In the first part of this series about conflict, we talked about bullies, bad people, and volatile situations. We explored why conflict happens and how alcohol, drugs, manipulative personalities, envy, and jealousy can play a role.
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In this, our second installment of the series, we’ll take a look at some helpful strategies for dealing with those who wish to visit harm and discord upon us. These aren’t necessarily foolproof tactics, but they have been proven to work a large percentage of the time.
A bully usually picks a battle only if he can be certain of winning. He uses the Interview to test you to see if you will be a good victim. Even in the wild, a predator will watch and stalk its prey before it attacks. We see it all the time with large cats (cheetahs, leopards, lions, tigers), and even sharks. Most of them come at their prey from behind to give them the best opportunity for surprise and success. If the prey faces the attacker in a determined posture, the predator often retreats in search of an easier mark.
The Interview includes verbal threats, challenges, and insults that the bully makes. The bully knows that most people are not prepared to deal with actual, physical aggression, so he uses those initial provocations to “soften up” the victim. When victims “freeze up” and “choke,” they are easier victims for the knockout.
What To Do?
Maintain control of your emotions.
Here’s the bottom line: Either you are in control of yourself, or someone else is. If you allow someone to scare or anger you, and you react according to those emotions, you have lost.
Allow me to elaborate; I’m not telling you to not be scared. You will be scared in various scenarios of your life. It’s a natural human emotion. It’s how you control that fear that will make the difference.
I worked in a maximum security prison environment for 29 years. Do you think I ever got scared? You bet I did! On several occasions, I was certain that I was about to be killed. I experienced every facet of the adrenaline dump that exists: Auditory Exclusion, Tunnel Vision, Tachypsychia (the perception of time slowing down), and reduced dexterity/fine motor skills.
During all of that, I realized one thing very early on in my career: I could not show fear, or I was DONE FOR! Once you gave into fear in that environment, you were finished because those predators could detect it instantly.
When you give in to fear, the bully is controlling you. We do not want that to happen. If you show no fear and remain firm, not backing down, the bully will usually back down.
Anger is a secondary emotion that is first caused by fear and/or hurt. Any time you’ve ever been angry in your life, something or someone hurt and/or scared you first.
A number of times during confrontations, I used anger to my benefit because it fueled me to fight hard. That was a benefit of being enraged. However, anger is generally not beneficial, as it clouds our thinking and takes us off our square. It actually puts the bully in charge because he is then controlling our emotions, which we do not want to happen.
Situational Awareness and alertness are our best defenses in many ways.
The interview is designed to overwhelm you with fear and make you a safer victim for the bully to attack. It helps the assailant to determine that you’re not the wrong person to mess with.
Situational Awareness and alertness are our best defenses in many ways. Not just against bullies, but against a myriad of attacks. Also, be aware of yourself and your capabilities. Be aware of when the interview first starts. An example might be the bully blurting out, “What the f*** you been staring at me for, man?” It may also be more subtle, with a guy giving us the hard eyes across the room. Ignoring the problem will not work; the bully will take it as a weakness, which will spur him on.
Let your potential assailant know that he cannot sneak up on you. We generally like to have 3 to 4 feet of personal space in order to feel safe.
If someone approaches you in a verbally or physically hostile manner, immediately set a boundary. Put your hands up, palms out, about face level, and take a step back. Unless the other person is swinging at you, it’s best to keep your hands open. That way, you can block any incoming blows because your hands are already up. You want the potential assailant to be about 2 arms lengths away for safety.
Having your hands high, at face or neck level with palms out and open, makes it obvious that you’re warding off evil and want no trouble. This is a good thing if the incident happens to be on video, because it shows that you were not the aggressor and tried to de-escalate the situation. Open hands are a non-verbal way of saying, “I don’t want any trouble.” You’re still in a decent fighting position, but your hands are not fists. You can protect yourself.
You could also say, “WHOA! stay back, don’t come any closer! I don’t want any trouble!” That’s a good thing for potential witnesses to hear in the event that they have to give statements to the police or go to court later on.
Setting emotional boundaries will shield you from mental attacks.
If the guy wants to hurl insults at you, let him. Don’t react angrily and internalize the insults. Does this person’s opinion of you matter? No. Who cares what he thinks? Maintain your physically defensive stance and don’t respond.
