Written by Kathleen Jameson, retired Communications Director of Colorado State Patrol
How many times have you asked, "Why can't we all just get along?" in your communications center? Don't feel alone. It seems the majority of communications centers nationwide are facing this same issue. It has been a common topic of conversation and there are a variety of reasons offered to explain this phenomenon. Let's take a look at the reasons heard most often:
- "Communications attracts people with assertive personalities"
- "It's because there are so many people working in close quarters that it's bound to happen"
- "It's a stressful job and morale is terrible, so we take it out on each other"
Low morale is always a hot topic and is usually the "blame" for everything that may be going wrong. More often than not, we place the responsibility for our morale, and that of the center as a whole, on our supervisors. As time goes by, we become cynical, tired and less than enamored with the career we have chosen. Whether we realize it or not, our unhappiness at work affects every aspect of our lives.
Just because we work in a stressful environment does not justify treating each other poorly. In addition, there are good and bad supervisors in every work place in the world. We have to decide if we will allow the behavior and actions of others to negatively influence us personally and our work life as a whole. We have choices. We're chosen to be in this profession. We can choose to make a difference for ourselves, our peers and our communications center.
Learning about Control
We have control over many things: the choices we make, our thoughts and actions, our influences on others, both positive and negative and the effort we apply at work. However, we cannot control others' choices, thoughts, actions, responses to our influence or their effort at work. Do you ever find yourself objecting to and totally involved in what a co-worker may be doing...or not doing? Or perhaps your agency made a decision that you disagree with and you find yourself constantly worrying or complaining about the outcome. We have to consider two things: over what aspects of this situation do I have control and which are out of my control? Sometimes we spend precious time and energy obsessing about things we cannot control. Learn to let go of those things you cannot change and choose to focus on what you can change and control: yourself.
A Trip Down Memory Lane
Do you remember why you first decided to be a communications officer? You wanted to play an important role in public safety. Do you remember how excited you were to go to work every day? There was always something new to learn, some new call to handle, a new challenge.
What happens to some of us as we work in public safety communications for any length of time? When we start our new job, we're dedicated, committed, professional, courteous and friendly to everyone. After a while, the newness wears off and we aren't so committe anymore. We don't put as much effort into being professional, courteous and friendly, especially to co-workers. As a result, cliques start to form and the conflicts begin. It usually doesn't take long before we get dragged into gossip circles. Soon we may begin making judgments on the skill level of other team members. Before we know it, the communications center can become a full-scale battlefield of personalities, attitudes and posturing.
We should find the person we were and the feelings we had when we first started in public safety communications. Make a decision on the type of people we want to be no matter how anyone else chooses to conduct themselves. Make a conscious effort to remember why we chose this field. Do you remember the good feeling you would get when you helped someone? No matter how minor the issue was to you, it was a big deal to them. They will forever remember you as the person who helped them through their crisis. Choose to be that professional, empathetic and caring person.
The Golden Rule
Yes, the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It's as simple as that. you don't have to be best friends with the people you work with, but you do have to be professional and courteous. Try to understand why they are the way they are. Is the one who talks your ear off in need of attention because they don't get it elsewhere? Is the one who brags continuously actually trying to hide very low self-esteem? The result of your listening makes them feel like someone cares or thinks they are worthy. Most of us don't know what goes on in the lives of our co-workers. Choose to develop your interpersonal skills -- be a good listener, kind, interested and show respect. Choose to follow the Golden Rule. It's as simple as that.
Just Say No
Slanderous and malicious gossip tears apart communications centers more than anything else. Are the ones who initiate this behavior deliberately trying to make others look bad? Do they think you'll want to be around them because they know, or think they know, the low-down on everybody? Sometimes being at work is like being back in school again. Who is a member of the "in crowd," who is the target this week, who just left the room and is now the topic of discussion until they return? Be strong enough to not involve yourself in this practice. It can be as easy as changing the subject or saying something nice about the person being discussed. If you're really brave, you can say, "This topic of discussion makes me uncomfortable" or "That's odd, he/she always says nice things about you." When you're tempted to participate in unkind gossip, remember the old adage: "He who gossips to you, gossips about you." Choose to set the example and not participate in or encourage gossip.
Be a Mentor
Starting a new job is hard enough, especially one as difficult to learn as that of a communication officer. If it is compounded by a lack of support from co-workers, chances are we're going to lose the person before he or she has even completed the training program. In some centers, new people are put through an "initiation" rite. They're criticized, given the "silent treatment," and assistance is withheld. Why don't those that participate in this practice realize that the more people we get trained, the sooner we can get time off, go to training, do ride-alongs, work on special projects and all the other myriad of things that happens when we're fully staffed..or at least working towards being fully staffed? Besides all those reasons, how about just supporting them and helping them be successful because it's the right thing to do? Choose to do our part in offering support and encouragement to new people. It will pay off in the end.
Support Your Local Supervisor
Believe it or not, supervisors don't lie awake at night thinking about how to make you miserable. Yes, there are good and bad supervisors. Most are very good and are trying to do the best job they can. Isn't it funny how we think our supervisors are great when we're getting what we want, but just let them make one unpopular decision and we forget the good things they've done? Sometimes they're between a rock and a hard spot, but in the end, they must make decisions that are best for the agency, not individuals. If you have a difficult relationship with your supervisor, it may be worth having a heart-to-heart talk to determine how to improve the relationship. Both must have an open mind to how each may (knowingly or unknowingly) be contributing to a less than perfect association and how to correct it. If you've done everything you can but believe it is beyond hope, you have to decide to either accept it and make the best of it, go to his/her supervisor, or depending on how untenable the relationship is, consider a change in employment. Only you know what is best for you. Remember, supervisors are people, too. Just as we want recognition for a job well done, your supervisors do, too. Say "thanks" every now and then. Choose to understand and support the supervisory and management staff -- most are doing the best they can.
It's all in the 'Tude
We have to make a conscious effort to have a good attitude. Sometimes it seems easier to wallow in our own self-pity or misery and be victims. Some of us are good at that. Do you ever get a sinking feeling when that certain someone comes in the door and you know you're going to hear about how miserable they are for the next eight to ten hours? No one likes to be around people like that. Life is too short to spend it being miserable or making others miserable. We can choose to wake up every morning and tell ourselves it's going to be a great day, we're going to be the best person we can be and no one is going to affect that. Are we entitled to a bad day every now and then? Absolutely. We just need to try to keep those days to a minimum and not let our bad day affect others. Having a good attitude takes practice. The more we practice the easier it gets. How do you do it? Look at the bright side of life, think positive, be optimistic, expect success, believe in yourself, display self-confidence and don't give up. Just watch how it helps you personally and how it will rub off on others. Choose to have a good attitude. Soon you'll see how much better you feel overall and how you're viewed by your agency.
The Bottom Line
It's not easy to change the way we personally conduct ourselves in our work environment. However, each one of us has the power to change ourselves and positively influence our relationships at work which will in turn improve our communications center. It just takes a bit of effort, practice, commitment and time. It can absolutely be done; it starts with individual efforts. It's like the "Pay it Forward" concept or perhaps a play on Senator Hillary Clinton's thoughts: "It takes a communications center." If you are committed to your role in public safety and doing the right thing, you can set the example. Remember, you have choices. Make the right ones and let's start by all just getting along.