, 45 (9), 25-30. Retrieved February 15, 2003 from the Criminal Justice Periodical Index database on the World Wide Web: http://proquest.umi.com