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Active supervision challenge: Communication

Effective communication occurs when your intended audience members receive the same message that you sent them


Effective communication occurs when your intended audience members receive the same message that you sent them.


Greetings everyone, I’m Coach Paul. Can you believe that we are in the fourth month of our active supervision challenge? I hope that you are enjoying the process of learning about and improving your active supervision skills.

For those of you new to this series, which debuted on Police1 in January, I am in the process of describing the 10 skills of active supervision. I define active supervision as the continual and consistent enforcement of the rules of your organization.

So far, I have covered performance management and critical thinking. This month I review communication. In this article, I define effective communication, review the basic communication model, identify the most common barriers to effective communication, discuss the two principles of effective communication, and provide a few tips and techniques to help you improve your communication skills. Let’s get started.

What is effective communication?

There is a big difference between communication and effective communication. A person can use a lot of words and still not be an effective communicator. Conversely, a person can say very little and yet communicate masterfully and powerfully. I’m sure that you are picturing in your mind’s eye examples of both of these types of people.

For our purposes, effective communication occurs when your intended audience members receive the same message that you sent them. This is not as easy or simple as it sounds, which we will return to later.

The basic communication model

First, let’s look at a diagram of the six steps of basic communication and then review the process:

Communication model.jpg

The six steps of basic communciation.


  • Step 1. You, the sender, have an idea that you want to communicate to an individual or group of people, the receiver(s).
  • Step 2. You encode this idea in a message format. The different formats include words, symbols, images, and various forms of nonverbal messaging (i.e., facial expressions, voice tone and gestures).
  • Step 3. You send your formatted message over a selected communication channel or channels. Communications channels include in-person, telephone, video or electronic (i.e., email, text, or chat).
  • Step 4. Your receiver(s) receives and decodes the message that you sent. This is the step that reveals whether or not you communicated effectively. If your receiver(s) decoded the same message that you encoded, congratulations, you have communicated effectively.
  • Step 5. Your receiver(s) gives you feedback on your message. For example, if your communication gave one of your followers a task to complete, then if your follower completes the task in the time and manner in which you directed that person to complete the task, congratulations again, you have communicated effectively. Your follower can also give you feedback that your instructions were unclear or confusing.
  • Step 6. You give additional feedback to your receiver(s). In this final step, you close the communication loop by providing your receiver(s) with feedback on their feedback to you. For example, in the case of effective communication, you can let your followers know that you are pleased with the task that he completed. Or, in the case of learning that your follower did not understand your communication, you can provide additional clarifying information to her.

The important idea to take away from this model is that when your receiver decodes the same message that you encoded, you have communicated effectively.

Common barriers to effective communication

Communicating effectively is challenging for two main reasons. First, because our communication efforts travel through the filters of our receivers, and second because the majority of communication occurs outside the use of words.

From a communications perspective, filters are what we use to interpret the symbols used to encode our ideas. For example, if I said to you, what do you think of when I say the words “rock star”? You would interpret that symbol, words are a type of symbol, based on your filters. Common filters include age, gender, nationality, culture, occupation, religious beliefs and education level. So, in the example question, depending on your filters, you might answer Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Katy Perry, or an energy drink.

Adding to the challenge of filters is the fact that our receivers decode most of our communications, even when we use electronic channels, using nonverbal cues. Nonverbal communication is the way in which people communicate, intentionally or unintentionally, without words. For example, I frown when I say I am happy to see you, or I send you an email or text message in all capital letters. In both of those instances, I am communicating something to you that is in addition to the words I use.

Principles of effective communication

There are two principles active supervisors can employ to overcome these two barriers. Effective communication must be intentional and also purposeful:

  • Intentional: Active supervisors know that someone is always watching them. Therefore, they are very intentional in their verbal and non-verbal communications. They choose their words carefully and work hard to ensure that their non-verbal and verbal communications are in harmony.
  • Purposeful: Communicating with purpose means having goals for your communications. Common goals include providing information, giving direction, improving morale and inspiring confidence. Once you determine your purpose, you can craft your communications to achieve your desired outcomes.

Bonus content: Tips and techniques

As usual, before I finish our discussion on communication, I would like to share a few tips and techniques for supervisors working in the special circumstances I mentioned in the first article in this series:

Working supervisor (splits your time between supervising and performing line-level duties): As a working supervisor, you will want to make sure that your followers understand when you are communicating to them as their supervisor and when you are communicating to them as one of their co-workers. You can use phrases like: “I’m putting on my supervisor hat now,” or “This is your partner speaking.” You want to help them distinguish which role you are communicating to them from so that they can interpret your communications more accurately.

Small agency supervisor (supervises a small group of paid and volunteer followers spread out over a distance): If you are a small agency supervisor, you want to use written communications media as much as possible to maximize the probability that everyone is getting the same messages from you. And then you want to follow up with in-person, telephone or video conversations to confirm that the messages you send out are the same ones that your followers are receiving.

Minority supervisor (supervises a group of followers who are different than you in regard to race, gender, ethnicity and age): As a minority supervisor, when it comes to communications, you need to pay attention to the concept of filters. Remember that your filters are probably different from the filters of your followers. Take the time as you are getting to know your followers to learn some of their filters and explain some of yours. This will help increase trust and minimize misunderstandings.


Communicating effectively is an important skill for active supervisors to develop. As you put effort into developing your communications skills, spend a few moments thinking about who you will be communicating with and what you want them to receive from you. The extra time you spend being intentional and purposeful will improve the effectiveness of your communications efforts.

If you downloaded or printed the free active supervision checklist that we provided in the first article, which is linked here for easy download, you can update it with this new information. Go ahead and add two lines:

  • Communicate intentionally;
  • Communicate purposefully.

Rate yourself again now that you have a better understanding of this skill. Give yourself a + (plus sign) if you believe that you are good at the skill, a √ (checkmark) if you believe that you are ok at the skill or a – (minus sign) if you believe you need to work on the skill. After, you will want to take some time to write down your plan for improving your communication skills.

If you have any questions about this skill or any of the 10 active supervision skills, submit your questions here. We will gather them up and answer them for you.

I’m Coach Paul, thank you again for taking the time to read this article. Keep your eyes, mind and heart open out there.

NEXT: Active supervision challenge: Courage

Coach Paul Conor, Ph.D., is an organizational psychologist and management consultant who has been working with law enforcement leaders for more than 20 years. He is a former US Marine infantry officer, who led Marines in combat during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Coach Paul is an award-winning author, California state-certified Team Building Workshop facilitator and former university professor. He is also a reserve lieutenant with the Orange County (California) Sheriff’s Department.