I have addressed this topic before in older posts, but it is always worth reviewing because if we operate with the correct winning mindset, we will help to ensure most of the time that we perceive things in the early stages before situations become physical.
The following is an excerpt from a self-protection manual I put together to give to my students. It addresses communication, and the importance of reading the non-verbals to assist us in determining the intentions of an individual. Since we cannot read minds, all we have assess intention is someone’s observable behaviors. Of course, our intention is to thwart the bad intention, of course.
The other key point about communication and people skills that I wish to emphasize is the importance of non-verbal communication. We all pick up on non-verbals in conversation whether we consciously think about it or not. How others say their words (tone, inflection, rate, pitch, volume) is even more important than what they say. Body language speaks volumes about what people are saying. Facial expression expert Dr. Paul Ekman has devoted many years to mapping out the human face and identifying how emotions are expressed through the musculature therein. It is a science unto itself! Our bodies betray how we are feeling through our movements, gestures, postures, and even how our eyes move. If our verbal communication does not match what our non-verbal communication is saying, we tend not to believe the words and rely on what everything else is expressing. Certainly, in the art of persuasion, you can use all of these things to your advantage by becoming more adept at reading other people, and with making your communication that much more effective and purposeful.
Of particular importance within the area of self-defense is the ability to identify non-verbal communication as it relates to potential aggression. In his excellent book, Management of Aggressive Behavior, Roland Ouellette lists signs to look for in the eyes:
- Contracting pupils (agitation)
- Alternating eye movement to size you up
- Jerky eye movement (hallucination)
- Darting eyes
- Searching/looking around eyes (searching for weapons or escape route)
- Thousand-yard stare (high potential for aggression)
- Target glancing (are they staring at what they wish to strike?)
- Breaking eye contact (sometimes before initiating an attack)
- Glistening eyes (distress)
As an individual begins to lose control of himself and move towards verbal aggression, he may engage in these body displays:
- Darkening of the face
- Baring of teeth (think snarling)
- Quickening of breath (usually indicates adrenaline dump)
- Shoulders and head back
- Opening and closing hands
As an individual escalates towards physical aggression, he may:
- Lose color in the face (and extremities)
- Display distortion on the left side of the face
- Tighten the lips
- Tilt the head forward (tucking the chin)
- Blade the body (think fighting stance)
- Stop talking
- Rock back and forth from heels to toes
Hopefully you will never be in a situation in which you must deal with a violent individual. But you must be aware of the signs as a precautionary measure. Persuasive skills are important in verbal de-escalation of situations. Verbal de-escalation can begin as soon as we encounter people; we give them no reason to be angry, and/or we work to disarm them if they are already angry. Keep in mind that once someone has escalated to the final stage of anger, i.e. violence is imminent, logical thinking in the pre-frontal cortex of his brain is taking a back seat to what is often referred to as the lizard brain, which controls fight or flight. The aggressor is most likely experiencing an adrenaline dump into his system and is beyond the reach of reason. If this is the case, you must make your own fight or flight decision.
One thing that is not mentioned in the above excerpt is the idea of controlling personal space. Monitoring your little bubble is extremely important. Be wary of encroachers, and keep in mind that when men attack women, they tend to engulf them. Be especially alert if people rush up to you in a public space and ask you unusual questions, as this could be an orchestrated distraction to set you up for an accomplice to rob you, or something even worse.
Seeing the warning signs and avoiding danger are keys to being a hard target. And, as an instructor of mine once said, “You can win 100 percent of the fights you are not in.” Amen to that.