Dangerous Body Language: A Thousand Words...None Spoken! The Thousand Yard Stare

A Thousand Words…None Spoken! is a quote from a law enforcement and security professional participating in one of the workshops I presented a few years back on dangerous body language. It was his way of grasping and understanding the concept of non-verbal communication as it relates to fine tuning his abilities of, pattern recognition and in understanding the subtle signs and signals of danger otherwise known as dangerous body language.

In the article Recognizing the Signs and Signals of Crime and Danger I wrote about these non-verbal signs and signals. This series on the web-site we will  take a deeper look at these signs and signals one by one and break them down in attempt to help all in getting a better picture, snapshot or what COL John Boyd called “orientation” of what's going on when we encounter people on the streets.

I am breaking these signs and signals down to explore, and discuss in detail their meaning. It is critical to remember when attempting to read people and make sense of the non-verbal sentences their body sends out while we interact with a potential adversary.  We must observe, orient, decide and act  in context with the unfolding circumstances.  A non-verbal gesture standing on its own may mean nothing in particular when it comes to assaultive behavior, unless of course its a spontaneous furtive gesture, so its also important to read the non-verbal signs and signals in clusters, more than one gesture at a time. Multiple gestures may mean more stress, anxiety and hence heighten your anticipation of a deception, disruption or pending attack. It is also important look for congruence when reading nonverbal signs and signals, “do the subjects words match his body language and the situation?”

The Thousand Yard Stare

The thousand yard stare; can be described as a person looking through or beyond you as if you are not there. The thousand yard stare is a way of ignoring or deceiving you, in hopes that just maybe you will go away or “you are not talking to me…are you?” We have all seen this look.  At this point it may or may not be dangerous. People when encountered initially by the police or security often initially experience this effect due to the perception they may be in some kind of trouble and become stressed. However the thousand yard stare is also a reaction due to survival stress kicking in when a person knows he/she is in serious trouble and is about to be encountered, questioned or arrested. The person is in a high anxiety state and is thinking about or planning an option. Should I stay and answer questions, attempt to deceive, give up, run away, or attack?

When you interact with someone in the law enforcement or security context the normal pattern of behavior is that the person you are interacting with is attentive to you as you communicate.  There is a give and take when interacting and communicating with others. Most people you come in contact with will look you in the eye, answer your questions or attempt to explain the situation as they see it. There may be breaks in eye contact which is normal in any interaction. However when you see this sign as a sudden change from ongoing interaction and eye contact to that distant look through or beyond you as if you were not even there, is a clear signal something outside normal patterns of behavior is taking place with this individual.  That look into nowhere is a look inside the individuals mind. He is running through options. The action he chooses is based on "his" orientation of the situation, everything that’s going on, is being taken into consideration. His actions will depend upon his perception of YOU.

You recognizing the thousand yard stare for what it is, will give you the the opportunity to take the initiative and regain control.

Conflict is a clash between two adaptive systems. Dealing with adapting adversaries you cannot predict exactly what’s going to happen next, because there are things going on that you cannot see, or hear. For example: the numerous thoughts going through an adversaries mind: “I will do what I am asked,” “I will not do what I am asked,” “I will escape,” “I will fight,” “I will assault,” “I will kill,” “I will play dumb until...,” “I will stab,” “I will shoot,” “he looks prepared I will comply,” “he looks complacent I will not comply,” etc. It is important to remember that the adversary has his own objectives; also, they have plans that conflict with the friendly side, therein creating further conflict and hence the need for adaptation. Understanding dangerous body language, (a thousand words…none spoken!) just may give you the edge you need. 

Stay Oriented!