Street harassment; boredom, reputations and FOC it! – Wendy Dorrestinj

Over the years I have read and heard all sorts of advice about how to deal with street harassment. Mostly this advice was given by a wide variety of (self defense) instructors and sometimes by self-appointed experts. Sadly, only a minority of these tips were built on solid knowledge, let alone empiric evidence.

With this blog I would like to inform you about the most common form of street harassment, the dangers and the dynamics behind it and offer you some solutions. This blog is written from a Law Enforcement perspective and based on 20 years of law enforcement experience with an academic background in policing and behavioral sciences. Although the topic “street harassment” might suggest that the blog is written for women, it is actually not. Street harassment is something that both men and women are facing on a daily basis. (Loeber, 2001) Although a blog is too short to cover all the ins and outs of youth group dynamics and how to deal with it, my goal is to offer you some easy to remember, useful rules of thumb.

The estimations of how many women at one point in their life experiences any form of street harassment differ between 50% and 90%. The percentages of men experiencing street harassment are lower; the estimation is somewhere between 30-60%. Compared to men, women are more often confronted with street harassment within a sexual context, while men are relatively more often confronted with harassment based on crime and power struggles. The common denominator for both men and women is street harassment based on “street games”.

These percentages not only depend on where the question is asked; what is perceived as harassment in one culture may be seen as “normal street behavior” in another. It also depends on the definition of street harassment. For one person, cat calling won’t be a problem, for another, it can be very intimidating. Whatever your location, cultural background or definition of harassment is, please remember; this is your life and your body and no one else’s. Nobody has the right to touch you without your permission, nobody has the right to call you names or to judge your appearance, even when this “judging” is covered by so called compliments. You have the right to set your boundaries and the right to protect your body. How to set your boundaries is part of this blog.

The sole culpability for harassment lies with the perpetrator. It is his, and not his victim’s choice to play the game, commit the crime or to start the dynamic. However, you do have a responsibility for your own wellbeing and safety. To some extend your own behavior can influence the decision of the perpetrator to (not) attack or to harass you. (Becker, 1998) I realize that this might not be the most political correct or popular sentence in this blog, but it is, simply, the truth. At the other hand, it might feel encouraging to know that the key to your own safety is in your hands and not in someone else’s. (Beyond the Split Second; Reality Based Training in High Risk Law Enforcement Operations, 2015)

For this blog I will focus on the most common form of street harassment; “street games”, a game played by male youth groups on the streets of many  western cities and villages. This form of street harassment is a calculated and instrumental form of aggression and intimidation, which means that the perpetrator starts the game with the idea that he (or they) will be the winner in this dynamic. And that is where you’re options are…

The first pillar of youth groups: Boredom/Entertainment
The first thing you have to realize when dealing with youth groups on the street is that they are bored as hell; the whole reason for hanging out on the street is to look for entertainment. Entertainment in the form of admiring each other’s new cellphones/sunglasses/shoes/latest moves/whatever. Once they’re done with the admiring part, they will be looking for some new entertainment. And that is where you come in. They will try to use you as their new form of entertainment. That is, unless you’re able to break or ignore the dynamic…

The second pillar of youth groups:  Reputation
The second thing you have to realize is that credibility, reputation and hierarchy are strongly related and that reputation is one of the most important things for youth group members. There is something to win and something to lose for the group member in the process of intimidation. Although alcohol and/or drugs will influence ones perception of risk and weakens ones inhibition (self-control), the origin of the intimidation/cat calling/harassment is still an instrumental one: entertainment and fortifying the reputation within the group. (Bond, 1997)

Street credibility is based on the individual performance (perceived toughness by group members) and their contribution to the group. Actions like cat calling and intimidation can contribute to the perceived toughness ad therefor the status within the group. However, a failed attempt to intimidate a bystander can be disastrous for one’s status. This can lead to the need to retaliate and re-establish ones position. With a second (or third) attack as a result, often with an increased level of aggression. In other words: Think twice before you engage in the street game and “out smart” the perpetrator. And especially for the male readers of this blog: don’t let your ego stand in the way between you and your safety.
(For more information about youth groups see (Dutch))

So, by now I might have confused you. In the first half of this blog I told you that you have the right to defend yourself and the right to set boundaries. In the second half of the blog I warned you to be careful and think twice before you engage in the dynamic of street games. How do those two things add up?

The answer is: FOC it!

While walking on the street, you might encounter a youth group. By now you know they are probably bored and looking for some entertainment. You decide not to be part of that entertainment. If you have the possibility to avoid direct contact with the group without being noticed, use that possibility. You need to scan for options (basically lesson 1 in krav maga) Cross the road and walk at the other side and continue your journey. However, crucial in this case is “without being noticed”. As soon as the group has you in their sight, and they see you avoiding them, you will be perceived as an easy victim. If you can’t avoid them without being “detected”, pass them. Pass them in the same way you would pass a group of senior citizens; Friendly, Open and with Confidence.

Friendly and Open means: Engage in eye contact as you would do with any other group. If it is normal in your culture to greet people when you pass them, greet them now. If it is normal to greet people with a friendly smile, give them that smile now. No eye contact, not greeting and not smiling can be perceived as either an act of aggression or an act of fear. Both can start the entertainment/reputation dynamic you don’t want. Regarding the eye contact; make eye contact in a way that is perceived as normal within the culture you’re living in. In most cultures, avoiding eye contact is a way of submissive behavior. Engaging eye contact for too long, is a sign of dominance. Again, either positions can start the entertainment (submissive)/reputation (dominance) dynamic, which you want to avoid.