When confronted in the past, I’ve maintained my bearing and occasionally said, “I’m not the one.” Or, “This is not going to end how you think it is.” By saying that, I let the aggressor know that I realize what he’s trying to do, and I am not the one he should be trying because I refuse to be victimized.
Often, I’d smile when someone was trying me. Not a warm, welcoming smile. It was a smile like a cannibal would give to a victim. That really messes with the bully’s mind because a normal person does not smile just before an altercation.
Legal boundaries will hopefully shield you if you have to use justifiable force. Hopefully. When I worked in prison, there were a number of innocent guys in there. I had read their files and seen the police reports, and they honestly should probably not have been locked up.
If you need to use physical force, you need to be able to articulate that you were in Imminent Fear of being seriously injured or killed. You must articulate what it was that you saw and what it was that the person did to put you in that state of fear. “He had a knife, he was coming at me, I thought he was going to kill me.”
As the situation unfolds with the bully being the aggressor, it’s good to loudly announce, “Hey, you need to back off, I don’t want to fight you! I don’t want any trouble!” Make the statement loud and clear so those around can hear it.
When the police interview witnesses, the first thing they will ask them is, “Tell me what you heard and saw.”
“Well, that biker guy was cursing at Mr. Davis.”
“Oh? What did Mr. Davis do when that happened?”
“He backed up and held his hands out. He said, ‘”I don’t want any trouble, I don’t want to fight you.”‘
That paints a very specific picture for the responding officers and guides their decision as to whether we will be charged with a crime or asked if we’d like to press charges.
It is a good idea to get the names, addresses, and numbers of any witnesses to the confrontation. If you have incurred any physical injuries, seek medical attention and take photographs of said injuries.
Provide An Honorable Exit
Always leave the other guy an honorable way to exit while saving face. This one is huge and saved me much trouble while I was on duty. If an inmate was giving me a hard time in front of his friends, I’d pull the guy aside or meet with him in private. This was for a couple of reasons.
First, it got him away from his friends, which reduced his wanting to “front”, or grandstand, in front of his buddies. That made him a lot more likely to listen to reason. He could back down and not feel as though he had to “win” or show off in front of his buddies.
It also allowed me to make it non-personal. I’d often say, “Listen man, I’m just doing my job, I’m not trying to mess with you personally.” That let him know I wasn’t singling him out for harassment, which almost always helped things end peacefully.
Handling things off to the side like that greatly reduced the ego and animosity, allowing things to end peacefully. It allows the other guy to “win”, and we also get a win because violence was avoided.
A conflict can be initiated by having too much eye contact. In prison, it was called “Gritting.” Brief eye contact was okay, but staring into the eyes was a sure way of starting something.
Let’s say the guy across the bar is staring, giving you the hard eyes. Staring back without blinking shows that you are willing to meet his challenge. It could escalate things, or it could let him know you’re not the one to be toyed with. I’ve used this one before and actually turned it around on the would-be aggressor. It can also be combined with a sinister smile. That eye contact lets the would-be aggressor know that “I know what’s up, and I’m not the one.” That can disarm a bully.
Another tactic is to preemptively approach that staring person. Maybe introduce yourself in a friendly way, ask him how he’s doing. This is an Assertive way of acting; it’s not aggressive or fearful, which disarms the bully’s strategy. You had the courage to approach him, which means you may not be a very wise victim choice for him. Assertiveness is the very best way of handling aggression. It gives in to neither fear nor anger.
Remember in the movie, “Roadhouse”, when Patrick Swayze’s character says to the other bouncers, “I want you to be nice…until it’s time to not be nice.”
My friend, Peyton Quinn, was a technical advisor for that movie. He gave them tons of advice as to how bouncers operate because he did the job for many years in some of the worst bars in the US, and was an expert at it. The movie folks disregarded nearly every single thing that Peyton advised them on. Except for that speech! They took it nearly word-for-word from Peyton.
Peyton and I have talked extensively, comparing our very violent careers. Interestingly, he and I have arrived at virtually the exact same conclusions on how to deal with incredibly violent people. The interesting part is that we didn’t know each other early on in our respective careers, so we didn’t compare notes while we were developing ways to deal with violent people.
