9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Listening: An Absolute Necessity For Emergency Personnel

Listening is a motivational process that takes energy and commitment, and it's an essential part of communications for public safety personnel. Dispatchers receive millions of calls annually from citizens who have a problem. The citizens are calling for some type of assistance, emergency or otherwise. Call takers are trained to develop a sixth sense and to actively listen to what the caller says. They do not have the advantage of a face-to-face interview.

Active listening is taught in crisis negotiation training and to academy recruits entering law enforcement. Listening is an absolute necessity in public safety work. It is extremely important for these emergency response personnel to listen to the dispatcher so that they know the location and type of assignment. It is important for law enforcement personnel to know whether a crime is in progress or if it has just been discovered.

We hear conversations every day, both formal and informal, but do we retain what is being said? Webster defines hearing as perceiving sounds by the ear. Listening is defined as making a conscious effort to hear. It is a skill which is of crucial importance in all forms of communication.

There are four basic stages of listening and all are connected:

Sensing is the actual hearing of the speakers words and sensing the speakers message.

Interpretation is assigning a meaning to the speakers words. Words have no meaning in themselves, they are assigned a meaning by the listeners interpretation of those words. Many times the meaning can be misinterpreted.

Valuation is the next step in the process and it involves thinking actively about the speakers message, utilizing both verbal and non-verbal messages. Listening involves relating these messages to one's own experiences. It's important to withhold judgment until the speaker has completed the communication. It is also important to use valid logic and distinguish facts from opinion.

Response is the final stage in the listening process. It is a reflection of one's feelings in response to the speakers message. Feedback is important at this stage of the process, so that the speaker understands if the message was understood.

Benefits of the listening process can be beneficial to public safety personnel in helping them make more appropriate decisions. It leads to better cooperation from others and can prevent potential problems if individuals listen before they speak.

Public safety personnel, because of the nature of their work, deal with individuals who are under a great deal of stress and anxiety. Naturally this reduces their listening capabilities. Emergency response personnel should be taught the importance of Psychological First Aid. The initial contact with a person in crisis is extremely important in the communication process and it is important for emergency response personnel to understand this.

The jobs of all public safety personnel can be made easier through the process of active listening, regardless of what segment of public safety we represent. So the next time that you are introduced to someone, remember to actively listen, and not just hear what is being said.

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