Non-verbal communication is all about understanding of the baselines of behavior, in order to identify and articulate anomalies.
If they can be articulated, then they can be explained and fully understood. Without this skill, we are vulnerable and inadequately prepared to fully support our clients’ needs.
In the previous article (Baselines of Behavior, Issue 53), we spoke about the four major behaviors: dominant, submissive, comfortable, and uncomfortable. These are the most prevalent and easiest to categorize and I gave you the means to identify each one. However, identifying the behaviors is not our main goal. Creating a baseline of the behaviors and then looking for clusters of anomalies is the goal. These anomalies highlight changes within the individual’s emotional state around a specific topic and can be crucial for us, as security professionals, to identify a threat early enough to counter it.
What It All Means
Knowing how the biological process works means that we can now dive into what it all means. Nonverbal cues are completely based on the perceptions of the mind. When someone perceives incoming information in a specific way they will react to it. This reaction is the cause of the nonverbal cues and that reaction is what we, as observers, are looking for.
If someone is standing in line and they have their shoulders rolled backward, standing tall they could be either comfortable or dominant. If their shoulders roll forward and they start to slouch as they notice someone enter the space, that could indicate they, not only, know that person, but they have some sort of negative feelings toward them.
We have already identified two anomalies before an interaction started. Should an interaction ensue, the observer is ahead of the game. Noticing the change in the baseline that early allows for sharp focus identifying all the incoming information. The change in behavior indicates a change in their emotional state. This is because they went from comfortable or dominant to uncomfortable. Even submissive, depending on the level of
slouch, an attempt at making themselves smaller within the space they are occupying.
Another example would be if you are speaking with someone who does not stutter in their baseline of behaviors. Through the course of the conversation, they start to stutter when a specific topic is broached. The stutter is an anomaly and could indicate that the topic being discussed is uncomfortable for them. They will most likely try to move as far away from the subject of conversation as quickly as possible.
One great behavior to watch for is body direction. This concept is useful at great distances as well as face to face. If you see a group of people talking, pay attention to which direction the majority of their bodies are facing. That will indicate who in the group has the highest stature. The direction the majority of abdomins are facing in a group shows who has the highest level of respect.
When interacting with others, be it staff or clients, it is advantageous to watch how they position their feet and lower body. If both feet are facing you then it may be presumed that they’re engaged and you have their complete attention. Be conscious of topics as they come up so that any anomalies can be tied to said topic. When they change the position of their feet so that one or both are facing away from you its known what may have caused it. That is an anomaly and could indicate that their emotional state changed as a result of the topic. It may show that they have somewhere else they need to be though. This is again where clusters of anomalies come into play.
Why Create a Baseline?
Creating a baseline is one of the most important things that a person or organization can do. It will then allow for the decision makers to have an understanding of what is changing. How those changes are taking place. How quickly those changes are happening, and what level of impact the changes will have immediately. Everyone is a decision maker after a cluster of behaviors has been identified.
Baselines enable the person or organization to identify at what point the behaviors started to change. If someone “all of a sudden” becomes closed off or uncomfortable, having a baseline created at the start of the interaction would allow for identification of which comment or topic caused the change in emotional state. It could be that joke about “going to the bar and getting naked” which caused the employee to show that they were uncomfortable.
Making It Work For You
The days of seclusion and removal from the global society has come to an end. There are an estimated 7.72 billion people in the world at the time of writing. 4.54 billion of them have internet access. That means approximately 58.8% of the world’s population are globally connected.
With the advent of the internet and cellular phones the option to have face to face conversations anywhere in the world is no longer fiction. Communication is no longer isolated to the region, state or country. Nor even the planet a person is geographically located. Embrace the ability to communicate and utilize all available information rather than sticking to the ways of the past.
The Big Cues
Time Magazine published an article talking about how body language could be betrayed in the workplace. The article referenced Joe Navarro, Dr. Lillian Glass and Patti Wood who are all considered experts in the field of non-verbal cues. The article talked about some of the most common behaviors seen today. It also shed some light on how behaviors are perceived by the receiving person or the general public.
How others perceive us is completely under our own control, as long as we are aware of how we are portraying ourselves. I found that through watching others I was able to notice some of my own behaviors. Once I was aware of myself, it became much easier to control my behaviors or change them if the need arose. Understanding how behaviors change based upon the emotions felt is like getting your foot in the door. Watching how others hold themselves while noticing what feelings cause which behaviors is taking the first step. Each of these lead to understanding the need to control our own nonverbal cues. Personal space, blocking behaviors, tapping a foot, or something as simple as chewing your nails all have an effect on the way people perceive you.
Personal space is a big deal, even more so during a new interaction or when meeting with someone for the first time. It’s something that is easy to overlook. Personal space is all based upon how both members feel toward one another. If the relationship is new, there may not be any bond of trust or understanding on either side of personal space boundaries.
When meeting someone new, shake their hand then maintain a good distance between you and them. For western cultures personal space ranges from two to four feet on average. This is also referred to as the personal space bubble. If someone who’s not welcome enters the personal space bubble, negative feelings may arise. If the distance between you is satisfactory with the other person, they will remain in the same place. You may notice that after making the common introductions, the other person turns their body away from you (blading), if even in the slightest. If the other person is blading, you may have invaded their personal space. If the person takes a step back then you most likely have broken their normal boundaries. This is a great time to note that if the person takes a step closer to the conversation, they are showing interest.
