Here at The CP Journal, a lot of our work centers on personal safety and security and is geared towards professions such as the military, police, and security. However, many of the concepts that we teach our clients can be easily transferred to the civilian world for anyone to use.  In two recent posts, I outlined the four clusters of observable behavior that we teach our clients and broke down the first two pillars, which are the individual and groups.  I applied a common sense language to both pillars so that they can be easily applied to everyday life.  As a follow-up to those posts, I will now walk through the next pillar, the collective mood, and explain what it is, how to recognize the mood around you, and how to use that information to make more informed decisions for your own personal safety and to improve your overall communication with other people.

The collective mood of an area is best described as the social or emotional atmosphere of an environment, situation, or place.  By assessing the collective mood in your everyday routine you will be able to set a baseline for all of the places you visit on a daily basis and then be able to more accurately assess the individuals and groups that don’t align with the given situation.  These misalignments, or anomalies, can help you recognize potential threats or people that are present with intentions other than the norm for the area. The two mutually exclusive assessments for the collective mood are positive or negative, and you can determine the collective mood by either thinking about it from a top-down perspective or a bottom-up perspective.

The top-down perspective of assessing the collective mood entails using some of your five senses to assess the mood around you by looking, listening, and even smelling everything around you. This does not mean we want to pay extra close attention to the individual people present in any situation just yet.  Instead, here are some questions to ask your self in any area or place you find yourself in:

  • Is the area loud?
  • If the area is loud, is it happy and energetic or is it loud to the point of disruption and confrontational?
  • Is the area quiet?
  • If the area is quiet, is it quiet in a “this is a park and it’s peacefully quiet” kind of way, or is the atmosphere tense due to fear or uncertainty?
  • Are people generally behaving in an orderly way?
  • Are people operating in a hostile or threatening way towards the people around them?
  • Does the area smell as you would expect it to smell, or are there odors that are out of place?

The answers to these questions will help you determine whether the overall collective mood is positive or negative and if people feel safe or threatened.  If these answers create a baseline that causes you to feel safe and secure, then you can assess the mood as positive. If the answers cause you to feel threatened in any way, then the overall mood is negative. The top-down approach to assessing the collective, at its core, does rely on your personal instincts of a given situation.

To look at it from the other side, the next step is to take a bottom-up approach to the individual people and groups that are present in a given situation to confirm your collective mood assessment.

If the collective mood of the area is positive, you should notice the following:

  • Most individual people should be displaying comfort because they are not feeling threatened.
  • The groups of people in the environment will range from acquaintance to intimate relationships and should overall be open and welcoming.
  • You might also notice that people feel free to move about in the area with little attention paid to their surroundings.

As an example for what a positive mood might look like, take a look at this video from inside a fast food chain. Please note the individual clusters that most people are displaying and how people are moving about.

If the collective mood of the area is negative, you should instead notice some of these signs:

  • Individuals will display discomfort as an indicator that they don’t feel safe.
  • The cluster of discomfort will stand out as the baseline and not anomalies.
  • Groups of people will generally be closed off to new people approaching them or engaging them in conversation.
  • Groups may be acting in a chaotic manner with hostility or aggression.
  • There may be clear signals of territoriality, which limit people’s ability to move freely.

As an example, check out this short YouTube link that features news footage from a Buffalo, New York retail store. The overall collective mood at the entrance of the store is negative. Few people are displaying comfort, many appear to feel threatened, and there is essentially chaos.

Now that we have assessed the collective mood, what does it mean and why does it matter?  Assessing the collective mood is a great first step for anyone entering a new area.  By quickly observing and listening to everything that is happening around you, you can determine whether or not the overall mood is positive and negative.  From that assessment, you can expand upon your baseline to determine the baseline for individuals and groups in the area. With this information you can be prepared to observe any anomalies that present themselves to determine next steps. By having a clear process to determine the collective mood of the area you are in, you can trust your decision-making process in any area. Whether you are a protector working a detail or a salesperson entering a conference, by building the skill-set of assessing the collective mood you can make more informed decisions. These decisions can range from which people to approach in a crowded room to enacting an escape plan for you and your loved ones. The collective mood can now serve as the basis for your personal process for setting the baseline in any area you visit.