The Verbal Monkey Dancer – Erik Kondo

The Monkey Dance is a term coined by Rory Miller in his model of violence dynamics. Rory describes a Monkey Dance as a type of social violence where two people, usually men, engage in a ritual confrontation to establish dominance and social status. One of hallmarks of the Monkey Dance is the influence of the Monkey Brain. Both Rory Miller and Marc MacYoung have written extensively about the workings of Monkey Brain as part of their work on Conflict Communications.

The vocal portion of the Monkey Dance is a subset of this behavior. Whereas, the Monkey Dance many times climaxes in a fight, a purely vocal Monkey Dance does not. It has the majority of the elements of the full Monkey Dance. It is inherently social in nature. The behaviors are driven by the Monkey Brain. An audience is usually involved. But there is one significant difference. The participants don’t intend to cross the line from verbal into physical.

A vocal Monkey Dance between two or more parties can be viewed as a Monkey Dance that didn’t quite make it to the fighting Monkey Dance stage. In many cases, the parties involved don’t really have any intention of actually fighting.  They are posturing and pretending to be preparing to fight. But the Verbal Monkey Dancer is something else. This person has no intention of fighting in the first place. He or she isn’t posturing for a fight. He or she is certain that he/she will not be physically responded to regardless of his or her abusive behavior.

Unlike Monkey Dancers that are in the vocalizing stage, the Verbal Monkey Dancer, doesn’t expect a physical response to his/her actions regardless of his/her outrageous behavior.

The reason that this person can get away with these actions is that he or she is a member of some type of protected class where the use of physical force against him/her would be considered unacceptable by society. Some examples of protected classes are: women, the young, the elderly, and people with disabilities.  High status individuals can also be Verbal Monkey Dancers. It is as if the person has an invisible protective societal shield. The Verbal Monkey Dancer knows that it is unlikely that the subject of his/her violent behavior will respond physically. Therefore, he/she feels free to unleash both verbal and physical abuse.

It is important to note that while people in some protected classes are frequently targeted and victimized by Predators because they are considered easy victims, not all members of these classes are only prey. The Verbal Monkey Dancer has recognized how to use his or her social status to prey upon other people through his/her bad behavior. This person is able to identify people who are unlikely to physically attack him or her regardless of what he/she does. In some ways, some Verbal Monkey Dancers chose their physically stronger victims in the same way that a Predator chooses physically weaker victims.

The Verbal Monkey Dancer knows that in certain situations, the greater the perceived physical advantage of his/her victims, the less likely they will respond with violence. Other Verbal Monkey Dancers will choose victims that are inherently passive in nature and thus unlikely to respond violently. High Status Verbal Monkey Dancers uses the power of their social status to intimidate their victims. In either case, the Verbal Monkey Dancer is selective in his/her victim selection.  Neither the Predator nor the Verbal Monkey Dancer wants to encounter a target that physically fights back.

There is also a type of Verbal Monkey Dancer that doesn’t depend upon the shield of society for protection. This person feels protected by some type of barrier that they feel keeps them safe. Imagine a person, yelling at others while standing safely behind a fence. Or a car driver spewing abuse at someone on the sidewalk knowing that he can easily speed away.

Frequently, the Verbal Monkey Dancer will act alone. But there are instances where Verbal Monkey Dancers get together an act in groups. The group behavior follows the same pattern as previously described.

In the case of a Verbal Monkey Dancer, his or her Monkey Brain is fully engaged. He or she may be outraged by some event or belief that aroused his/her limbic system to seek revenge or venting. Regardless of his/her specific motivation it is important to recognize the behavior pattern of a Verbal Monkey Dancer. A skilled Verbal Monkey Dancer must be handled with care. He or she knows how to work the system to his/her advantage. He or she knows how much she/he can get away with and not provoke a physical response. And if he or she does provoke a physical response, he/she knows how to use her social status to punish her victim further.

In the age of the weaponization of mobile phones and social media, sometimes the safest defense against Verbal Monkey Dancers is to record their bad behavior as evidence of their abuse.

Beware of the Verbal Monkey Dancer!

Canned Monkey – Garry Smith

I recall a not too distant holiday in Majorca, We were staying in a nice enough hotel in Palma Nova just around the corner from where my sister lives. It was nice enough and we got what we expected and no complaints.

However, it was not all good and the big downside was that just as we spotted the ‘special offer’ so did some less desirable members of the herd. To be fair there were a group of women, very large women with big mouths and limited intellects who when not smoking and drinking freely shared their banal observations with all around the pool. They were both English and from the North, (like us) and they fulfilled the stereotypes held by foreigners and southerners alike. Three generations of grossly obese, beer swilling ignoramuses that were clearly living the dream, no problem with that even if they were a bit annoying. BUT, then came the group from hell, or probably Manchester.

They were joined a day or two later by six shaven headed cretins who on arrival embarked on a binge drinking adventure with no regard for anyone around them. Their language was foul, I swear a lot, too often according to my wife, but these guys did so often and loudly confident that their intimidating appearance and drunken state would deter any objection, and it did. They deliberately intimidated staff and guests alike.

On their first evening one of them almost fell on me in reception he was so drunk and then headed off on the town. Two of them actually abused one guy in a neighbouring room on their second evening and in a threatening group monkey dance way that had me at reception getting what constituted security over there and recommending the hotel call the Guarda Civil. The hotel bottled it.

Like the good boy I try to be these days I did my bit then stepped back, let those who know the turf deal with the problem. It would have been incredibly enjoyable to crack a few heads there and then but I did not fancy explaining to the Guards Civil or spending several days sweating it out in a Majorcan jail. After all they would see a shaven headed earring wearing northern Englishman hardly physically distinguished from the pond life. So off to our evening meal having pointed out the offenders to hotel staff, a nice chat with a couple on the next table then off with them for a few drinks in the inside, as opposed to poolside, bar, nice.

This hotel had replaced staff, in its bars, with machines. Wine, beer and soft drinks were all self service with only spirits poured by the staff. Efficiency driven up, costs down and no controls on consumption. Our friends began on Vodka and beers from 10am onwards. They were very drunk by lunchtime and continued and they kept getting served.

So, later that evening, when the scrotes had enjoyed a good solid 10+ hours of drinking, it got a little bit personal. There were we, my wife and I, with two new friends from London having a very nice chat when two of the above mentioned specimens appeared, in fact I did not notice them go to the bar behind us where the smart barman told them you had to pay for drinks in this bar, you did not but he wanted them out with as little fuss as possible. That is when I started hearing voices.

Now normally when people hear voices it is a sign that they are going, or have gone mad. I suppose, on reflection, that I went slightly mad there and then too because the voicing my ear, in its drunken slurring way was asking me if you had to pay for drinks in here mate, mate, I was not his ****ing mate. Why oh why do they come to me, is there a sign above me that I cannot see that says welcome all idiots. Well it was a cut the air with a knife moment and I just ignored him, my three companions were silent and the look on my wife’s face said it all, it was a potential bloodbath, not mine either. I kept my gaze on the table in front of me as the adrenaline kicked in. Then the voices said “I know you don’t like me mate”, spot on there then, “but I just want you to tell me if we have to buy drinks in here”, the world was standing still.

When I looked up they were leaving the bar arms around one another like lovers heading for bed. I distinctly remember my wife saying something including certain well known instructions to leave, now!! I thought she said it as they were leaving the bar, in fact she said it as they were speaking to me, adrenaline is a tricky little thing as we know, messes with the head for sure, she said she could see I was seething and she was right, I was ready to go all guns blazing and sitting and not reacting was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Keeping the monkey in his cage was damned difficult but I did it, I came down pretty well too and the couple with us looked quite relieved when we made a joke out of it. A small incident with a long fuse is how I see it, the long fuse being two days plus of prolonged and deliberate anti social behaviour, abuse and drunkenness. In fact it was two days plus of group monkey dancing, a prolonged group monkey dance where they strutted their stuff in the hope that some females would be attracted to some sink estates shitiest specimens, the kind of bloke most likely seen on the Jeremy Kyle Show (like Jerry Springer), in fact the only ones showing them any attention were the fab four previously mentioned.