Crucial in dealing with youth groups is Confidence. The good news is that you don’t have to be confident to be perceived as confident. “Fake it until you make it”, can bring you home safely. So, while approaching the group and reminding yourself to appear “friendly and open”, walk straight up, make yourself tall, shoulders straight, breath a bit more slow and deep than usual (you’re probably a bit stressed by now and this is a good way to hide it) and walk with solid, firm steps like you’re walking straight to your destination. Maintain a healthy distance between you and the group at any time. Healthy meaning; healthy for you; don’t come so close that you’re easy to grab or to kick at. This will also help you to stay out of the group dynamic; if you come to close (or even in) the group, you’ll be a part of their territory and therefor interesting to play their games with.
(For more information about body language see )

If anybody tries to engage with you or tries to pull you in their dynamic, you respond with a friendly but confident and clear response. Something in the line of “(Sorry) Am in a hurry, no time to talk”, and you continue your walk. Whether or not you start your sentence with “sorry” depends, again, on your culture. In some situations the “sorry” will be perceived as weak, in some situations the lack of the word “sorry” might be perceived as passive-aggressive.

If they approach you in a more intimidating way, you simply say “No” or “Stop … (behavior)” in a clear and confident way. Say it and mean it, and pretend that you firmly believe in it even if you don’t. You continue your route and leave the group behind. If you’re really afraid, wave at a (non-existing) friend in the crowd in the direction in which you’re going and say loud: “Hi! There you are” and walk firmly to your “friend” meanwhile scanning for possibilities and possible threats.

If the threat is getting more serious and you’re being attacked, fight like you trained in your krav maga classes; deal with the danger and run.

Sometimes a group is just looking for some serious trouble. In those cases, the rules of thumb from above don’t apply and the only safe way out is by not getting in. A clear example of a group actively looking for trouble is the group in this YouTube video. You’ll see active, wide body language, a lot of energy and the group is wide spread over the street. All signs that they’re not bored and clearly not looking for entertainment but looking for some serious trouble.

To summarize: youth groups behavior is built on 2 pillars: Boredom/Entertainment and Reputation. By acting friendly, open and confident you decrease the chance that you’ll be part of their entertainment/reputation game because you’re simply not playing along in the dynamic.

CMDR D holds an MA in Policing, an MA in behavioral Sciences and an MSc in Public Management. Additionally, D  is the only person in The Netherlands who is certified to lead (intervention) units as a bronze, silver and gold commander in both LE and firefighting operations. D is currently working on a PhD Research “Beyond the Split Second; Reality Based Training in High Risk Law Enforcement Operations”.


Hide in Plain Site – Tammy Yard-McCracken, Psy.D.

Every predator hunts for specific prey.  Humans are no different. We hunt for food and resources and occasionally, other humans. We like to think human predators are limited to violent sociopaths, serial rapists, and other overtly heinous people. We focus our research and training here because these predators are easier to identify than the low level predator subtly working his way into a victim’s life.

Low Level Predators, or “cockroaches” as Anna Valdiserri calls them (nicely done Anna), are invisible until they are crawling around inside multiple layers of their victim’s social contexts. Turn the lights on and they disappear –metaphorically speaking. If you shine light on their actions they will default back into slightly less intrusive scripts or blame their prey as the source of conflict. As Rory mentions in Self-Defense Failure Zone (April 2016, Conflict Manager), they use the same skills you do to navigate social terrain. Evidence of their predation is damned subtle. That little itch you get around the creeper gets ignored because the source of that itch is disguised as normal behavior. 

Rory wrote that a participatory and active mindset has the best shot at shutting creepers down. I agree. And to take action early enough to avoid a cascade of defensive maneuvers (which don’t usually work very well), you have to see it coming. You have to be able to identify the threat, and Low Level Predators camouflage their predation. It’s easier to identify something if you already know a few of the markers, so let me introduce you to Julie, David and Jason*. They can help explain this. 

We’ll start with Julie. She is starting over. Living with friends, she needs to make connections through their community while she gets herself settled. Her housemates introduce her to the neighbors, Paul and Danielle. Julie and Danielle form a tight bond. It takes time, but they become best-friend close. Julie listens and encourages Danielle’s misgivings about her marriage and simultaneously deepens her own friendship with Paul (the husband).

Julie babysits so Paul and Danielle can have alone time. She meets with Paul when he needs advice on how to reconnect with Danielle. Julie suggests he let Danielle explore her bisexual interests to spice up their marriage. Instead, the marriage craters. Danielle moves out of town and Julie goes to visit. Paul pays for Julie’s airfare because she is both broke and the only one who might be able to bring Danielle back to him. Julie visits Danielle and completes the yearlong seduction. Paul and Danielle’s marriage is Julie’s third coup – she has used this hunting pattern before.

Now David:

Katelin is David’s protégé in a finance company.  He is a control freak but helps catapult her into a high profile position. We make a good team. You’re patient with my micromanaging and you know how take the initiative. Because of her patience, he was learning how to dial down the controlling behavior. You’re the first person I have trusted to manage big accounts with little oversight.  Katelin knows she has to pay her dues and bites her tongue when David’s praise is only used to soothe the sting of his sharp criticisms. Long days turn into late nights. David jokes with Katelin, you must be magical- my wife trusts me to work late with you. 

As mentor and supervisor David occasionally enlists Katelin’s feminine intelligence to help him choose a gift for his wife, the one who trusts her to work late with him. Then he discloses he has a woman in his life other than his wife. It’s long term and he loves them both…and then a second mistress emerges and Katelin is buying gifts, sending flowers, for all three. It looks like she has something “on him” now, doesn’t it? But it is the other way around. The way she describes it, David has her hostage. Katelin is pretty sure he will sabotage a job change with a scathing reference if she tries to leave – she is “too valuable” to him.

