EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION SKILLS FOR SECURITY PERSONNEL
David C. Zumbrum, CPO (cand.)
Effective Communication Skills For Security Personnel Page 1
Communication is an essential part of everyday life. The inability to effectively communicate
with others can create a plethora of problems for anyone, regardless of their life goals or
ambitions. The ability to obtain an education, the ability to hold a job, and the ability to manage
a family are just a few examples of the barriers faced by one with poor communication skills.
With that in mind, imagine the repercussions of underdeveloped communication skills within the
security profession. Security personnel interact with people on a daily basis. Whether it is
giving directions, interviewing/interrogating a suspect, or simply reporting an incident to a
supervisor, effective communication is essential to ones success and to the success of the
business they protect. According to Fiems and Hertig, “communications ability is probably the
single most important skill a security officer has” (2001, pg.51). CHANGING ROLES OF THE SECURITY OFFICER
The overall role of the security officer has made some significant changes over the past five
years. According to an article written by Roth (2001), since September 11, 2001 the demand for
private security is on the rise. He mentions that some companies where funding for specific
security measures was normally very difficult to come by is now being “rubber-stamped.” Roth
said security is now being considered an asset and not a liability or added expense.
Not only is the need for security on the rise, but the perception of what a security officer does is
also changing. Zalud (2005) mentions that corporations have an increasing demand for guards
who can act as “immediate responders, managing and monitoring premise control equipment and
taking on responsibility beyond physical security such as responding to crises and monitored
alarms, as well as special events.” Security guards are no longer simply considered
“watchdogs.” They are now assuming more of a role as a service-oriented agency, taking on
tasks such as overseeing mailrooms, taking care of hazardous materials, performing basic first
aid, and even handling transportation duties. As a result of this new approach, the need for
specific training has increased. These duties also increase the likelihood of interaction between
security officers, and the general public (Hertig, 2003). The ability of the security officer to
perform these duties successfully is contingent upon many factors, but effective communication
skills should be considered the foundation on which all other factors are based. EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
Thibodeau (2003) describes effective communications as “the faithful reproduction of a thought,
idea, observation, instruction, request, greeting, or warning, expressed in verbal, written,
electronic alarm annunciation, or pictorial media, originated by and transmitted by a
communicator or communicating device to a specifically targeted receiver or receiver group”
(pg.166). He adds that the term “faithful reproduction means that whatever was contained in the
original message that left the communicator is both received by and understood by the targeted
receiver or receiver group” (pg. 166). It is within this term “faithful reproduction” where the
importance of interpersonal communications lies. It is very simple to talk with someone, but
having them understand what is being said is a very different story. Effective communications is
not an inherent trait, but instead is a skill which requires a great deal of hard work to master.
Although some actually do become masterful communicators, one has to believe that the
Effective Communication Skills For Security Personnel Page 2
majority do not. However, improving ones communications skills does not have to rise to this
level to become effective. By simply paying attention to three basic principles of
communications; speaking, listening, and body language, one can enhance their opportunity for a
successful career in the security industry. SPEAKING SKILLS
As a speaker, one must consider several factors that will provide a better opportunity for them to
be heard and understood. Tibodeau (2003) presents six essentials of effective communications: 1. The message must be delivered in a timely fashion
- information changes constantly
and any delay that is incurred could cause the information to become dated.
2. The message must be complete
- meaning all the information that the speaker wants the
listener to hear must be presented.
3. The information should be delivered in a clear message
4. The message should be concise and to the point.
5. The message should be factual
-adding a lot of extraneous information will tend to
confuse the listener.
6. The message must be accurate
-always keep in mind that information should be verified
before being presented to the listener.
When presenting this information, Thibodeau (2003) suggests that one must also consider the
communication level of the listener. He maintains that there are several different levels of
communication, the midpoint of which is at the seventh grade level. Thibodeau adds that this
median of communications will continue to fluctuate and will be influenced by the nation’s
educational system. Talking above or below the listener’s level will present an obstacle to
effective communications. This aspect is likely to be a major factor within the role of the
security officer. It will be heavily affected by the nature of the business being protected and the
various types of people which the security officer is likely to come into contact with. For this
reason, it is important for the security professional to become intimately familiar with his or her
surroundings. LISTENING SKILLS
Another important aspect of enhancing one’s communication skills is becoming a good listener.
