Soft skills for hard work: an exploration of the efficacy of the emotional literacy of practitioners working within the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) with high risk offenders




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De Montfort University


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Peer reviewed


This study seeks to explore ways in which the emotional content of probation intervention with offenders is central to practitioner/offender relationships, but constitutes a discourse that has been largely silenced within an organisation that favours a business orientated model. Questions addressed within this thesis relate to how practitioners understand, regulate and work with emotion; how the organisational ‘silence’ on the subject is maintained and reinforced; the costs of this silencing and how practitioners endeavour to surmount it in their daily working practices. The term ‘emotional literacy’ (Killick 2006) captures the phenomenon of ‘emotion work’ or the ‘soft skills’ that many practitioners use in pursuit of the ‘hard work’ of assessing, managing and enabling change in offenders. It is a qualitative study which has used a thematic analysis to explore the concept of emotional literacy in probation practice. The study is informed by a theoretically eclectic approach and uses Layder’s theories of social domain (Layder 2006), and of interpersonal control (Layder 2004), as frameworks for analysis.
Findings from the research demonstrate that the practice of emotional literacy is significantly affected by organisational and contextual constraints. The tensions inherent for practitioners in holding emotionally conflicting and ambivalent positions in their practice with offenders are illustrated. There is evidence that practitioners predominantly exercise interpersonal emotional control through benign means. However, some concerns were highlighted by respondents of the risk of more collusive, manipulative or even repressive means of interpersonal control being deployed. It is argued that in the absence of training and support in the area of emotions and emotion management, most of this ‘underground’ emotional work is subjective, idiosyncratic, undervalued and largely unnoticed by the organisation.
It is further argued, that the silencing of the discourse imposes a burden on workers, providing them with few opportunities to explore the implications of their emotions in practice, and limiting the effectiveness of the organisation in enabling offenders to change. The research also reveals some gender implications. An argument is developed for the explicit building of emotional resources within the organisation to sustain the development, enhancement and support of emotional literacy in the workforce, and for an increased profile to be afforded these ‘soft skills’ in policy debates



emotions, emotional literacy, emotional intelligence, probation practice, relationships, empathy



Research Institute