When Katelin shrugs his hand off her shoulder he belittles the boundary. No offense girl, but you’re just one of the guys. He commandeers a presentation and later explains he was protecting her from a misogynist colleague. He is concerned that her boyfriend is too controlling and tantrums when she refuses his advise to ditch the bastard. When he bullies her for making a mistake, she writes it off as just trying to help her climb the ladder and the tantrums are just his way of showing that he cares. Finally, David gives Katelin an ultimatum: Lose the boyfriend or the job. He thinks the boyfriend is abusive and it is interfering with her focus at work. 

Low level Predators come in as many flavors as we have social scripts. I knew David and Julie. I also knew Ellie and Katelin.  I’m sure there is more to both stories but these are the details I have to share. Their stories also read like case studies and it’s easy to go academic. The problem with taking an academic attitude? We get to distance it. It happens to other people.  So let’s get to know Jason. I can introduce him better because this campfire story is mine. 

My first year out of college I moved into an old upstairs flat a few hours from home for my first big-girl job. On moving day, my downstairs’ neighbor stopped by to introduce himself. He helped my father haul in the heavy stuff and promised to look out for me. Jason shook my dad’s hand and looking at me added – I’m here if you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.

In the beginning, we did the neighbor wave when we passed. He checked in to make sure I was finding everything around town. A few weeks later he brought me ‘left overs’ –made dinner for a friend and had extra. When I missed work with the flu, he dropped off some chicken soup. Driving back and forth to visit my fiancé, Jason remarked that he thought my brakes were getting bad- I should have them looked at. He looked in on my cat when I was gone and with each trip pressed the brake issue – I can take a look at them for you. I came home from work one night to find my thermostat stuck in the on position heading for 100 degrees in the dead of winter. He heard me throwing windows open and came to help. None of this flagged, just seemed like a nice guy (maybe a little pushy)– good neighbor behavior.

Passing hellos turned into dialogue. I didn’t really want to chat but he was obviously lonely, never saw him with friends. I felt sorry for him. It won’t kill me to be nice to the guy…

My mail carrier was a friend. He was the first one to say something. He noticed Jason going through my mail. I blew it off. Next, Jason showed up on my doorstep with a vase of flowers, saying they were left over from something at his mother’s house.

He knew things about my friends, my job, and my routines that struck me as a little over-informed but we lived in a small town. In a small town if you forget what you’re doing just ask a neighbor…

Then one morning my phone rang. It was Jason. Hey, you okay? You’re usually in the shower by now, didn’t want you to be late for work. Thought maybe you’d overslept. 

Now I was paying attention and it was too late to be anything but reactive. More flowers. I refused. He left them anyway. Sent them to my work. Shamed me for not accepting them. He would coincidentally be at the grocery store when I was. When I changed my routines he found reasons to be out in the alley behind our flat when I was coming home.  Grabbed my groceries from my car and insisted on carrying them up. 

When I set hard boundaries he cowed. Asked to talk, wanted to make amends, apologize. Nice people forgive. I granted the audience. He leaned against the inside of my door blocking the exit. We’re going to get married, you and I. He explained I would eventually see that we were destined for each other–I would come to my senses. The wedding I was planning was for him, not my fiancé, I just hadn’t figured it out yet, but he had detailed plan of how it was going to go down.

Jason played on all the social scripts that worked to get close to me. He waited until we had a solid neighborly relationship and set the stage by putting my dad’s paternal fears at ease as ad hoc oversight. When I set boundaries he complied, sulked and then escalated from a different angle. It ended because I married my fiancé after all and left the state. Stalking was not a crime until it went physical in the 80’s – and by textbook analysis, it was headed there. 

Low Level Predators use a broad range of social tactics to hunt. Julie played on the intimacy of female friendship. David used position and status. Jason played out a toxic version of the boy-meets-girl romance script. David and Julie both blamed their prey for the ensuing chaos. What Jason’s story was – I can only guess. I never went back to ask. What’s important is this: they all felt unjustly accused. It’s possible they were authentically unconscious. Even so, allowing creeping victimization** to pass without impunity is not a social script anyone should follow.

Welcome to the problem. Low level predatory behavior is insidious. The scripts are being followed and creeping victimization gets a pass. For everything being written on violence, on this subject our depth of game is, what? Thin? That’s an understatement. We talk about the “cockroaches” when we see them, but we don’t ask the hard questions and we don’t get deep enough to look for their patterns. We don’t ask and we don’t look because doing so requires getting our hands dirty.

I want to ask questions like; when the victim gains from the relationship (Katelin’s career did advance substantially), is there a point when it ceases to be victimization? With Julie and Ellie, is there a point where Ellie becomes a collaborator instead of Julie’s target? And when I ask these questions, am I victim blaming?

How about this, if talking about Low Level Predators doesn’t actually benefit anyone then isn’t it just mental masturbation? If people are going to benefit, we need to start looking at the Low Level Predator patterns and see if there are reliable tells. Then if the tells are reliable, we need to ask if those tells are consistent enough to be useful. I agree Rory’s active mindset has the best shot at shutting creepers down and if that’s going to be a coachable skill we need to get our hands dirty.
*For obvious reasons the names are fictitious but the people are real.

**Creeping Victimization is a phrase Rory used in the previous referenced article.


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.

Eye Contact: Watch People-Read Body Language, Part III – Tristan Chermack

When you watch people, strangers or people you know, look at them for more than just recognizing who they are.  Look for a moment longer and try to get a feel for their mood or current attitude.  We are not talking about trying to read every person in a crowd.  It is very helpful to see when someone is showing signs that they are upset, angry, hostile or aggressive.  These signs start out fairly subtle, but are pretty plain to people who are even a little bit used to looking for them.