We both agree that it’s best to “Be nice” to people. I’m normally polite to a fault, even when dealing with violent convicts. I was told early on in my career some very useful advice: “If you start out low-key and polite, you get a lot more results. You can always turn it up and be an authoritarian if they don’t cooperate. But if you start out that way, you really can’t turn that down.”
That’s always stuck with me, and it has always worked very well. Just be nice. Understand, there are those who will take that politeness for weakness, and try to capitalize on it. They can be dealt with accordingly.
Peyton says, “If I only get one point across to you, I hope it’s this one: real fighting in the real world among adults always has the potential for homicide. In any case, it’s going to mean severe legal problems, or severe medical problems, or maybe put you in the morgue. It’s a no-win situation. The only fight that you win is the one that you avoid.”
Another option is to put on a crazy act. Even the hardest convicts didn’t like messing with the crazy guys. They’d steer clear of mentally ill people with regularity. I cannot underscore enough the lengths most people will go to avoid a crazy individual.
Because I worked around mentally ill inmates most of the day, I could easily mimic their personalities. I used that to my advantage. A tough guy would try me, and I’d adopt a wild-eyed, bizarre look in my eyes and say something like, “The shampoo’s all gone, everything’s alright!!” Something totally off the wall.
Talking to people who aren’t there, looking up into the sky and seeing things, all of these are excellent ways to make people want to get away from you. When they began to leave, I’d often start to follow them, saying, “Come back, don’t you want to talk to my friends?” Usually, they couldn’t get away fast enough.
I can’t tell you how many times the “tough guy” walked away and I heard him muttering to a friend as he left the area. I had suddenly turned myself into an unattractive victim.
Using humor and empathy can also go a long way in disarming the bully’s attack. If he’s angry and upset about a certain subject, maybe you can empathize, and even commiserate with him on the subject. Doing so might even turn him onto your side!
Picture it, you’re a clerk working at a business. The customer goes off on you because of how much they charged him to do the brakes on his car. He’s focusing his rage on you. “You guys really SCREWED me on the brake job!!!”
You look around, lower your voice so as not to be heard by the business owner, and say, “I hear you, man, it’s a crime what they charge here! I can understand why you’re pissed. I’m just the clerk, though, you know? I don’t set the prices.” That may very well get him thinking and calm him down, at least toward you, the hapless clerk, who’s caught in the middle.
Being able to take insults and even poke a bit of fun at yourself can also go a long way to disarming a potential attack.
Catch Them Off Guard
“WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT!!” the large man yells at you.
You step up to him, extend your hand in a handshake, and say, “Hey, hey, what’s wrong? I’m Jim, glad to meet you. What’s up, what’s bothering you? Can I help?”
He may very well be completely dumbfounded that you just took an interest in his feelings (guys don’t typically like to talk about icky things like feelings). This is an Assertive approach on your part, and may completely disarm his attack on you.
Reminding people of consequences is sometimes useful. They begin getting physically boisterous and you say, “Hey, these people will call the cops, you don’t want to go to jail, that’s a bad idea. The cops around here don’t mess around, you don’t want to screw with them.”
Or, “You know, if you stab that guy, they’re going to throw you in the Hole and lose the key. Is it worth it?”
Some Other Thoughts
Now you have some viable strategies to use on would-be bullies. It’s best not to expect to be able to use all of these strategies. They take practice to be able to use well, (I had a lot of that in the prison system). And sometimes you have to switch up strategies because each one does not necessarily work on every person.
I’ve learned over the years of dealing with difficult people that those who go around screwing with others will, one day, meet That Guy. Who is That Guy? He’s the guy who has been having a really terrible day and is about to explode. He’s the guy who just got a letter from home with terrible news contained therein. His wife just served him with divorce papers. Or maybe his mom just passed away. He’s That Guy who just needs one more tiny thing to set him off to the Point Of No Return.
It happens every single time. It may take months or years. But it always happens. Don’t make it your business to take out the bully if you don’t have to…because, sooner or later, someone else (That Guy) will do it. I guarantee it, having seen it happen dozens and dozens of times.
In our next installment, we’ll look at some things to do should conflict become unavoidable. What happens when you reach the “I’m Done Talking About This” stage? Tune in next time for the answers!