Police Psychology | Take the Operational Triangle Home
by Doug Gentz, Ph.D. Psychological Services
The operational triangle was developed to provide a graphic way to represent priorities for officers in the field. At the base of the triangle is Officer Safety which always comes first. The middle level of the triangle is about building Rapport which involves interacting with other people in a way that creates or enhances a relationship and increases your ability to exert the power of influence. Problem Solving is at the top of the triangle and could be as simple as giving someone directions to the bus station or as complex as making a successful case against a homicide suspect.
As opposed to influence, problem solving relies on the power of authority, meaning you can make something happen that eliminates the problem. Your directions relieve the lost pedestrian’s ignorance about the bus station and the case you build against the murderer takes him off the street. Somewhere in between is arresting a drunk driver. When you’re through solving a problem, you can usually go 10-8.
People in general, not just police officers, have a very strong urge to skip the middle of the triangle (Rapport) and go straight to the top (Problem Solving) regardless of the very real limits of our authority. Sad to say, our perceived control is usually wildly exaggerated compared to the actual control we have over most situations. Fortunately many problems will fix themselves if we work from the middle of the triangle and put some energy into making and enhancing the common ground we have with the other person.
Very often the best choice may be to stay in the middle of the triangle and exert the power of influence.The weight of that power is based on the strength of the relationship you’ve developed with the person you’re dealing with. There are a multitude of situations when you’re better off arranging to let people have things your way instead of making them have things your way.
This is especially true at home. There are actually very few differences among family members that boil down to “right or wrong.” Instead, most are matters of different preferences. So, the next time you think your spouse or child has done something “wrong” just ask yourself if the dispatcher will send a car if you call 911. If not, then it’s probably something you just don’t like and using influence (like Active Listening skills) might be a better option. You see there is a world of difference in the reaction you receive depending on where you are in the Operational Triangle. The right choice can make your home life a whole lot easier.
Site Administrator: Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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