After spending most of last week at a Security and Counter-Terrorism Conference in New York City and getting the chance to talk to a number of people whose careers revolve around threat detection, I learned that, for people who look at the material on this site with pre-existing knowledge of behavioral analysis, one question gets asked over and over again:

– Why these domains and why this terminology?

– The 6 Domains of Observable Behavior serve two purposes.  The first is to serve as a functional vocabulary, which allows a person to effectively communicate what they are observing.  The 6 Domains provide you with the ability to achieve a sufficient level of descriptiveness so that others can easily understand exactly what you are observing and why that is important.  It also ensures that we have not simultaneously overly complicated the observation, which would have a negative effect and compromise the value of the communication.  The second purpose is to provide a framework for categorizing and classifying new information and experiences that will ultimately increase the pace that you learn and decrease the time to attain mastery in this field.

Keeping It Functional

For the domains to work as a functional vocabulary, the definitions of the domains can’t be too specific and it can’t be too broad.  Many people lump the domains of Kinesics, Biometric Cues, Proxemics, and some elements of Iconography into a single classification of non-verbal communication.  Justifying a decision you make with an umbrella term, such as non-verbal communication, would prompt additional follow-up questions and require you to further elaborate on what you specifically observed.  This would extend the amount of conversation needed for the person to understand what you saw.  By using the terminology of the domains and breaking non-verbal communication into it’s subcomponents, a police officer can justify his decision to search a person by explaining that he witnessed a proxemics push as a person tried to avoid his patrol. When the officer questioned the suspect he noticed Kinesic indicators that alerted him as the person began patting and touching his waistband, which led the officer to believe the person had a concealed weapon.  After the search the officer confirmed the observation and found the weapon.  By adding a degree of descriptiveness and quantifying specifically what was observed, the person who is hearing the rationale for the search can be confident that the decision was based on grounded observations. Additional questions are not needed because the situation was explained clearly.

The other reason that these terms are labeled as functional is because they ensure that the description isn’t overly complicated.  Some of you may have read the last paragraph and said that the patting and touching that the officer observed isn’t necessarily a Kinesic indicator.  And you are right.  Kinesics is the study of body movement, which isn’t the same as body language.  It is a piece of body language, but not the only component.  The patting and touching behavior would be more adequately described as haptics, which is the study of touching, and is also an element of body language.  So why do we teach it as a Kinesic indicator?  Because for the guy on the ground, differentiating between body movement and touching is irrelevant and would require additional terminology to learn.

For the purists out there, this might as well be blasphemy.  But keep in mind that Tactical Analysis is designed for people who are operating in stressful and chaotic environments with countless demands on their mental processes.  In our opinion, the 6 Domains are descriptive enough that they cover the range of human behavior, without adding in an overwhelming amount of differentiation.  The goal is to speed up a Marine’s decision-making ability, and to over classify would have a negative effect on this.

A Framework For Continued Learning

When it comes to a person’s ability to read body language, there are two types of people.  The first is the person who was forced to learn the skill early on in their life, as it became the best chance for their survival.  People who grew up in dangerous neighborhoods or in abusive households had to learn to identify threats or they paid the consequences for missing these cues.

The second group of people learned somewhere later in their life, and probably learned through dedicated self-study.  In our schools, we are taught to read, write, and speak a language, but are never taught how to read body language.  Because the people in this group are likely not the “naturals,” they need a structure and format for consolidating the material and experiences they are using to develop themselves.

We live in an age of information overload, and observing human behavior is no different.  Without having a structure, new information and experiences will get lost and forgotten.

The 6 Domains cover the range of human behavior and can serve as this framework.  If you are observing individual people you can categorize your observations using the domains Kinesics and Biometric Cues.  If you are observing group behavior, you can add this into your knowledge of the Proxemics domain as well as elements of Kinesics.  If you are looking to see how humans interact with their environment in different settings, we have the domain of Geographics to cover this information.  If you are looking at the collective mood for the mass of people you are observing, you can use Atmospherics.  Iconography has elements that fit into each of the domains, yet is still different enough that it can’t simply be broken up and added into the other five domains.  I would think that too broad of topic, such as a simple classification of non-verbal communication, would be too ambiguous, and would fail to provide the structure needed for an efficient learning process.

The 6 Domains allow us to not only learn, but to also let us communicate what we are seeing.  I believe that the balance between sufficient descriptiveness and over classification is a fine line, but through continuous and repeated practice, it will become a language that best facilitates learning.