Safety and Training

Throwback Thursday: The Four Second Assessment

Woman spraying an agent from a canister

On a particular day in the not so distant past, my business partner Tom was standing outside of a tour bus. This was to be the first detail he ever worked with Brad Paisley. In the stillness, he said his mind raced with consideration and expectation. From his past experience, many celebrities that he’d actually been excited to meet tragically turned into disappointing encounters. In the protection industry, you learn to size people up very quickly. A good bodyguard knows if the person approaching is good, bad, or ugly.  As you learn to evaluate, your skill set improves.

By Jason Hanson

A young woman in a dark t-shirt calls 911
By the time you are forced to respond to a threat or draw a firearm, you should have already had an action plan in mind after your initial assessment.

The first time you encounter a high-profile client, you never know what to expect. People tend to forget that celebrities are people too. Just like any other human being, they have good days and bad ones; some are gracious and some, well…, not so much. As you stand waiting for that first interaction, you wonder if your client is going to be talent or tyrant.

Protection jobs are often hurry-up and wait propositions. The production buses, vehicles and all the things essential to make a concert successful all arrive well before the talent. In a concert scenario, the protection team scrambles to do its advance work, acclimates to the venue, and then stands waiting for the client to arrive.

The wait is usually long, and you often feel a slight sense of “What am I getting into?” on the first day of any detail. Truth be told, a sort of ping-pong game was going on in the back of my partner’s mind. Even though he had never met Brad, he’d heard great things about him. In addition, we had positive experiences working with his wife Kim on projects related to Chicago charities. We also had colleagues who said great things about her from interactions they had on the set of Father of The Bride where she co-stared with Alan Alda.

We have learned a simple evaluation tool to give us a basic understanding of the client’s mindset. It is no great revelation, psychological trick, or superior application of tradecraft. It is, very simply, do they introduce themselves? When someone who’s image peppers the tabloid rack at the grocery store walks up and says “Hi, I am …. “ I take a deep breath and the tension reduces slightly because we know in that moment that they see us as human beings and have some level of respect for our position.

The clients that do not introduce themselves presumptuously expect you to know who they are. Most of the time the ongoing detail is less than favorable and ironically many of these non-introducers are accompanied by extensive confidentiality agreements. Interesting, isn’t it? These quick assessments we have learned from years in the executive protection industry remarkably apply to you as well. It is estimated that people make a judgment about you in four seconds. If you are a celebrity, executive, or a regular person going about your life, in four seconds you judge and are judged regardless of what you want to believe.

2 paratroopers walk along a busy street with guns pointed down, yet ready
Law enforcement and certian military members are tasked with making snap assessments about a person. You should be developing and employing this skill as well.

If you respect or dismiss the people around you, it says something about the very core of who you are. In this case, Brad Paisley walked up, introduced himself, shook each protection agent’s hand and even said thank you. When his wife Kim arrived, she was equally gracious. My partner was even caught off guard when she emerged from the tour bus with a puppy. He must have reached out with an assumptive gesture to take the leash but she quickly responded with a sharp, “Oh, no. I am not going to ask you to walk my dog.” The bodyguard regularly ends up enduring tasks that are quite honestly beneath him. Walking the dog and dealing with luggage regularly top the list. There was a similar interaction with Jennifer Aniston and her dog, Norman. Jennifer, like Kim, walked her dog by herself and saw us as valued agents.

You may not be an A-List celebrity or top executive but you can dominate the four second assessment and join the ranks of the celebrities like Brian Head Welch, Jennifer Aniston, Matt Damon, Jay Z, Halle Berry, Michael W. Smith and many more who meet people and do not expect to be known.

You can be like these celebrity elite by extending your hand with a smile and a sincere introduction. I encourage you to assess yourself and your motivation under this new revelation. Recently, in our Spy Escape and Evasion session we had a doctor in attendance that exemplified this heightened standard. He dressed well, looked everyone in the eye and introduced himself with a smile. He did not even tell people he was a doctor. I found that out later when he gave me a business card after the course ended.

The bottom line is, do you respect the people around you? Do you value or disrespect the people who make your life safer or simply more comfortable? I think you will find that when you show respect, you also receive respect and will receive an unexpected personal benefit.

Are your consciously making assessment when you meet people? Should you be assessing others or assessing them more? Share your viewpoint in the comment section.

