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Guide to Managing a Successful Investigations Unit

Step 1: Improving Interpersonal Communications

There are several key skills an investigations unit (I.U.) manager needs for their unit to be successful. Of course, subject matter expertise, experience, and knowledge of the law are important. However, the most important skill an I.U. manager should possess is above average interpersonal communication skills. Effective interpersonal communication is the  key to success in achieving goals and objectives within the unit. 


Alternatively, ineffective communications is the primary obstacle to success in an investigations unit. Within every I.U. there will always be communications. Communications can be good, bad, insignificant or detrimental. Managers cannot Not communicate. Not communicating can be described as poor, and or bad communications. For example, when a customer files a complaint with the manager and the manager fails to acknowledge it, that manager’s response communicates a message. It sends a message to the customer, to the person responsible for the complaint, and it sends a message to peers of the person responsible for the complaint. 

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In another example, say a staff member reports to management a negative incident involving another staff member, and management fails to acknowledge this incident. This failure to respond in terms of counseling, and/or documenting and initiating corrective measures sends a message as well. 


In a third example when a manager fails to communicate praise and appreciation for a direct report’s superior performance, that also communicates a message. 


These three instances show how “no” communication is translated, interpreted, and perceived as poor communication. These behaviors produce consequences that are detrimental to your staff and organization. 


The following is a guide to using interpersonal communications to improve the effectiveness of an investigations unit. Guide content includes: To Whom Do We Communicate: Workplace, Customers, Public, and Government. 


To Whom Do We Communicate… refers to the various individuals managers communicate with daily. Managers communicate in the workplace with coworkers, direct reports, and leadership. In this setting managers communicate using the simple, yet always effective “Golden Rule” and “Platinum Rule” standards.  The “GR” is treating your others others the way you would want to be treated in a similar situation. The “PR” is treating people the way they they have told you they want would want to be treated. A good communicator selects a method appropriate for the situation. Good managers know interchanging both methods optimizes morale, cooperation, mutual respect and achieving mission objectives. 


Investigations Unit Culture

Within an IU the atmosphere is relaxed, supportive, and nurturing. Unlike a military barracks, emergency room or police dispatch center, successful investigations unit environments are designed allow staff to ruminate, extrapolate and debate the elements of an investigation. Additionally, the setting encourages discussions of the law, as well as required investigative tools and strategies needed to accomplish the investigation.


The reason IU culture is different from the others mentioned is because successful investigation outcomes are more challenging to accomplish. Consequently, the ideal environment for investigations is one that encourages free thinking, brainstorming and active feedback. For example, environments that rely on quick, knee jerk reactions and responses (think ERs, football plays, police operations, airplane cockpits, etc) rely on muscle-memory, checklists, instincts, and visual cues to accomplish their goals. Why? The answer is because time is a critical element for these events. That’s not the case regarding investigations. 


In a fast-paced environment like a 911 dispatch center, communications between managers and direct reports involve the manager/subject matter expert attempting to restore order during crisis incidents. The manager must also improvise and adapt to changing elements of the unfolding situation. Limited feedback is permitted, however past-practice, short time frames, policy and available resources tend to drive decisions. Successful managers and leaders are forceful, focused, and fearless in their communication methods. 

An example of a good communicator is one who uses a appropriate tone of voice to control the the emotions and behaviors of those around the manager.  

An example of a bad communicator is one who screams, frowns and complains during crisis situations. Another example is one who fails to display empathy, fails to reply to inquiries, and easily displays panic and insecurity during emergencies. 

A host of problems occur when a bad communicator is the manager. Problems include a lack of sharing information because no one wants to endure the grief and stress associated with communicating with this manager. Another problem is that mistakes not addressed and corrected are repeated, fostering producing frustration and anxiety. Additionally, poor or zero team building and partnerships take place. And lastly, simple and effective solutions are missed because no one is invested in working to improve the outcomes for the group. 

