Maintain your toolbox: Sharpening your knowledge, skills, and abilities

Submitted by:
Sheldon Best


What’s in your toolbox? That may seem like an odd question. You may think to yourself “I don’t carry a toolbox. I’m not a plumber, electrician, or carpenter so why would I carry a toolbox?” The reality is that that we all carry toolboxes. Yours may not be full of wrenches and screwdrivers, but it is full of the knowledge, skills and abilities you’ve developed over time to help you do your job. And if you work with offenders, you’d better have your tools ready every day.

So, what’s in your toolbox? Assuming you’ve successfully completed a recruit academy, you’ve probably got a collection of ‘tools’ that were taught to you in various defensive tactics modules. You should have learned some physical techniques for the times that communications fail. The active and passive countermeasures to defend yourself and others, as you maintain physical security of the facility. Focused strikes, vertical stuns, decentralizations, and compliance/compression holds should all be stacked in your toolbox, ready for use.

Hopefully, as time passes, you learn what works for you. The other side of that coin is that you also learn what won’t work for you. Once this realization occurs, you can more effectively utilize the techniques that are most likely to maintain order, protect property and keep people safe.

You’ve probably studied professional communications skills like search talk, persuasion and light- or heavy-control talk. If you’ve worked in direct supervision, chances are that you’ve honed your skills on the job. Like physical alternatives, communication skills can be learned through trial and error. You may know exactly what to say to offender Smith to make him stop yelling and go to his room. You may know that offender Jones has lost all connection with everyone in the world except for his grandmother. And you may know the words that will set offender Johnson off every time.

Knowing your clientele and establishing a rapport can go a long way toward sharpening your crisis intervention skills. Sometimes knowing exactly what to say — or not to say — is really about knowing the offenders in your care.

Remember, too, that tools need to be maintained. If you don’t keep your chisels sharp and your hammers free of rust, they may not be reliable when you need them. Have you maintained your tools? How well do you communicate? Do you have the physical skills you need? Do you know your facility’s policies?

Be sure — things may have changed since you last picked up a manual. Take a minute to think about your strengths and weaknesses (we all have them). Asses your skills and ask yourself “What’s in my toolbox?”

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