A question that we frequently get asked during our classes here at The CP Journal is whether a person can be displaying two clusters at the same time. In other words, can a person be both “dominant and comfortable” at the same time or “uncomfortable and submissive” simultaneously?
The short answer to this question is no, a person can’t be displaying two clusters at the same time. The dominant, submissive, uncomfortable and comfortable clusters used to assess a person’s current state are mutually exclusive because they each represent a different survival response that the brain can choose from in threatening situations.. Since your brain makes the decision to either fight or run when a perceived stressor or threat presents itself, you can’t be displaying the dominant cluster, the manifestation of the fight response, and the uncomfortable cluster, the manifestation of the flight response, at the same moment in time. It is by the same logic that a person can’t be displaying the dominant cluster and the comfortable cluster concurrently. As the comfortable cluster is the type of body language displayed when no flight or fight response has been triggered, a person can’t be displaying body language that is associated with the stress response and body language associated with the absence of a stress response at any given point either.
It is important to remember that the body’s responses to potential threats are not permanent decisions. As a situation develops and as a person collects more information about the people around them and their environment, they can easily shift from one response to the next. Think about a person who is in “flight response” mode who tries to protect themselves from a bully by putting distance between themselves and the aggressor. Even though that is their first response, if they find themselves backed into a corner without any other opportunities to escape from the situation, you may see this person immediately shift into “fight” mode if that option becomes their best way to survive the encounter. This would be observed as a change in the cluster you observe them displaying from the uncomfortable cluster to the dominant cluster. This change can occur extremely fast, but the clusters aren’t being displayed simultaneously.
I’ve found that there are typically two reasons why a person learning to read behavior runs into a situation where they are unsure of which cluster they should use to assess a person.
The first reason is that low intensity dominance (or discomfort) can actually look a lot like comfort at first glance because there might only be one or two indicators displayed that reveals the subject’s dominance. Higher intensity displays where four or five cues reveal that the person is experiencing the fight or flight response to their surroundings are much easier to accurately categorize.
The second reason why someone trained to read behavior might not be sure of which cluster applies to the observation subject is because of what is happening at the moment they first begin observing them. When a new observer sees conflicting indicators, which could imply two different clusters, what they are often observing is the shift from one cluster to another. The shift from flight to fight (or from no threat perceived into flight or fight) doesn’t have to be instantaneous. It can also be gradual. When a person notices these contradictory cues, it is often because they are first noticing someone who is just beginning to go through the shift from one cluster to the next. It might be just one gesture, posture or expression at a time, but as a person’s perception of the situation begins to change, so does their behavior. Often, the easiest way to overcome this challenge is to continue observing the person and see which one of the clusters becomes more prominently displayed.
When you have conflicting information and aren’t sure which cues you should prioritize over the others being displayed, take a step back and take in the person you are observing as a whole. While our approach to reading body language has you look at the cues leading to one of the four primary clusters, there are benefits to looking at the bigger picture when making your assessments. This is one way that you can see through some of the uncertainty that body language can often present.
Whether a person can be displaying multiple clusters is something that gets emailed to us frequently by students going through the Tactical Analysis online program. If you have gone through the course and if we can answer a question for you that will help you apply these lessons in your job, get in touch with us so that we can help.
Thanks for choosing to train with us.