October 10, 2019


Unbundling Beliefs and Values

By Brian Ellis, Anthony H. Normore, Ph.D., and Mitch Javidi, Ph.D.

A stock photo of a group of adults having a discussion.

The aim of education is the knowledge not of facts but of values.

—William Ralph Inge1

Many of us enjoy the value of a bundle deal. When we need several things that we can get either individually or all at once, we frequently choose the convenience of the combined option. However, it does not always benefit us to treat such packages as indivisible. We often bundle our beliefs and values together, but this creates challenges for communication. While a strong link exists between the two, we must distinguish them—especially during complex conversations, like those between police and the public. Understanding and agreement between parties who see the world differently prove vital to healthy communities.

Undistorted communication allows persons in a dispute to converse and debate effectively. To ensure success, those involved need to have mutual understanding and a willingness to hear opposing perspectives. Participants must be able to communicate freely without misinterpretations and ensure that everyone receives an equal opportunity to speak, listen, and question information presented.2

If the intent of discourse is to produce an accurate representation of thoughts, opinions, or ideas, interactions should occur in a safe environment where individuals feel free to discuss issues without intimidation. In seeking a unifying approach to the police-community experience, we must sideline our own beliefs and instead place values at the forefront of our deliberations.

Setting Aside Differences

Values align people toward common, good-hearted, objective dialogue, whereas beliefs can divide us.3 However, if handled properly, the differences of opinion established by our beliefs can lead us to a new way of understanding or help us solve problems.

Beliefs are assumptions that we deem true, often forged by our experiences, environment, and influences. These views can manifest themselves through fragments of information that may not hold true or may contain partial truths. Once we believe them, such assessments tend to stick with us, sometimes holding our opinions hostage and inhibiting new discovery.

On the other hand, values are principles or standards of behavior that we deem important. They arise from the experience of being human, shaping our character and conduct and serving as a foundation for our personalities, actions, attitudes, and perceptions.4

This does not mean that beliefs are unimportant or should not influence decision-making. Indeed, they often help guide our objectives toward something meaningful. Organizational beliefs—for example, the conviction that one’s group is the premier in its field or excels at service—help build an appetite for excellence.5 Nevertheless, we must recognize the role of values in the problem-solving process, as well as the need to know and embrace them during crucial conversations.

Businesses often run into trouble when those in charge are reluctant to leave their ivory towers and hear criticism from employees and customers.6 Some executives choose to remain isolated, surrounding themselves only with those who will not argue with them. Unfortunately, this creates a significant barrier to relations with both the front line and the general public. When people have access to leaders, they feel connected, which builds trust and legitimacy. Clashes occur when we mingle with others who challenge or question our beliefs, making us feel threatened or confused.7

If police organizations are committed to public safety excellence, we first must understand that we owe it to our communities to unite and engage in open dialogue that invites problem-solving. This means that we need to trust that good can come from discussions with those unlike us. After all, our communities have entrusted us to do the right thing and to produce solutions for them.8

Lieutenant Brian Ellis of the Sacramento, California, Police Department.

Lieutenant Ellis serves with the Sacramento, California, Police Department.

Dr. Normore is a program chair and professor at California State University Dominguez Hills, and chief officer of leadership and ethics at the International Academy of Public Safety, Los Angeles, California.

Dr. Normore is president of the National Command and Staff College and a professor emeritus at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Dr. Javidi is the cofounder of two private firms focused on public safety training and development in Holly Springs, North Carolina.

Dr. Javidi is founder, CEO, and president of the International Academy of Public Safety and founder and chancellor of the National Command and Staff College.

