Police Psychology | Make Up (of) Your Mind
Police stress can sometimes originate from cops who are thrust into a work situation where supervisors don’t understand how they think and process information. This is an area where police psychology can be of tremendous help to departmental leaders. The police psychologist is in a position to help administrators understand how officers process information and a little about their style of thinking. To do that, we have to get through the instinct cops have to fight others who are different.
Fluffy is a adorable little 4-year old, half-Bichon Frise, half-miniature poodle. She was abused when she was younger by a man who eventually through her out into the wild to fend for herself for a year in Texas. Who knows how this cute little thing was able to exist until the time it was caught by someone and brought to a veterinarian. We adopted her at 3 years old after it had lost a litter of puppies, moved across the country, and was spayed so she could never be a mother again. Despite feeding, training, petting and loving her, she refuses to come to me or any man, only going to my daughter and my wife. In fact, she actually runs and hides under the bed whenever she sees me. I am so nice to her it would make you sick (it’s actually become a joke around my house). After a year in the house, she will start to come in my direction then runs and hides under something. If I grab her, she has become willing to not run away if I am petting her or rubbing her belly, but her initial instinct is to run when I show up (funny, she reminds me of the pretty girls in my college days). Her instincts do not allow her to break though the initial fear that a human male causes.
One of the things that separates us from animals is that we don’t just operate on instincts and drives alone—we process and organize information, and we evaluate many different events through our thoughts. We’ve always been fascinated by the mind and our ability to think. Since the early beginnings of philosophy, our world has been obsessed with the workings of the mind. But this begs the question: is there a right way to think? We all know people who process information faster or slower than us. We all know people who process information differently than us. Some people think in visuals; others think in audios. Some are more abstract and some are stiff as concrete. Some people are random thinkers, and other people are sequential thinkers. What is the difference, and is one better than the other?
Police Stress | Different Styles of Thought
Much like different working styles, learning styles, writing styles, and fashion styles, we all have different thinking styles. One way psychology divides the different styles of thinking is into four categories: concrete sequential, concrete random, abstract sequential, and abstract random (psychologists are always coming up with labels, get used to it).
Concrete sequential thinkers tend to process information in an ordered and linear way. They notice details and have pretty good memories, especially when it comes to remembering facts, formulas, rules, and laws. Their reality consists of all the information they can gather through their own personal senses: then they rely on the rules and laws to make the data fit their world. Abstract sequential thinkers tend to explore the world of theory and abstraction in a sequential and ordered way. They are able to quickly zoom in on key-facts and information and break down complicated concepts into manageable essentials. They can leave the rules and laws, but have to create new categories for their new information. Sequential thinkers tend to suffer from the feeling that they are not smart enough, or that they need to be better, do more, have more control. They organize all their thoughts in addition to most of their actions, hobbies, and possessions. An organized desk or room is a good indicator of a sequential thinker.
Concrete random thinkers are into experimentation and trying new things. They rely on trial-and-error and have no problem exploring options and ideas for themselves. They tend to be intuitive and creative, associating random things that most people may not associate. They do like sequential information from others but process it in random ways. Abstract random thinkers tend to think best through unobstructed and unstructured reflection. These people trust their feelings and emotions and remember information best if it is personalized to them or someone they know and care about. Random thinkers can usually be identified by messy desks, rooms, and workspace. Entropy is not just a concept, but a way of life. These people do not need a clear desk in order to have a clear mind—just the opposite, in fact! Much like their environment, they need a little disorder in order to process information well. Most genius comes from random thinking because it free flows. Okay, I will be honest, I am a concrete random thinkers and as I look at my desk I have a double gulp in the corner, a vaporizer mask on top of a stapler with some plastic forks strewn about, stamps, a Chinese menu, two containers of cinnamon pills, scissors, a client gift of chili olive oil in a boot container from Italy, papers from a forensic case I am doing, and a cell phone of top of that…, you got the idea. I could find anything on my desk with my eyes closed (possibly because the last two year’s junk and important papers are right there).
Police Psychology | The Importance of Flexibility
It is important to understand that no style of thinking is better than another. Each style provides a different way of thinking about things, and all can be equally good! In fact, certain styles of thinking are better for different situations. Although we all have a dominant way of thinking, there is definitely something to be said for understanding the other types of thinking that are out there. We can actually learn from individuals who think using different styles from us and implement the other styles depending on the situation! For instance, you can learn how to break down large projects into smaller steps and pay attention to important details from concrete sequential thinkers. You can learn to try new things and have a divergent way of thinking from concrete random thinkers. From abstract random thinkers you can learn how to remember things through associations, observe a work of art, and how to listen to your feelings when you are working in a group setting. Abstract sequential thinkers can teach you how to research information well and hone in on the important details. And what’s more, if you have an organization with a random thinker at the top, sequential thinkers should handle many other parts of the organization. Matching of random and sequential is essential to organizational growth, team building, and success. In police psychology terms, every department needs a bean counter and a dreamer.
It seems, therefore, that the true lesson here is not how to think, or even the best way to think. Instead, it is important for you to understand you need to be flexible with your thinking. This is especially important for individuals who work in high-stress situations, like those dealing with police stress. As anyone who works in police psychology, the number one on the job stressor is working with bosses. Thinking style differences is something I see pretty often, and I need to encourage my clients to be less judgmental of thinking styles so they can get along and even be in favor with the bosses. There is no one way of thinking! There is no best way of thinking! We need to learn to embrace our dominant style, but accept the other styles as well, and borrow them when the situation demands it. The world is full of greats who each use different styles of thinking, so your thinking style is not better than John’s or Sally’s. How’s that for something to think about?
- Know Thyself — Look closely at your own style of thinking and make sense of it. No one is pure to any style, but what is your predominant style of thinking?. How do you react when you have a lot of data? What does your desk look like? What does your home look like? Do you like to function with a lot of unfinished projects or do you have none? Are you a list maker? There are tons of ways to identify yourself, so do it.
- Identify Others – It is not easy to not be judgmental of others style or organization, but you must do it (especially hard for you “sequentials”). Don’t be judgmental when you see people who have everything counted out or listed, or when someone has a ton of disorder in their life. Remember, what makes us different is what makes us strong. The best teams are built with complimentary types rather than someone just like you.
- Remember the Fluff – My little dog Fluffy is a sweet dog, despite running away from me. But, when another man or dog approaches, or knocks on the door, she will come up and bark viciously to protect me, all fourteen pounds of her (even though she hides behind me, big guy-little dog, she’s not stupid). She is faithful to what she is and I am her friend. Always be faithful to your team, defend their style, whether they are sequential or random, abstract or concrete. That goes a long way, and believe it or not, will increase you understanding of their thought processes more than anything you can do.
Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.
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