Human terrain mapping is pretty much just what it sounds like: mapping out people for the purposes of understanding how they’ll act — and how they can be leveraged. You might already be aware that the term itself was used by the Army for the purposes of understanding the local populations where it was at war. The concept of it all, however, comes down to a word that’s considered dirty and wrong by many: profiling. Criminologists, certain types of intelligence analysts, and forensic psychologists have been doing profiling for quite a while. Interestingly enough, however, while those who engage in that type of profiling go through years of intense training, you do a fair amount of a different type of profiling every day and may not even realize it.

Profiling as an Everyday Activity

Contrary to popular opinion, profiling is not in and of itself wrong. We all do it every day, and not just with people. We do it in situations, too. If a certain position you find yourself in matches certain characteristics to other situations you’ve been in with a specific outcome, you may base any actions you take on that past experience, for instance, in order to either recreate or avoid that prior outcome. Here’s just a sampling of some of the ways you may profile on a daily basis:

  • You’re in Seattle, where you’re aware there is a fairly aggressive and even violent homeless population with a high incidence of drug use and mental illness. You choose to avoid the areas of town where homeless populations are known to gather to avoid the potential problems.
  • You are walking in your neighborhood with your kids and see a vehicle parked that doesn’t belong there. An unkempt man is sitting in it furtively looking around. You may choose to cross the street to avoid interacting with him while you have your small children.
  • You’re on a first date and the woman you’re having dinner with tells you that she is vegan just after you order a ribeye. There is no second date.
  • Someone in your group pulls you aside and tells you that they can “get you things” because they have a connection with someone. They’re offering you all kinds of items that can get you in trouble. You cut them out of the group and break all contact.

The list goes on. Theoretically, could you be wrong about your assessments in the above situations? Sure. You could have met the rare vegan that doesn’t see their lifestyle as a religion. You could have missed out on meeting some homeless guy with a heart of gold who used to be successful before his wife’s medical problems wiped him out financially and took his home. The guy sitting in the car looking around could be just lost.

Are you actually wrong about your assessment that the vegan’s worldview won’t mesh with yours and the homeless folks in the tent city you avoided could be mentally ill and/or dangerous? Probably not — and that’s why we do what we do; the chances of being wrong are low enough (or the stakes are high enough) that it’s worth missing out on whatever good that situation may have to offer. The actions you take as a result of your profile may also change based on external factors and context. Maybe you would go up to the guy sitting in your neighborhood if your kids weren’t there with you. Maybe you are under a hard time constraint and have to go by the homeless camp because you need to get from Point A to Point B and that’s the shortest route.  Whatever the situation, your mind — at least if you practice self-awareness as a lifestyle — will game out potential issues and mitigation based upon a variety of factors including a profile of the people and/or situation. Understanding what profiling actually is — and that it’s not some horrifying thing much of the time — will come into play as we discuss core motivators.

Core Motivators

Everyone needs something. And I don’t mean food, clothing, and shelter; I’m talking about emotional, core level needs. The kind that drive your decision-making and color your views of other individuals. If someone knows your core motivator, they own you. It’s that simple. They can affect your decision-making, steer your choices, and manipulate you into all sorts of things. Think about the closest relationships you have. Your spouse, parents, siblings, maybe even your boss or kids. Each of them can push your buttons in a way no one else can; that’s because they understand you. Even if she can’t consciously verbalize that “John’s biggest need is to be respected as a man,” for instance, a man’s wife may be aware that denigrating his manhood, ability to provide, or other related facets of who he is will get to him more than just about anything else.

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: If you see someone wants something, give it to them. In a profiling or leveraging sense, that means something different than you might think it does at face value. Why do various tactics work so well and so often even though everyone knows they exist? Core motivators.

Let’s take Joe as an example. Joe works about 70 hours a week; he’s got a little house, couple kids, and he’s an upstanding guy from all appearances. He wants into your group, and he says all the right things. You’re seriously considering bringing him into the circle. Over time, however, you notice a few things.

