The restrained unit: A case study on everyday sensegiving to a use-of-force policy calling for restraint

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In recent years, with state militaries increasingly used for policing, counterinsurgency, and peacekeeping missions, Western societies have displayed growing intolerance of military force. This shift, spurred by humanitarian concerns as well as monitoring by the media and interest groups, creates a paradox: a contradiction between the nature of militaries and the way they achieve their goals, and how soldiers are actually expected to behave. This study explores this paradox from the sensegiving/sensemaking perspective. We interviewed 60 members of various military units and ranks, and used the grounded-theory approach to explore how leaders’ sensegiving influenced the sensemaking of their followers. The resulting grounded theory identified six sensegiving strategies (elaborating, reiterating, applying sanctions, role modeling, justifying, and acknowledging emotions) used by leaders in response to followers’ sensemaking needs. Two sensegiving triggers were identified: performance needs (a gap in soldiers’ understanding of what to do), and tension reduction needs (unresolved frustration caused by failure to understand the logic of the policy). The sensemaking product comprised a list of heuristics that enabled followers to reconcile the paradox and act with restraint. Theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)264-276
Number of pages13
JournalMilitary Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Society for Military Psychology, Division 19 of the American Psychological Association.


  • Sensemaking
  • aggression
  • everyday sensegiving
  • military
  • police
  • restraint

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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