It was not a freeze in the classic martial arts sense in that I could not act, I could have let the monkey free and splattered them both and enjoyed it. Instead I deliberately did not act or react in anyway and it worked for me, that time, it may not work another time but that we cannot know as each circumstance will have its own variables. The behaviour of these guys since their arrival was out of order in every sense, the script for their holiday clashed with the script for my wife and my holiday.

These guys were the archetypal bad image of Brits abroad, uncouth, ill mannered, uncultured drunken yobs. They leave the rest of us with a reputation we do not deserve. At arm’s length I observe, it is the sociologist in me or in this case possibly more anthropology, their monkey dancing continued in the next few days but was more subdued, they remained drunk but remained drunk at large in the resort rather than the hotel. We enjoyed our last few days in relative peace, nice trips to the beach, a beautiful meal at my sister and brother-in-laws apartment, sun shining and good books to read.

So how do we keep the monkey in control? Well I guess there are many answers for many situations. On this occasion the do nothing option worked well, nobody got hurt and it all blew over. Maybe I am far too sensitive but I really do not like being approached in this way by unpredictable drunks, drunks who I suspect are prone to violence, I have a pretty good identikit I use that keeps me safe. I also am older and wiser and confident in my ability to deal with situations, either by defusing them or stopping them with a controlled explosion of my own. My training keeps my mind and body prepared and even on this holiday I hit the gym for 1 hour each day but one.  A younger less experienced, less well trained me would have let the monkey gain control, there would have been a confrontation of some sorts and with alcohol fuelling it would not have ended well, I have had to live down too many next days in the past, this time I managed to keep the monkey in the can.

The New Fighting Words: Your Privileged, Entitled, and Easily Offended – Erik Kondo

Imagine that you are in an argument with your significant other. You say “You need calm down”. Does that ever work to get him or her to calm down?

Does he or she ever say “You’re right, I am getting a little upset. Thanks for pointing that out. I will now calm down.” Or does the argument now escalate?

Imagine that you are a high school senior, your friend was just accepted to a prestigious college, and you tell her that she was accepted because she came from a “privileged” background. Does she agree? And then say, “Yes, that is so true. It was my privilege that got me accepted.” Or did you just lose a friend?

Imagine that your roommate keeps forgetting to do the dishes, you tell him, “You keep not doing the dishes because of your sense of entitlement.” Does he say, “Of course, that’s it.  I never thought of that. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.” Or, do the dishes now get “forgotten” even more frequently?

Imagine that you make a crude joke and you look your coworker and say “I hope that I didn’t offend you, I know you get offended easily.” Does she say, “Thank you for your consideration, I appreciate your thoughtfulness.” Or does she just glare at you?

Accusing someone or some group of being Privileged, Entitled or Offended doesn’t work to resolve conflicts. Their usage tends to make situations worse not better. We all know it from our life experiences. Then why do many people engage in it, particularly when talking and writing about social problems?

These words are hot-button words that are highly effective for recruiting supporters to your side. If you care more about generating avid support for your cause and less about finding a true resolution to the problem, these words will work well for you.

For example, telling your team that the other team is filled with privileged players, bonds your team against the opposing team.

Declaring to your tribe that a group of outsiders feels entitled to take advantage of your tribe creates unity as your tribe members bond with their righteous anger.

Saying to your supporters that the other side is easily offended, works to discount the validity of the other side’s viewpoint.

Many times, using words such Privileged, Entitled, and Offended is designed to create an emotional reaction in people. They are veiled insults. They carry lots of judgment and are loaded with assumptions. They are used as tools for creating tribal bonding and recruiting new supporters to the cause.

When people use these words to describe someone else or some other group, they are creating more tribal divisions and increased divisiveness. They are engaging in stereotyping and generalizations. The result is that they are making it less likely that there will be cooperation and eventual problem solving.

Maybe that is exactly what they want to happen. Maybe they benefit more from the tribal bonding and the outrage about the problem, and less from the actual resolution of the problem.

Here are some examples of substituting judgmental hot-button words for more neutral phrases.

Instead of calling someone Privileged, it could be pointed out that someone has more advantages than disadvantages.

Instead of saying he is Entitled, it could be explained that he believes that he has certain rights.

Instead of claiming she was Offended, it could be said that she feels there are ways in which people shouldn’t interact.

The words people use determine whether they want to start a fight, recruit supporters, or if they want to resolve a problem. If you or your tribe frequently uses those hot-button words, what are you and your tribe usually trying to do?


A Little on Unconscious Survival Signals & Body Language: Past and Present – Darren Friesen

This excerpt is taken from a body language presentation I had developed some time ago. As with all body language, it is circumstantial, contextual and person-specific. For any of you interested in a purely knowledge-based context, or for those whose lives may depend on profiling, reading or understanding other people’s aggression, I hope this helps in some way.

So much of our body language is through our original protection system developed evolutionarily. Adrenaline dump, fear, flight/fight/fright or freeze, protecting organs and vitals, mobility/respiration/vision flinch response that transfers to regular daily body language, so much of our history is from survival signals/instincts from thousands of years of highly-evolved development.

Usually tells are derived from one of the three evolutionary fear responses:

FRIGHT/FREEZE (a neglected and sometimes utterly ignored element of the three, lip service is often only paid to the “fight or flight” axiom)-temporary motion stop, minimal bodily movement, momentary silence, making ourselves smaller, guilt responses, responses when placed back toward an open door/moving people/open window.

FLIGHT-shift feet toward exit, turn away from someone you don’t like, avoid conversations that threaten you, blocking behavior (closing the eyes, rubbing the eyes, placing hands in front of face, leaning away, placing objects on lap (purse) or in front of you, overall “distancing” (barriers, spatial creation, angling, body blading)

FIGHT-argument, insults, personal attacks instead of attacking the problem, counter-allegations, denigration of professional stature, defensiveness, goading, sarcasm; posture, eyes, puffing out chest, spatial violations, aggressive non-physical contact (ritual signs of violence, pacing, emphatic gestures, voice changes in tone), monotone response with minimal bodily gestures/motionless

One thing I always do if I’m somewhat uncertain about a certain non-verbal signal is to do it myself (tactfully of course so as not to mimic, an often clearly-perceived insult) and see how I feel or, more accurately, how it makes me feel.


