|By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ|
A correctional officer may live or die based on their credibility on the job. One has to accept the fact that one’s own character as an officer plays a big part of who you are and whether or not what your words are matches the actions within you. Sometimes, it takes years to establish credibility, and for others, it can be done in less than six months.
Credibility, especially in the correctional field is a sensitive matter. It hinges on who you are, perceived or real, and how you do your job. It is not something one can take for granted. It is after all is said, one of the most important characteristic you possess. One could say, correctional credibility is cultured and created by cultivating who you are and how you do things.
Credibility begins with talking and walking the talk – saying who you are and what you do is consistently performed in mannerisms and actions, and leaves no doubt you are who you say you are. Success is based on how you handle adversity and challenges you face daily and how you react to them.
First, own up to who you are – you are a person and thus human. Humans make mistakes so if you screw up, admit it. Don’t created more grief by not admitting your flaws. Some admission can cause your credibility to be raised to acceptable levels and begins the journey for your own identification and trustworthiness.
Credibility begins with consistency. Consistency of who you are and who you say you are. If you claim to be a team player, support and praise goes a long way. If you give compliments and practice positivity in the workplace, you are much more effective than those who project a negative environment.
Personal credibility allows leverage for better abilities to negotiate or mediate stressful situations and potentially dangerous encounters. Someone who has the credibility to make good decisions is often good at making sound analysis or situational assessments at work. Being fair and consistent are not words, it is a way of doing business that allows you to develop win-win situations for long term impact, not just for the interim or the moment in time.
Don’t assert your honesty. Show it by actions and when you do, there is no need to tell someone you are ‘being honest’ or ‘to tell you the truth’ as that trait or characteristic has already been established by the credibility you have and who you are. Is it necessary to tell others that you are being honest and does this mean you can be dishonest? Delete this word from your vocabulary and let your own credibility stand.
Something people notice is how well you listen to others. When someone talks, are waiting to interrupt them or are you listening? Listening is one of the fastest ways to establish credibility in corrections. Even if you can’t fix it, you took the time to listen. That has more value than you may realize in the long run.
How you dress or how you project your personal appearance has a visual and psychological impact on others. Professionalism is often projected by your personal awareness and how well you dress the part you have as a correctional officer. Attention to detail is critical in your job.
Nobody has all the answers. We don’t know everything and saying “I don’t know” is more powerful than you may realize. The truth is, we already know, no one individual knows everything and to admit it, helps build credibility. Don’t risk alienation with someone by trying to BS them with an answer, rather than risk giving misinformation, it’s better to admit that you don’t know.
One of the strongest means to show your credibility is to strife for success and excellence. There is nothing wrong with winning an award for being the employee of the month or some other form of recognition.
When your efforts are recognized by a third party, it means you have been sought out and identified as someone who applies themselves to the job, the team and the profession. There is a fine line between being assertive and arrogance. Realistically, if you are good at what you do, earning such praise is natural and says good things about you.
Remember, whatever you do, your credibility is at stake at all times, and can also be erased or ruined, so be careful how you think, act and speak. Your credibility is a serious tool and over time, will raise your ability to become more successful in your profession.
Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."
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