Canadian Security Magazine

ASIS Toronto picks winner of security student essay competition

By Canadian Security   

News K-12

ASIS Toronto chapter has announced the winner of its first annual student scholarship writing competition.

The winner, who will receive a $1,000 award at an ASIS Toronto awards evening in October, is Kimberlee Hertendy.

Hertendy graduated from Trent University in 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Forensic Sciences and recently completed an Advanced Investigations in Enforcement program at Seneca College, graduating with high honours. She also has an IMS 200, Active Shooter Response and Planning Certificate and is taking a BEM course at George Brown College. She has been working as a security officer at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto since April 2013. Hertendy says she “hopes to contribute a great deal to the security field” and “is constantly willing to learn and contribute more.”

Hertendy’s winning essay is presented below:

Nonverbal Communication in Security
ASIS Writing Competition Submission
by Kimberlee Hertendy

In recent years, the subject of nonverbal communication has become much more important in the security industry. The problem associated with this is that the information that is being presented to security professionals is vastly different as there are two very different types of nonverbal communication information that exist in today’s society. The first kind is the book that is written by scholars, full of academic jargon and scientific research (Matsumoto, Frank & Hwang, 2013). Although helpful and informative, the majority of the population does not understand this language and scientific approach. The second kind of book available are those written by self proclaimed “body language experts” that are retired law enforcement professionals or other retired individuals who relied heavily on nonverbal communication throughout their careers (Matsumoto et al, 2013). Although much more interesting and enticing for many individuals to read, the scientific aspect often gets lost in translation or completely misunderstood. The most important aspect of nonverbal communication is the use and understanding of it in today’s security industry and therefore merging the two different kinds of information that are available to security professionals.


Nonverbal communication is most accurately defined as; “the transfer and exchange of messages in any and all modalities that do not involve words” (Matsumoto et al, 2013). Not only does this definition encompass what is commonly referred to as “body language” but it also takes into account all of those things that are also communicated without using words. For example, the distance that an individual stands in relation to another person indicates their comfort level with that person and/or situation, known as proxemics (Proxemics, 1996). Another example of nonverbal communication is the evidence of sweat stains in an individual’s armpits, thus indicating that they are nervous about something (Matsumoto et al, 2013).

The entire concept of proxemics is very in-depth and too vast to cover in this short explanation of the importance of nonverbal communication. However, the general concept of the theory is very important to understand. Proxemics has been defined by Edward Hall as; “the use of space and how various differences in that use can make us feel more relaxed or anxious” (Proxemics, 1996). Proxemics can be further broken down into two categories; physical territory and personal territory (Proxemics, 1996). Physical territory is the logical way in which physical items are placed, for example, why couches are placed facing a television and not the back of one. Personal territory is the space that you keep between yourself and those that are around you, differing on your comfort level of those around you. Although there are often specific distances that are outlined in terms of personal, public and intimate space, it is dependent upon the individual how much space is needed for an individual to feel comfortable.

Another important aspect of nonverbal communication is the movement an individual makes unconsciously. For example, if an individual is getting agitated, they tend to tense their muscles, fidget with anything they have available to them, shift their weight back and forth and glance towards what they are anxious about. This behavior is an individual’s body’s way of entering into a fight or flight reaction. This reaction is a physiological reaction to stress and cannot be controlled or trained. When an individual feels an intense amount of stress, the adrenaline and epinephrine in their body begin to build up (Fight-or-flight, 2013). Depending on the individual, the body then prepares to flee what is threatening them or making them anxious, or attempts to fight whatever it is that is causing them stress.

Now that a basic understanding of nonverbal communication has been presented, it is important to understand how nonverbal communication interacts with verbal communication.