There are many books out there on reading body language and facial expressions, and you can certainly research much more on the subject.  It is not necessary to become an expert on the subject to look at someone for a few seconds and get a feel for whether they might be in a foul mood.  It is easier when you know them and are familiar with their normal state.

One particular trait to watch for is the person who is looking around to start trouble.  Bullies show their predatory instincts by scanning around actively and studying people they consider might be good targets.  This should be a warning flag to you.  It is pretty obvious, and is pretty easy to spot – as long as you are looking!

A bully, or bullies, might have taken up a spot and are ‘on the hunt’ for a good target.  The part to look for is when they spend more time scanning around outside their group than talking with each other.  Picture in your head a group of lions sitting on a hill watching for a nice, tasty antelope to happen along.  If you see this, then stay relaxed and calm but move along and get out of their sight quickly.

The goal of watching people and reading their body language is to get a feel for their mood and intentions.  Your instincts will almost always warn you when someone is up to no good.  In fact, we recommend not getting too caught up into researching tiny details of body language because they can distract you from using your instincts to get a good impression of someone’s mood.  

You should practice every day, which is easy and even fun.  Look at people you know and try to get predict what mood they are in.  You will have to do this before you talk with them.  Observe them for a few moments and guess their mood, then greet them and chat a bit to see if you were right.  Once you talk with them, their mood should be pretty clear and you will find out how close you were.

If you try it with strangers, you won’t be able to confirm if you were right but it is still fun practice and you can do it almost anywhere.  The more you play around with it, the better you will get.  Before long you will be able to spot people who are: relaxed, happy, nervous, upset, or in any number of other moods.

When you have built up this skill, people who show signs of aggression and anger or have the intention of causing trouble will stick out like a sore thumb.  Your instincts will tell you something is wrong.  It is up to you to listen and heed those warnings.  

Years ago when I worked one of my first security jobs, a seasoned pro showed me how well someone could hone these skills. We went from working the door in a bar to helping sort out getting a PA system set up. He never stopped scanning despite working on an unrelated task. He was particularly interested in those entering the room because he already sized up the patrons who were there. A man walked in and he quietly leaned over to me and said “Watch that guy. I guarantee by the end of the night we will be carting him out of here.” He didn’t look any different than any of the other patrons. He was dressed similarly, although he did walk in alone. He wasn’t scowling, or appeared to be carrying a weapon. I asked if the pro knew the guy from a previous encounter, but he hadn’t ever seen him ever before. There was something in his body language that told the pro that this guy was not here to enjoy a beer and some music. Sure enough, a few hours later we had to throw the guy out because he got aggressive.

I can still picture the guy’s body language, it was so subtle that it would not raise an eyebrow to most people. That old pro not only knew to look at every person coming into the bar but knew the body language to look for. Not even sure he could describe what it was either, he just knew it when he saw it and it gave us a heads up to take caution.

Eye contact and body language are huge factors in self-protection. You may wonder why I use the term self-protection instead of self-defense. Quite simply, they apply to two very different things. Self-defense describes the physical skills you use when in physical conflict. Self-protection describes the skills you use to avoid physical conflict. Self-defense is what you need to employ when your self-protection skills have all failed.

A great start to building self-protection skills are mastering eye contact and reading people. It’s pretty easy and fun to do.

Eye Contact: Observe Surroundings, Part II – Tristan Chermack

Observe surroundings

Any self-protection must involve you paying attention to your surroundings, regardless of whether there are people around.  Keeping an eye on people adds a little more difficulty to the task, but it is still pretty easy to do.  Let’s look at each of these separately.

When observing your surroundings, you should first be looking for anything that might pose a danger.  Accidents claim more victims than predators, and self-protection skills also work with accidents.  Many accidents happen because of a lack of awareness.  The street crossing analogy comes into play here:  look to see if you can safely cross the street regardless of what the light says.  Potential threats come in many shapes and sizes, so we cannot possible tell you every way to spot them here.  Keeping your eyes open for potential problems, or accidents waiting to happen, is something you must build.  The practice of looking around rather than having your eyes buried in a cell phone or iPod works splendidly.

It should take a quick look around, for only a second or two, to get a decent feel for your surroundings.  Familiar surroundings are easier, but you should take the time and effort to notice anyway.  If a place is familiar to you, looking around can show you something that is out of place or not normal.  This can be helpful to give you a heads-up that something might be amiss.  Your instincts will pick up on these things, you only need to scan around and take in what you see.

If you are in an unfamiliar place or somewhere that gives you an uneasy feeling, you will probably look around a lot before becoming assured that you will be safe.  This is an instinctual trait so use it.  Once you have looked around extensively and still feel uneasy about where you are, you should really leave.  If you cannot leave, get yourself to a position where you can see anything approaching you.  This brings us to the next point about observing surroundings.

When you observe a room, you should be doing more than looking for threats.   You should look for where the exits to your immediate area are.  If you had to get out fast, which ways could you go?  These exits are also entrances.  We will discuss observing your surroundings for people next, but you should know where they come in so you can see who comes into your area.  Knowing where the exits are is a good habit to build.

Another thing to watch for with your surroundings is where you are in them.  Are you in a place where you can be approached by someone without noticing they are coming?  In the best case, you should be somewhere that you easily notice people approach you.  It is also best that you are in a place that has an exit handy from any given direction.  The last thing you want is to be cornered by a threatening person, with nowhere to go to escape.

One last thing to look for in your surroundings is obstacles.  They can provide a place for you that make approach difficult.  It may happen that you notice a bully or group of potential bullies coming and want to stay out of their path.  Rather than running for an exit, you can position yourself near obstacles to make it difficult to get to you.  The great benefit of this approach is that you can usually move there casually without drawing attention.  It will be easy to notice if the people you are concerned about are approaching you, and then you can move to an exit if it appears they are coming for you.

