Articulating your feelings

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A few hours ago, I spoke at GrrCon and gave a 20 minute version of my ‘Social Engineering from the Detective Perspective’ talk. If you’ve ever heard me talk then you’ll know that 20 minutes isn’t much time to cover all of my thoughts. One of the areas I’d like to focus on in this post is learning to articulate your feelings. In previous posts and in my talks, I press the importance of noticing how you feel in any given interaction. When you feel like something is ‘off’ or wrong, listen to your gut. While not always accurate, your gut feelings are there for a reason and you should never just dismiss them out of hand. That’s just the beginning of your journey. One of the things cops learn is how to be observant, think, and write down what they see and how they feel in an interaction. Your ‘instincts’ or ‘gut’ is often just your brain noticing things that you haven’t been able to articulate yet. This is often what happens when we say things like “I knew that person was bad” or “I had a feeling that person liked me.” Take this video of a robbery as an example. While we don’t have the full video the first few seconds give us a lot to talk about. If you watch the video, you will notice the suspect is wearing a hat and glasses indoors while it’s dark outside. While it’s not completely out of the ordinary to wear a hat at night, any place that deals with armed robbers should be on alert for individuals who are concealing their faces from surveillance cameras. This is why most banks tell you not to wear a hat or hoodie in the bank. If you look closely you can see that the man also has most of his bottom shirt buttons unsecured. This is common for individuals who need to quickly get to something around their waste, such as a concealed gun. From the video, it appears that this suspect was also already served and he appears to be lingering, waiting for the other guy to walk out of the store. If you have ever worked in a store like this then you know that most people just buy what they need and walk out.

If you were one of the clerks working at the store in the video, you very likely would have felt something was ‘off’ with this suspect before he ever demanded cash. You may not be able to quickly state why he felt off but the feeling might still be there. Dangerous situations are not the only time when a lot of people fail to articulate their feelings and notice things. This happens in those awkward situations where someone is talking to your ear off and you are politely trying to leave, seemingly unnoticed by the speaker. Of course not everyone is good at picking up on social cues or noticing when something is ‘off’ but with practice you can learn. “How do I get practice?” you might ask. You can watch videos of various interactions like social engineering, or you can interact with people in the real world and write down what you noticed after the interaction. It seems weird but it works. Go to a social event and talk to people, then later try to recall and write down how it went. Did they keep looking away while you talked, move their body away from you, check their watch / phone multiple times, said “uh huh” a lot? They might have not been interested in the conversation. Did they look at you and ask good questions? They may have genuinely been interested in your conversation. Once you get better at picking up on social cues, you will be better at noticing when someone is not being authentic in their interaction with you and when they may be trying to take advantage of you. Do you feel like they are pressuring you for something, like there is a power imbalance, or like something is just ‘wrong’? Take a step back or pause the interaction and as soon as you can, write down everything that you noticed or remembered about the interaction. Write down how it made you feel. Doing this will help you to better identify and articulate what is going on and allow you to be more aware of the intentions of others.