From our evolution and violent past, we often show remnants of body language that had direct purpose to survival but, as evolution always does, times have moved on and different survival systems have developed. These are, debatedly, somewhat scenario-specific:

  • Ventral showing: showing lack of fear by showing organs and sending message of other being non-threatening to person showing. Often in modern violence this show of perceived arrogance and show of vulnerable parts of the body have proven dangerous against an underhanded modern criminal (especially one with a knife) Option? Blading the body. One can still show confidence and status with an open body posture slightly angled in discussion/confrontation
  • Crotch display: showing confidence, machismo and competition to other men and physical interest in a woman; one needs to be careful in a confrontation when opening legs too far apart and not paying attention to potential genital-related outcomes (including voice permanently Mickey Moused with a higher pitch) Option? Once again, slight blading/angling of the body can still get the message across without being blindly confident and displaying a message of arrogance
  • Neck show: to show vulnerability and submission, potential attraction from the opposite sex, see number one (contains lots of vital areas vulnerable to attack as well: Vagus nerve, carotid arteries, jugular veins, suprasternal notch as well as the superior and middle thyroid veins, big muscle on the neck) Option? Slight angling of the head away to keep the vitals partially shielded while still showing polite deference and interest
  • Roots of the eyes: by looking down while maintaining eye contact is often perceived as submissive or negative in nature (though it can be perceived as judgmental as well), this is a very powerful confrontational tool that creates distance and sends a psychic message to one on the receiving end
  • Walking pace: in the modern business world, a brisk pace indicates the desire to get things done, being on a mission and being energetic. When in public and constantly under scrutiny by other testosterone-filled men measuring, a slower but purposeful gait is a powerful show of calm and control (slowER methodical walk though the validity of having a strong gait and purposeful pace cannot be over-emphasized)
  • Thumbs up: in the times of Roman gladiators, the crowd chose the sparing or ending the life of the loser by either the thumbs-up or thumbs-down gestures
  • Crossed arms: body protection, in times past it was an intentional sheltering of the body’s vitals including the lungs and heart
  • Open palms: to show others that there were no hidden weapons being carried, a show of trust
  • Nostril flaring: allows more air in with which to oxygenate the body in preparation for either fight or flight when threatened
  • Hand shaking: originated from arm wrestling
  • Territoriality: leaning on our possessions (or neutral possessions) to show ownership and protectiveness: cars, houses, chairs, etc.
  • Hand gestures: karate chops, finger stabs & fist/hammerfist punches all signify reinforcement of message, the final word or emphasis of an important point, although as “communication is how the message is received, not given” these are all received relatively poorly by the one on the other end as they show dominance, aggression and argumentativeness


  • Smiling: originally used by primates as a show of either fear or subordination to a more powerful member of the group; in modern it is similar in that it shows a non-threatening and accepting attitude towards the receiver (in carnivores it’s actually a threat)
  • Chin jut: also from primates, showing aggressive intent for a forward and direct attack
  • Baring teeth and flaring of nostrils: again, comes from the act of attacking
  • Sneering: used as a signal to warn other animals of impending attack or defense if necessary
  • Freezing/stillness: when a predator is in the animal’s area, somewhat of a “don’t pick me” signal

We have many similar signs from the animal kingdom that, when put in proper context and researched, have maintained their validity in the urban jungle to this day. We have a more than passing (and less than coincidental) interest in animal movement (everybody really was kung fu fighting), attack strategies and predatory methods and this, in an opinion, is far more valuable than looking back in history at our own past and methods/tactics. Theirs have stood the test of time without change.

One element of learning I try is when one of the family dogs is present, I go through various human body language signs and facial expressions to gauge response and even our friendly K-9s often react in predictable ways towards clear negative and positive projections.

Though not body language, per se, other examples of our survival instinct past and evolution that has manifested in modern-day scenarios:

  1. Sitting with your back to the door/open window creates increased blood pressure, heart rate, respiration and brainwave frequencies back from the Caveman days with the communal fire, multiple people eating in the tent after a kill, sitting with their backs to the wall for protection from both internal and external attack
  2. King Arthur’s round table: designed to create neutrality in meetings but not realizing that his own high-status created a pecking order of importance from those seated next to him (higher power) to those further away (lower power) to those seated diametrically-opposed (competitive)
  3. The term “right-hand man” coming from the fact that the one sitting directly to the leader’s right was the least threat due to the fact it was difficult to stab effectively with your left hand, considering in those days left-handed had a negative stigma attached to them and the staunch majority were right-handed
  4. The handshake. Originated from a grasping of the mid-to-lower arm to ensure there were no hidden weapons that could be pulled at a future point in the interaction
  5. 2nd arm during a handshake. Seemingly-kind, at times can be a hidden attempt to control through touch, establish dominance in a subtle and potentially hidden way
  6. Sitting across from each other at a table. Originally coined the “gunslinger” position due to the fact that squaring off the torso of the body was a sign of competitiveness. (although context-dependent in the modern-day)
  7. After eating, stomach takes blood away from the brain to help digestion (similar to fight-or-flight adrenaline response) and causing the person to not think as clearly. Bad for business decisions, good for romance, extremely good to take advantage of a vulnerable opponent with shady dealings
  8. Frontal display, showing confidence by exhibiting glibly one’s organs to show that they don’t find you threatening in any way, has come back to haunt some as they’ve transferred business tactics into the street world, where violence is a threat and this display is highly-unprotected

***Contagious actions that can give psychological openings pre-conflict: yawning, nervousness, confusion.

In conclusion, as nothing is universal, hope this sheds some light on why we do some of the things we do when angered, scared or anxious and where it comes from in our past.


Self-Defense Failure Zone – Rory Miller

Rory Writes: This was just going to be an example for the last article on reframing, but it grew into an article of it’s own.

One aspect of self-defense that is rarely addressed are low level predators and creeping victimizations. The low-level predators are the ones who keep their victims uncomfortable, but never cross the line into overt, concrete, actionable behaviors. The constant innuendos that never rise to the level of sexual harassment. The colleague who seems to enjoy violating personal space but doesn’t touch, or touches but only “accidentally” and deniably.  

Creeping victimization ranges from the charming predator who romances a lonely victim, slowly acquiring access to the victim’s car and house and bank account. They victim may never even believe it was fraud. Or the cult that asks for one tiny favor until it seems normal and ups the level of the favor until a member is living with people he or she was assigned to live with, signing over their paychecks to the cult and getting an allowance…and it happened so gradually it seems normal. See Campfire Tales From Hell Create Space (2012)

Low level predators and creeping victimization are difficult problems to solve from the self-defense mindset. The self-defense mindset too often teaches from a passive beginning, in a reactionary mode and with the assumption the problem is simple.

Passive beginning: “There you are, minding your own business and suddenly the office creep is standing right behind you, setting it up so that you touch him when you turn…”

Reactionary mode: “… so what should you do?” Passive/reactionary puts the bad guy in control. He has the power, he calls the shots, and you are constantly playing catch-up when he is acting, and you are prey to be studied the rest of the time. There is no agency in this.

Simple solutions. “Set clear boundaries.” Excellent advice, but this happens in the real world. When you do set clear boundaries, when you are assertive, there will be a price to pay. Bad guys are very good at punishing good guys for taking a stand. Maybe starting a gossip campaign at work, or using social media to try to get you fired or counter-accusations that you are the one being aggressive.

The self-defense mindset is inefficient for complex problems. For that matter, it’s not that efficient even fro self-defense situations. In the real world, most attacks have antecedents and will have after-effects, win or lose. They happen in a complex world of social interaction ranging from the reaction of your friends to the response of law enforcement. And passive beginnings or reactive timing makes it very difficult to recover and succeed.

The conflict management mindset, on the other hand takes advantage of each aspect.

An active mindset and an active beginning. You are part of this game from before the start. Dealing with low level creepers in the office you learn who they are and how they operate. You create your support system and gather allies from the beginning. In the self-defense mindset you call the police after the fact. In the conflict management mindset, you have been making friendships and alliances from day one and realize that those friendships are part of the world that the creeper must navigate.

Even dealing with the very rare stranger attack, the conflict manager trains beforehand, not out of fear but because life is better when you are stronger and more skilled. You are alert beforehand not out of paranoia but because people are interesting to watch.

Participatory mode. Reacting lets the threat dictate the game and the rules. You are not a pawn. This is your game too. You act, and that forces the threat to react. You have the power to take control of the initiative, the power to change the game and dictate your own set of rules.

In the creeper scenario this is the ability to choose to see the relationship as something other than low-level predator vs. toy. You might also be co-workers. Have a network of friends or business relationships in common. You can even close to be the predator in the relationship.

