One of the reasons that Daniel Kahneman cited for writing his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, was that he hoped to inform gossip and enrich the vocabulary that people use to talk about the assessments that they make. He understood that talking about decision-making for professionals in the security field is no different that the way a doctor has to acquire a large set of labels for diseases, understand the symptoms, causes, antecedents, remedies and interventions to cure or mitigate the illness. As Kahneman says, learning medicine consists in part of learning the language of medicine. Thinking Fast and Slow is his way of providing the language of decision-making.

A decision is only as accurate as the recognitions that trigger it. Just as we need a language to talk about the end of the process (the decision) we also need a terminology to talk about the observations leading up to an assessment. That is what behavioral analysis offers, a vocabulary to discuss human behavior so that we can focus on the true signals and not get distracted by the noise. One of the goals of our Tactical Analysis training program is to improve the way you talk about others. The clusters used to assess individual behavior (dominant, submissive, uncomfortable, and comfortable) do just that. How we assess the relationship between members of groups as being intimate, friends, acquaintances, or strangers does just that. Identifying key leaders, talking about how people relate to their environment and establishing the collective mood of everyone present does just that. The language of nonverbal behavior lets us talk about people, their behaviors, their emotions and their intentions in a way that simply isn’t possible without first learning a standardized terminology. Instead of looking at a person on the opposite side of the street and saying there is something weird or “iffy” about that guy, you can look at him and say that he is displaying the dominant cluster (or the submissive, the uncomfortable, or the comfortable cluster) and has mission focus. Because of that he stands out from your established norm. The language of behavior is paramount to creating the opportunity to separate the criminal from the crowd he hides amongst.

Just like Kahneman, we hope to make our readers better at gossip. Learning doesn’t always have to be done in a formal setting. These clusters work to analyze the first date you are watching at a nearby table while you are in a restaurant this weekend. These clusters work when analyzing the coaches or players in the NFL playoffs this weekend. They apply to the actors and actresses in whatever reality TV show you like. I’m not saying that it is always easy, but that you can practice in any setting. In a sense, learning how to read behavior is a lot like learning how to read a book. A child in elementary school is going to have to put in a lot of effort to recognize the individual letters on the page and group them together into sounds and words. An experienced reader does this very quickly and can perceive entire sentences without a great deal of effort. Because of their experience, the developed reader can look at a word they have never seen before and identify patterns in the letters and pronounce the word even though it is new and unique to them. They understand the building blocks of written language. Reading human behavior is no different.

One of the comments that I get from time to time while I’m teaching is that learning to communicate behaviors feels like an extra step in the process. Why not just focus on the observations? Because the clusters are the building blocks of behaviors and will help you when you are in situations where you find yourself unsure of how to assess someone displaying a hand gesture or posture that you have never seen before. If you have learned the building blocks of the different clusters, you will be able to make sense of that person and their intentions even though it is unique and an unknown “word” to you.

Communication is a two-way process. The message has to be sent and the message has to be received and understood. Without a clear language that conveys the same meaning for both parties, creating that understanding can be difficult. I was recently reading an HBR article, How Netflix Reinvented HR, written by Patty McCord, who ran Human Resources for Netflix for nearly fourteen years, and she made a comment about management that stuck with me. She said that when an employee does something dumb, don’t get mad at them for making the wrong decision. Instead ask yourself if you failed to provide the right context so that person could make a better decision. How you verbalize the environment or context is a crucial step in the decision-making process. If you seek to make better decisions and better recognitions, start by holding yourself to a standard for how you will talk about the behaviors you observe.

Related Article: The ruling against the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy doesn’t have to hinder their ability to find criminals, but it does require that you can articulate what drew your attention to that person. Here is how the vocabulary we use here can empower you to do just that. Read the article here.