The Everyday Behaviour Analyst

Time is a luxury, it shouldn’t be, and it’s an abstract concept, a way of indicating duration. Most people rely on structure to function in the modern world so it makes sense that we rely on time so heavily, day by day, week by week. Living in London, working full time, doing some additional consultancy work on the side, having a relationship, keeping several bands going, making films, getting exercise, cooking my dinner and still finding time to meet up with friends and relax, time does become a luxury. That’s just me, I find a way for it all to work, I know some people much busier than myself.

I remember fondly days on the dole, getting stoned, being a full time “artist” scraping together some cash for a double espresso so I could sit in a cafe for a few hours coming up with my next great idea. These were the days when you could still smoke in cafes, great times. I wouldn’t go back to that though, I love my life now. I have problems like anyone else, but have a good job, I can’t really complain, there are so many worse off than me. But, I would love to find a bit more time to sit in a cafe, preferably outdoors, a garden or court yard is always nice, and just spend a bit of time contemplating life, and engaging in one of the most simple of pleasures, observing. Observing the world, a pigeon, the clouds and mostly…people.

Humans are fascinating, and I am endeavouring to write my thoughts on the human condition over a series of pieces, this one included, but first we must analyse the actual act of observation, the learning to understand people.

One of my favourite mini-hobbies is on a Sunday afternoon preferably, finding a nice pub to maybe have some food, and sip a few fine ales that in itself is a great and underrated pleasure. I like company but equally am happy to sit and watch discretely the other people in the pub, assessing their nature, relationship status, their personality by the way they conduct themselves.

That couple met last night, they are still a bit unsure, so I don’t think they had sex, if they did it was probably drunken and messy, they probably forgot most of it. They are sitting closely but still not making contact.

An hour later:

Look, he’s touching her hand, come on dude, go in for a kiss! He’s not entirely confident, she’s giving out signals she likes him, tilted head, total eye contact, he’s still not sure.

That couple down the end of the beer garden, they’ve been together for years, they don’t need to show their affection in public, they are at ease with one another, the woman sits back on her chair, she’s very attractive, dressed very comfortably, other men are looking at her but she has no interest. Her partner isn’t bothered, he knows they are secure, he’s noticed the other men but pays them no attention, they then hold hands, loosely… because they want to, not because they have to prove anything.

The young guy across from me, looks just old enough to be in a pub, he’s very slowly drinking a lager, probably doesn’t know the difference between good and bad beer yet. He looks slightly nervous, he’s waiting for someone. The person isn’t late though, he’s early, and his nerves caused that.

10 minutes roll by, he looks up and a smile appears, he stands like a gentleman, and kisses on the cheek the other young guy who’s arrived. This one more confident, he talks loudly, is this a first date? He recognised him, so not a blind one (maybe through a dating app, something I have no experience of). I can just hear them (why did I sit near the kitchens extractor fan???) shy guy had it in mind it was a date, confident guy is acting like it’s much more casual, he’s loud, it’s a false confidence though, he’s a bit nervous too.

I could go on, I’ve observed these kinds of interactions many times, often when I’m with someone I’ll point out what I see.

“How do you know that?”

“Body language, eye contact, smiles or lack of, sweaty brow…”

And on and on. It’s not all about couples though, recently in a pub I went into the garden to have a cigarette, there was two old men, standing at a bar table together, I listened in…

“Weather”

“mmmm”

“Didn’t win”

“Nope”

“Beer?”

“My round”

The man goes off to the bar, neither of their expressions changed throughout, you might think this series of barely recognisable utterances show the conversational aptitude of a Neanderthal, but I think the opposite. I think these two old blokes and many others like them have in fact refined the art of communication, they have reached a point where facial expression is not required, words are minimised to only the necessary to acknowledge they are on the same wavelength, they do not require emotional content.

Or are they just morons with nothing to say, and the little they say is just filling in the perceived notion that you should converse whilst in another’s company?

Maybe a bit of both, I wonder if that fulfils them. Is one of them actually thinking?

“I wish he liked reading, I really want to discuss the latest translation of Dante’s Inferno…its fucking sublime!!”

I doubt that too, but I’m sure there are things ticking along inside, maybe it’s society at fault, blokes don’t converse, they’re too macho to discuss art, politics, and cuisine.

I think these things. The truth is probably banal, but you have to wonder.

Many times when finding a choice spot outside the front of a cafe, you can oversee the local high street and make everyone envious that you have the luxury of time to sip an expensive drink and not hurry. I will sit and wonder where everyone is going, what are they doing, going to work, meeting a friend, dentist’s appointment? I hope that many of them are on route to an art gallery, or maybe enthusiastically marching to a bookshop, but most probably aren’t. It’s still fun to wonder.

This all may seems slightly voyeuristic, but we all like to watch and wonder what others do, don’t we?

Part of what triggered me to write these thoughts was a colleague of mine who I respect greatly, a fellow trainer who taught me some of the finer points of engaging a room full of people, we occasionally exchange thoughts on new legislation or concepts and how to get them across to our students.

One day we were discussing Autism and somehow the conversation lead to gender differences. He explained how sitting in a high street cafe one day, the door didn’t close entirely on it’s own (faulty hydraulic valve, slightly rusty hinge?) It was winter and the door being ajar let in cold air which made the experience of sipping a hot coffee in comfort, less comfortable. But what he observed was the interesting part, he noticed a man walk in who didn’t appear to notice the door didn’t shut, then a woman shortly after who did, and ensured to pull it fully closed, so he began to count and saw that the majority of women who entered the cafe ensured to shut the door properly whereas the majority of men didn’t.

There could be a number of answers as to why. Women feel the cold more than men, so they are physically more sensitive to the open door, women are more empathic than men, so are thinking of others who may be too cold, men are less likely to move off the task they are on and therefore won’t take notice of anything other than the act of buying lunch… you could pull out a number of other possible reasons, without surveying every customer after they have gone through the threshold you won’t get any qualitative data, but it’s the act of sitting there, noticing and observing that interests me.

I think we all should open our eyes more to what is happening around us, it’s something I try to teach support workers. Often in situations where behaviour is challenging people will say:

“There was no warning”

“It came from no where”

No, it didn’t. Look at the environment, the sounds, the people, the temperature… something caused it. My job is to read behaviour, I assess the actions of people and come up with causes and solutions. I’m not always right, but the majority of the time I am. There’s an academic approach to it, understanding cultural differences, understanding mental health and the effects of diet are important, but more than anything it’s the rapid thought process of taking in all the factors and coming to a prognosis, then proving it can be difficult or at least time consuming.

Often I meet people and I tell them what I do and they instantly assume I’m somehow analysing their behaviour.

“Of course not, I leave that at work!”

It’s lie, I am, but I don’t necessarily need to tell them that. It’s not my intention to make people uncomfortable around me, but I can’t help reading behaviour in that way. I’ve made mistakes, let people into my life that later find to be highly negative influences, no one’s perfect. The difficulty of this is I frequently look outwards at others, why they do what they do, sometimes I neglect to look at my own behaviour, but have become much better at that.

Within this page I will look at a number of things, all related to human behaviour and give my thoughts on why, based on observation. Some examples will be “Why people who drive yellow cars are evil” “Why we like to change our consciousness” to the values of walking. In addition I will also publish some more practically based articles about learning disabilities and Autism and working in social care, these will be separated by sections. At times some articles may be more whimsical, others will be very serious, I’ll reflect on my own experience and that of others. I’m not interested in researching and assessing statistics, although that will be an element at times, for me what is valuable is the reading of people, situations and behaviours in a real and intuitive way.

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