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11. Dangerous Behaviour – Acting faster than you can think

One of the problems facing us when confronted with imminent danger is that our most important resource as professionals is taken away from us – our ability to think before we act. Sometimes it is because the behaviour simply moves too fast, or that we are startled, or confused, or frightened, or enraged, or stunned. It is because of this that many people say things like “you’re just flying by the seat of your pants” or “there are no rules” or “every situation is different” or “you’ll never know what you’ll do until you’re in it” or “all you can do is hope and pray.”


Of course, there is some truth in all those statements, but none are absolute, and all foreclose on deeper investigation. The fact is, the overwhelming majority of our behaviour is not thought out and yet may, at the same time be highly sophisticated and effective. Daniel Kahneman (2011) explores this in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow” while Joseph Ledoux (1999) in his book “The Emotional Brain” provides us with a dual processing model of the brain to help us understand how the two systems interplay.

Malcolm Gladwell (2016) in “Blink” looks at this from another angle – snap judgments and the theory of thin slices. He suggests that snap judgments are based, not on looking at all the available information, but by focussing solely on a “thin slice” of that information. If the “correct” thin slice is chosen, then remarkably sophisticated judgments can be made “in the blink of an eye.” However, if the “wrong” thin slice is chosen then our judgment may be wrong, crass, ill-informed, stereotypical, biased or worse – and there are many, many more wrong thin slices than correct thin slices.


Human behaviour is enormously complex and making judgments about other people is extremely hazardous – and professionals should be extremely wary of allowing unconscious biases to influence their practice. Not all dangerous behaviour is the same and, as we will see, different types of dangerous behaviour need different responses. How then can we know what response is required when someone is fast approaching us in a threatening manner? Like it or not, we have to “thin slice” and it would be a lot better if we already knew what the correct “thin slice” was!


… and this will be the subject of my next bite-sized blog!


Stay Safe


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