Subjective Eyes: Critical Decisions

Much of police training addresses the tactical components of critical decision-making. Less training addresses the subjective components the officers bring to this process. Van Brocklin provides an exercise that begins this self-examination.


A husband (cop) and wife (child protective services supervisor) intentionally placed themselves in separate trios. But when they asked the questions of each other afterwards, she scored much higher than he did. They both laughed but he suggested their next vacation would likely be her perfect one.

Participants are very interested in comparisons and friendly competitions. For example, seeing who scored better amongst:

  • Different professions
  • Different generations
  • Different years of experience on the job
  • Men and women

I gave prizes to the trio that scored the highest and the lowest. Consider toy magnifying glasses or small mirrors - the better to see one's self with. (See web links below for 15¢ magnifying glasses and cheap mirrors.)

After trios have had adequate opportunity to discuss the questions listed above, invite them to share their experiences with the larger group. The trainer may also pose the following discussion points to the larger group:

  • Do you think your guesses said more about you or more about the other person? How and why?
  • Do you think other people's guesses about you said more about them or you? How and why?
  • Do you think you might interact with people differently based on the opinions you formed without knowing them?
  • How might that affect the interaction?

This is where I’ve seen impressive work by participants on the positive and negative powers of assumptions and beliefs:

  • How they can have misperceptions
  • How their assumptions can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies
  • How we can impact others' behaviors by the beliefs we express about them
  • How we are impacted by others' assumptions and beliefs about us
  • What assumptions we and others make that serve us well
  • What assumptions we and others make that are detrimental to our work

An exercise for all seasons

Policing demands that officers make critical judgments about people on the street and when responding to calls. The more informed these judgments are; the more officers understand what goes into them - the better for officers and the communities they serve.

Officers also make daily assumptions and judgments that, while important, are not necessarily critical to officer or citizen safety or the ultimate prosecution of a case. These beliefs, assumptions and judgments are about and affect other officers, subordinates, supervisors, staff, related professionals and community members.

This exercise helps officers explore their assumptions, beliefs and judgments in a challenging, fun, enter~train~ing and enlightening way. It bridges genders, generations, races and professions.

Try it. There's a lot to gain and the only things you and the officers you train have to lose are some possible misperceptions.



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