Jason Hanson is a former CIA Officer and New York Times bestselling author of Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life. To get a free credit card knife from Jason, visit

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Comments (14)

  1. In my life & career, I have met thousands of folks. 98% are good people, 2% obviously have their own twisted agenda. I unfortunately remember the dangerous & wingnuts more than I do the gracious and kind…why? My expectations are such that I expect and think the best of everyone until proven differently. I don’t expect everyone to know me, but for those that do, I want them to have the best/positive remembrance of our meet, however brief or long our encounter is. I remember the 1st time I met Lady Gaga at her Mental Wellness fund raising event in Rancho Palos Verses, CA. As a speaker I arrived hours early and was randomly visiting with folks setting up tables & decorations. One young lady approached and said how happy she was that I was able to attend & speak. I asked her name and she told me, “It’s Stefani Joanne you silly Jedi”. After a few minutes of chit-chat & a, “I’ll see you later”, she walked away and my son Nathan came up and asked what I thought of Gaga? I told him I was looking forward to meeting her…Nate gave me a funny look and told me I just did! My point, no make-up, no wigs, real person, no airs about her. My 4 seconds in, I was wondering if she was single as she’d be a nice catch for my son… With my wrinkles, gray beard and everyday clothes, I can honestly go pretty much anywhere and not be recognized. People treat me as they do anyone else in their daily life. If they treat others like dirt, it extends to me, if they are kind, that is extended to me. At events, my security detail are always a top priority! It’s a two-fold reasoning…1: they are real humans and deserve respect, no matter who they are, or what they do…2: they may take a bullet, knife a shoe (yep, I’ve had shoes thrown at me) or any number of possible objects intended for me by the forementioned dangerous or wingnuts out there. I’ll finish by expressing gratitude towards those in law enforcement, security, etc for all they do! Humble, unsung heroes one and all!
    I like this article as I see on the news so much heartbreak and violence towards good people in the wrong place at the wrong time, but they make matters worse by not noticing what’s happening around them! Noses in phones and no awareness make the danger against them increase tenfold! Thank you CTD for the excellent, real-life articles for daily life safety & awareness! And yes, here it is for today only!!! ” May The Fourth Be With You”!😀

  2. “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet” Gen Mattis, USMC

  3. That is a lesson that “Mr T” almost got taught (by former USMC RVN Vet) when providing protection for Stallone in 1982. While returning to Lowes Anatole with my then ‘pregnant’ wife, he was more ‘aggressive’ than necessary towards us, considering we were Not part of the Fan Groupies. Stallone graciously defused the situation once we were inside the Lobby, and offered his apologies. I had no idea at the time, and Did NOT Care who he was. Won’t say what I thought of, or planned for, “Mr T”.

  4. My parents told me to be kind to everyone. Greet them properly and give notice to their presence. An old friend of mine (retired leo) one time told me that I would talk to a post. I’m doing alright so far. Only one instance that caused a problem and it was a learning experience.

  5. The 11:44 comment about earned respect is part of the equation. For a first time greet there is a measure of respect due anyone, regardless. But trust goes along with respect as time passes after the first meet. Without trust, the initial respect wanes, and one finds out one is being used at the others expense. Personal niceties become shallow coming from the person “owed” respect because of position. No matter what “level” one attains in life, when one cannot be trusted, then (that) one (may only) deserve(s) the time of day.

  6. This is a high stress topic for me. I was raised that everyone is to be respected and you can only loose respect for them by thier actions. At the commiefornia DMV i was told that respect was something that was earned. I tried to reason why that would make sense in my head but then I told myself that i would drive myself crazy trying to use logical reasoning on a bunch of democrats. Never got that one.

  7. A very good point! I am retired from doing protection work, but after years of working with high profile people including Al Pacino, Yul Brynner, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew Broderick, Ed McMahon, Jack Lemmon, as well as numerous high level corporate and government executives, I can say that those who acknowledge and “connect” even slightly with their security personnel, inspire a much higher level of commitment and service.

    The same is true if I am in a restaurant, whether a 5-Star white linen place, or a burrito stand… Greeting and acknowledging the people serving my meal, whether they are the Maitre D, Head Chef, or the bus boy, ensures a much higher level of service and a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

    Likewise, when working with a principal and encountering someone who raised an alert without having yet posed a threat, stepping in, making eye and voice contact with the subject and gently diverting them, defused countless situations in a matter of seconds. As soon as that individual realizes that they have registered front and center on the scope, 9 times out of 10, they will quickly withdraw. The same is true of regular “punks” on the street. No need for acting big and tough, that’s the technique for amateurs. Eye contact, a friendly greeting with a non-threatening gesture, and you have just taken most of the wind out of their sail.

    1. This is spot on . Haveing been in the protection field This works in all walks of life.

  8. I have it on the back of my motorcycle helmet.
    “Give Respect
    Get Respect”
    Good article. No BS, non partisan, and straight forward. Thanks.

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