I hesitate to write that. The simple fact is that your mind and how you see a situation has immense power in how you act and how you are perceived. In the ecology of violence, the low-level creepers are the scavengers. Rats scurry away from lions. I find people are very uncomfortable experimenting with their mental power to change. They either fear they will damage their identity or that it is unnatural.

As to identity, your “self” is a wisp of smoke. Are you the same person before and after your morning coffee? After two days with our sleep? If your “self” was solid enough to be threatened, you wouldn’t have moods. You are not protecting yourself, but your ego.

Unnatural? Then why do all children play at this constantly? How much of your childhood did you spend being a great explorer or a soldier, playing cops and robbers and cowboys and indians? “Let’s pretend” is a universal game among children, and I believe that kids are forced out of it because the ability to go chameleon at that level will make them too powerful for their parents and society to predict and control.

Changing who you choose to be has immense power, if you have the courage to embrace it. Just sayin’.

In the stranger self-defense scenario, participation allows the justified pre-emptive strike. It allows and encourages you to verbally control the situation before the threat does. It gives you active protection from the threat’s use of psychological control.

Complexity. Recognizing that situations happen in an immense network of social interaction, in a physical environment that is cluttered and messy, in a complex swirl of emotion, cognition and social conditioning is a superpower. It may seem complicated, but it is only acknowledging that the level of complexity you know in every other part of your life exists here as well. This is something you deal with every day. You are good at it. Unless you let the other person set the rules of the game.

Each level of that complication is something you can use. You can use the interactions between the levels as well. When you see the world this way the victor in an encounter is rarely the strongest or the most evil. This worldview works for the creative and the smart. And you are smarter and more creative than most creepers, right?

That is why it is so critical to bad guys to keep you in the reactive, self-defense mindset. They control your mind so that you limit your own options.

In stranger self-defense, understanding complexity allows one to recognize when other resources can be used to prevent the danger, like screaming for help before the threat gets you to an isolated place. It encourages one to use verbal skills and physical skills simultaneously both to give a psychological edge over the threat and to groom witnesses. It changes that cluttered and chaotic environment from a set of hazards to a set of tools.

Passive, reactionary and simple mindsets limit your ability to respond. Embracing the complexity and your role as an active participant increases your agency. If you see the world as a fascinating complex game, you can become a master at that game.


Politeness (Or: Before you throw him out the window…) – Marc MacYoung

You’re going to get some homework with this article. But you’ll be a better communicator for it. If nothing else, it will help you articulate why you did what you did when being polite didn’t work.

Forbes Magazine ran a web article, ” 21 Ways To Leave A Never-Ending Conversation Without Being Rude.”

It’s a pretty good article. Being as it’s business, the assumption is you don’t want to be rude. It gives nice socially acceptable — and polite — exit strategies to get away from folks who — if we’re being charitable — just don’t know when to shut up. If we’re not being charitable, they’re time/energy vampires. If we’re being practical, they could be something worse.

Part of what you’re going to learn here is how to get this last type to reveal themselves but using manners, politeness and social rules of conduct. From there a different set of tactics is required. Up to and including having to throw them out a window. And no. I’m not joking.

Establishing two data points and two subpoints before we move on.

DP#1: Some years ago Rory started teaching his “levels of violence.’ It goes: Nice people manipulator, assertive, aggressive, assaultive and homicidal. Well technically it’s a visual that starts at the bottom and works up:


I really like this model because it so clearly shows several important dynamics. The visual helps track how ‘nice’ falls to ‘manipulative,’ manipulative falls to assertive, assertive folds against aggressive, etc.. You can see how folks aren’t too fond of going too high up the ladder. There’s also a lot of stuff that’s involved about how we’re comfortable with one level, and while we may go up one, in actuality, we spend most of our time lower — but often threaten we’ll bump it up if we have to (e.g., we use the threat of assault [aggression] WAY more than we actually strike). Still another is the model helps clarify how far away we are from actual physical danger.

DP#2: Much of what we do is scripted behavior. These are ‘short cuts,’ formulaic, cued behaviors and responses to common situations. Scripts are a big part of our lives and behaviors. When cued we respond, mostly by route, but with variations. “Excuse me. Could you pass the salt?” “Certainly” “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.”

The example I just used is what Rory and I call a “microscript.” These short, almost ritualistic, exchanges are very strongly tied to etiquette. They are also a weird blend of conscious, subconscious and unconscious mental processing. As such, break them at your own peril. At the same time, watch for people breaking them — as these breeches are the source of a great deal of our emotional discomfort and anger.

You have to know those data points for the subpoints to make sense.

Subpoint A: We rely on people 1) picking up the cues to prompt desired behaviors and 2) their cooperation with these scripts. This saves us from having to be assertive and the risk being turned down (Go to Youtube and type in “RSA Animate, Language as a window into human nature.” I warned you, homework.) This allows us to stay on the lower levels and avoid violence and conflict.

Subpoint B: Nice people have trouble with manipulators because they exploit the ‘rules of balance’ inherent in scripts. While we all use social scripts to our advantages, manipulators abuse the give-and-take nature of social scripts. What should be an equal ‘economy’ is tilted in the manipulator’s favor by the manipulator’s exploiting the taking aspects of scripts. They use the inherent compassion, cooperation, humanistic ideals and the standards of being ‘nice’ to take more than their share. For example, the ‘friend’ [or coworker] who is always asking you for favors, but isn’t there when you need one.

Now that we’ve laid these foundations we can turn our attention to the person who just won’t let you bow out. We’ll use this as an introduction to a bigger topic. That person is taking too much of your time. But we’re not at how to handle them yet. What we’ve covered thus far is critical for distinguishing between different motivations. Assessing that, tells us how to handle them.

Fact of life time: There are a lot of socially inept people out there. People who –short of you sending up a bright red balloon — will miss subtle social cues. The whys are many but most of them aren’t coming from malice. (Keep that in mind because you handle them differently than the malicious.) Still others you just have to flat out tell them what you want. It doesn’t matter how uncomfortable you are with being direct, with certain people you have to be. Again this often isn’t out of malice, it’s more how they are wired or were raised. With both kinds, you don’t want to go nuclear on them. Or even if you do, don’t. They don’t deserve your unbridled fury — and if you do, then the asshole in the situation isn’t the other person.

The need for the Forbes article is it addresses these people. It’s for when you’re sincerely trying to be a nice person and he/she just isn’t getting the hint. The suggested strategies send up a balloon that is so big that even a socially myopic person will see. Another added benefit of the Forbes article is it helps you learn ways to obviously — but politely — boost the signal. That’s the other side of the coin. It may not be that the other person is socially inept. It could be you aren’t communicating clear enough. So for either dealing with the socially unaware person or you not signaling loud enough, the Forbes article is useful to turn up the volume of “Time to let me go.”

I will point to another benefit of learning different ways to say “I have to leave.” That’s it is a step in learning how to be assertive. Remember, that step past manipulative? Yeah, it’s a small step because a lot of polite exit strategies are little white lies, but hey… you’re further along than you were before. Oh BTW, Terry, ‘assertive’ is scary to nice people, it can require aversion therapy and inoculation to work up to being direct. (And in case you, the reader, are wondering about that weird sentence … Terry Trahan asked, “What’s the matter with just being direct?” I didn’t get a chance to answer him when he asked that very good question. So now you, the reader, get to hear the answer too.) Learning other ways you have more than just one strategy — which is a good thing.

A common question I hear is “But what if polite doesn’t work?” Well, the Forbes article is step one in fixing that. Sending up that red balloon is not rude. It’s making sure the signal is clear. However, step two is where we break free from the Forbes article. But the direction we break is influenced by data point #1.

Another thing I hear is nice people waffling about acting to put an end to unacceptable behavior. This often in the form of, “What if I’m wrong?”