If you have ever been in the same room with a bully, you may have experienced looking at your environment in these ways.  It is best to have an idea of what is around you before that panic hits and you are desperately looking for where to exit.  We believe in preparing early, and this is a perfect example.  It takes only a second to notice exits, so take a look.  You might not need it, but if you do it is great to know already.

Now that we’ve covered the environment itself, the really important part is to watch people.  You should at very least look for a moment at every person in your immediate area.  If the area is very crowded, you should scan the crowd for anything that appears out of the ordinary.  When you do your scan, let your instincts talk to you.  They will tell you if you should be concerned.

This kind of looking around and scanning is more than glancing up from time to time.  If you are sitting hunched over a book or cell phone and glance up momentarily and down, then you are missing two points: posture and observation. These two should work together.

Keep good body posture whether you are standing or sitting and scan regularly.  Take your time scanning and don’t rush it.  Anyone looking at you will quickly be able to tell which is more important to you: looking around or not paying attention to surroundings.  It is okay to be absorbed in a book or texting with someone, but go to a place where you are safe to do so and look up and around frequently.

It is very common to watch for people when you know they might be present, and it is almost always someone you already know to be a potential threat.  Kids who are around bullies learn to watch for their bully through pure fear.  They are constantly scanning so they can see them coming and get out early.

One thing to add here, which is something more common to adults than children, is that purposefully not making eye contact is also a signal. Take care not to think that this is imperceptible because it is. If a potential predator looks at you and you are intentionally avoiding eye contact, he will very likely be able to tell. This is a signal of pure fear, which is not the signal you want to send. A confident person does not fear making eye contact.

Once you make eye contact, what you are thinking is pretty easily conveyed through your facial expressions. I’m not talking mind reading here, but simple mood and attitude. What is on your mind will affect the signals you are sending, so take care of what is on your mind. Be smart, not oblivious – confident, not fearful. This type of communication is fascinating, but not within the scope of this article.

What we take in about our surroundings and the people within it is crucial to avoiding trouble. You can think of it this way: your goal is to see trouble before it sees you. A predator decides when and where he will strike, which is powerful. Predators will avoid targets which are aware (hard to approach undetected) and do not look like good opportunities. They will dismiss inviting targets which are not in a good place or time to strike. The first indicator is eye contact or lack thereof. An unobservant target is very inviting. You might never even make direct eye contact with a predator. He may very well dismiss you as a potential target merely because he sees you scanning the area, staying aware, and appearing ready. It is so much better to avoid being targeted early than try to evade a predator who has already chosen you as a target.

Eye Contact: Your First Signal and More, Part I – Tristan Chermack

Making eye contact is something we do many times each day, and we may not even realize it but we all use it to communicate, consciously or not. Eye contact is a subset of  body language and this article is meant to be an introduction to this language and how it works, with a particular focus on how it pertains to the art of self-protection.

There are excerpts here from my book “What the Bully Doesn’t Want You to Know – A Streetwise Guide to Your Bully Problem”. The book itself is focused on bully problems which children face and is written for kids and their parents. Neither the book nor this article are designed to be comprehensive works on body language, but a beginning. The reason for this article is that virtually all of what is written on body language is extremely broad and most of the material is not pertinent to self-protection or potential conflict situations.

I will expand on the material from the book to include information about adult interactions. The fundamentals are the same as they are for children and have added nuances for adults.

Let’s start with some basics. What we are talking about here is only the first few moments of eye contact. Virtually all adults realize there is far more to extended eye contact and the cues which can be learned from watching someone. Our instincts can indicate whether someone might be lying, in a bad mood, nervous, troubled, or any of a vast number of things. Let’s begin with the first impression we create when we make eye contact.

Eye contact

The importance of eye contact is hard to overstate.  It is almost always the first contact we have with someone else.  The eyes really are the window to your soul.  The way you look at people, or don’t, tells them something about you.

Quickly lowering your eyes when you make eye contact with someone is a basic animal signal of submission and fear. This signal indicates to that person that you are weak, or at least that you think you are weaker than them. Animals reflect their ‘pecking order’ by showing signs of submission to those higher on the order than themselves. Lowering the head, and eyes, is a prime signal of submission. It is usually an unconscious response, but with a little practice you can learn to send a signal of confidence to those around you.

First, let’s define what you should and should not do. We have already indicated that quickly lowering your eyes and head down and away from someone is submissive. So, don’t do that. Almost everyone has done this, and it is a very common habit. So what should you do? If you find you have locked eyes with someone who you feel is threatening (or just about anyone else for that matter) it is a good idea to hold their gaze for a second. And we do mean a second literally, as in one-one thousand. Holding a gaze, or staring, for several seconds or longer can be construed as a challenge. It is possible to gather a lot of information about someone in one second. Once you have held their gaze for a second, move your eyes away calmly in a HORIZONTAL direction. This sends the message to someone that you see them, and you are unafraid. In others words, you are not being submissive.

Practicing this is actually rather easy. Simply go out and do it. Here is how:

Try it a few times in the mirror. You don’t have to go overboard here; just try to get the hang of what a confident gaze looks like for you.

Start with your friends to get the hang of it. By the way, they don’t even have to know you are doing it. You might be surprised at how they react.

Next, move on to strangers or anyone else who makes you uncomfortable. This should be a little difficult at first. You want to get used to feeling uncomfortable so that it ceases to be uncomfortable at all anymore. This can be done just about anywhere. A good place to practice is in a car where people are naturally reticent about looking at the person next to them.

Continue practicing this until you have made a habit of it.