Ekman & Freisen proposed six differently ways in which nonverbal communication can influences verbal communication and they are; substitute, repeat, contradict, complement, accent and regulate (Matsumoto et al, 2013). The most common form nonverbal communication takes is through substitution. For example, nodding your head yes in response to a question instead of simply saying the word yes or simply pointing when asked where something is (Matsumoto et al, 2013). Nonverbal communication can also repeat a verbal communication by nodding yes while saying yes, for example. In terms of contradicting, when a friend says they are looking forward to an activity that you two have planned but their face is portraying an unpleasant expression, there is a contradiction in the message being sent (Matsumoto et al, 2013). Nonverbal communication can also complement verbal communication when the two portray the same message. For example, saying, “It’s been a tough day” while an individual has hunched shoulders and are dragging their feet (Matsumoto et al, 2013). Using nonverbal communication to accent verbal communication is used when an individual uses a movement or gesture to intensify the meaning of a word. For example, yelling at someone to “GET OUT” while pointing at the door. Nonverbal communication can regulate verbal communication by using tone, pitch and level of the voice to help communicate the message being portrayed (Matsumoto et al, 2013).

Although there are many more in-depth theories to be presented in reference to nonverbal communication it is much more important to understand how the above mentioned aspects can impact an individual in the security and emergency response field. By understanding all the different ways that nonverbal communication can influence the verbal communication used on a regular basis, a security or emergency employee can greatly increase the effectiveness of themselves on the job. There are many examples that can be researched that demonstrate the ability and importance of combining nonverbal and verbal communication however the best examples that can be provided are personal ones.

Throughout my five years of post secondary education, I have received more than my share of information and statistics regarding the importance of being able to read nonverbal communication. However, until I was introduced to a teacher that has been one of the biggest influences in my own life and career told me his story and I applied his experiences into my own career in security, did I fully understand the importance of nonverbal communication.

In 1997, the ability to read nonverbal communication and react to it was the only thing that saved my teacher’s life, Security Guard (S/G) M. When an individual (Mr. Y)  had been approached by S/G M while he was working as a security guard pulled a gun and shot him three times. While patrolling a parking area, S/G M observed a lone male that was acting suspiciously around parked cars. S/G M approached Mr. Y to obtain information pertaining to his identity. Mr. Y was very uncooperative and his erratic behavior began to make S/G M suspicious. Ultimately, S/G M was able to use the nonverbal cues prior to the shooting to prevent the shots fired from taking his life.

The nonverbal communication began for S/G M as soon as he approached Mr. Y. Mr. Y’s actions around the vehicles was suspicious and this suspicion grew the longer S/G M conversed with this individual For example, when asked for identification, Mr. Y simply handed over a non identifying notebook and some keys. Mr. Y also had very little say but began to turn his back to S/G M. All of these indicators began to put S/G M on alert which initiated his fight or flight response much quicker when the initial shot was fired. This story is that final piece of information that truly shaped how I decided to approach being a security guard.

Initially, I looked at becoming a security guard as simply being a stepping stone towards something bigger and better that was waiting for me. However, once I understood the importance and dangers that can be associated with security, I began to look at security in a different light. I took it upon myself to learn and understand as much information as possible to help myself in my career, including the importance of nonverbal communication. Once I was placed in a hospital setting, the true strength of nonverbal communication took root when I began to do patient watches and needed to be able to understand when a patient was about to develop into a code white (violent) situation. The ability to read when a patient is getting agitated and is contemplating running or lashing out, has prevented numerous injuries to myself, my coworkers and the patient in question. Without the skill of reading nonverbal communication, my experience as a hospital security guard would be filled with much more trauma and possible injury.

Security courses are just now beginning to introduce the concept of nonverbal communication into their curriculum and, if the course is taught online, sometimes it is still not mentioned in any detail at all. To me this is a travesty, as it has been proven time and time again that nonverbal communication indicates an individual’s state of mind and intention much more accurately than verbal information alone. Personally, the introduction to nonverbal communication has shaped and influenced my career in more ways than I can even begin to explain in this single piece of writing. What I really wish to impart upon anyone who reads this and is deciding to get into the security field is understand the human interaction fully. Humans are the most complex creatures on this planet and they are the ones that you, in security or emergency response fields, will constantly be interacting with or attempting to control. The ability and desire to understand one another as much as possible is something that could possibly save your life or the lives of those around you.

Matsumoto, D., Frank, M., & Hwang, H. S. (2013).Nonverbal communication. California: SAGE Publishing, INC
Sheppard, M. (1996, July). Proxemics. Retrieved from
Fight-or-flight response. (2013, June 22). Retrieved from

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