How the body is positioned during an interaction is also a good indicator of how the person feels toward you. Body position can also give a peek into who in a group of people holds the highest level of respect. Someone who has their feet, torso, and head all facing who they are speaking with is completely engaged. That’s a solid example of someone who’s full attention is in the conversation and is a sign of respect for the person(s) they are talking to.
When reading nonverbal cues and body language, all we have are assumptions. It’s an assumption until there is enough information to confirm the hypothesis. Nonverbal cues are a result of the hindbrains (primal part of the brain) normal operation. From the outside we will never know what emotion caused the behavior that’s observed. Rather, it offers a sort of insight into what emotions the person may be feeling.
For those who are analytical, the art of nonverbal communication may take longer to understand. Being the conscience beings that we are, we can only comprehend what it is that we ourselves are feeling. The assumptions which we create through our observations are the only thing that we can go on. On the heels of that, do not assume that you know what the subject is feeling, because doing so creates a fallacy.
Every conscientious human portrays what their individual limbic system causes them to show. Each person’s behaviors are individual and needs treated as such when observing them. We observe behaviors, then it’s our job to ask questions to confirm, or deny, our hypothesis (assumptions). Watching the interactions and space between people, you can gain a fair amount of information on the people you are watching. You may even be able to tell if they know each other or if they are meeting for the first time. The space between people will give away if there’s a relationship or if they are acquaintances.
If people are standing close, within 2 feet or touching, then from the snapshot baseline, they may have a relationship of some sort. And that they may even have some sort of intimate relationship be it physical or emotional.
Parents and their children, couples and close friends will all break the socially accepted personal space norms. Military members who have served together will display the same behaviors as above. Veterans and military members almost all display a closeness when interacting with one another. This is in part to the shared trauma of bootcamp and the military machine, which is inevitable and unavoidable, while serving. The closeness can be something as simple as a light touch or a full on embrace that lasts past what is socially accepted.
One behavior that needs noted is as follows. A slight touch happens and one of the party members reacts with a jerk, or swift pulling away movement. This reaction could indicate that the person was not ready for the stimulus. It could also mean that they have some sort of reserved feelings toward the other person.
Even the most subtle body movements are observable by others. One thing that needs remembering is that we humans, by nature, are predators. That our conscience brain, all our senses, and our subconsciousness can be overridden by the primitive part of the brain. Why is that an important fact to remember and why should that have any effect on how others perceive us? Well, our eyes are drawn to movement like all other predators. When we watch someone or someone watches us, even the smallest movement can be highlighted.
Because others will notice when we are moving, fidgeting is a negative trait when observed by others. An excess of movement can give off the impression that someone is not listening. It may appear that something else is on their minds. Something so important it keeps them from devoting full attention to whom they should be listening to. Or that they are increasingly uncomfortable in the given situation.
Excess body movements are associated with the uncomfortable behavioral category. The extra body movement will draw attention to oneself and it’s often a sign of discomfort.
An increase in fidgeting or slight body movement can also be a sign of pacifying behaviors. Pacifying behaviors fall into the uncomfortable behavioral category. Whether it’s observing two people speaking or watching a group of people interacting, pay attention to who in the group is fidgeting. Those are the people who are trying to comfort themselves.
This along with other uncomfortable anomalies can create a cluster needed to confirm they are actually uncomfortable. Even after having observed a cluster of uncomfortable behaviors, one can’t determine why the person is acting the way they are. At least there’s some insight to what topic(s) the person is having an emotional response to.
I was delivering a class for Tony Scotti’s Vehicle Dynamics Institute’s Solo Practitioner course and an interesting question came up. Being confident in my understanding and abilities, I was uncomfortable with having to present to my peers. My discomfort was noted by one of the students and brought up as a topic of discussion. The student asked “I noticed your left hand in your pocket during the majority of your presentation. But what struck me as odd was that your fingers seem to be playing with some part of your phone. Why was that?”
I told the students they did a great job of identifying the pacifying behaviors in which I was giving off during the presentation. I explained to them my discomfort was with presenting to a group of my peers. I explained that up to this point presenting to a group of students, who were currently working in the industry, was a barrier in which I had not yet crossed. Having given the same training to students who are not in the industry was much easier. It was easier because I wasn’t worried about their point of view on the material in which I was covering.
The movement which the student identified was my thumb playing with the headphone plug on my phone case. The student stated that they didn’t note any movement in my pocket. What they did identify was the tension in the muscles of my forearm. How those muscles kept shifting between flexing and not. Now, with him being across the room, I’m not sure how he could have seen that. He may have had eyes of an eagle. But he did pick it out, called me out for it, and then understood why I was portraying those behaviors. In that instance the student did what he thought was correct. He observed a behavior, then created his own hypothesis of why that behavior was there. He identified additional anomalies to create a cluster of anomalies. The student then took it a step farther and verified that his hypothesis was correct. He asked me about it to understand the why and to identify what emotion was being observed.
The student had identified the cluster as pacifying behaviors. Because I confirmed that it was in fact a pacifying behavior and the reason why the student was able to confirm the hypothesis he created.
Behaviors & Anomalies
By: Luke Daniel
Luke’s experiences as a Global Executive Protection Agent, Instructor at Tony Scotti’s Vehicle Dynamics Institute, and a student of behavioral analysis/non-verbal communication have led him to work with Fortune 1000 companies as a leader in human assets, “buy in,” and business resiliency.