  • His wife is a domineering woman who frequently emasculates him, even in front of others. She mocks him, belittles him, and shames him.
  • The 70 hours he’s working don’t add up to his lifestyle — until he confides that he has to work that much because his wife has a credit card habit and likes to keep up appearances. She doesn’t have a job, by the way.
  • His kids are okay, but you see a basic level of disrespect. They don’t really take him seriously as a parent or a father.
  • At work he’s not nearly as high on the chain as he should be; he works hard but he somehow gets passed over for promotions in favor of the younger talent.

It probably sounds like a few guys you already know. What is this guy’s core motivator? What does he need more than anything? What will he respond to?

Respect. He wants and needs to be respected as a man, to be seen as worthy of something. His interest in your group may be distilled down not just to political belief or worldview, but to a very basic need to be validated as a male. It’s the same basic concept as a kid growing up in the inner city. Coming from a broken and maybe even abusive home, with no one who cares about him or invests in him as a human being, maybe shuffled from foster home to foster home, what does he want more than anything? To belong somewhere. You’ll find him in a gang soon enough, where a warped sense of belonging will put a band-aid on his sucking chest wound. Gangs and criminals know all about core motivators.

But back to Joe. If you want to foster loyalty in Joe, how do you do it? You give him what he wants. If you are the only place in his life where he feels respected, validated and valued, then you and your group will become the center of his world. You will affect his decision-making, you’ll be essentially his emotional security blanket; his refuge.

Basically, you need to find out what someone wants/needs, and be the person who provides it. Why do honey traps still work? Why has the tired old undercover-person-offering-illegal-items/activities continued to work over and over no matter how much of an obvious running joke it’s become? Why do the same tactics for making a group eat itself from the inside out work now just as well as they did 40 years ago? Why do certain people train in a very specific set of skills that work over and over, often even across cultural and language barriers? Core motivators.

Handling Your Own Motivators

If you’ve read this article thus far and wondered what your own motivator is, that’s a good thing. Unless you want to be another Joe, easily leveraged and manipulated by anyone who offers him the cookie he needs so badly, then you need to understand where your own motivations lie. Here are a few questions to get started with — and these are by no means exhaustive:

  • Do I bristle at the idea of being in a group I’m not in charge of?
  • How do I feel when someone compliments me profusely?
  • Where do I find my identity?
  • What grounds me?
  • How do I feel when I see my picture on a news article about my group’s recent events?
  • How strong is my marriage and family relationship in my home?
  • What role do I play in my immediate family?
  • What am I insecure about (everyone has something)?
  • What kinds of things can someone say about me that make me instantly furious?

Knowing yourself, your weaknesses, and your fears is critical to protecting yourself. If you know and can admit to yourself that validation is your kryptonite, for example, then when someone approaches you by building up your ego, telling you how amazing and awesome you are, you can better recognize it for what it might be. If power and control is what drives you, then you can recognize when you’re trying to run things you shouldn’t be — or when someone is “offering you the kingdom” in exchange for just a little favor. If you need to feel important, you might catch yourself next time you’re about to give away a piece of information that you shouldn’t, in an effort to show the person you’re talking to that you’re knowledgeable.

This isn’t necessarily a exercise where you sit down for 20 minutes and come away with some EUREKA! moment in which you now understand your core drives. It’s a process. Even if you identify what drives you — which for some, by the way, is a little too much brutal honesty to handle anyway — then you need to start looking at the situations and events in your life where that motivator has driven a decision. At this point, would it surprise you if good, upstanding Joe was having an affair with someone at work who thinks he is just the most amazing man she’s ever met? Would it really be out of Joe’s character to want to join a group where the main activity is running around in the woods playing tacticool soldier?

It should be noted as well that part of the self-examination necessary also involves being honest with yourself about the actions you take or things you say that essentially telegraph your weakness to others. To some extent, highly perceptive people can often pick up on these signals, even if they don’t necessarily understand the full picture.

  • “Did I REALLY do well on that?”
  • “I don’t need to learn that.”
  • “I DO WHAT I WANT. No one tells ME what to do!”
  • “Don’t worry; I’ll have enough time to give everyone interviews who has asked for them.”

The list is unending, but what do the above statements tell you instantly about the people saying them? What are they telegraphing about themselves? How can you leverage that?

You won’t be able to change yourself overnight; you can, however, become aware of what you’re doing and saying that puts a glowing neon sign above your head and announces to those who look for it that “I need ______.” That, right there, is more than half the battle.

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