Which hey, if you’re talking about defenestration (throwing someone out a window), worrying about making a bad call makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is when the same person is asking both questions. Don’t they get that the two points work together?

If polite don’t work, then we know this isn’t normal. If clear-but-polite doesn’t work it’s a moved onto step three. A step that clearly puts us into the Levels. It’s time to mentally shift gears because it’s no longer innocent. The person has just announced that he’s putting something he wants over and above social protocol as well as your wants and needs. Is defenestration on the table yet? Well no. But it just walked into the room. Why? Because he has made a conscious decision to ignore protocol and put his wants before everyone else’s.

Recap, there’s lots and lots of levels, stages, tactics and strategies you can use between polite and defenestration. The more adept at these levels you are, the less likely you are to make a mistake. See someone who is just socially unaware will let you go when they see the big red balloon of “I gotta go.” Red balloon goes up, is seen, behavior changes and situation is over. Alright what does that tell us? Well, you just needed to be more overt. Overt doesn’t mean rude. Although many of the “what if…” types don’t know that, it’s true.

What’s important is watch for the person who sees the overt signal and ignores it. This is a form of what is called “Discounting no.” It’s both a game changer and a not-to-be-ignored signal. When you set an obvious verbal boundary and someone just blows through it as if it’s fog, they’ve just told you in no uncertain terms that they’re up to something.

But — before you throw someone out the window — you might want to try giving being polite another shot. Make the message very clear. (Kind of like tying a flashing light to that red balloon.) This does five things. One it confirms that being polite didn’t work. Two, it removes doubt that this is accidental or unwitting behavior on his part. Three, it gives you a “Well, I tried” permission to act. Four is if you have to explain your actions later you can truthfully say you tried being polite –repeatedly — and you changed tactics only because polite didn’t work. (As you will be called on the mat for any use of force, it helps if you can explain how you went through “ask, tell and order” before you went hands on) Five it blows any and all pretext that this situation was kosher. This may look like two, but it’s not. While most manipulators will back off when facing assertive, other folks will try to bump it to aggressive. While this is usually a face saving retreat (‘Elvis has left the building’ style), it can also reveal that their intentions were hostile all along. Yes, it’s scary, but it’s a need to know. What a lot of nice people don’t realize is even if it gets emotionally unpleasant, emotionally unpleasant ‘fixes’ are a lot easier than things getting to defenestration. So let’s look at these easier fixes.

The reason why it’s called ‘discounting no’ — is when someone wants something, you say ‘no,’ and they keep on pestering you for it. You know this routine. You might have done it as a kid. “Mom can I have a candy bar?” “No” “Why can’t I have a candy bar?” (Reason given.) “But I want a candy bar!”

From that childhood example we can see several things. One is the general dynamic. Two, the deliberate ignoring of a clearly communicated ‘no’ answer. Three the predictable strategies — especially the faux-request for “why.” This is followed by rejection of the reasons (as in they aren’t good enough). Four is the continued pressing for selfish reasons. (Hint, the counter is “Asked, answered, subject closed.”) Five is escalation.

At best discounting no is selfish, at worst it’s dangerous. (It’s a common tactic before physical violence.) From moment the ‘discounting no’ becomes clear, your goal has changed. Now, you’re oriented on stopping whatever he’s up to — using whatever means necessary. To figure out how to do that, we need to go back to scripts.

Scripted behavior allows for millions of us to live in close proximity. There are all kinds of rules for different levels of intimacy and relationships. You behave differently to a stranger than you do a family member. That’s the first set of filters to spot when something is off. Is this person asking too much or angling for something beyond the type of relationship you to have? Let’s pick one, say — distance. We allow people we are involved with to get closer to us than strangers. No brainer right? Well, actually way more complicated than you thought. For example greater stranger distance is the rule. While there are certain exceptions — those exceptions have very strict protocols and etiquette. Think of in a crowded elevator or a waitress. Your spouse standing close is no problem. But a stranger crowding you can be a manipulation to get you to move. Start watching to see how many of these unwritten rules you can identify and when someone should keep a distance. Why should you do this? So you can better understand this next point.

Scripts can also be looked at as a lazy man’s version of boundaries. Boundaries are established and maintained by the script. (Think of elevator scripts, what you say and where you stand are predictable.) These scripts have become automatic habits to the point we often assume that’s all we have to do. When they don’t work, we get flustered. Another way of looking at scripts is microwave dinners. Prepackaged, just pop them in, push a few buttons and there you have it. The problem with microwave dinners is you don’t learn how to cook. So if the microwave breaks down, you’re at a loss.

Someone who discounts ‘no’ is trying to short out your microwave. A lot of the time he’s relying on you not being able — much less willing — to do something about it. If people (who he can short them out) are lucky, he’s just going to act like a snotty kid and do what he wants. A lot of times, it can be a way worse. But it usually won’t start out that bad. As the saying goes, “Great storms are preceded by a small breeze.” Before these people really get going, they’ll test to see if you know how to stand up for yourself. How do they do this? With the small stuff.
The problem is, that test looks exactly the same as someone who is just socially unaware. That’s why you float the red balloon and see what happens. If the person is socially unaware you — without being rude — extract yourself. But if you see him look at the balloon, and keep on coming, then he’s tipped his hand.
Now you understand why assessing intent is so important.

When he tips his hand, you don’t have to be polite anymore either — well let me rephrase that. You don’t have to be rude either, but from that moment on you aren’t relying on manners, scripts and social conventions to do all the work of enforcing your boundaries. You’re going to have to take a more active part. And if that means throwing his ass out a third story window … well, that’s what it’s going to take.

But usually they’ll back off long before that — as long as you can communicate you know what’s going on. Let’s keep this at the lower end of the scale. By clearly communicating it’s time for you to go, you have moved up the scale from a nice person to an assertive person. Now the manipulator is in a fix. This leaves him no other choice than to try to either plead or tip his hand. Plead with you to stay (which hey, “you got fifteen seconds to finish”) or drop the pretense that his goals aren’t selfish and manipulative. If he gets angry, that’s fine too. Like I said it’s usually an Elvis has left the building retreat. “Oh I was assertive and you’re responding by becoming aggressive. Well thank you for telling me what’s the appropriate response.” Which believe it or not is not becoming aggressive, but cranking up the assertive. You can still be polite, but he’s using social scripts against you, so you don’t have to abide by them either.

Why? People often win by not just moving up a level, but pretending that they’re willing to go to the next one. Thing is, they’re usually not. This bluff is how they intimidate people. They’re good at bluffing. They get what they want through aggression because you’re scared they’ll become assaultive. But the never had any intent of taking that far. They only win because you chicken out. And you need to know something, they’re good at spotting when others are bluffing too. So if you get all excited and huff and puffy, he knows you’re bluffing. But if you’re calmly shifting gears to match him, that’s where you run into the paradox.
That is that often the willingness to use violence means you don’t have to. Someone who is polite and has no other tools is easily run over. Someone who is afraid of using violence sucks at convincing people he’s not afraid. The unwillingness to use force is what both the bluffer and the assaultive person is looking for. That is the person it is safe to aggress on, including physically attacking.

But the person who shrugs and shifts gears to whatever level this person wants to play at… well, leave that one alone. It’s not safe to mess with that one. You’d be amazed how effective being polite while calmly figuring the trajectory to the window can be at deterring escalation. In other words, instead of worrying about “What if the strategies don’t work?” think of a strategy not working as telling you it’s time to shift gears. “Okay, tried that, didn’t work. Next.” Once you get the hang of this approach, you’d be amazed at how fast trouble takes one look at you and moves onto the next target.

