Communication Styles: Its Uses in Law Enforcement

Communication is an exchange of information between two or more people. Communication is cyclical in that the sender and receiver are in constant verbal or nonverbal action and reaction to each other. Its aim is to effectively transmit the message and be able to share the idea. Communication researchers use the term encoding to describe the source’s efforts to design a message that is used to supply information to the receiver. Encoding refers to the process by which the source translates his or her ideas into words and other symbols – encapsulates those ideas into one or more codes.

Ideas are translated into messages, which are sent to the receiver, who decodes them. Decoding occurs when the receiver translates the words and other symbols into a message that might be similar to, exactly as the, or quite different from the one intended by the sender. Sometimes the encoder is portrayed as being the decoder of his or her own message (Heath & Bryant, 2000). In communication process, four major styles are being identified: the passive, aggressive, assertive and passive-aggressive styles.

Each of this style has their advantages and disadvantages, proper usage that usually depends on the situation, the status of the speaker and the receiver and also depends on the outcome or feedback the speaker would want to achieve. Passive style of communication does not directly express thoughts and feelings. A passive speaking style includes a soft, weak, even wavering voice. Aggressive style harshly shares his or her thoughts and feelings and sometimes tends to overpower others with his or her words.

With this style, the eyes of the speaker are usually narrowed and expressionless. Assertive type appropriately shares his or her thoughts and feelings. Passive-aggressive communicator, on the other hand, denies his or her feelings, he or she usually avoid taking risks and tries to stay out of trouble. Aggressive style of communication is used to get attention, to gain respect from others, if the goal is to get things done efficiently, would want to impose authority and saves time.

It makes the speaker to move with an air of superiority and strength and have the capability to control other people and over situation. Disadvantages of this style are hard relationship and sometimes may hurt others verbally or may intimidate others. People using the passive style are often well-liked, nice and dependable, saves time because it often complies with the situation but the disadvantage of this is difficult to gain respect and easily manipulated. Assertive style uses to stand up for rights and take into account the rights and feelings of others.

An open, honest, direct healthier relationship, high self-esteem, fewer communication breakdowns are often achieved in this style of communication. Also less stress between the speaker, receiver and the situation can be achieved. Passive-aggressive is rarely being used. There are numerous processes within the criminal justice system which place huge demands upon the communication skills of those involved, for example arrest, reading of rights, cautioning, going to court, giving statements and being interviewed (France & Kramer, 2001).

Communication is a difficult process that involves understanding and being able to use certain skills effectively. Criminal justice counselors will not be able to communicate effectively without mastery of basic communication skills. Communication skills are used with vigilance throughout the counseling process and at all times. Listening, empathy, genuineness, concreteness, self-disclosure, probes, feedback, summarizing, confrontation, and immediacy are communication skills that criminal justice counselors must master (Masters, 2004).

Citizen complaints and civic liabilities use force under some circumstances, lawful commands. Expansion of law enforcement communication to areas beyond crime prevention, detection and apprehension is critical to agency success. It is important for law enforcers to recognize situations and whom he or she is dealing with choosing the communication style to be used. Assertive style is appropriate in dealing with people in crisis and vulnerability, victims of violence, minor and senior citizens that require more positive approach especially in public service.

Assertive style is more effective in establishing good interaction with the public and crime justice interveners are expected to approach in humanistic way especially during crisis intervention. Passive style in used often during investigative interrogations. The reactions and facial expressions of the interrogator are critical in the process of communication because this would have effect on the quality and validity of information gained during police interviews. Judges and juries under court proceedings often have passive communication approach to impose objectivity, devoid with emotional expressions.

Aggressive style is used in traffic enforcement, for interrogation and arresting crime offenders, drug enforcement, gang abatement and in dealing with delinquent citizens. In this situation, the law enforcer should establish authority and always in control of the situation. The aim of hard treatment is ideally to cause offender to understand and repent the crime committed. Effective communication is critical in conducting law enforcement especially during court trials and crime investigations therefore communication barriers should be identified and minimize if not completely avoided.

Language gap, non-cooperative interviewee, speech problem or defects and many others are among the communication barriers that need to be consider and resolved. In most cases, non-verbal communication is used in addition to verbal communication as a way of helping along the conversational exchange. Non-verbal communication can be important source of information about a person’s emotion and validity of information being stated. Facial expressions, eye contact, body movements and gesture are sometime good indicators in attaining good communication process as well as information gathering especially in law enforcement.

With the advancement of technology, the communication process becomes easier and at the same time more complicated that may impose benefits and drawbacks to the communication process.


France, J. , & Kramer, S. (2001). Communication and Mental Illness: Theoretical and Practical Approaches: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Heath, R. L. , & Bryant, J. (2000). Human Communication Theory and Research: Concepts, Contexts, and Challenges: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Masters, R. E. (2004). Counseling Criminal Justice Offenders: SAGE.