People tend to place the emphasis on speaking as the most important aspect of communication,
but this is not necessarily so. Barker (1971) breaks down the percentage of time spent
throughout the day for an average person engaged in one of the four aspects of communication:
The reality is that the majority of people only listen for approximately 25 percent of the time.
And in many cases, most people only listen to the first couple of words from a speaker before
starting to formulate a response in their minds (Communication Skills, 2005). There is a distinct
difference between listening and hearing. Merriam-Webster (1994) describes “hearing” as: “the
Effective Communication Skills For Security Personnel Page 3
process, function, or power of perceiving sound” (pg. 346.) Merriam-Webster (1994) describe
“listen” as: “to pay attention in order to hear” (pg. 433). The key to becoming a better listening
is to stop simply hearing what someone is saying and to start listening to what is being said.
The following are some suggestions for becoming a better listener:
• Do No Interrupt.
To become an effective listener, wait until the speaker is finished
before providing feedback or expressing opinion. People have a tendency to become
impatient while listening and cannot wait for the speaker to finish (Communication
Skills, 2005). Not only is this rude, but it will drastically limit the information exchange
and damage the communication process.
• Do Not Jump to Conclusions.
Do not assume that you know what the speaker is going
to say. People can process information faster than one can speak (up to three times
faster). For this reason, one might start formulating a response before receiving all the
necessary information (Communication Skills, 2005). This can lead to confusion and
poor response on behalf of the listener.
• Do Not Judge the Speaker.
Do not allow ones opinion of the speaker to interfere with
the message being received. The speaker’s accent, speed of delivery (talks too fast or too
slow), appearance, and age are just a few factors that can create bias and limit effective
listening. Concentrate on the content of the message, not on the speaker (Communication
• Take Notes to Hold Interest.
Not only is taking notes a good way of retaining
information for a later time, but it also helps the listener maintain interest, shows the
speaker that you are paying attention, and helps eliminate distractions (Communication
• Ask Questions.
Asking good questions, paraphrasing, and providing feedback are
essential to good listening. This will help one listen more carefully and will also
strengthen the relationship between the speaker and the listener. Good listeners play an
active role in the communication process including head nodding, eye contact, and asking
questions (Communication Skills, 2005).
Some rewards for becoming a good listener include “expansion of knowledge, vocabulary
development and language development, ability to evaluate messages, passing examinations,
saving time, accruing financial benefits, and short-cutting acquisition of knowledge (Barker,
1971, pg. 14). This will also help in the areas of public relations, investigations, and
crisis/emergency management situations.
By using these listening suggestions, practicing them, and putting them into action, the security
officer can maintain an open line of communication and will be better able to obtain sufficient
information for reporting to supervisors and preparing for investigations. The security officer
will also be able to gather this information while continuing to project a professional image on
behalf of his or her employer. Thibodeau, Hertig, and Barnett (2001) suggest that “no matter
what the business is involved in, the security officer is many times the out front person for that
company [and] is frequently the first contact that anyone will have with the company” (pg. 284).
Effective Communication Skills For Security Personnel Page 4 NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION SKILLS
A third aspect of effective communication is a basic understanding of body language. Studies
have shown that more than 50 percent of a spoken message’s meaning can be determined by
nonverbal gestures. Hannigan (2003) claims that only 15 percent of what is said is verbal and “at
least 85 percent of interpersonal communications are nonverbal” (pg. 173). For this reason, it is
important for the speaker and the listener to be aware of three important characteristics and
principles of nonverbal communications.
First, most nonverbal communication is “automatic and unconscious” (Gorden, 1998, pg. 66).
This means that it is essentially more difficult for the speaker and the listener to control their
nonverbal responses than their verbal ones. It is because of this factor that most people will
place more emphasis on the meaning of nonverbal clues as opposed to the actual spoken
message. Marwijk (2005) adds that it is equally important for the speaker to be aware of their
own body language in order to make certain they are conveying the message without
contradiction to the verbal message.