Fun with de-escalation – Terry Trahan

De-escalation of a threat or situation is often talked about as a way to avoid a conflict, create good witnesses, or as a way to set up your escape. It is a very serious topic, and a cornerstone of good conflict management, but that doesn’t mean that it always has to be a dark and difficult thing.

Of course, all of our training has to be context specific, and we always need to keep an eye towards our chosen tactic not working, and heading south. If talking a situation down does not work, or ends up escalating a situation, we do need to be able to step up the choice ladder and employ the next appropriate level of force. But that does not mean that de-escalation tactics, the employment of them, and the training of them has to be deadly serious. Sometimes the absurd or humorous is a great thing to use, and can save the day( or night) as the case may be. The following story will hopefully illustrate this point.

I was working a night shift at The Landing Strip. How would I describe the Landing Strip. It was a biker/blue collar topless bar, that also was one of the unofficial hangouts for both the Sons of Silence and the Bandido Motorcycle Clubs. On top of this, it seemed to be a favorite place for college and frat boys to slum and live up their fantasies for birthdays and the like. It had such a bad reputation, that when I took the job, and told some of my bouncer friends where I was working, the main question was;”God, why?” Or some crack about how hard up for cash I must have been. Of course, I had a really good time working there.

I would normally work to corral the straights, and the Clubs would police their own members, and that worked out fine. Honestly, we, nor our customers had much to worry about from the Clubbers, unless you really screwed up, they just wanted to hang out and have a good time. Maybe make some money, but they were smooth. It was almost always the frat boys and insecure straights that caused a problem.

This particular evening, we had the Sons in attendance, including some of the OFDs, or Old Foul Dudes, including Scrounge, who, quite honestly, was one of the few guys that scared me. If we had ever fought, I’m pretty sure I’d be medically retired, if not dead. He was scary, but good natured and easy to deal with. We also had a group of young guys celebrating a birthday. For whatever reason, they were bothered by the Sons, and there had been a few minor incidents, but pretty easy to handle.

Until one of the young guys sat on Scrounges jacket. If you don’t know, a Clubbers jacket is a pretty important piece of property, and symbolizes a great deal. As I said, Scrounge was pretty good natured, but this particularly pissed him off, and he came over to tell me I had 5 minutes to clear the guy out, or shit would start, and the Sons would sort it out.

A young, drunk guy with his friends is not the easiest of people to deal with. In fact, they are my least favorite people on the planet to deal with.
I hope you can see where good de-escalation skills, and the ability to speak with people would be better here than the ability to fight…
Anyway, I came up with a plan. I had a waitress and bartender talk to the young lad, while we set up to run a free shot special. Free shots are a big deal, and we would go all out, flashing lights, loud music, all the stops would be pulled out. The ladies got him out, and now was the time to smooth everyones feathers, and return a party atmosphere, instead of the tension that had built up.
It is important for a bar to not have fights, minimize the tension, and not get the police called. It is all about making money, tension and police stop the money flow.

So, anyhow, back to our story…
The kid is gone, and the atmosphere is a little tense, so the shot special is called, and then I hit the music and lights. Music choice played a big part in my tactics. So, obviously, we play “Have a Drink On Me” by AC/DC as an opener announcement. We are starting to have the desired effect, but still need to get it back to party time, and especially to get the Sons mind off of mayhem… so what to do…
It then hit me, and I am at once overjoyed and deeply saddened by the fact that smart phones and YouTube didn’t exist then. What happened next is one of the favorite memories of my bouncing career. As the guitar fades away from the speakers, I cued up the next song, a 180 degree turn from the driving hard rock from Down Under. Out of the speakers start horns and synthesizers. This is one of the clearest examples I can give of a pattern interruption, breaking the mind of the target audience, and installing a new program that works better, or in your favor. And this was more than successful. For out of the sound system starts blaring disco from the ‘70’s, more specifically, The Village People. By the end of a 3 minute song, we had the entire bar, including the Sons of Silence dancing around, standing on tables, girls on the bar, all doing the Y.M.C.A… it was beautiful.

Now, for the breakdown of why this worked.
I had established a trust relationship with the Sons, and all the clubbers that came in. They knew they could come to me, and I would deal with things for them. I also knew that the repercussions were real, and I needed to deal with this quickly. Trust goes both ways.

I picked the ladies to talk to the young guy, instead of myself. The reason for this was, I would be taken as a threat, and would probably ended up having to fight all of them. This would not have been a desirable outcome for the reasons stated above, police, breaking of the atmosphere, injuries…
So, by having the female staff, who knew what they were doing, talk to him, and get him to leave, we avoided that trigger.

By calling the shot special, we got all of the patrons out of the fear and stress mindset, and started them back to a party and fun outlook.

Now, the music choice. AC/DC is a goto for rougher bars, and I played it to let the aggression be put to a positive experience, and start the vibe changing.

Then, I flipped everything on its head by the second song. Choosing a song that doesn’t go with the genre causes a pause in the mind. By playing a fun, group action song, we got everyone out of their own heads and into a group mind, with the intention of partying, and not murdering.
When you throw in the spotlights, flashing strobes, extra loud volume, dancing girls, and verbal coercion to fun, you turn it into a tribal experience, and set up an inclusive, we’re all one let’s have fun dynamic. It sets up a situation where anyone who would violate the space we made would be an obvious dick. Clearly, you have to keep an eye out for this, and have a contingency in place to deal with it, but honestly, the majority of people want to be included, and not left out.

Hopefully you can see not just the specifics of this example, but the principles behind it, the things that made the specifics work. You can use these as a guide to see if your de-escalation hits on these main points, while maintaining the adaptability and flexibility to match it to your own situation or training.

Unfortunately, sometimes it all turns to crap, despite you following all of the points and strategies, and like I said, you must be willing to show this. Nobody will negotiate when they are sure there will be no consequences, and you will need to be able to communicate your ability to deal with it in an unpleasant manner in addition to the verbal, mental strategies, but in the vast majority of the time, people will take the non-violent path, as there is an innate understanding that violence hurts on multiple levels, and should be avoided as often as possible.
Remember, have fun.

Words As A Force Option: Part II – Tim Boehlert

“People never forget verbal abuse. It sinks deeper and festers longer than any other kind of abuse.” 

 “Words cut deeper and their wounds fester longer than traumas of the sword.”

Dr. George J. Thompson, Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion

My favorite Doc admission was that he was his own best student. Doc used his background and his training in rhetoric and martial arts to create a lasting legacy that we can all benefit from – who hasn’t been baited and taken the hook for a personal criticism, and then lashed out defensively without thinking? One of Doc’s great tools is learning how to deflect the negativity – his samurai depiction of moving the head to avoid the spear. You truly CAN do better. We all can.

 “The choices you make while attempting clear communication can be the difference between having an average/typical evening and one that ends in the arrest of a person for taking umbrage with your message using less skillful methods.”

i.e. he pulled a knife after I asked him to leave!

 Yes, it actually happened something like that.

‘On Ko Chi Shin’ = Study the old, understand the new. Something that Doc brought to the fore when developing his Verbal Judo program. Doc referenced from his Martial Arts training to Jigoro Kano, and Japanese Samurai wisdom to correlate what he was trying to do with words with what the Martial Artists did with their physical force OR wisdom. Judo was developed by Jigoro Kano after he learned more about body mechanics and physics – to move the immovable more easily. Ju – Gentle, Do – way. Truly studying from the old to understand the new – using words to move the unwilling to do what you want them to, without use of physical force.

Doc’s inspiration to name his ‘system’ Verbal Judo was Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo. Doc pulled many ideas from his Martial Arts experience to formulate his own maxims based on his knowledge of Judo techniques and the maxims of Jigoro Kano. Doc cites many references to this in his second book on Verbal Judo: Redirecting Behavior With Words.

