Gray man theory – situational awareness

crowd of busy people

Be sure to check out our entire series on being a gray man:

  1. Part 1: What is a gray man?
  2. Part 2: Practicing situational awareness (current article)
  3. Part 3: Gray man clothing and gear
  4. Part 4: Traveling as a gray man
  5. Part 5: The communication style of a gray man

We’ll be introducing the different aspects of a gray man, how to approach day-to-day situations as a gray man, exploring a strong Mental EDC, and making recommendations on gear and tools.

In Part 1 we talked about how being a gray man is carrying yourself in a state of vagueness, or in a condition that draws little to no attention. Now, we want to look at situational awareness and why it’s a key component of being gray.

Man driving down the road

What is situational awareness?

Situational awareness is the ability to pay attention to your environment. You are not just physically present, but cognitively present in a way that helps you analyze and decipher the events that are unfolding around you.

Events can be a macro event, or a “big picture” event, such as watching a sporting event or collectively eating a meal with other restaurant-goers. While micro-events, or small/trivial/slight events, can include:

  • Who is around you and who they are with
  • Clothing 
  • Language, accent, tone, inflection
  • Body language or eye movement
  • Conversation topics
  • The “feeling” of a collective crowd (calm or on edge?)
  • What is considered “normal” clothing/behavior for where you are 

You decipher events daily already, even though you may not be aware of it. You may have a “gut feeling” about a man you see while at the park with your children.

He may stick out to you as odd because he’s there with no dog or children, watching kids play. This gives you cause to be concerned, so, you watch your children more closely, make eye contact with him so he knows that you see him, or you just leave altogether.

Being intentional about practicing situational awareness means increasing your ability to pay attention to what is around you; it’s growing your God-given “gut feeling” and instincts, then, gaining the knowledge to know what to do next and the skills to carry out that plan of action.

How does this relate to the gray man concept?

If you aren’t paying attention to what is going on around you, the people around you, and the environment you are in, how will you be able to blend in effectively? 

Remember, you need to have the ability to have options for all situations while maintaining a condition that does not draw attention.

Be situationally aware, know what’s going on, be ready to respond appropriately, and don’t broadcast it.

Start practicing situational awareness in three steps

Step 1: Acknowledge that you are not always present

It’s easy to fall into a routine with the same routes to and from home/school/work and a similar weekly schedule. You get comfortable in mundane repetition. 

Examples include:

  • Driving: How often do you find yourself on autopilot when you are driving to work or school? You grab your cup of coffee, walk out to the car, hop in the driver’s seat, back out of the driveway, and head out on your regular route. The next thing you know, you’re at your destination and have no recollection of any of the details of your drive
  • Running errands: How about when you are out shopping with the family and you are walking from store to store? How often do you think your face is buried in a cell phone checking out social media, reading the news, or responding to your latest email? Next time you are out shopping, keep your phone in your pocket and take a survey at how many people are glued to their phones and not paying attention to anything that is going on 
  • Getting kids in and out of the car: For the folks with little kids, let’s think about car seats for a moment. You’re out grocery shopping and you walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of groceries and two screaming kids. You head to your car on a mission. Once you finally make it to the car, you spend the next five minutes with your head buried inside the back doors trying to pin down a couple of 30-pound cage fighters. This entire time, your focus has been on your kids and their car seats. How often are you assessing the parking lot on your approach to your vehicle? Are you looking for strange or out-of-place people loitering in the area? Are you looking for people in cars sitting in strange places? Or, are you again on autopilot, solely focused on the task at hand?
Walmart parking lot
Humans tend to become complacent when doing things that are familiar to us. It has been safe in the past, therefore we expect it to stay that way.

The mundane, repetitive nature of our actions breeds complacency. Complacency kills! This cannot be stressed enough.

Step 2: Decide to start paying attention  

Change starts with a simple decision to start paying attention to what’s going on around you, who is around you, and what they are doing. 

So, how do you start doing this? Ideas include:

  • Stay out of technology when you’re out and about: As one of the worst distractions in modern society, it’s not unusual to fill any empty void with your connected devices. Whether you are waiting at a red light or killing time in the check-out line, decide to stay off your phone. Habits and addictions are hard to break, but it’s impossible to be situationally aware if you’re on your phone all the time 
  • Start looking at what is happening around you: Keep your head up and on a swivel. This doesn’t mean you have to look like you’re a member of a presidential detail, it just means you need to observe (see) what is going on. Make mental notes of:
    • Where the exits are
    • If the people around you look like they should be there
    • What people are wearing and if it’s appropriate
    • If anything stands out as odd, from demeanor to conversation to actions (or lack thereof)
  • Be cognizant and look out for pre-assault indicators: Humans by nature seem to be predisposed to telegraph their actions. Oftentimes, these characteristics can be picked up if you know what to look for. Be on the lookout for aggressive posturing (blading or a fighting stance), obsessive scanning, flanking or circling by multiple individuals (abnormal maneuvering), someone following you when you are taking evasive actions, clenching fists, etc. If observed early enough, you can gain a fraction of the time needed to avoid being a victim

If you have the desire to be situationally aware, deliberately paying more attention is a logical next step.

Step 3: Learn more (and more) (and more)

We’ll talk more in future discussions about how to improve your ability to be situationally aware and to decipher, analyze, and when necessary, act in both macro and micro-events. We’ll look at environmental factors, awareness and preparedness levels, presence of friends or loved ones, presence and actions of bad guys/others, your training, abilities, etc. 

There are a host of things that come into play and while you may not have time to run through a comprehensive checklist of what to consider in the heat of the moment, you’ll need to develop the ability to prioritize and make the best decision possible with the time you have. 

For Part 3 of our series on what is a gray man, we look at how to evaluate the gear you carrying and clothing you wear.

Have you been aware of “situational awareness” before today? If it’s something you’ve been practicing, do you have any additional tips for someone that is new to the concept?

Cody Martin

With over 18 years of federal law enforcement, training, and physical security experience, Cody focuses his time nowadays on both consulting and training. He regularly advises individuals, groups, multinational corporations, schools, houses of worship, and NGOs on security threats while conducting customized training as needed.

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