Second, if there is an attempt by one person to deceive another with words, there will likely be a
“conflict betrayed by leakage of nonverbal cues” (Gorden, 1998, pg. 66). This means that a false
statement provided by the speaker will likely be accompanied by a nonverbal cue, or nonverbal
leakage, which actually represents the truth. One should also be aware of a conscious effort on
behalf of the speaker to suppress nonverbal responses. For example, if one attempts to control
their facial expression while providing a false statement, one might unconsciously display the
truth through nonverbal expressions of the hands or feet (Gorden, 1998).
The third characteristic to consider is that “different types of nonverbal cues are usually
interconnected and congruent in manifesting the same attitude or emotion” (Gorden, 1998, pg.
66). This is how two different people listening to the same story can come to the same
conclusion despite paying attention to different types of communication cues. One might be
more aware of the tone of voice of the speaker, while the other pays more attention to the visual
cues, yet both interpret the same meaning of the message.
The following are some examples of nonverbal cues to be aware of for improving ones
• Eye Behavior
. This includes eye contact, tears, and pupil dilation. Eye contact can
signify a willingness to listen and truth (direct) or avoidance and deception (no contact or
very little contact.) Tears can indicate a wide variety of emotions, but most importantly,
they tend to indicate the strength of the feeling. The dilation of pupils can be a good
indicator of alarm, excitement, interest, and satisfaction. Conversely, the contraction of
pupils can represent lack of interest, boredom, or tranquility (Gorden, 1998).
• Facial Expression and Head Movements
. The human face is capable of expressing
more than one emotion at a time. However, the mouth of the speaker is more restricted
than the eyes. There are “different degrees of smiles, different degrees of spontaneity of
smiles, and different degrees of congruity with the expression of other parts of the face,
particularly the eyes” (Gorden, 1998, pg. 110). Because of this, it is very difficult to
interpret the movements of the mouth and their meanings. One should seek additional
Effective Communication Skills For Security Personnel Page 5
training opportunities to become proficient in this area. Head movements such as up and
down, which normally indicates agreement, or back and forth, which normally indicates
disagreement are common. These movements can be very subtle during conversation,
but can be very helpful in determining attitudes (Gorden, 1998).
Shoulders can be a good indicator of stress. As tension begins to rise, so will
one’s shoulders. Conversely, as one becomes more relaxed, so will the shoulders
• Arms and Hands
. Arms folded across the chest, animated talking with arms and hands,
trembling or fidgety hands, fidgeting with an object while speaking, playing with hair,
clenched fists, and pounding the table are just a few of the many indicators with arms and
hands (Gorden, 1998). Most of these will be self-explanatory to the observer and will
likely provide the bulk of the nonverbal cues within a conversation.
These are just a few examples of nonverbal cues for the security professional to be aware of
when conducting an interview or simply carrying on a conversation within the normal scope of
duties. It is very important to keep in mind the different personalities and different cultural
beliefs one might encounter when interpreting nonverbal cues. Do not jump to conclusions and
be certain to take in the whole picture before making an evaluation. CONCLUSION
Effective communication skills must be learned and practiced on a continuous basis. Simply
learning to talk is not enough. As was mentioned earlier, good communication skills are an
integral part of the security officer’s daily duties. Projecting a professional image, enhancing
liaison between outside agencies and company employees, testifying in court, use of force
alternatives, and communicating with the general public are just a few examples of the
importance of effective communication skills to the security professional.
The role of the security officer is becoming more diverse and complex, requiring a more
proactive approach by the individual officer. It is no longer acceptable to simply “get by.” The
successful security officer is the one who takes pride in themselves and the organization they
represent by developing effective communication skills. These skills will provide them with the
foundation on which to build all other facets of their career. ABOUT THE AUTHOR David Zumbrum, CPO (cand.) is a patrol sergeant and sixteen year veteran of the Hanover
Borough Police Department. He is currently studying Criminal Justice at York College of
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Copyright © 2006 by the International Foundation for Protection Officers and the respective author(s).
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