Doc has been very active over the last few weeks -nudging me in a few new directions!

I’ve been doing some spending and research based on things Doc wrote in his second VJ book about the origins of VJ and the correlation between the verbal aspects and the physical techniques of Jigoro Kano. To better understand Doc’s intentions, I have to fully understand the connections to specific Jigoro Kano Maxims and techniques that Doc names and describes in the book. Trying to run down Doc’s reference to Jigoro Kano’s study at Oxford whereby he studied muscles and bones and determined that he needed to change some of his techniques based on his newfound knowledge of physiology.”

“Using verbal commands to aid in getting a situation under control can’t be underestimated – you have to tell them what you need in order for them to comply. One person should be doing the communicating. It needs to be slow, concise, and deliberate. Sometimes they fight back as their survival instinct has kicked in – they may be fighting to ‘stay alive’ only, and not fighting ‘you.’ They may be fighting your actions to control them – YOU need to make that distinction, it’s YOUR job to do that.

Don’t take the actions personally. Treat it as a negotiation. Put it in context – it may be more than you counted on or outside your experience. It could be drugs, mental health issues, MR or Autism that you are seeing and dealing with. Don’t assume anything. Be the professional, and continually re-assess your actions. To get compliance sometimes you just need to explain your actions while you’re engaging them physically to get that. Your goal is to do so with minimal damage. Explaining yourself to them may make ALL of the difference. Use your Verbal Judo knowledge and skills to get that result – safely, and compassionately. Review often. Improve your skills continually.

Here are some sagely words to live by, as outlined in Doc’s 16 Maxims from his second Verbal Judo book, ‘Verbal Judo: Redirecting Behavior With Words’:

 MAXIM #1: “Move confrontations away from conclusions back to the reasoning process.”

 MAXIM #2: “Help them seek new approaches rather than argue about the right answer. Never debate any point that can be resolved by examining the facts.”

 MAXIM #3: “Motivate others by raising their expectations of themselves.”

 MAXIM #4: “Seek what they do well, help them define their own self-worth.”

 MAXIM #5: “Persuade others with their energy.”

 MAXIM #6: “Learn what is in their best interests. Persuade them through an appeal to that interest.”

MAXIM #7:  Direct others rather than control them.”

 MAXIM #8: “Recognize their need for independence. Assume responsibility for their doing well, not for doing their job.”

 MAXIM #9: “Give way in order to control.”

 MAXIM #10: “Seek a middle position that will satisfy their needs and your limits. Insist on discussing principles, not personal preferences.”

MAXIM #11: “Embrace frustration with empathy.”

MAXIM #12: “Always harmonize with their pain. Lead them though their distress with reason.”

MAXIM #13: “Overcome hard with soft.”

MAXIM #14: “Ignore the impact of their insults. Enforce the authority of the institution, not the power of your anger.”

MAXIM #15: “Be disinterested when you punish.”

MAXIM #16: “When you punish for clearly defined rules violations, set aside personal indignation. Respect the authority that empowers you to discipline.”

 There is a lot to be learnt from these Maxims!  And I’ll leave you with: ‘11 Things You Should Never Say‘:

  •  01) “Come Here!”
  •  02) “You wouldn’t understand.”
  •  03) “Because those are the rules.”
  •  04) “It’s none of your business.”
  •  05) “What do you want me to do about it?”
  •  06) “Calm Down!”
  •  07) “What’s YOUR problem?”
  •  08) “You never…” or “You always…”
  •  09) “I’m not going to say this again!”
  •  10) “I’m doing this for your own good.”
  •  11) “Why don’t you be reasonable?”

“The goal of education is to expand the mind. A person’s mind cannot be expanded unless he or she is motivated. There are many ways to motivate a person, but there is only one underlying principle: raise expectations.”

“And with thanks to my family, who might have wished I had been a quicker learner.”

Dr. George J. Thompson

 Other resources:

Corrections One:

 Dr. George J. Thompson on FaceBook



The Confusion Between Conflict Resolution & De-escalation, Part I – Gershon Ben Keren

There is a common misconception that conflict resolution is the same as de-escalation; if you resolve the conflict, you deescalate the situation. The phrase, “putting the cart before the horse”, comes to mind -i.e. how can you resolve a conflict if somebody is still in an emotional and adrenalized state? The answer is, you can’t. Yet many people try to do so. The belief that being calm, and reasonable, will somehow resolve a conflict with an aggressive and emotional person, is misplaced and dangerous. When reason leaves the building, negotiation and explanation have no place – these methods can only exist and be effective where an individual’s faculties to process and evaluate information are still in place; if they’re not, what you have to say, will either fall on deaf ears or escalate the situation. All talk will be interpreted as fighting talk, by an emotional person, even if it’s intended otherwise. If I truly want to deescalate a situation I need to put ego, feelings and emotions aside, something most untrained people are unwilling/”unable” to do. Most people would rather be right than effective – and this attitude does not lend itself to de-escalation. De-escalation often looks/appears to involve backing down, and few people’s egos can take this hit. The process doesn’t necessarily involve backing down but it does involve giving up on the idea that you need to be right, and put your own point of view across.
There are basically two types of violence: premeditated and spontaneous.

Premeditated acts of violence, involve individuals who have decided upon and planned to become violent; spontaneous acts of violence involve persons who have become violent due to your actions and behaviors, whether real or perceived. A mugger who purchases/acquires a knife, selects a location, and starts actively looking for victims, represents a predatory individual who is engaged in a premeditated act of violence – i.e. they have planned to become violent. If you spill a drink over somebody and they become violent due to this, then you are dealing with a spontaneous act of violence – your action/behavior caused them to become violent (the spilt drink) – they didn’t come to the bar looking to engage in an aggressive confrontation. Sometimes premediated acts of violence present themselves as being spontaneous. In a truly spontaneous act of violence, an aggressor has no predefined goals – they don’t know what they want out of it; someone you’ve spilt a drink over doesn’t know what will make the situation right, or what outcome will actually satisfy them, they simply don’t see an alternative to violence in that moment. When an aggressor comes to a situation knowing what they want out of it and not being prepared to accept any alternative, it is not a spontaneous act of violence. Sometimes premeditated act of violence can be interpreted as being impromptu and spontaneous, even if they’re not.

Having worked bar and door security, I’ve had to refuse entry to individuals for a variety of reasons e.g. they didn’t meet the dress requirements of the establishment (wearing trainers/sneakers and/or a football or soccer shirt, etc.), they were too inebriated, or I simply had a bad feeling about them. Most times, people would accept the refusal, sometimes they wouldn’t. It may seem that it was the refusal that caused them to become aggressive i.e. it’s a spontaneous act of violence, however if their goal was to come into the bar or club regardless of any objections, that this was their only goal/outcome, it was really a premeditated act of aggression – and understanding the difference is important. Spontaneous acts of violence and confrontations, which lack a defined goal, can usually be de-escalated and resolved; premeditated ones can’t. In a premeditated act of violence, such as a mugging, the mugger can only envisage one outcome: leaving with your wallet (the variable is whether they will have to stab or shoot you in order to achieve this). If you spill a drink over somebody they don’t have any particular outcome in mind, and are possibly open to alternatives to violence – if they can be put in the right state of mind to consider them (this is the goal of de-escalation) – such as having another drink bought for them, their dry-cleaning paid for, etc.

