On Point: The Value of Awareness Feelings in Combat or Business

By Stephen Cheney

The human body has sensors all continually inputting to the brain.  But those impulses are also competing for the brain's attention. The brain sometimes shuts some inputs off in order to focus on those that it wants. When a friend is talking you may focus on that and exclude hearing a door opening. When a friend is nagging you, you may not register what is said, your mind listening to the remarkably interesting calls of birds far in the distance. When you are communicating with someone while they are observable by you, you register their body language somewhat subconsciously. You don't have to know why or how, just register impressions overall. This subtle sensing feeds information of meaning to the brain and assists you to make judgements that may turn out to be correct even though you may not be able to explain why.

In a boardroom or a meeting with competitive others, not ignoring but reading or feeling the mood of all the participants may change your intended strategy on the spur of the moment: as whatever you do or say only has effect if it links into the current state of the receptors of others. If you are the speaker and the mood of the room is too somber you might try to lighten up that mood a little and put the participants at ease. If you felt that there was going to be some hostility towards you, there is an advantage in diminishing that opposition by immersing them in a crowd that has a different mood to theirs.  If the bulk of a meeting approves of you then a heckler against you is registered as a heckler against the crowd. People do tend to be persuaded to change their behaviour depending on the mood of the group that they are in.  Herd instinct, crowd control. If you feel that the participants are too flippant and that you need their serious attention, then you may engage in a preliminary talk to reset their minds into the seriousness of the occasion or subject matter. As launching into your main subject too soon will only get it wasted on inattentive minds, and as they did not pay much attention to your main talk in the beginning it will then be harder for them to follow what you are saying later, as they had missed important and maybe necessary material beforehand. Before any talk, it may be useful to check if the general mood of the others is appropriate for absorbing the material to be covered.  A person may be saying something ordinary, may hide their emotions, but yet you still pick up the impression that they are, for instance, upset, and adjust your reactions and words accordingly. That is a personal situation awareness.

Similarly in combat you can have an environmental situation awareness.  Surveying your local environment you see nothing that specifically signals danger, and yet you sense danger and become extra cautious, even to the point of signaling others to take care.

These impressions you translate into subconscious 'feelings' rather than the more understandable and so more reliable conscious 'readings'. However, feelings should never be ignored, especially in a combat environment. You may not hear a dangerous sound as it may be at the very distance or edge of your perceptions, but nevertheless your mind is receiving this clutter of which it cannot as yet make any clear sense. Awareness should kick in, that even though you do not have a clear reading, you do have a vague impression, and it should never be ignored in a danger zone. It could make a difference to your survival. Even if your acting on such impressions is only to become more alert than normal, and not actually start to take actions to assist you to meet a threat.

Threats don't normally start right beside you, they come in from a distance, or you are moving through distance to them. It is when they are first near in the grey zone where neither you nor they are certain of anything, that you need to trust your senses and sharpen your wits, and sharpen your knife, weapon (or commercial instruments of influence, collective resources), movements and communications with your team. As what are you there for, after all, in serious business meetings or in combat, but to meet and overcome dangers of any kind?

(Source of Image: Google Images)


  1. Hi Cheney,

    First of all, excellent work.
    Second, when does a sharp situational awareness evolve to paranoia? I do agree that we should never ignore what our senses capture, even if it seems harmless (like a kitty scurrying away [but why did the kitty do it in that exact moment?]); but where do we draw the line, when can we relax from the constant state of alert? I really liked the comparison between a combat environment and a business one, as they can share many similarities.
    Thanks, mate.


    1. Paranoia thrives on and in a state of tension. In business or combat it is helpful, even vital, to deliberately release your tension and relax. For it is when you are relaxed that your senses can fully function and you become most receptive. Clear inputs favour clear thinking and decisions and thus actions. When tense your body is stifling sensory input by muscle constriction of nerve impulses; and the tense mind is radiating a clutter of alarmed thoughts instead of deliberately not thinking of things as such but instead taking itself into a meditative emptiness where every outside event is sensed as if it were a ringing from a bell.

      Only when your mind is quiet can you hear a pin drop; or read a glancing expression on a face at a conference table. When you are tense you should bend your knees to deliberately increase your mind’s awareness of your body. And also slowly breathe out and slowly deeply in, continuing thus: to reset the rhythm of your body and thence that of your mind.

      In tense times one should emulate the leopard up a tree. With a body completely and deliberately relaxed: the body in this state allows its senses to be alert for long periods and its sensual radar thus reign across the landscape where events there, and its reactions, determine its future.

    2. Cheney,

      Fabulous explanation: thank you.


  2. Very interesting piece.

  3. Stephen, always great to read your work cause I always learn a thing or two. I'm having a problem at work but after this, after your words, I know what to do, so THANK YOU!

  4. First: Happy Aniversary, Dissecting Society! I hope we celebrate this date for many more years to come. Max, cheers to your success.
    Second, Stephen, thank you for yet another brilliant lesson. You are absolutely right, sensei, only through a state of relaxation are we able to capture the signs of danger around us; thus, it is very important to learn how to breathe and relax. Keep up the good work, you guys.

  5. Stephen, I know exactly what you're saying here, been there in that business environment. Our senses need to be alert constantly so the best strategy is to relax and listen closely.

  6. Mr Stephen, it's true: once I was walking on a street in broad daylight in Africa, and everything looked quiet and peaceful. I told my sister something is wrong but she wouldn't believe me, so I walked faster and faster. When we got to the end of the street and looked behind, a man was there standing holding his parts but he stopped when he saw two soldiers greeting us! It's good to be alert, it saves you a lot of troubles, sir. I always like to come here and read your posts, Mr Stephen, thanks.


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