Thursday, October 8, 2015

Skills: Situational Awareness Like Jason Bourne

I really like the show “Lie To Me” that was on FOX a few years ago. It only ran 3 seasons but I like the actors and the premise of the show. The world's leading deception researcher, Dr. Cal Lightman, studies facial expression, body language and tone of voice to determine when a person is lying and why, which helps law enforcement and government agencies uncover the truth. This applies to situational awareness as I will explain later.
Situational awareness has been around for a long time. It’s not a new concept. When I go to a restaurant, or anywhere else for that matter, I like to sit in the “gunfighter seat.” This is how I know that sit aware has been around so long because it’s still called “the gunfighter seat”. This is far away from the entrance, but faces the entrance, and is near an exit. This drives my family crazy. If they sit on the side of the table that faces the entrance I always say “I have a question.” That’s usually all I have to say before they get what I’m going to say. The full statement is this: “I have a question. Who would you want to face the entrance of this place, the person that’s armed, or the one who’s not?” It’s become a family joke yet they usually let me sit where I want or switch seats.
If you’re in the middle of a room, you have 360 degrees to be aware of. If you’re against a wall, you have 180 degrees to be aware of. If you’re in a corner, you only have 90 degrees to concern yourself with. For the person who has trained in the tactical arts, that produces a warm, fuzzy feeling that the average person will never fully appreciate.

What happens if you can’t get that seat? Sometimes you may be facing a wall or in the middle of the room, then what? The same applies to standing conversations. Sometimes you end up with a commanding view of the room and other times you don’t. When there’s an easy way to improve your position, that’s an easy fix…just move.

Reality is seldom ideal and it’s common to find yourself in non-ideal situations.

Reflection is obvious if there are mirrors on the walls or glass partitions. But there are other more subtle reflective surfaces that you can use. Polished metal surfaces, a cell phone, TV screens, even the person you are facing’s glasses or eyes.
You may not see clear images but you can see if someone is approaching you.

When you’re facing other people and you have other behind you, watch the eyes of the people you’re facing. They’re going to see things behind you and, oftentimes, their eye lids and/or pupils will observe and unconsciously react to things before they consciously realize what’s going on.

It’s not unusual for people who use this trick to pick up on eyes widening or pupils dilating, turn around, and respond to the stimulus before the person who’s eyes widened is able to. As near as I can tell, the reason why you can react faster than the person who’s actually seeing things happen has to do with surprise. Their mind is frozen in surprise, but when you observe the reaction, you KNOW that you’re going to see something that might require a response as soon as you turn around.

When you start doing this, you’ll quickly start seeing the subtle differences in micro-reactions when someone sees something they like behind you (an attractive member of the opposite sex who’s favorably dressed) and something they don’t like (a threat, or more commonly, something/someone who they fear or who otherwise is threatening or repulsive to them).
When you’re sitting across a table from 4 people, and you purposely tune into their pupil reactions, it’s like having 8 eyes in the back of your head. I’ve found that this works, regardless of whether or not the person is trained and switched on or not, but it definitely works better with someone who’s more switched on.
This is the whole premise behind the show “Lie To Me”. Dr. Cal Lightman reads these small and subtle changes and movements that our face and body does without us thinking about it. If you’re interested in this science, the show was based on a Dr. Paul Ekman and his work in this area.

Next time you’re in a crowd listen. Establish a baseline in that sound. There will be a certain level and kind of sound of what is going on. When something unusual happens, such as danger, you will hear a decrease in sound.

If the flooring or ground is right you will be able to establish a baseline for footfalls and how they sound walking by or coming toward you. Practice this and soon you’ll be able to identify individuals and where they are in the room.
Between these two things you don’t even need to be facing the room to know what’s going on generally. But you do need to practice these things.

Play this game next time you are in a restaurant. When a group is sat at the table behind you, listen to footsteps, voices, etc. Try to guess as many details as you can about the group as possible, including how many, sex, age, build, and threat potential. Then turn around to see how you did. You’ll get better as go and as you listen better.

When you combine these together, and get a little practice under your belt, it really is amazing how aware you can be of what’s going on behind you. After you get into the habit of doing it, you’ll start doing it unconsciously and don’t really have to think about it very often.

Consider this scene from the movie “The Bourne Identity”. They just got out of Zurich and stopped at a restaurant.

Okay, so you're a victim.

There was a gun. Who has a safe deposit box with a gun and all this money and all these passports?

Lots of people have guns. You're American. Americans love guns.

I fought my way out of an embassy. I climbed down a fifty-foot wall --
I went out the window and I was doing it -- I just did it. I knew how to do it.

People do amazing things when they're scared.

Why do I? -- I come in here --instinctively -- first thing I do -- I'm looking for the exit --I'm catching the sightlines – I know I can't sit with my back to the door --

You're paranoid. You were shot. It's natural.

She's not listening. He leans in. Flat out now.

I can tell you the license plate numbers of all three cars out front. I can tell you that the waitress is left-handed and the guy at the counter weighs two-hundred and fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know that the best, first place to look for a gun is the cab of that grey truck outside. I know that at this altitude I can run flat out for half a mile before I lose my edge. I knew that you were my first, best option out of Zurich? How do I know all that? How can I know all that and not know who I am? How is that possible?

Long dead pause.

You're not kidding, are you?

Situational awareness can be a natural thing. It can be instinctive. We just have to train ourselves until it becomes 2nd nature. Then we can be like Jason Bourne.

Semper Paratus
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