How Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Can be Valuable in Criminal Justice

When it comes to a criminal justice career, education, brainpower and experience are important. But there’s another critical component to success that some people might overlook – emotional intelligence, often abbreviated as EQ.

EQ is generally defined as the ability to manage your own emotions and be aware of the emotions of other people. Psychology Today describes EQ as a “virtue” and says it can be applied to thinking and problem-solving. EQ is important for criminal justice professionals, as they are often required to control their own emotional responses while understanding what other people are feeling.

In general, a high EQ might be more important than a high intelligence quotient, or IQ, according to a large number of studies that have been conducted over 20-plus years. EQ expert Harvey Deutschendorf, writing in Fast Company, said, “Everyone wants to work with people who are easy to get along with, supportive, likable and can be trusted. We want to be beside people that do not get upset easily and can keep their composure when things do not work out according to plan.”

Interaction and Trust

A criminal justice degree can prepare people for a variety of career options, such as a police officer, crime scene investigator, correctional officer, detective or an FBI or CIA agent. All of these occupations have something in common: They require a professional to interact with other people in a variety of conditions and settings.

A high degree of EQ can ease communication because it allows the professional to put him- or herself into the other person’s shoes. This emphasis on feelings, and not just facts, can build trustworthy relationships.

One application of EQ comes during individual interviews, part of the duties of some law enforcement officers and investigators. A post in PoliceLink, an online law enforcement community, said “People are more comfortable telling the truth to someone whom they trust and can relate to.” By using EQ to establish a level of trust, the interviewee likely will feel more at ease.

EQ can also help criminal justice professionals build trust with the communities they serve.

Dealing with Low-EQ Individuals

A criminal justice professional should not always expect others to have high levels of emotional intelligence.

An article in the National Institutes of Health’s U.S. National Library of Medicine suggested that there is a relationship between low EQ and criminal activity. The report found the convicted offenders studied had low scores for intrapersonal and interpersonal awareness and management, all elements of emotional intelligence.

Factual, a blog from Harvard University, said that a person with low EQ might “think their feelings are confusing, threatening or painful,” and so “they distance themselves from everyone else in order to avoid being misunderstood or judged.” One thing professionals can do to help people with low EQ is to discuss how the person’s behavior affects other people’s feelings.

Managing Stress

Criminal justice careers can be stressful. Research shows that a high level of EQ can help people manage themselves and their emotions, which can lead to reduced levels of stress. Psychologist Daniel Goleman wrote that “Self-awareness can help you notice when you are becoming stressed, which in turn make you better able to calm down before your reaction builds to an unmanageable level.”

A Harvard Business Review article offers several suggestions for using EQ to reduce stress. One is to practice mindfulness, which is the ability to be aware of the current moment instead of dwelling on the past or future. Another is to shift the focus to other people by being attuned to their feelings.

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