Blog Rewind: Non-Verbal Communication Habits

By: Joshua Gideon

Last weekend I attended the NRA Annual Meeting in Nashville, TN. At breakfast on Saturday morning I by chance bumped into a couple guys that I highly respect in the firearms industry. They were very kind to ask me to join them. It was there that I was introduced to another gentleman, Richard, who was part of their group. After some conversation, I came to find out that he was a former law enforcement officer and had some pretty good stories from his time as a law enforcement officer.  Yet, for some reason I wasn’t surprised with his background. I didn’t put much thought into why I wasn’t’ surprised until the next day.

On the second day, I again joined the same group for breakfast. During our conversations, one of the men at the table asked if I would have guessed what Richard did as a profession. It dawned on me that for some reason I had picked him out as law enforcement. I actually said I could tell he was law enforcement but would have thought he would have been Federal Law Enforcement or maybe even a Chief or desk officer at a local department (he was actually a retired patrol officer which explains the perception that he worked a desk). At that point I really began thinking about what indicators had clued me into that. Richard is fairly quiet but very to the point when he does speak. He holds his shoulders, chest, and head in a very confident way exerting a very slight passive aggressive posture. However it was his eyes that clued me in. I have several law enforcement friends. The one thing in common is how they look at people. They have been taught to assess people and are a bit cautious and have learned to show minimal non-verbal indicators of what they are thinking. I noticed Richards analyzing my every move when I first met him. After his quick analysis, he realized I wasn’t a threat and accepted me into the group.

I started observing him a little closer as we walked from the hotel to the Media press room, even though we were conversing, I noticed how Richard non-verbally interviewed those he came in contact with. It was really neat seeing him do what he was trained to do and likely did for years on the job. Once in the media room, we were standing and talking when I noticed he was standing with his legs stretched out and head lowered to my level. This is something I have seen countless law enforcement officers do. First it acts to relieve some stress from the back and legs. The weight from those belts is no joke and any chance they have to relieve some of the weight is a welcome chance. When you are really tall, doing this also lowers his head to the eye level of the other person. This is a technique I have seen officers do to help calm people down and let them know you are listening. This totally sealed it for me. Although Richard’s non-verbal body language may have been a habit, it had told me he was a law enforcement officer long before we ever spoke. Although Richard’s non-verbal habits are harmless and not easily detected by most people, there are lessons that students of self defense can use to further strengthen themselves against bad guys.

As defensive firearms students, we have to also be aware of what our non-verbal communication habits tells people. Our simple non-verbal habits can tell a person a lot about us. Do we really want the bad guy to know that we are scared or nervous? Do we want them to know we are armed because we constantly do a feel check of our concealed firearm when we are nervous? The list goes on and on of things we can do that give away bits of information to both good guys and bad guys.  What non-verbal communication habits do you have that you would want to keep secret from a bad guy? It’s important that we review these habits and evaluate if they could be a potential vulnerability.  If they are vulnerabilities, we need to work on breaking these habits.

One of the best ways I’ve found to determine what these habits are is to ask someone that really knows you well. If they have been around you a decent length of time, they probably know some of your habits when you are nervous or under stress. Once you are able to identify those non-verbal habits, evaluate if they could be a potential vulnerability (not all are). If they are, you will need to find a way to break those habits.

A common method of breaking a habit is to first recognize it is a habit (which we have already done). The second step is to write down your habit and analyze it on paper. What is the source of the habit, when do you do it, how often do you do it? The last and final step is to replace the bad habit with a good one. Instead of nervously touching your gun, try putting your hands together in front of you so you have a better response to an attack. Find good habits that do not create vulnerabilities or put you at further risk to replace the bad habits.

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