What is a Gray Man and Why Should I Care?

blending into crowd of people

Gray Man Philosophy

What is this gray man thing and why should I care? In the most generic sense, the gray man philosophy refers to the ability of a person to blend into their current environment and surroundings in a way that makes them unnoticeable and ignored.

blending into environment

This phrase is usually referenced when discussing disasters or apocalyptic scenarios; however, I believe this is something we should all have knowledge of and be able to apply in during the course of our daily lives. Beyond blending in with the crowd, there are other traits, knowledge, and skills, which complement this philosophy?

Attracting Assault

Back in grad school, I remember looking at a study called Attracting Assault: Victims’ Nonverbal Cues, which was published in 1981 by Betty Grayson and Morris I. Stein. The premise of this study was to see if there were individual characteristics, mannerisms, traits, etc., which were likely to increase the chances of being a victim of crime, primarily assault.

They used video to record foot traffic in high assault areas of New York and then the videos were shown to violent inmates who ranked the pedestrians in terms of how difficult or easy it would be to victimize them. 

Despite being an old study, this is still relevant to how we present ourselves subconsciously on a daily basis. Our demeanor and mannerisms, among other things, influence our likelihood of being targeted. This study highlighted how something basic, like how we walk, can influence the likelihood of being victimized. Things like a short or long stride, or having abnormal arm movement, make us stand out.

According to the study, “any dude who looked different” would probably be a target. These were the exact words of the inmates.

What does this mean? In a nutshell, it means anything that makes us stand out increases our chances of being a victim of violent crime. Our clothing, jewelry, posture, and more, influence the behavior of others.

Why does it matter?

It matters because we should have the desire to minimize this type of occurrence in our lives. If we know what the bad guys are looking for, we have an advantage. So, how does this apply?

Situational awareness will help you bring some of your subconscious behavior to light. Noticing others and how they are acting can also help identify behavior that may be unique to you. We can temper most of this, and for the things we can’t, we can at least be mindful enough to see if they are attracting unwanted attention. 

What to do

standing out in the crowd

Here are a few areas of consideration within our control that allow us to minimize the ways we stand out:


Our clothing is something we have complete control over. For the most part, we get to decide how we present ourselves to the world on a daily basis. Keep in mind, there are certain jobs that require uniforms or other distinct attire which will stand out in public. Again, don’t worry about that.

We are going to focus on the things we can control. As we mentioned in our article discussing gray man clothing, the clothing you are wearing will either contribute to you being able to blend in or, it will make you stick out and be memorable. There are also times and situations where you may need to stand out. Sometimes blending in is not blending in at all. Be cognizant of those as well. 


This is another area we can fully control and be mindful of. Expensive jewelry has been a long-time favorite in terms of items bad guys like to target. There is nothing wrong with nice jewelry as long as we are aware of our environment and surroundings. Do you need to be wearing a $10,000 Rolex while traveling through an impoverished third world country? I don’t know. You will have to make that decision. Keep in mind, that amount of money is well over the median per-capita income in a lot of countries and there are folks who will do bad things for it.


We live in a day and age where most of the people we come across have their heads buried in an electronic device. This is something I have to be mindful of myself when it comes to maintaining my situational awareness.

We are prone to fill any spare time we have with social media, news, sports or any other outlet of our choosing if given the chance. We become detached from what’s going on around us and we lose the ability to decipher any pre-event indicators that may be present.

everyone on their cell phone

Fight the urge and put away the cell phone next time you are walking down the street, riding the bus, or sitting a red light. A side bonus is that your electronic device will be out of view for would-be criminals.


Keep yourself in a condition where you appear to be aware and are aware of everything going on around you. Present yourself in a way that conveys you are physically confident and walk in that confidence as you go about your daily lives.

Again, we need to remember to keep our heads up and out of our phones. Don’t give the perception of being a victim. Keep a long stride and avoid walking slow.


These are just a few areas of our life we can control to one degree or another. Is this something you need to be cognizant of on a daily basis? Maybe so…you have to make that determination. However, in my opinion, we should always be aware of what’s going on around us and present ourselves in a way that portrays confidence.

All of these areas are important to being a gray man as it relates to not standing out in a crowd. There are definitely times when we need to go with the flow and times we don’t.

Learning to read your environment and adapt appropriately is the key!

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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