In the work that we do with our clients here at The CP Journal, we teach a process of observation that we categorize using the four pillars of observable behavior: individuals, groups, the environment, and the overall collective mood.  Much of the training work that we do is with clients in the security world, but we have also spent a good deal of time helping organizations in other sectors that aren’t focused specifically on security to grow their businesses, improve their customer service strategy, and increase their sales, using these same pillars. As we continue to work with non-security-related organizations, understanding these pillars in non-security terms and explaining how to recognize them is crucial. One of the easiest ways to begin thinking about this in your own life is to consider personal examples of how that information can help lead to more informed decisions in everyday circumstances. In this post, I will outline the first pillar that we teach, the individual, explain what exactly you should look for while observing, and offer some examples regarding how this information can improve your overall level of confidence in any interpersonal interaction.

Of the four pillars of observable behavior, the first pillar is the individual. Within the individual pillar we use four clusters to categorize any human being at any moment in time.  Each person you see out in the world can be categorized as being comfortable, uncomfortable, dominant or submissive. These four clusters are the universal results of their body’s natural responses to what is happening to them and around them and occur outside of conscious control.  While you might tend to get caught up in making sure you nail your cluster-focused observation of an individual, the categorization itself isn’t the most important element here. The process and the framework of how you assess individuals is what’s key. This process can be used to observe any person in any setting, such as a co-worker in the office, a fellow parent at the playground, a family member at a party, the person in front of you at the grocery store or on the subway, or locals you meet while on vacation. By thinking about people you come into contact with throughout your day as being in one of the four clusters, you can eliminate some of the uncertainty you may have about how other people are feeling at any given time. You can also use this framework to prepare yourself for how you might respond to various scenarios that could present themselves while you interact with these individuals on any given day.

The first cluster within the individual pillar that we will discuss is the comfortable cluster. An individual in the comfortable cluster is best described as someone that does not perceive any threat and has an absence of the “fight or flight” response.  People don’t perceive threats most of the time.  You might describe these people as happy-go-lucky, enjoying the moment, and interested in being present in that moment in time. The comfortable cluster could reflect people that are usually happy in their place in the world, content with what is happening around them, and genuinely enjoying what they are doing at that moment. People that are demonstrating comfort will usually be relaxed. Their arms and legs will remain fairly still. They will direct their torso toward you without worry and they will be displaying facial signs indicating that they are in a pleasant mood. People will be open to staying in a conversation with you when they are in a state of comfort because they have no reason to want to flee from or fight with you. People enjoy being comfortable. If you are looking to strike up a conversation with someone in a crowded room, you can benefit from seeking out someone that is comfortable because you can reasonably assume that they will be more willing to talk and might also offer something of value because they have confidence in their current surroundings.

The individual who is displaying something other than the comfortable cluster is showing that their body does perceive something to be amiss. The body is recognizing that something isn’t “right” and is naturally trying to flee the situation or close their body off to the perceived threat.  Some people associate the word threat as a threat to their safety, but this isn’t always the case. Other examples of threats to human beings outside of the security industry that could cause people to internally elicit the “fight or flight” response could be a co-worker vying for your job, a parent that feels like their child isn’t being treated fairly, a brother or sister that harbors jealousy towards another member of the family, a prospective client in a sales situation that doesn’t like to be in sales conversations, a customer at a retail store that doesn’t want to be pressured into buying anything, or a traveler on vacation that doesn’t know the area well and is fearful of getting lost. Each of these instances might cause a person to feel nervous or threatened, which can cause the body to respond in a way other comfortably.

This leads us to the second cluster of individual behavior, the uncomfortable cluster. Discomfort shows itself by displaying universal, bodily signs of behavior, front and center.  Some of the signs of discomfort include people moving their feet anxiously, people blading their torso away from those they are talking to, crossing their arms and legs, and moving side to side or back and forth. If you intend to progress a conversation forward or advance a relationship with someone when you recognize that they are uncomfortable, you may want to think about the things that you can do to alleviate some of their discomfort, by potentially removing the instance that might be causing the discomfort or by being empathic or helpful in some way to help the person get comfortable with you and the environment.

The next cluster, the dominant cluster, reveals itself when the body’s natural “fight” response kicks in.  When people feel a threat is present, but also have confidence that they can control the situation, the body will naturally display dominance. Some of the ways that dominance shows itself is when someone tries to make him or herself larger by taking up more physical space, extending their arms out wide and above their head, spreading their feet out wide, and leaning in towards the other people they are talking to. One of the fun ways to watch for dominance is when you’re spending time with children.  When children are put in situations when their fight response kicks in, they will put their hands on their hips, spread their feet out wide, and even extend their arms to show other kids or adults that they want to run the show. Because children have less human interaction experience than adults, they haven’t trained themselves on how to mask their dominance, so it’s easier to spot and more fun to look out for. When you recognize dominance in other adults you can decide to combat their dominance with dominance of your own, or just let it happen by remaining comfortable and unaffected by their actions. By simply recognizing the dominance that’s being displayed in front of you, you will already feel comfortable knowing that you are aware that it’s happening and you are in control of whether or not you want to deal with this dominant person.

Lastly, the fourth cluster is submissiveness, which is often described as the opposite of dominance.  This is when the body has no interest in fighting or demonstrating dominance.  Submissiveness shows itself when people are trying to make themselves smaller and non-threatening.  Someone that is demonstrating submissiveness might fold their arms into their body, tuck their head and neck into their shoulders, or sit in a chair folded up to make their body small and insignificant. When spending time with people that are showing signs of submissiveness you can help make them more comfortable by making light of the situation, using kind language and tone to help put them at ease, or perhaps use empathy to help make them feel like they aren’t alone in the way that they are feeling. Submissiveness can be a crucial cluster to recognize if you work in a service related role because a person displaying submissive traits aren’t yet comfortable in the environment and may want some help.

While this post only scratches the surface of the four clusters of observable behavior, the basic framework can be used to observe any person at any given time. By understanding that each person you run into at each moment of your day is operating in one of these four clusters, you can feel more confident that you know what is going on with those around you. By thinking about the individual clusters in a context separate from security or law enforcement, you can begin to think about how to put the pillars of observable behavior to work for yourself. In this post, I included examples specifically to help you think about the pillars and clusters in a different way. If you have examples of how the four clusters of individual behavior have become important in your own personal or professional lives, please don’t hesitate to send them to us via e-mail so that we can continue to share specific, relevant experiences with our clients and audience.