Mind reading may seem like science fiction, but what if it were possible? According to best-selling author and body language expert Janine Driver, body language surfaces seconds before words – even before conscious thought – and is a way to gain insights into what a person is thinking before they act.
That includes whether or not a person is about to attack.
As an employee of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, Driver investigated criminals who trafficked illegal explosives and weapons. In order to stay safe, she had to be hyper-observant of her surroundings, especially because at that time, agents did not carry cell phones and had to rely on instinct.
Driver has trained law enforcement agencies like the FBI and CIA on non-verbal danger signals. She shared that knowledge with employers and employees in a recent webinar on lone worker safety.
Lone workers and frontline employees are especially at risk, traveling to different work sites and encountering the general public. With these tips, they can become better aware and escape harm.
Psychological Distancing & Personal Space
When people are about to harm others, they may take a step back. Counterintuitively, you may think that you are safe as they suddenly step away from you. Instead, they are starting to separate from themselves, their identity, and their conscience in order to perform a malicious act.
In general, Driver advised to pay attention to proxemics, which is the distance between you and others. Americans tend to stand about 3.1 feet from strangers. If a client is entering “intimate space” and getting too close, this could be a pre-assault indicator.
Stay Safe with the Ready Stance
If you find yourself in a position where you may become the victim of an attack, Driver recommends that you hold your hands up near your face and in front of your body in a “ready stance.” This helps protect you and sends a message of disarmament with a physical barrier. Apologetic and peaceful words also help defuse the situation.
Facial Danger Signals while Lone Working
Micro-expressions last less than an instant and flash upon a person’s face, indicating true emotion underneath whatever they are saying or doing. Certain facial expressions are telltale signs of nefarious intent: anger, disgust, and contempt. These can signal pre-assault, especially clustered with other signs.
You should be concerned when you notice someone closing their eyes for long periods. This can mean they are trying to keep their thoughts hidden.
Someone staring at you intensely for an unnaturally long period or staring off into space in the same manner can also mean they are on the verge of attack. Similar to psychological distancing, the person can be dissociating and disappearing into a primal part of their mind. Driver explains, “You can tell that they’re not there because they’re in an internal dialogue. They’re in another conversation.”
The mouth is another powerful area to observe, as it reveals holding words or emotions back. Driver provided helpful mnemonic devices, such as, “A lip roll means emotional control” and “When people don’t like what they see or hear, their lips disappear.”
Driver demonstrated several moves that could be red flags. One of the easier ones to spot is shrugging, which indicates uncertainty. Ask yourself, “is there a reason they should be unsure about what they are saying?”
When people experience a spike in stress and anxiety, they will often start touching their hands, arms, neck, or face. This self-soothing is called pacifying, and “the higher the hold, the more anxiety is told.”