Most cops call it a hunch. My dad called it the “asshole alarm” and he explained it to me this way: “Not everybody has the gift. But if you got it, you got it, and if you do, then you’ll be able to spot an asshole a mile away. Don’t have to talk to them. Don’t have to know anything about them. You can just spot ’em. They have that look. And you’d better hope you got the gift, Son, ’cause if you don’t, yer screwed.” It’s hard to argue with logic waxed so poetically, isn’t it?
But what exactly is it, this indefinable “thing” that allows us to size up situations, and people, in the mere ‘blink of an eye?’ Is it really a 6th sense housed somewhere in our subconscious psyches? Are we hard wired with an innate “intuition” about other people? Does true definable intuition even exist?
Dictionary.com defines intuition as; “direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; immediate apprehension.” It’s the phrase and the general belief among the populace that intuition is independent of any reasoning process that I have a problem with as there definitely is a reasoning process involved.
There is no such a thing as an intuition gene or a special chromosome on the DNA chain that assigns intuition as a human trait like it does blue eyes, hammer toes and hairy backs. But there is that indefinable something we all possess when it comes to reading others while knowing not a thing about them. Don’t you usually get an impression, a feeling, a warning about someone within seconds of an interaction, even before words are exchanged?
Why is it that we can glance across a room at someone and feel an instant connection? Why at other times do we get a sensation of fear, dread, caution, almost instantaneously when in the presence of – assholes? What gives us the ability to accurately size up a situation without having any conscious awareness of how we are doing it? The theories are many, but they are just that, theories, which means – no one knows exactly how any of this works. But who cares? What we need to examine and understand is that this instinctive communication is constant and unquestionably involves the brain and the process of thought. But it is a process of thought conducted at lightening speed within the unconscious part of our brains – and most of it happens outside of our conscious awareness and understanding.
In the book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking the author, Malcolm Gladwell, explains his theory of rapid cognition. Rapid cognition, he points out, is the type of thinking that happens in the “blink of an eye.”
So, think about when you meet someone for the first time. Within milliseconds of the encounter your senses immediately begin observing and evaluating stimuli. Within two seconds, if not quicker, your mind jumps to a series of deductions about the other person; good, bad, dangerous, safe, someone to avoid, or someone to trust. And studies show, your evaluations tend to be incredibly accurate.
Law enforcement officers absolutely need to understand and learn to focus on those two seconds. For those two seconds can literally be the difference between life and death, success and failure.
But, how exactly is it that our gut feelings and intuition work? Again, it’s that unconscious part of our brains. It processes observations and evaluates the surrounding world. Whether it is observation through sight, observation by listening and hearing, or observing what is missing in the totality, our subconscious processes information, via those senses, at lightening speed. In fact, it happens so fast that often times our “gut feelings” confuse us. They don’t compute at the level that controls our conscious awareness and therefore those feelings sometimes, just don’t feel quite right. So we tend to ignore them. Partly because the words used by other people, being processed and evaluated at the conscious level, battle with the processes going on at the unconscious level. Often, if we can’t rationally explain why we feel what we feel we respond to the evaluations processed in the conscious mind instead of reacting to the “gut” feelings produced by the more perceptive unconscious.
I teach communication classes for both law enforcement and for private industry. I used to say in those classes that the unconscious is in control of 90% or our everyday activities, but that percentage was something I just threw out there without much thought. Upon further study and reflection I have to acknowledge that orchestration of actions, done consciously, is no where near the figure of 10%. While it is the conscious mind that houses our subjectivity, morality, judgment, our ability to be self-aware and make rational decisions, it is our unconscious that is actually the controlling force in both dealing with our existence and in navigating our way through life. And the unconscious does more than feel and react, it actually does think and that thought process is quite rational. But, it is a thought process that moves so fast that it is mysterious and perplexing to the more logical, deliberate thinking, conscious mind.
From a law enforcement perspective this phenomenon is in constant play on so many levels: evaluating witnesses, sizing up a given situation, and rooting out lying suspects. But it is never more important than when it processes the communication cues of potential assailants.
“People are in a constant state of communication” that statement is the foundation of my book. What it means is that human beings are unconsciously leaking out our moods, attitude, and even intentions – all the time. Whether it be through a look, an avoiding posture, our voice, tone, inflection, stance, gesture, movement, lack of speech, or by talking too much, we are always communicating to others.
It is important to understand this concept. For what we call a hunch is in reality an assessment of another and/or the immediate environment. Something that was done, not done, or what may be missing is processed by the unconscious. That process evaluates the stimuli in relation to the immediate situation and the data base of past experiences. If something doesn’t make sense to the unconscious the alarms go off.
I’ll expand on this concept with my next several articles. We will examine certain behaviors and pre-attack indicators that are often displayed by those intending to do police officers’ harm. Behaviors such as; scanning, flanking, the timing of gestures, postures, and eye contact will be discussed.
While I look forward to sharing this information but I am also asking for assistance. Police officers especially are experts at spotting body language signals and verbal cues that are precursors to nefarious intent. Write me and share your thoughts and experiences so we, in-turn, can share them with the wider law enforcement community here on Bluesheepdog.com.
Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is a third generation law enforcement officer with an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Law Enforcement Justice Administration. Jim was the lead instructor and curriculum director for the Calibre Press Street Survival Seminar.
Jim is the co-owner of LifeLine Training and specializes in teaching courses in: communication (Arresting Communication), leadership (Finding the Leader in You) and officer safety (Ultimate Survival Instincts).
Jim’s book, ARRESTING COMMUNICATION: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement was named one of the “ten best law enforcement books of all time” by LawOfficer.com
Jim’s company, LifeLine Training, is a Blue Crew sponsor, offering discounts to all Blue Crew members on their training classes and his book, Arresting Communication.