The problem is that many people try to resolve conflicts and disputes without first de-escalating them. An emotional and aggressive person is not able to consider alternatives to violence, especially when they feel justified to act violently (the injustice of having a drink spilt over them, for example). The only time you will be able to successfully resolve a conflict, is when the person is in an emotional state where they can compare and evaluate different alternatives. When they’re not in this state, they will interpret everything you say and do as you posturing to them. I have witnessed this on countless occasions when somebody is trying to talk rationally to an aggressive individual and nothing they are saying is being interpreted as a potential solution to the situation; they are just not in the emotional mindset to be able to consider any outcome to the situation other than violence. The goal of de-escalation is to reduce the emotion in the situation so that the aggressor can consider different non-physical ways that the situation can be resolved. Making the most logical and rational suggestions to an angry, emotional person is not going to get you anywhere, and is in fact more likely to escalate the situation for you.

The first question you have to ask yourself when facing an aggressive and angry individual is whether this is a spontaneous act of violence or a premeditated one. If it’s a premeditated one – the person has come to the situation with a single outcome in mind, and is prepared to use violence to achieve this – you have two options: to use physical force or acquiesce to your aggressor’s demands (if this involves handing over your wallet you may be prepared to do this, if it involves being sexually assaulted you probably won’t). It may be that depending on your job/responsibilities you can’t acquiesce e.g. if what somebody was wearing didn’t adhere to a club/bar’s dress code, I couldn’t let them in, etc. If it’s a spontaneous act of violence, where an aggressor didn’t come to the situation with a particular goal in mind, then de-escalation is more often than not an option available to you.

In the second part to this article, I will describe and explain a process for de-escalating spontaneous acts of violence that I have used in many situations, to avoid being involved in a physical confrontation.

End Part I.

The Confusion Between Conflict Resolution & De-escalation, Part II – Gershon Ben Keren

In last month’s article, I looked at the times when deescalating aggressive situations is an appropriate solution i.e. when the aggressor you are facing is involved in a “spontaneous” act of violence – one that they haven’t planned or orchestrated; but have become aggressive and potentially violent due to your actions or behaviors, whether real or perceived e.g. you have, or they believe you have, spilt a drink over them, jumped ahead of them in a queue, taken a parking space they were waiting for, etc. This is contrary to premeditated assaults, such as muggings and sexual assaults, where an aggressor has planned the incident and knows what they want to achieve/get out of it – they have a defined goal. Because in spontaneous situations there is no defined goal or specified outcome (the person you have spilt a drink over doesn’t know what will make the situation right for them), you may have the chance and opportunity to get them to consider non-violent alternatives that might resolve the conflict/dispute. However in order to do this, you must first take some of the emotion out of the situation so that they are able to consider these alternatives – this is the purpose of the de-escalation process.

To understand how this process works, we must first gain an appreciation for the way that people think, and interpret your actions and behaviors when emotive and aggressive. As you are reading this article, you are using your brain’s reasoning capacity, however if you were to become angry, this would start to shut off and you would start to process information using your limbic system brain. Your limbic system brain doesn’t understand reason and rationale, it is used to understanding disputes and conflicts at the social level, as a dog or a wolf would. Dogs and wolves are social creatures (bereft of reason) who resolve disputes through posture and submission e.g. one growls, snarls and makes themselves look big, whilst the other roles over and exposes it’s neck in a display of submission (conflict resolved).

When a person becomes emotional and aggressive, they start using brain functions and paths which are more animalistic – dog-like. They stop using their reasoning brain to process information, and start to see conflicts in a more dog-like way, with the person they are dealing with either posturing to them, or acting submissively. If you have ever told an angry person to calm down, you have probably been met with the response, “I AM CALM!” Instead of interpreting what you said in the spirit it was meant, they can only see and hear things from the perspective of them being either an act of posturing or submission; when you tell somebody to calm down, stop shouting etc., you are telling them what to do, and so they posture back to you – this escalates rather than de-escalates the conflict.

If they are extremely emotional, they may be using their reptilian brain, rather than their limbic system/mammalian brain. Their reptilian brain will interpret everything as being either fight or flight – reptiles are not social creatures in the way that dogs are and so their interpretations of threats, conflicts and disputes are much more basic; they either disengage or they attack (they can give warning signs, but these are different to acts of posturing, as only disengagement – flight – rather than acting submissively will avert and attack).
The goal of any de-escalation process should be to get an individual to stop working with their limbic system or reptilian brain(s), and start to use their reasoning brain again. If you can get an aggressor to start using and applying reason and rationale to a situation, rather than emotion, they will be able to consider alternatives to violence.

One way to get an aggressive individual to start using their rational/reasoning brain, is to recognize and inform them of their emotional state. Saying something like, “You seem really angry”, can be one way of doing this. Feelings and emotions, are not the same thing. Our emotional state is the physical state we are in, such as being adrenalized, our feelings are the conscious interpretation of that state, such as feeling angry or scared, etc. When we are highly emotional, and our reasoning brain shuts off, we are not able to “feel” our emotional state, we are just in it. By pointing out how an aggressor is “feeling”, such as being angry, will often cause them to register their emotional state; something that they have to use their reasoning brain for. A common response to this statement is, “Of course I’m angry, you spilt a drink over me!” This is a good starting point, as the emotional individual is now starting to process what has happened to them, and the reasoning brain has been engaged, even if it is not in full control of that person’s actions and behaviors.

To keep the person processing the situation from a rational perspective, you can follow up with the question, “what can I do to sort this out?” This question forces an aggressor to start using their reasoning brain to consider different alternatives, which would potentially satisfy them in the situation. The emotional limbic and reptilian brains, are unable to weigh up the pros and cons of different outcomes, and so have to hand over this decision making process to the reasoning brain. It may be that the individual responds that you can buy them another drink and pay for their dry cleaning. The fact that it is the aggressor who has determined the solution to the situation is important, as it allows them to posture in a controlled and directed manner, which means by accepting their solution, you are acting in the submissive role – in the animal kingdom – or when people are processing information – this submissive response will end the conflict.

If you were to make the suggestion that you should buy this individual another drink and pay for their dry-cleaning, it is likely that your idea would have been interpreted as you posturing to them, i.e. telling them how the conflict will be resolved – you setting the terms. There may of course be individuals who make preposterous and ridiculous demands e.g. you can buy drinks for them and their friends for the rest of the night, etc. In such cases, you can still keep the person engaging with their reasoning mind by saying something along the lines of, “I’m sorry but I’m not able to do that, can you think of anything else that might resolve this situation?” As long as they can keep on track, coming up with alternatives, their reasoning brain is engaged.

In some cases, usually when a person is working with their reptilian brain, they may be so emotional that de-escalation isn’t an option. The clearest signal that somebody is about to assault you, in a spontaneous act of violence, is when they lose verbal control and reasoning. When a person meets your statements or questions with silence, garbles and jumbles their words (“you drink my spilt!”) and/or simply keeps repeating the injustice over and over again, faster and faster e.g. “you spilt my drink!”, “You Spilt My Drink!”, “YOU SPILT MY DRINK!” these are clear warning signs that they are unable to understand or process what you are saying and they are in fight or flight mode; more likely fight. This is the time when you need to ditch your de-escalation process and prepare to respond physically either by creating distance for yourself, or by attacking pre-emptively; the time for talking is over. I have heard many people in the security and self-defense industry talk about other warning signs, such as changes in a person’s complexion, etc., and whilst these do occur, they can be hard to notice and identify, especially if lighting is low-level, such as a in a nightclub or bar, or if the person has been consuming alcohol. Checking a person’s ability to reason verbally is a much better indication of their emotional state.
Whenever you attempt to de-escalate a situation, you should do so in a non-threatening stance, with your hands out in a placating fashion, so that your body language and posture reflects what you are saying (see photo). With your hands out in front of you, in the international language for both “stop”, and “I don’t want any trouble”, you will be both confirming your desire to de-escalate and resolve the conflict as well as putting yourself in a good position to both defend yourself and attack pre-emptively; in any crisis negotiation you should be prepared to respond physically if necessary, even if this isn’t your primary goal.