Workplace Communication Solutions:

Below are some positive strategies to use in the workplace that encourage team building, sacrifice, influencing others, and burden-sharing.  

1.    Encourage feedback by accepting negative feedback without penalizing the messenger. 

2.    Reward feedback by trying new, fresh, and good ideas into future operations.

3.    Praise in public, criticize in private. 

4.    Be a good listener by: using positive non verbals (nodding, smiling, eye contact, leaning forward while                       listening)

5.    Additional good listening techniques are: don’t consistently interrupt or finish other’s sentences or thoughts. 

6.    After a speaker finishes their message repeat back their message for clarification. Preface your remark by saying something like, “What it sounds like you’re say is…” 

Customer Service Communication Solutions:

1.    Be positive, be a good listener, and be prompt and consistent in your response to complaints and questions.

2.    Allow customers to vent-without interruption.

3.    Repeat back their comments to ensure understanding and acknowledgement.

4.    Ask more questions to ensure understanding. Customers have a need to know that they have been heard.

5.    Apologize; even if it wasn’t your fault.

6.    Make sure follow up is completed within the stated/promised time frame. Also, provide an estimated time for a reply and resolution of their issue. 

7.    Keep your promises.

8.    When possible, exceed your promise and their expectations.

General Public Communication Solutions:

1.    Be a good listener, be positive, professional and consistent. For example, always follow company policy regarding disclosures of confidential and operational information.

2.    Always be respectful. Use the GR, PR, be polite and empathetic. 

3.    Display your credentials and status only when appropriate. Don’t be boastful. Arrogance is easily recognize and interferes with rapport building.

4.    Treat all callers and patrons with honor, patience, and empathy. That includes drunks, homeless, suspects, etc.


Government Officials (Law Enforcement) Solutions:

The primary purpose of this section is to first, explain the culture of law enforcement personnel, and second, facilitate successful interactions/transactions with them. 

Law enforcement officer (LEO) culture is specifically crafted to address a specific community need in a democratic society: crime prevention through voluntary compliance with the law. Through omni-presence citizens are encouraged to obey the law. However, because some don’t LEOs are trained and “brain-washed” to use their powers of persuasion to arrest, restore order, render care and recruit volunteers (when needed). 

LEOs are trained to use self-confidence, voice commands, body language, and visual cues (uniform, badges, weapons, sun glasses, hats helmets, and gloves, etc.) to project power and influence.

The following are recommended communication tips for working with LEOs:

1.    Work with LEOs by complying with their direction, commands, etc.

2.    When additional assistance is needed, and not provided by LEO, go to the next level of         supervision.

3.    Always be polite, positive and respectful.

4.    Document all results and observations.

5.    Don’t challenge LEOs while they’re performing their duties.

6.    Don’t engage in conduct that causes LEOs to lose face or engenders embarrassment.

Final Summary


Communication Tips and Common Mistakes to Avoid

Common Mistakes to Avoid:

1.    Failing to actively listen to a speaker’s message.

2.    Penalizing speakers who offer critical or negative feedback.

3.    Criticizing in public, leading to embarrassment.

4.    Failing to follow up on complaints and issues within a promised time frame.

5.    Ignoring poor behavior which is then perceived as acceptable.

6.    Failing to keep confidences.

7.    Failing to display empathy, or confusing empathy with sympathy.

8.    Interrupting others, minimizing their concerns and complaints.

Communication Tips:

1.    Listening by using active listening skills (leaning forward, nodding, eye contact, etc

2.    Improve your active listening skills by attending a workshop

3.    Become a crisis line volunteer

4.    Resist the urge to consistently interrupt a long-winded, frustrated speaker in mid-message.

5.    Be patient.

6.    Use softer tones of voice to project empathy.

7.    Use gestures and words that indicate you are positive, patient, and supportive.

8.    Be prompt, reliable, and exceed expectations when responding to negative comments,         complaints, and critical feedback.