You are on the way to controlling the message you send with your eyes.

If there was one thing you should recognize when it comes to reading someone else’s eyes, it is what is called the ‘hard stare’.  The hard stare is a determined look that someone is mentally prepared for a fight.  It is a reflection of what has gone on in their mind, locking out distractions and trivialities, focusing purely on the task at hand which is intently watching the target.

The hard stare is easy to recognize and will probably flip a subconscious mental trigger in you that something is wrong.  The stare itself is identified by the eyes being open slightly wider than usual and lack of blinking.  The eyes will lock on the target and not stray.  The facial muscles and chin will tighten with a stony expression, which looks more like pure determination than anger.  Once you see a hard stare you will recognize it instantly. It means the decision has been made and the eyes are issuing the challenge.  This is a clear sign saying “I am ready to fight you right now.”  You should treat this signal as what it is: a very clear signal of imminent threat.

Along with the stare, usually the aggressive party will usually stand up or already be standing.  You’ll notice the body will go into a fairly prepared stance with the knees bent and the chest will face the target.  Again, this is how the brain subconsciously prepares for battle. The time for sweet talking is over and you should either calmly depart or prepare quickly for a fight.  This means get near an exit, with as many friends as possible, and among cover to keep from being surrounded.

Those first moments of eye contact will leave an impression, we cannot help that. What we can do is make sure we are sending the right message, not one which looks inviting to a potential predator. We wish to send the message that we are not prey by not using the same body language that prey uses.

You could call this the external benefit of eye contact: how others see you from the outside. Next we will cover the internal aspect, which is the benefit you receive when you learn to use your eyes well.

m time to time.  If you are sitting hunched over a book or cell phone and glance up momentarily and down, then you are missing two points: posture and observation.  These two should work together.

Keep good body posture whether you are standing or sitting and scan regularly.  Take your time scanning and don’t rush it.  Anyone looking at you will quickly be able to tell which is more important to you: looking around or not paying attention to surroundings.  It is okay to be absorbed in a book or texting with someone, but go to a place where you are safe to do so and look up and around frequently.

It is very common to watch for people when you know they might be present, and it is almost always someone you already know to be a potential threat.  Kids who are around bullies learn to watch for their bully through pure fear.  They are constantly scanning so they can see them coming and get out early.

One thing to add here, which is something more common to adults than children, is that purposefully not making eye contact is also a signal. Take care not to think that this is imperceptible because it is. If a potential predator looks at you and you are intentionally avoiding eye contact, he will very likely be able to tell. This is a signal of pure fear, which is not the signal you want to send. A confident person does not fear making eye contact.

Once you make eye contact, what you are thinking is pretty easily conveyed through your facial expressions. I’m not talking mind reading here, but simple mood and attitude. What is on your mind will affect the signals you are sending, so take care of what is on your mind. Be smart, not oblivious – confident, not fearful. This type of communication is fascinating, but not within the scope of this article.

What we take in about our surroundings and the people within it is crucial to avoiding trouble. You can think of it this way: your goal is to see trouble before it sees you. A predator decides when and where he will strike, which is powerful. Predators will avoid targets which are aware (hard to approach undetected) and do not look like good opportunities. They will dismiss inviting targets which are not in a good place or time to strike. The first indicator is eye contact or lack thereof. An unobservant target is very inviting. You might never even make direct eye contact with a predator. He may very well dismiss you as a potential target merely because he sees you scanning the area, staying aware, and appearing ready. It is so much better to avoid being targeted early than try to evade a predator who has already chosen you as a target.


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.

Social Conditioning: Women & Violence, Part I – Tammy Yard-McCracken, Pys.D.

An opening disclaimer is important: research, hard science, is difficult to find on this topic. Ethics as they are on human research prevents us from setting up attacks on a randomized sampling pool of unsuspecting, uninformed women. The ethical guidelines on human research are there for a reason. The result? What follows is based on anecdotal evidence, personal reports, my experiences and campfire stories passed along by people I respect. There will be bias in these words.

Setting the Context

A few years ago the news reported an 18-year-old woman fatally shooting a male intruder. She was at home with her infant when the home invasion began. She barricaded the door, called 911 and 20 minutes later, two assailants finally made entry. Just before they broke through her barricade, she asked the 911 Operator if it was okay if she shot them if they came through the door. Dispatch couldn’t “advise”, but when they made it inside her home, she fired and killed one. The other one took off (Gast, 2012).

Side Note: the dispatcher was not new on the job. She crafted her words carefully to avoid giving advice while telling the frightened woman to do what was necessary to protect “that baby”. Good on her.

A few weeks later a mom in her late thirties hid in a closet with her 9-year-old twins after calling her husband to say she thought someone was trying to break into the house. The intruder made entry, rummaged through personal belongings, and eventually opened the closet door. She fired. 5 times (Reese, 2013). As the events unfold the husband is calling 911 while he keeps his frightened spouse on the phone. He is recorded by the 911 Operator saying:

“She shot him. She’s shooting him, she’s shooting him…again.”

“I heard him pleading…He was screaming.”

These are examples of armed responses to violent action and imminent threat. Look past the use of a firearm and look at the behavior of these women. Retreat. Hide. Call for help. Wait. Ask for permission to act.

There is a decent correlation between the rate of adrenalization and gender. Women adrenalize more slowly than men as a whole, giving women time to plan before the higher level thinking skills go off line. Tobi Beck (Beck, 1992) gives credence to it in the book, The Armored Rose, and those anecdotal and personal experiences I was talking about back her up. If the correlation has a biological underpinning, it may partially explain the WHY both women delayed in using lethal force. It does not adequately explain the WHAT in their tactical choices. These women were armed and they chose to:

  • Barricade/buy time
  • Call someone for direction
  • Ask for permission to act
  • Retreat
  • Hide
  • Wait

Here are a few more.

