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Networking & Training

 

“I got almost as much information from this training program during the free time as I did during the formal class session,” one police lieutenant remarked. So, does that mean the formal class sessions are lacking in their content? Not necessarily. In fact, the formal program can be great and the off hours may be just as great. The reason is simple: there’s a great opportunity for professional networking.

Smaller class sessions can start out great if the instructor starts off with introductions. You get to tell who you are, what agency you represent, how much law enforcement experience you have, and any other information that tells fellow class members who you are professionally and, if appropriate, a little about who you are personally. This is the time to think about what you are going to say about your background and to express your needs from the program. It’s also important for the instructor to monitor the introductions in order to see that the introductions do not turn into a “war story” telling session.

Small class sizes are conducive to networking along with classes that last for multiple days. During a small class you get more time to explain who you are and what you want from the training program.  You also have the opportunity to hear information about others in the class. If there is something that an officer discloses, you can, depending on the class protocols, ask a question immediately. You may also want to wait for a break, approach the person, and inquire about what he had to say. 

You should also be open to having others approach you and be willing to share whatever information you have with others. Being willing to share information is one way to establish a great contact with another officer, and even establish a friendship. Sharing information you have can only help you in getting information in return. Even if you don’t get additional information in return, you still have the satisfaction of helping a brother or sister law enforcement officer.     

Exactly what is disclosed during a break or at lunch depends on the level of comfort when communicating with that person. Even in law enforcement, a smile and a firm handshake go a long way during a one-on-one introduction. Sitting down and having a cup of coffee with someone can be much more rewarding than just providing a caffeine fix.

Any smaller class that goes on for multiple days is conducive to developing a good rapport with many class members. Class rosters and seating charts can encourage interaction during the formal hours of the class and beyond. In fact, once the class roster or seating chart is given, it’s a good idea to make notations by each officer’s name. Any pertinent information can be given such as, “The big red-headed guy who mentioned his department’s 12-hour shift scheduling— he said it was great.”

Attending a large conference can also be fertile ground for networking. Wearing name tags that state your name and agency affiliation are usually provided, but not always. Have a contingency plan of having an identification placard that slips onto a sport coat’s pocket, or a name pin to wear on your outer garment can also work. These special name tags are individually made and can be as simple as having your name and agency engraved in plastic, or as elaborate as including your agency badge or a modified version of the shoulder patch.

You should have a supply of business cards with you. Keep your business cards on one side of a double-pocket business card holder, and leave the other pocket empty. When you get someone’s business card, you can then write a short description on the back of the card. This description is similar to the description that you would write on a class roster, except you would also put a date and location on the back of the card. When you get back to your office, you can put the cards in a business card album, and include them in a business card file, or key them into your computer’s address book or a special computer program for managing contacts.

It’s amazing the way that some people can walk into a room full of strangers and start talking with almost anyone. These are the type of people who will get the maximum benefit from the conference.  It seems that all eyes are drawn to them and that people want to talk with them. 

Charisma and enthusiasm are like magnets for most people. You can feel their energy and you want to be around them. These people aren’t the loud mouths, but when they speak, you cannot help but listen to them, and it’s usually for a good reason— these are the movers and the shakers! These people have something valuable to say, but they also know how to actively listen to people. 

Listening to people alone will put you ahead of most, since most people would rather talk than listen. The process of listening is much more than just being able to hear someone. Good listeners are aware of body language, they have the ability to decipher the ”writing between the lines,” and they are acutely aware of the tone and inflection of the speaker’s voice.

If you are attending a conference with an officer who is also a good friend, consider splitting up during the conference. Both of you can fly solo and develop many new contacts and maybe even make new friends for life. There’s no doubt that you are in a comfort zone when you are with friends or colleagues. Comfort is fine, but going to a conference is an opportune time to make new friends. Sit with different people at luncheons, hang around the coffee pot during a break, and try to “schmooze” during hospitality hours. 

Whether a large conference includes vendors or not should not make much of a difference in the potential value of the contacts you make. A company spokesperson or a fellow law enforcement officer can both be of value to you, just as you can be of value to them. Being of value to you doesn’t mean that you’ll only contact people in your network when you need something. If someone is part of your professional network, you should call or e-mail to: offer your assistance if you think he might need some help; let him know of some new development that may impact him; or share a valuable article.

It may sound too basic, but you should try to do what you can to remember people’s names. When people hear their names spoken, it can be like music to their ears, especially if you take the time and effort to properly pronounce a difficult name. If you are not sure of the proper pronunciation, ask for it and make an effort to use people’s names whenever you speak with them. A disregard for someone’s name can put you on the fast track of making a bad impression.                                                                                                                                                            

If you are involved in training, you absolutely need a professional network. The larger your network, the better you can do your job and the easier your job gets since there are so many people for you to reach out to. And, if you become really skilled at professional networking, you may even be able to walk into a dark room and light it up just by being there!                                          

 

Ed Nowicki, a nationally recognized use of force expert, is a part-time officer for the Twin Lakes, WI, Police Department. As the executive director of ILEETA, Ed is also coordinating the April 13-17, 2004 ILEETA International Training conference in the Chicago area. He can be reached at ed@ileeta.org.


Published in Law and Order, Feb 2004

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