Counselors Train Police Officers in How to Provide Corrective Feedback in Supervision

Submitted by Lynn Holforty on January 30, 2013

DianaOn January 17, 2013, the Counselor Education Department at Fairfield University delivered a training workshop for 28 First-Line Supervisors at the Police Academy in Meriden, CT. The workshop was designed by Dr. Diana Hulse, professor and chair of Counselor Education, who is recognized for her expertise in group work and the study of factors that enhance or hinder feedback exchange. The afternoon session was a product of the ongoing collaboration between Dr. Hulse and retired Police Capt. Peter J. McDermott. Current and former graduate students from the Counselor Education Department facilitated a 4-hour session, “Feedback: The Engine of Supervision.”

Prior to the workshop, Capt. McDermott attended the supervision class and asked officers to complete the Corrective Feedback Instrument-Revised (CFI-R), authored by Dr. Hulse, review the McDermott and Hulse article, “Corrective Feedback in Police Work,” published in the June 2012 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, and answer questions assessing the officers’ comfort level with giving and receiving feedback.

Capt. McDermott opened the workshop by inviting officers to consider the importance of building relationships with those they supervise and to whom they give feedback. He mentioned how the structured group discussions could help them learn about themselves and how they are perceived by others. Capt. McDermott also encouraged officers to consider ways in which they could apply the resources provided during the afternoon session to help them get to know their trainees.

After McDermott’s introduction, officers formed small groups led by the group facilitators, and engaged in structured discussions on the following topics:
• How do I feel about giving and receiving feedback?
• How do people feel when I give them corrective feedback?
• How can I use the CFI-R and other resources to make corrective feedback most productive?
• How can I take the learning points from our discussions to implement a productive cycle of feedback exchange?”

The group facilitators were: Holly Mensching, a 2012 graduate of the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program, Elaine Mattern, a January 2013 graduate of the School Counseling Program, Anthony Mastriano, a 2nd semester intern in the School Counseling Program (who will graduate in May, 2013), and Joe Graziano, a 1st semester intern in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program (who will graduate in January 2014). Each facilitator’s insights regarding the training event are presented below.

Joe Graziano noted, “I was impressed with the way these officers engaged in the conversation about feedback. Despite the obstacles some perceive to be in their way, they seemed excited about the prospect of becoming agents of change within their own units, which could help lay the foundation for a new culture of communication and interaction within law enforcement.”

The belief that officers could be agents of change was echoed in the groups led by Holly Mensching. When she told her group members, “By considering how you can better understand your trainees you have the chance to be the kind of supervisor you remember having a positive impact on you,” officers responded that they did want to make a positive difference for their trainees; they wanted to do things differently and more effectively. Holly recalls one officer saying, “We need to have more realistic expectations about change and take time to talk to trainees. It’s clear that what we say to them matters.”
Elaine Mattern added, “From the first group to the fourth group I saw tremendous amount of progress. The first group seemed to be a bit distrustful of what we were doing but as I rotated through each group I saw them work through their hesitations about the feedback process and really begin to think about how they will be able to apply the concepts we discussed to their work as a supervisor.”

As the son of a police officer, Anthony Mastriano observed that “conversation has always been in our home surrounding my father’s profession. I have discovered the importance of conversation and how critical it is to have an open communication with those in our lives. It was a pleasure to take my basic knowledge of police work and my current profession of school counseling and apply it directly to newly promoted officers in the area of feedback. In working with the officers, I discovered that most officers value the importance of communication and taking the time to clearly communicate with their fellow coworkers.”
Hulse and McDermott have published articles in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin advocating for more police training in interpersonal skills, skills for giving corrective feedback, and skills for leadership tasks. In 2012 they published an essay in Counseling Today, the trade magazine for the American Counseling Association, inviting counselors and counselor educators to share their skills through contact and collaboration with local police departments. Hulse and McDermott hope to establish a network of group facilitators to respond to future training needs for police personnel throughout the State of Connecticut.

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