Mother of two walking to her car. Sunday afternoon, sunny day, “good neighborhood”. Two men are in the area of her vehicle. One smiles, is this your car? Can I ask you a question about it? She smiles back, even though she doesn’t feel friendly and says she’s in a hurry but “what’s your question?”

Gun drawn, kidnapped and carjacked. Twelve hours later in a sudden stroke of something resembling a conscience one of them let’s her escape.

18-year-old woman trying to untangle herself with polite smiles and excuses about being poor dating material gets pulled down on his knee. Unnecessarily strong grip holds her there. Sit here, be my good luck charm in the poker game, baby. Forcing a smile, she complies and then leaves as soon as she can do it without making a scene. Quietly tries to slip out of the party and gets to her car. He’s there too, asks for a ride home. She knows something isn’t right but he’s stranded, his buddy is passed out drunk and he’s gotta’ get up early for work.

Gives her directions to a remote neighborhood and rapes her.

One more (although there are thousands of these to be had). Pumping gas in her personal vehicle mid-morning after her run as an elementary school bus driver, a distressed woman approaches. The woman has a black eye and looks a little frantic. I’m so sorry, I know I look horrible. I’m running. My boyfriend beat me and I’m trying to get away. I have a bus ticket but can’t get to the station – I almost have enough for the cab. I need, like 5 bucks…can you help?

Suspicious, but doesn’t want to be one of those people who looks away. A sister needs help. Nods and reaches into the car for her purse. Something hard slams into the side of her face and knocks her to the ground. The forlorn female in distress grabs the purse and takes off.

How and Why It Matters

These three incidents share commonalities and together with the two home invasions, the five cases help to highlight social scripts and cultural rules that drive female behavior in most post-modern societies.

  • Defer
  • Wait
  • Be polite
  • Smile (when she doesn’t feel like it)
  • Appear cooperative
  • Be helpful and compassionate
  • Subjugate personal need and intuition to someone else when the two conflict

Bullet list #1 + Bullet list # 2 =

  • Physical/Violent Action requires permission from an outside authority
  • Deflect, defer, wait, buy time, retreat
  • Be polite even when it isn’t warranted
  • Smile (you’re so much prettier that way, anyway)
  • Be helpful
  • Be cooperative
  • Be compassionate
  • Be quiet (and hide)
  • Everyone else’s needs/expectations are more important

Welcome to the Cliff Notes review of How To Be Female in Western Society, 101.

Martially trained women, if you are reading this, a part of you may look at the above list and argue. “No, not me. I know better.” Intellectual awareness and physical training will not override a couple decades of social programming if you refuse to acknowledge it lives in your thinking. If you won’t consider it, if you are certain none of the bullet points could possibly apply to you, it is a dangerous blind spot.

Force professionals, you may be tempted look at these examples with an eye toward identifying all the places each of these women screwed up.  You are ticking off the behaviors that made her the perfect mark and the voice in your head may say, “she should have known better”.

And that’s the point. The behaviors and underlying beliefs that make a female an easy target are created by the social rules and expectations she has been marinating in from moment of her birth. This isn’t news and people like Gavin DeBecker have been writing about it for years (DeBecker, 1997).  

End Part I.


Beck, T. (1992). The armored rose, the physiology and psychology of women fighting in the SCA.  Beckenham Publications, Avon IN.

Brizendine, L. (2006) The female brain.  Morgan Publishing,

DeBecker, G. (1997). The gift of fear. Dell Publishing, NY, New York.

Gast, P. (2012) Oklahoma mom-calling 911 asks if shooting an intruder is allowed. Retrieved from

Reese. R. (2013). Georgia mom shoots home invader, hiding with her children. Retrieved from

Wong, Q. (2013). Gender and emotion in everyday event memory. Memory. 2013;21(4):503-11. doi: 10.1080/09658211.2012.743568. Epub 2012 Nov 28.


Social Conditioning: Women & Violence, Part II – Tammy Yard-McCracken, Pys.D.

Rabbit Trail

I suspect there is an intellectual drift in our thinking as professionals in the world of violence. Whether it is as force professionals, martial art instructors, self-defense instructors, or etc., human nature is to normalize what we learn from experience and training. Once normalized, there is an unconscious judgment that wants to wiggle into our thinking. If we know it, then it must be common knowledge.

Really? Why? Remember how it is that you do, in fact, know better.

The social rules, the subconscious expectations many women follow unconsciously every day, have some obvious and significant implications when women face a violent encounter. These same rules will show up on the mat and on the range if she decides to train for personal protection. (How and what that looks like is better left to a different dialogue.)

These five case examples can be easily used to highlight how social rules set her up as a perfect target. If we stop there, the implication is pretty damning. Up side? There are a couple of hidden superpowers tucked inside what looks like a perpetual-victim default.

Here’s one, and it comes with a hell of a lot of gravitas. Once she slips the leash, she is all in.

I have a theory on this.

She grows up on social rules that can make her a pretty good mark. The flip side? She does NOT grow up with the social rules defining how a fight is supposed to go. She doesn’t spend her days wrestling and playing King of the Hill. She doesn’t get socialized on the football field and she doesn’t learn what a tap-out means on the wrestling mat. She is chided severely if she attempts to solve conflict the way 10 year old boys do by throwing a couple of wild punches and rolling on the ground. She doesn’t play with green army men who blow each other up with mud bombs.

If she does, it may be because she grew up in a neighborhood like mine where most of the kids my age were boys. If I wanted to play, I had to play the games that were running. Even here, she will hear comments about ‘letting the girl play’ and it will be the exception, not the rule.

