Exercising The Boyd Cycle…and Conditioning, Strategic and Tactical Decision Making | Law Enforcement & Security Consulting

Subtleness in human conflict comes in the form of “body language.” The understanding of non-verbal signs and signals of anxiety, or pre-attack, pre-crime, indicators are crucial to our orientation and safe resolution to dynamic encounters.

The Boyd Cycle is an awareness/decision making concept. Observation-orientation-decision and action cycles is timely situational awareness-situational understanding and situational management. The Boyd Cycle works and works well if  we condition this mental dimension of conflict and learn how to apply it in the context of conflict and violence.

This series “Exercising the Boyd Cycle…and Conditioning, Strategic and Tactical Decision Making”  we will discuss a vast array of topics to help develop and nurture adaptability, decision making and operational art, all in an effort to build more professional, safer and better prepared law enforcement and safety and security personnel .

This weeks scenario enabling adaptability is focused on what body languages role has in enhancing your Boyd Cycle and developing an understanding or as Boyd put it an orientation of what is going on. Not necessarily what has happened, although that is important as well, but what is happening now, right there in front of you.

Applying the Boyd Cycle to reading these signs and signals can keep you safe, and save lives because it gives you the information you need to seize the initiative, make sound decisions under pressure and ACT!

I will keep these scenarios short but informative. I would also like to get some dialog going from all of you on  the topics as well. You can respond with comments (positive or negative) or ideas you would like to share, things you have experienced or case studies you are aware of, where the concepts have been used.    

Reading body language via the Boyd Cycle is both an art and science and takes training and practice to develop and utilize the skills properly as applied to conflict, violence and crisis. Nothing when it comes to predicting violence is 100% accurate. But the more we learn from our own and others experience can only enhance our capabilities.  We owe it to ourselves and to those we protect to take advantage of every opportunity to learn-unlearn and relearn. its the mark of a true professional, self initiated learning! This is one way of creating and nurturing your professionalism and it does not cost you anything but a few minutes of your time.   

Case Study: Body Language: What are the Eyes saying?  

One of the first things we were taught almost immediately after birth was to make eye contact when interacting with people. Eye contact during interaction can be both beneficial and  detrimental. Beneficial in the sense that when its in the context of developing rapport with an Individual it shows sincerity, trustworthiness and a willingness to engage in some sort of dialog. The reversal but also beneficial is it can also show us deception, anger, guilt, fear and anxiousness. Eye contact can be detrimental if we over focus on eyes when we should be paying attention to other things such as our surroundings or and individuals hands which we all know hold and manipulate the dangerous weapons that may do us harm.

Having this in mind lets focus on what the eyes tell us about our adversary in the context of what we protection professionals; law enforcement, security, military, warriors, and peacekeepers have to deal with.

First contact with individuals can come in many forms. It could be a car stop, a domestic dispute or other disturbance, an investigation, interview or interrogation, it could be a street or workplace encounter or a criminal in the progress of committing a crime. Whatever the context of the the encounter and interaction between all involved, the importance of observation and recognizing the subtle signs of anxiety, stress that could lead to danger is paramount in both professional handling of incidents and our safety in doing so.

When approaching a subject and after checking your environment for advantageous positioning and the critical danger areas on the subject, such as deadly hands, fix your observations on the subjects subtle signs and signals his non-verbal communication or body language. When making these observations, clusters of the non-verbal signs from all over the subject’s body is key and the eyes can play a critical role in helping you orient to what’s going on.

Scenario Enabling Adaptability:

You observe a vehicle slowly driving through a parking lot of a closed convenience store. The time is around midnight and as you look closer you see not only the moving vehicle occupied by the driver but you note second subject walking along the outer edge of the building and the rear passenger side door of the car is open. Your experience tells you something is up, yet you decide to wait in the position of advantage.

You are in the shadows, but also in the open but not yet seen by the suspicious persons you are observing. You call for back-up and direct them to come in clandestinely. As you wait you note, the subject outside the vehicle looks directly at you and notices you are there. He gives you a double take looks towards the car and jumps into the car through the open rear door. The driver continues to drive slowly, puts on his lights and begins to exit the area, when you decide to stop the car.

You notify your responding back-up unit who advises he is 20 seconds out. You then approach the vehicle. As you approach you note the driver is watching you through the side view mirror, his eyes are wide open and his eyebrows are flashed wide in a look as though he is surprised to see you as both your eyes make contact through the mirror. You tell him to please place his hands on the steering wheel and he complies.

The rear seat occupant will not make any eye contact at all with you. Through questioning, you are told that the passenger jumped in the back seat behind the driver because they had just dropped someone off that was seated in the front.  This “third” person you never saw while making observations.

While positioned at the passenger window, you notice that the rear passenger is hunched forward with his arms crossed over his mid section.  Additionally, you observe the passenger is holding the right side of his hooded jacket with his left hand (as if he is concealing something).  You request the passenger’s identification and the passenger gives you a “blank stare”.  You ask a second time for identification and notice the passenger moves his right elbow to the part of his jacket that his left hand was holding as he retrieves his license.  You tell him to not move and to place his hands on the back seat where you can see his hands and he complies.

Your back up arrives and you decide to have the rear seat passenger step out of the vehicle for a closer look and inquiry. The subject avoids eye contact with you as you question him about why he and his friend are at this particular location. Again he sticks to the story that they had just dropped a friend off who live in the neighborhood behind this particular convenience store and that he walked across the tracks and through the trail that leads to the neighborhood.  You are aware of this trail and find the third person story and the reasoning to be a possibility. Yet you are still not satisfied!

How would you have handle this? Think about the scenario for a second and consider patterns of behavior and body language and then after you decide what you believe may be going on and come up with a solution and rationale, read on to find out the rest of the story and the lessons we can learn.