Communicating Effectively

The first step toward a better collaborative approach is separating people from the problem at hand. Natural tension between two parties with distinct beliefs can disrupt any potential resolution.9

Three kinds of “people” problems can derail productive dialogue.10 The first involves situations in which participants interpret facts differently and struggle to see each other’s viewpoint. We best can deal with this by maintaining empathy throughout the communication. A second problem occurs when people become emotionally involved in the issue. Individuals often react with fear or anger when they feel someone threatens their interests. We can address this through the simple acknowledgement of their feelings. Finally, miscommunication causes difficulties, such as when people grandstand for their constituencies instead of speaking the truth. It is imperative that we remain active listeners and ensure clarification of what the other party wants from the discussion.

The next step to improve cooperation is to recognize the impact that trust has from a communications perspective. Trust proves difficult in these types of conversations but essential when communicating from a position of love. Building trust necessitates that we place ourselves in a vulnerable position and have the courage to face issues that stand in the way. Such vulnerability is a sign of strength, not weakness. It builds humility—a force multiplier for helping others.

Finally, to collaborate successfully, we must suspend our judgement about confrontation. Although confrontation often has a negative connotation, it can be fruitful when centered on principles instead of people.11 Great teams take advantage of the type of constructive candor that nurtures healthy relationships and produces sound results.

Respectful discourse allows us to remove irritants and become closer, thereby building trust. We may shy away from confrontation because it can be so emotional, but it also can help heal relationships, ultimately leading to opportunity, growth, and understanding.12

To achieve productive communication, we must let go of preconceived notions.

The creative solution of problems requires open-mindedness. In being open-minded, group members must be willing to give up their current beliefs about the situation and adopt new ones. The new beliefs help them synthesize an unforeseen but effective solution.... Once new beliefs have superseded the old ones, group members must organize their new beliefs in a way that leads them to the solution of the problem.13


When we effectively assess and overcome internal barriers to constructive conversations, we are better suited to set a positive stage for others to engage in ways that celebrate open-mindedness. Talking about the hypothetical unbundling of beliefs and values sets a solid foundation for real police-community connections to form.

The division of value and belief acts as a powerful first pledge for problem-solving. Even when we approach problems from opposing viewpoints, we can commit to impartiality and consider various perspectives. This, in turn, can keep disagreements from preventing solutions.

As we seek to understand and bridge our differences, we must guarantee empathy in uncomfortable situations. Through active listening, we can keep our beliefs and values distinct and strive to foster success in future community and police problem-solving scenarios.

“When we effectively assess and overcome internal barriers to constructive conversations, we are better suited to set a positive stage for others to engage in ways that celebrate open-mindedness.”

Lieutenant Ellis can be reached at BEllis@pd.cityofsacramento.org, Dr. Normore at anormore@csudh.edu, and Dr. Javidi at mjavidi@commandcollege.org.


1 “William Ralph Inge,” AZ Quotes, Accessed March 18, 2019, https://www.azquotes.com/quote/42376.
2 Jason MacLeod, “Habermas and Communicative Action: An Introduction,” Jason D. MacLeod, February 22, 2011, accessed March 14, 2019, https://www.jasondmacleod.com/habermas-communicative-action.
3 “Values vs. Beliefs,” Barrett Values Centre, accessed March 14, 2019, https://www.valuescentre.com/mapping-values/values/values-vs-beliefs.
4 Ibid.
5 Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr., In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1982).
6 Ibid.
7 David W. Johnson and Frank Pierce Johnson, Joining Together: Group Theory and Group Skills, 10th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NY: Pearson Education Inc., 2009).
8 Terry Dean Anderson, Transforming Leadership: Equipping Yourself and Coaching Others to Build the Leadership Organization (New York, NY: St. Lucie Press, 1998).
9 Lee Bolman and Terrence E. Deal, Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, 4th ed. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2008).
10 Roger Fisher and William Ury, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 1981).
11 Anderson.
12 Brian Ellis and Anthony Normore, “Community Oriented Policing: The Power of Collaboration,” Law Enforcement Today, March 9, 2014, accessed March 14, 2019, http://www.lawenforcementtoday.com/2014/03/09/community-oriented-policing-the-power-of-collaboration.
13 Johnson and Johnson, 359.