She does not know the rules to male conflict and violence because she doesn’t grow up playing the games teaching the rules. If she played those games, she will understand it was by special permission and it really isn’t her game. She is only a guest. Consequence? She won’t generalize the rules of war to her own belief system.

These rules are not built in to her internal infrastructure. When she goes physical – she is in uncharted territory and she will do whatever has even the slightest chance of keeping her alive– there are no rules to follow because she was not socialized to the rules. There is a better than average chance her Threat expects her to follow the social rules of being female: acquiesce, be polite, hesitate, ask for permission. There is an equally decent chance the Threat does not expect to encounter a rabid chipmunk, or as one of my students recently said “an unleashed crazy-bitch”.

If she is armed? Like the first two case studies, she is far more likely to fire until the magazine is empty than she is to get off a couple of rounds and stop to see if she hit her target.

Unarmed? If there isn’t anyone nearby to pull her off, she may blow right by the boundary of when a “reasonable” person would disengage. Particularly if her children have been threatened. She will risk her own life without a moment’s hesitation to save her tiny humans.

Earlier, I mentioned a correlation between adrenaline rates and gender. We need to revisit it again. Rory Miller posits a theory for the gender-based adrenalizination delay; it resonates (R. Miller, personal communication, 2015). If his hypothesis bears any credence, combining the two theories has a doubly deleterious impact on women when a physical solution becomes necessary.

Here’s my summary of Rory’s theory on why women experience the adrenaline delay. When we were hunter-gatherer tribes the able-bodied men would be gone for weeks at a time following herds for enough kill to feed the tribe into the future. Left behind are the aged men, the children, and the women. Turn this into the able-bodied men leaving the village for war, in both circumstances if a Threat gets to the tribe, the women are the last line of defense.

It is on her to ensure the next generation lives to a reproductive age. Knowing this, she will go physical with an unfettered, vicious ferocity.

One theory is rooted social psychology; the other is rooted in evolutionary need. In both, once she goes physical she is all in.

I have seen a full sized dog high-tale it in the opposite direction when attacked by a 10-pound cat that thought her kittens were in danger.  One good bite and the cat would be done, but the dog was uninterested in the risk it would cost to try. Superpower number one in action.

Superpower number two. She is smart. Not that men aren’t, this is not a comparative dynamic so if you are itching to argue – take a breath. The center of the brain that processes fine details and retains them with attachment to meaning has more neuronal connections than the average male brain (Brizendine, 2006). A Cornell study (Wong, 2013) is a little less definitive as to the why women have this capacity but the science in the Cornell study may be a tad more sound than Brizendine’s suppositions.

Wong and Brizendine agree with an important bottom line: women attend to, retain, and recall details at a remarkable level of accuracy. As a natural process, this ability is far more dominate in women than in men.

A possible explanation for this reality ties into Rory’s suggestion about evolutionary need. Village and tribal life puts her on her own for long periods of time with others to provide for, to feed and nurture. Considering sociological anthropology as a perspective, there are probably a few men in the group and hances are, they are elderly or otherwise unable to physically endure the rigors of a hunt. If they couldn’t hunt, they are not going to be much help to her if violence shows up on the village’s metaphoric doorstep.

If she’s trekking out to the berry patch she may have tiny humans in tow and one strapped to her back. Running and fighting in the event of a stalking predator (animal or human) is automatically compromised by her circumstances. Her chances of survival, and the survival of her offspring goes way up if she notices the tiny nuances of the well-worn path that are different than they were on her last pass. A new print in the dirt, blades of grass bent the wrong direction, absence of prey animals, birds fall quiet or take to wing behind her…a soft sound that wasn’t in her hearing a moment ago…

For this information to matter she must have three things available. She must have a context for what the information means (prior learning), she must notice the fine details, and she must do the math (match memory to the context).

Dial this forward to lifestyles that are more common to us in 2015, how many of you can relate to this?

Him: What? You never told me your mother was coming in this weekend! It’s your mother (or whatever the situation is), I guarantee if you had told me that I would have remembered.

Her: Really? Seriously? How can you NOT remember this conversation! You were standing with your hand on the fridge door looking for something to eat in that blue shirt I bought you for your birthday two years ago. You looked at me and rolled your eyes and then you said ______________. Then you shrugged your shoulders and went out to the garage to work on the lawn mower.

Him: Silence – thinking…what the hell? What blue shirt?

Or, try this one.

Him: Hey, do you know where the charger to my old mp3 player is?

Her: When did you last have it?

Him: I don’t know, I can’t remember. You know, the old one.

Her: Silence, thinking. Look in the drawer in the hallway or on the shelves in the corner of the your closet. If it’s not there, it’s probably in your…..

And she is usually right, isn’t she?

She remembers the details, stores them and assigns meaning to them. She does this with people and behavior too. If you have read DeBecker’s work, or you work in an industry like mine where you get to hear story after story of victim events, you know this:

Her intuition told her something was wrong.

This intuition is not magical. It is biological. It is this powerful capacity to manage details, remember them and use them instantaneously, unconsciously. She cannot always articulate how or why she knows what she knows, but she knows. This makes her capable of a marked degree of tactical intelligence.

And the question that wants to be asked next is this: if she is naturally, tactically intelligent, why doesn’t she use it? Why did she get raped, stalked, why did she ask permission to fire?

Both superpowers can get tangled in the sticky web of social conditioning; sometimes to the degree she may not be able to access them at all. This doesn’t mean her superpowers disappeared. Slowly, over a lifetime of experiences, they have been lulled into a deep sleep.

That’s the good news. If those superpowers are still there and they are only sleeping, we can wake them up again.