Exercise and Condition your Boyd Cycle, Observe, Orient, Decide and Act… before continuing.  Make your written responses and rational here

The officer who shared this scenario with me continued his investigation, initially with the strong feeling of potential danger due to the location, suspicious circumstances, and gestures via body language. He continued by asking the subject, are you concealing something in your waistline?” The subject looks away and then down with his shoulders rising in a slow shrug and palms facing up. His head is first shaking left to right in a no gesture and then up and down slowly in a yes gesture as he states, yes I do and I am embarrassed. You approach and do a quick pat down search out of concern for your safety and feel an object that does not appear by feel to be a weapon of any kind. You lift up his sweatshirt and see what looks like a medical device of some kind. You ask him what it is and he states a diabetes test kit and shows you an insulin pump attached to his right side.  (The same side he was clutching his jacket on). 

This is an interesting case (an actual one) when it comes to body language because all the signs and signals point to potential danger (possible criminal activity, weapon, contraband and the unknown). The officer who actually described this scenario to me stated, he felt he screwed up because there was no weapon or contraband of any kind. I stopped him and told him that he did nothing wrong, that in fact he did everything right. His observations were in tune to the anxiety and stress of the young 20 year old passenger was experiencing by being embarrassed over something he personally felt having to wear for his own medical well being and he did not want you to know. These signs of stress and anxiety stir and show themselves unconsciously in body language. its up to us to figure out what they mean in the context of doing our jobs.

The officer explained that he became very concerned initially in this scenario because of the lack of eye contact and the wide eyed look along with what he describes as a blank stare he received from both driver and passenger.

Keep in mind that no one gesture from the body means anything absolute and that we must always be looking for patterns of behavior and clusters of body language in context with a given set of circumstances to be able to intuitively orient to what we may think is going on.  This included in this fact pattern an vehicle that had no reason to be in the parking lot, a person walking along side the vehicle who suddenly upon observing an officer, jumps into the vehicle, the poor eye contact, eyes wide open of the driver, blank stare, the hands concealing something in the waist line etc. 

In this case the officer was initially thinking possible breaking and entering or some type of drug transaction going down. He was also initially thinking upon first observing the rear seat passengers behavior and body language, either a weapon being concealed by the rear seat passenger or possibly contraband. It turned out to be a couple of young kids dropping a friend off who became nervous over being in the parking lot of a closed convenience store and being encountered by the police.

The eyes can certainly be a warning sign to those of us protection professionals who come upon numerous suspicious circumstances that may or may not be criminal activity, to prove or disprove wrong doing.

It is important to understand what some of the signs and signals that come from the eyes and what they could mean so that we may get to the bottom of what’s going on, while on patrol, during an investigation or in dealing with a heated and violent encounter.

Here are some lessons learned to think about that will help enhance your awareness, safety and decision making capabilities.

Gaze avoidance, or a failure to make eye contact with an uniformed law enforcement or security officer is a form of deception.  Looking away or avoiding eye contact is a way of mentally hiding. This goes back to childhood. Remember when, you were a child playing hide and seek? There you are hidden in the obvious spot, eyes closed hoping not to be discovered.

The proverbial turn and walk away as if you were not seen again avoidance of eye contact. In the interview setting at the point of a critical questioning and a response is warranted, the subject looks down or away, again a sign something maybe amiss, or a possible sign of deception.  When you are up to no good or lying, you divert your eyes away or down from whom you are trying to deceive. This according to research is a normal human response to deception, guilt, embarrassment and shame.

Darting eyes could be a sign of just checking out people in a room, looking for an escape route, possible witnesses or for assistance from other criminals.

The thousand yard stare, a person looking through or beyond you is a clear sign something abnormal is going on. Whether the person is thinking and putting a plan together, to run, escape, give up, or to assault, is being considered. 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, taken into consideration.

The eyebrows are a sign, what is known as the eyebrow flash, could be either a hello or an indication of surprise or fear based on context of the situation. Furrowed eye brows, could be a sign of anger or aggression.

Widening of the eyes shows dominance or possible aggression. Widening of the eyes is an involuntary enlargement of both eyes, which takes place in situations of high stress, and emotion…

Blink rate, is another import sign of anxiety and stress in an individual.  As stress and anxiety heighten, so does the blink rate. Slowing of the normal blink rate is less common, but is also a sign of high stress or concentration. In some, the rate almost comes to a complete stop, eyes wide open with the whites of the eyes exposed 360 degrees. 

Dilated or constricted pupils, is a sign of possible drug usage, legal or illegal.  Dilated pupils are also a sign of survival stress (High Anxiety) and we should remain alert and prepare to take initiative to control the situation.Important to note, when face o face with the unknown.

Observation of the eyes and an understanding of the involuntary information they give to law enforcement and security professionals is critical, to controlling dynamic encounters. At the same time remember the signs and signals (body language) show themselves in clusters from other areas of the body as well. Look for congruence. Are the things he is saying matching up with the body language he is displaying?” Keep the information you are gathering via the OODA cycle in context of the situation you find yourself in. This can be difficult in the uncertain, complex and sometimes chaotic nature of conflict, so always keep maneuvering and stay focused.  

ALWAYS be alert, watchful, suspicious and wary. Yet maintain your mental calmness so that you are capable of seizing every possible advantage.

“The majority of individuals view their surroundings with a minimal amount of observational effort. They are unaware of the rich tapestry of details that surrounds them, such as the subtle movement of a person’s hand or foot that might betray his thoughts or intentions.”— Joe Navarro

If you have ideas for scenarios please forward them to me at Fred@lesc.net and we will put them up on the WWW.LESC.NET web-site.

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