By Kevin Reeve* (2/4/2015)
In a recent presentation on situational awareness, I discussed the importance of scanning the environment for threats. As I discussed two legged threats, I realized I was not as clear as I would have liked as to how this is accomplished. So let me clarify here.
Humans are not unlike dog and wolf packs in that whenever they are in a group, they immediately establish a pecking order based on dominance. Alpha male is the top dog. Below him are the betas, on down to the omega or bottom dog. How this dominance behavior plays out is extremely telling. Observing those who exhibit alpha behaviors will help you identify the threats.
In order to establish dominance in a given situation, the alpha will generally establish control over space. He will stake out a claim on space and have no qualms about moving people out of their space, and invading the personal space of others. He will also command a high position, and when standing, dominate the center position.
An alpha will also speak louder and in a lower vocal range using a command voice in an attempt to control. It is a fact established in study after study, that most people will obey someone who commands forcefully. So watch for a low, powerful command voice.
Peacock-ing and Figleaf-ing
Alphas will exhibit other dominant behavior in body language. Neil Strauss, author, calls it “Peacocking.” Strutting, striding confidently, showing your peacock feathers as it were. Mating rituals among birds often have the males puffing and strutting for the females.
Other dominant body language includes head position. Chin high, direct eye contact, and a straightforward stance identify the Alpha. A dominated male will lower his eyes, chin, and turn his body to the side rather than straight ahead. A cow-towed male will even “Fig Leaf” (cross his hands over his crotch). Alphas raise their arms above their head, fold them across their chest, or let them hang at their side. Interestingly enough there is a noted increase in available testosterone (10 -12% increase) when a male holds his arms up in the “V” for victory sign.
The presence of an attractive female also causes the Alpha to act aggressively. He will attempt to control access, dominate conversations, and do what Neil Strauss calls establishing social proof. (Value in the social sense as measured by wealth, power, access, or physical prowess). The peacocking mentioned above becomes extreme when attractive women are around.
Size is an important aspect of dominance. The larger the individual, the more command presence they exude. Size matters. The number of CEOs over 6 feet tall is three times that of the general population. Often the size strength issue plays out with the handshake. The alpha shakes hands assertively. He stands his ground and makes the other lean in. His grip is firm and strong. He will sometimes clasp the bicep or shoulder of the person he is greeting. If there is a hug, his arms go on top of the submissive.
Alphas tend to stay calm in the face of crises. People look to them to lead, and by staying calm in crisis, they do. When their alpha-ness is challenged, they react with calculating calm and reassert their control.
In a pack setting, the most dangerous member of the pack is the beta, the second in command. He is trying to improve his situation with the pack ranking, and he can win points by being aggressive. Watch for the beta trying to make his bones. Someone to watch when doing threat assessment.
One additional observation about alpha males. There are parts of our culture where alpha-ness is treasured and rewarded. And there are parts of society where being an alpha gets you rejected and even persecuted.
Our education system has changed. Dodgeball, kickball, and games where you keep score are eliminated because they lead to domination. Consequently, we have many males today who do not have the confidence and skills to lead. Very few true alphas coming out of schools today.
I have a friend, lets call him Pete for lack of a better name, who puts off a powerful male dominant vibe. He is big, and that helps a lot. But it is more than that. I have seen him in complete alpha status force a person to go completely submissive. I have seen him stay calm and assert control over a dangerous situation. I have seen him scare people unintentionally, intimidating them without trying to.
So I often tell Pete not to worry that he sometimes scares people. They are wimps that need to be scared. OK maybe too harsh. They are betas down to omegas who cannot handle the dominance of an alpha. It overwhelms them and they flee. A sign of how our society has been sissified. Sadly, this leads to a nation of passive-ites. Those who fear authority. Those who are afraid to establish dominance. Those who avoid conflict at all costs.
Those who are prepared and trained to defend themselves carry an air of dominance that can help them avoid being attacked. It is deeply subconscious. But carrying weapons, knowing how to use them, and being willing to use them transforms the individual into someone astute predators recognize instinctively.
In Scout class, we talk about doing reconnaissance and part of that is identifying the alpha and beta males. Clue. It is often not the person with the highest rank. The officer in a military team is often given token acknowledgement and the senior NCO given the dominant status. I collect examples of dominance in group pictures. How a group stands in relation to one another tells a lot about who is in charge.
In the Tracking classes we study how certain behaviors translate into tracks. We teach you to look at a set of group tracks and identify who the alpha is by how the others stand in relationship to them.
I have a news photo of a group of generals meeting in Iraq. The ranking general is standing in the center of the group, arms crossed, head high. The rest of the generals, (mind you, these are GENERALS) are all standing in subordinate positions, turned slightly to the side, not facing the general, heads down, hands crossed over their crotches. It’s clear who’s in charge. And the tracks would indicate it.
One of my favorite aspects of tracking is understanding dominance from tracks. So when I observe a group of construction workers walk into a burger joint, I try to identify the alpha and betas. I try to identify the lowest ranking individual, the omega, and who is the highest, the alpha. I do it at social gatherings. It’s a habit of situational awareness.
In a recent presentation on Situational Awareness, I talked about threat identification. This is really the key to situational awareness is to identify threats. Who is demonstrating Alpha behaviors? Who is using a loud voice, puffing themselves up, dominating space, etc.
Ironically, in that presentation, the most dangerous man in the room was the least dangerous looking, the least alpha-looking guy. From previous conversations, I knew he was a former Agency field operative that had done incredibly dangerous things in incredibly dangerous places. You do not survive in that world unless you mask your “alpha-ness.” This guy was a perfect gray man. If he was out to get you, you would never know what hit you until it did. But unless trained to do otherwise, as he obviously had been, most males posture out of habit.
As a key factor in situational awareness keep watch for the alphas and betas. Between the two pictures below, who is the Alpha male and who is the Beta male? Is one the Omega male? Who is the most dangerous and why?
Alpha-Male? Beta-Male? Omega-Male?
* Contributions by A.H. Trimble
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