Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How to handle Threats and Intimidation

Some time ago, a respected martial arts instructor I know in Sydney (Dean Whittle) witnessed an incident that involved all the classic pre-fight indicators and intimidation tactics you can expect in a street confrontation.

As he watched, he understood the psychology of what was going on, and following  is his description of events.  It's a story that everyone can benefit from :

I don't know what sparked the confrontation, but it involved a pillion passenger on a motorcycle, and a group of construction workers.  I heard the motorcycle come to a screeching stop, and by the time I turned around I saw the pillion passenger screaming obsenities at the construction worker who was on traffic duty.

The rider was trying to calm his passenger, but he was having none of it.  He took his helmet off and started to bounce-walk towards the construction worker.  He continued his abuse, took off his hoodie, and started waving his arms around.

(Note :  shedding clothes, shouting aggressively, and making big gestures with the arms are all   pre-fight indicators that are meant to intimidate an opponent.)

In response the construction worker just stood his ground... seemingly unphased. But more likely he just wasn't sure what to do.  But very quickly a few of his mates came to stand by his side.

Now faced by a group of men, the guy went in to a primal stalking display... pacing from side to side like a caged animal... making pointing (stabbing) gestures with his hands... all the while continuing his aggressive tirade of threats.

But the intimidation didn't work... the group of construction workers just stood there looking at him... showing no anger, and no fear.

So then, because the guy couldn't get the response he was looking for (fear), he gradually started to move away... still maintaining his threats... and occassionally taking a sudden step back towards the group, in an attempt to try and scare them.

But that didn't work either. The construction workers still didn't show any signs of fear.  In fact they didn't show any emotion at all.

When he eventually reached the bike again, he put his hoodie and helmet back on, gave one final spray of abuse, and they took off down the street.

The whole scene was a classic display of primal aggression and intimidation:
  1. loud abusive language
  2. big gestures and an exaggerated bouncy-walk
  3. the shedding of clothes in preperation to fight
  4. a stalking display, with pointing and threats
  5. then an aggressive retreat to try and save face.
In response to this display, the workers unwittingly applied a classic de-escalation technique.  They confidently held their ground and expressed no anger or fear... which resulted in the confrontation not escalating into physical violence.

So why is a lack of emotion so threatening?  Well the answer is found in our primal hard-wiring :
  • firstly, outbursts of extreme anger indicate that a person is out of control, and on a primal level that is a weakness *(blind with rage)
  • secondly, a lack of emotion is an indication that a person is potentialy fearless, and therefore potentially deadly.
So regardless of whether you're capable of physically defending yourself or not, if you want to create a psychological advantage in a confrontation :
  • adopt a confident non-posture *(not a fighting stance) 
  • keep your gestures inside your body's frame
  • and show no emotion *(no anger, no fear).
The photo of Clint Eastwood below is a perfect example.....

It's Primal Protection.

For more insight into the psychological tactic of avoiding physical contact,
scroll down to the previous posting.

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