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The Art & Craft of Intention-Signalling by Mark Hatmaker

We’re going to take a walk from bird-watching, through to animal ethology, to suppressed “escape” behavior in humans in the face of boring conversations or bad dates, and wind up with spotting suspicious behavior in potential human predators.

We’ll also discuss how paying closer attention to bad conversations might one day save your life.

First, a little bird-watching.

Most species of birds will bob the head as they take to flight. In many of these species you can observe a head-bob that just precedes the “true” head-bob needed for the actual flight preparation itself.

This pre-head-bob is known as an intention behavior, it signals that the thought “fly” has entered the bird’s mind and this thought is manifested in a physical action. Wise hunter’s and able nature-observers know that when they see a head-bob flight is imminent.

The head-bob is not a mere artifact of bird-brained behavior it is a sign of intelligence as it is part of a communication chain. The head-bob is a signal to other birds of the same species “I’m outta here.” It can signal “Danger, let’s hit it!” Or it can simply be a visual cue to other family/flock members “Let’s move on, we’ve picked this place clean.”

How do we know that this head-bobbing is communication of intent and isn’t simply some artifact of instinct?

The more birds present the more head-bobbing pre-flight we will observe. When solo the bird will bob once and take flight. When with a smaller group we may see two to three bobs as it signals to the other’s its intent.

Whereas when we see head-bobbing inside a large flock we can see as many as five or more bobs as the bird makes sure that it has caught the attention of the entire flock.
The key behind intention behavior aka intention signaling is that it is used so often that it becomes automatic, or subconscious, that is the reason we see the single bob even in a solitary bird that has no bird companion to signal to.

Let’s talk about our pets for a minute.

Dogs look at what they want. You have a tortilla chip in your hand, your dog will look from you to the chip, back to you, back to the chip. Message received loud and clear.

And… you guessed it, that is also intention-signaling.

Dangle your cat’s favorite toy in front of it – your cat will look at it, no back and forth eye-interaction with you the dangler, the cat is all business with its intention-signal.

Watch a man or woman try “not to look” at someone they find attractive while sitting with their designated partner. That is intention-signaling.

Now, let’s take this bit of bird-watching and pet-taunting wisdom to restaurants, food courts, hell, anywhere where you can find a large number of humans gathering.

Find the couple or family or group that you think isn’t quite into what’s going on in their little flock. You’ll know what I mean. You know why you know what I mean? Intention signaling.

Just as with a bird-bobbing its head pre-flight, humans will position their bodies to exit pre-exit.

  • We will shift our legs and feet away from the speaker we’ve had enough of.
  • We will gradually angle the torso away from the speaker and towards the direction we want to go.
  • If seated at a table we can often see the hands move towards a position that would be used to press ourselves up from the table or out from behind the booth.

We will witness these behaviors and many others often long before the actual “flight” takes place.

Just as with birds, human intention behaviors are often just as automatic and we don’t even realize we are engaging in them.

Through propriety, civility, etc. we often give “lip service” to less than enthralling conversations all the while our intention behaviors are leaking all sorts of contrary signals and more often than not these signals tell the truth of our internal state more so than the “Oh, so you’re thinking about getting a haircut, that’s really interesting” that just passed our lips.

Now, let’s finally have a look at the human scum that we call predators.

Security camera footage reveals again and again and again intention signaling.

  • The eyes that keep going to the cash register that is soon to be robbed.
  • The glances towards the purse that is soon to be snatched off the bench at the bus station.
  • The head-bobs towards the victim that has been singled out to receive the sucker-punch to be posted on YouTube.

Birds, dogs, cats, and humans are rife and ridden with the same “leaky” intention signaling behaviors. We think our thoughts and then our physical body (often unbeknownst to us) begins to prepare for the given thought’s action even in the smallest of ways.

Intention signaling is relatively easy to spot or read but… we often fail to read signals at all—intentional or otherwise.

There is a tendency among we humans to sort of fuzz out the details of life and walk around inside our skulls and fail to notice much more than the words we hear or read on our screens.

It is easy to sit in a restaurant and watch other humans for intention signals but it is far harder to pay attention to our own intention signals while we are hip deep in telling our own “hilarious haircut” story. Just maybe it ain’t as funny as we think it is.

To train ourselves to spot the malignant intention-signaling of predators we will have (hopefully) rare training events to work from. If we are lucky we will seldom if ever encounter such scenarios.

But, if we make it a habit to watch for intention-signaling in everyday life and in all species we do four things.

  1. We become more actively engaged in the actual world and actually SEE the head-bob signaling of birds instead of just reading about in some old man’s article.
  2. We become better observers and interpreters of our fellow humans as we begin to treat our interactions with others as if we were alive and awake inside this human zoo instead of engaging in mindless rote mechanical interactions.
  3. We might become better conversationalists as we learn to spot signals of “Oh, this story ain’t cutting it” or “This line of talk is right up her alley!”
  4. By becoming more aware of intention-signaling, at all times, we just may find it saves our lives or prevents trouble as we just may spot malevolent signaling in a human predator.

If we are not awake and alert to signals in the here and now in the so-called “mundane” world, what makes us think we will be that alive and awake warrior in shit hits the fan times?

It is too late to see the head-bob when the bird has already flown.

Click here for more instruction from Mark Hatmaker

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