The first observable behaviors that we teach in our Tactical Analysis program are those needed to make assessments about individual people. Yet when you observe an area, establish a baseline, and hunt for anomalies, individual people get observed last. Why we have structured our class this way is a question that we often get from our students. If alert observers should start the observation process by looking at the fourth pillar of behavior (how we assess the collective mood), why don’t we teach the observable behaviors in the order they are going to be observed and used when we operate? There are three reasons why we made the decision to teach the class with the last observations taught first.

1. Assessing individuals is the most important pillar of behavior.

Even though a parent shouldn’t show preference to one of their children over the others, the reality is, not all of the pillars that we teach are equal. While each of the pillars (you can view them all here) provides value in its own unique way, it is the learning of the first pillar, how we assess individual people, that should be nurtured and developed more than its three siblings. It is this first pillar that you want to spend more time with because it will provide greater contributions to your personal safety than the other three ever could. This is because how we assess individual people is what the remaining three pillars are built off of. It is the foundation. If you can’t assess a single person, you won’t be able to put those people together into groups (Pillar #2). If you can’t assess a single person, you will find it difficult to understand how that person interacts with their environment (Pillar #3), and it will be nearly impossible to identify the mood of everyone present in an area (Pillar #4) if you can’t first do that for a single person.

With the understanding that learning how to determine if a person is displaying the dominant, submissive, uncomfortable or comfortable cluster is the highest priority, teaching it first maximizes our opportunity to ensure it is understood. By teaching it in the beginning, we create opportunities to test a student’s understanding of that pillar while teaching them how to assess the other three, as they will see more applications of it. Students observe dominance when learning how to identify anchor points. They observe submissiveness when learning how to apply the behaviors in conversation. They observe comfort and discomfort when learning how to assess the collective mood and observe all four clusters of behavior when assessing relationships amongst groups of people. Setting the conditions to accomplish our second highest objective for the Tactical Analysis Program is the first reason why learning how to assess individual people is taught before all of the other pillars of observable behavior.

2. Assessments about individuals support the greatest number of decisions in other contexts.

In addition to the first pillar of behavior being the most important, it is also the most transferable to situations outside of what we teach in our program. When you are trying to determine if this is the best time to approach your boss and ask for a raise, you are likely viewing their individual body language to make the decision about whether you should ask now or wait until they’ve had their morning coffee. When you are trying to figure out how the person you are buying a car from thinks they can get the sale, and how you can defend yourself from getting taken advantage of, you are observing individuals (note: watch for dominance poorly disguised as submissiveness). If you are trying to figure out how to get your kids to eat the food you’ve put in front of them, you are determining which of the four clusters is going to be the best one for you to present to your child, and you are also going to adjust your approach based on the cluster they are displaying in response to you and the food on their plate.

While the other pillars may or may not be factors present in those three situations, as long as there are people around you, the opportunity to assess individuals is always available to you. You shouldn’t take this as me saying that the other three pillars aren’t important or aren’t transferable, as they are extremely important and transferable, just at a level slightly below the first pillar.

3. Teaching it first was an instructional design decision.

Even though we teach how to assess individual people first at this point in the evolution of the Tactical Analysis Program, this wasn’t always the case. We actually used to teach how to assess individuals at the very end of the course. But when we did that, we would run into problems pretty frequently, as we would end up “half teaching” the concepts throughout the course in order to answer questions that came up. It is really hard to teach the way to assess the collective mood without having the students first understand what the differences between comfort and discomfort are. Because those words mean something very specific, when a student made an incorrect assessment during the class, correcting it was a challenge because they hadn’t yet been taught how to distinguish between the two or how the freeze, flight or fight response impacts whether comfort is an option or not.

Half teaching the concepts during the other pillars or while answering questions continually resulted in a very poorly structured lesson on how to assess individuals at the end of the program. As an instructor, I never want to waste anyone’s time and, outside of the places in the class where there are planned repetitions, I don’t want to repeat something I already talked about. Take for example some of the concepts we teach about the human brain and how it impacts the behavior we can observe in people around us. The way I might discuss that topic during a question and answer session is very different from the way I would teach it when I’m showing its impact on observable behavior. If I cover this (even just partially) earlier in the class, I become forced to either intentionally repeat something and risk turning off a portion of the class who understood the first explanation, or moving through it more quickly than I normally would, and leaving a different portion of the class with an unclear understanding of the topic. Since neither of those two options is the right way to teach a class, by teaching the most important lesson first, I avoid putting myself into a situation where I have to prioritize which half of the class is going to understand something and which half is going to have to catch up on their own.

The changes and refinements we have made to the Tactical Analysis program are always the result of the feedback we receive from our students, whether that comes in the form of an end-of-course evaluation or by assessing a student’s skill in assessing the pillars of behavior. Because our commitment is to empower the men and women on the ground, those in the military, police and security professions, with the ability to recognize threats, make informed decisions and adapt to the complex situations they face, we will continually find ways to improve our program.

Over the past five years, we have continually reflected on what portions of the Tactical Analysis course provide the biggest impact, which portions of the course can be trimmed down, and what we can do to allow the program to continuously evolve to meet the high standards that protectors, guardians and warriors deserve. While we are excited about many of the new improvements we are making to our course and some new ways we are developing to take situational awareness training to a higher level, we are deeply appreciative of those students who have helped us bring our course to where it is today.