Exactly one year before the workplace violence-related shooting last week outside of the Empire State building, I posted my second article on this site. It was titled, “Am I an Expert Yet” and it was written with the goal of instilling confidence in students to use and apply the profiling skills they were learning in class. My intent was for students to take proactive steps towards identifying and taking action on the anomalies they observed and not be passive bystanders. But after watching the media call on countless self-proclaimed “experts” to comment on the events that took place before and after the shooting, I can’t help but be frustrated.
Experts Know Capabilities and Limitations.
I don’t think there are very many people who are body language experts. Reading body language certainly gives an observer an incredible insight into a person’s true intentions and emotions, but it doesn’t turn a person who can interpret those cues into a mind reader. The reality is that we can make science-backed observations about what we are witnessing and make them confidently, but there is no way of knowing with absolute certainty what the underlying cause for that behavior is. This fact is further highlighted when we attempt to analyze a video when we were not physically present on the scene and don’t have a complete picture of the setting and the surroundings. Body language observations need to be evaluated and weighed against the context of the situation. This is what gives the observations meaning – when they can be compared to the baseline for that specific setting and determined to be relevant or not.
I bring this point up because many body language experts who appear on news shows often speak with absolute certainty about the cause for a person’s behavior or quickly determine whether a person is lying or not. More often than not, the expert wasn’t on the scene during the interview and has no way of knowing everything that is going on behind the camera that the person being questioned saw. This affects a person’s perceptions and thoughts, which directly translates to their body language, so it would be extremely difficult for an expert to give a definitive assessment in these circumstances. These elements all affect the reason behind a behavior-based observation, but these variables are rarely acknowledged. To ignore them shows overconfidence and to speak with such unwavering certainty demonstrates that objectivity has been lost in the observation.
Because I don’t claim to be an expert, I openly acknowledge and accept these limitations when I put videos in our Video Training section. They are chosen to highlight a specific learning point, but rarely do they provide a complete context, so you won’t see me talk with absolute certainty about everything that is occurring. I will break down the body language and the other behaviors that are shown and for which I can explain the potential causes, but I do that with the intent to teach and to provide examples for how that might be useful in your lives. Without being there to witness the event, it would be foolish for me to say exactly why a person behaved in that manner. By providing as many possible outcomes as possible, we can help a reader maintain an objective stance.
Experts Look For Valid Indicators
The day after the shooting, I watched a workplace violence “expert” educate the viewers of a major news organization on what to look for in a person to realize that they could be a threat. In case you are anxiously reading ahead to learn how to protect yourself, I wont make you wait any longer:
1 – A coworker brings his gun into the office might be a threat.
2 – A coworker who only talks about his gun collection might be a threat.
3 – A coworker who wears camouflage fatigues to work could be a threat.
I admittedly have no idea how many workplace attacks were conducted by people wearing fatigues to the office, but of the 506 workplace related homicides that occurred in 2010*, common sense tells me that the number isn’t that high. I also want to take a second to applaud the analysis leading to the conclusion that homicides in the workplace and are often preceded by someone bringing a gun into the office. Insightful.
We look at trends, patterns, and emerging threats in order to make educated and informed predictions about future security threats, but like in body language, it isn’t a perfect science. When it comes to the security field, the only thing a person can have true expertise on is what the enemy did yesterday. Every war and every conflict we fight is different from the last. The enemy has a vote and a say in the process and is an ever-changing and evolving entity. He isn’t going to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. They look at lessons learned from previous battles to improve their chances the same way that we do. Just like the body language expert who speaks with overconfidence, a security expert who speaks with absolute certainty about future threats is failing to take this enormous variable into consideration.
There Is No End State
I write this arguing against the concept of expertise. I’m not an expert because I’m not going to stop studying. To say that you are an expert means that you have mastered your trade and now believe that there is no longer any need for you to continue learning. This has to be one of the biggest mistakes a person can make. When you stop learning, you become blind to change, and you open the door for an adaptive and knowledge seeking opponent to surpass you. That’s why I don’t want to be an expert.
In this profession, the profession of protection, whether that is the military, law enforcement, or private security, to think that you have it all figured out is a decision that has serious consequences. The enemy is always learning and is always looking for new weaknesses. Over the last 20 years, Americans have watched enemies both at home and abroad, adapt and learn at a faster pace than the good guys. Right now, America doesn’t need experts – we need critical thinkers. We need people who can solve problems on the ground to keep the enemy reacting to us instead of the other way around.
I started The CP Journal because I believe that understanding behavior can help us in this pursuit. Security professionals need resources available to them in order to keep learning. Overconfidence can lead to bad decisions because it can cause people to lose their objectivity and stop seeing two sides to the coin. I want to provide enough resources, articles, and videos to prevent that from occurring. I also wanted to reach a larger audience with this material so that security providers and law enforcement have an educated network to support their “see something, say something” approach to community policing. If you have suggestions for how the site or the company can do it better, don’t hesitate to contact me and let me know, there are certainly things that I can learn to accomplish this more quickly. Thanks for reading.
* Numbers from Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on the website for the Organizational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).