I was recently in San Francisco for an academic conference. Hundreds of book publishing companies come to the conference to sell their most recent publications related to the various fields of study connected to the conference. Because the publishing companies and reps are there, this means two main opportunities for students and scholars: buy books at a discount and pitch ideas to publishers for their next book. Well, I just so happened to be sitting at a table by myself, minding my own business, when an aspiring scholar and a book representative sat down to talk. From the get-go, it was apparent that the scholar was attempting to pitch an idea to the publishing representative. And, from the get-go, it was also apparent that he was headed for rejection, and possibly disaster. I could spend a significant amount of time discussing the scholar’s ability (or lack thereof) to pitch his idea, but my observations here deal mainly with the publishing rep.

In the book Honest Signals, MIT professor Sandy Pentland describes four “honest signals” by which we can predict the outcome of human interactions. The four honest signals he identifies are 1) Influence, 2) Mimicry, 3) Activity, and 4) Consistency. Each of these four signals exhibits differing elements of a person’s behavior, which are direct indicators of that person’s mental and emotional status. Influence is just that, the influence that one person has on another. It is an indicator of dominance or respect, but it also shows that one person has another person’s attention. Mimicry is also self-explanatory, but basically means one person copying another (for example, facial expressions, gestures, etc.). Mimicry is, in one sense, a measure of influence. When we see one person copying another, we can say that one person is having an influence over the other. Activity is another way that interest is measured. Activity is basically the amount of energy that a person uses to remain a part of an interaction; the more energy used, the more a person is interested in an interaction. Consistency is a measure of how focused a person is in a conversation. When a person is devoting all of their mental energy to a conversation, then all of their actions will appear fluid and “consistent.” However, when they become disinterested in a conversation, and begin thinking about something else, then they will appear inconsistent. Their speech will be slower, they body language will be less fluid, etc. I describe all this to say that I used these signals to gauge the conversation I described above.

Based on these four signals (influence, mimicry, activity, and consistency) I immediately concluded that the scholar’s attempt to pitch his book idea was not going well; and that the book publisher would basically reject his idea. In the end, I was right. After about a 20 minute conversation, the book publisher basically told the aspiring writer, “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” But how did I know this after only a few seconds? Well, the book publisher was not engaged in the conversation, did not mimic the scholar, and did not show signs of increased energy due to focused attention and interest. I did not see any signs of inconsistency because the publishing rep was doing a good job keeping her attention toward the scholar; however, the other three signals clearly pointed toward a negative outcome for the aspiring scholar. If he would have only known how to profile behavior, he could have either saved himself some breath, or changed his delivery to more effectively communicate and grab the publishing reps attention.

All in all, my point is that the type of profiling we teach has applications outside of combat. The more you know about behavior, and the better you are at profiling others, the more successful you will be in day to day life.