Dissuading an Opponent

If you encounter someone who is becoming belligerent then you should try to dissuade them from extending their aggression into the realm of physical conflict. Such an escalation is unlikely to work out well for the aggressor and it is your responsibility to try to diffuse the situation so that no conflict will arise. There are several ways you might attempt to dissuade a potential opponent. Here is a partial list. You should consider additional methods that fit your personality and behavior patterns.

  • Explain to the aggressive individual that you are sorry, you are an idiot, and you never meant to cause offense.
    • This may allow the person to feel a sense of moral superiority or physical intimidation and after a few minor last second verbal jabs they may back away. You have won. You did not have to harm anyone.
    • This may cause the person to think that you are weak, prompting them to attack you. You must be ready for this possible outcome and remain vigilant even if the person appears to begin departing. If they other person now attacks he or she has exposed their weakness and will be unprepared for what is in store for them.
  • Try to use calm logic to explain why the other person has misinterpreted the situation.
    • If the person is susceptible to reasonable explanations they may accept your explanation and depart.
    • People who are irate are seldom inclined to listen to logic. Expect an attack.
  • If the aggressor has companions try to explain the situation to them in the hope that they will intervene and guide the aggressor away.
    • This can work, especially if you sense the companions feel the aggressor is out of line.
    • This can fail if the aggressor views any actions by his or her companions to be a form of betrayal or if the companions share the same general mindset as the aggressor. In the first case the aggressor may attack before the companions can restrain him or her. In the second case the entire group may attack in unison.
  • If there are others nearby try to get them involved so that they can act as a third party to try to calm the aggressor down.
    • This can be successful if enough people are involved and if they can manage to move the aggressor away.
    • Even if the aggressor has been moved some distance away he or she might still break free and move to attack you. Even if the situation seems to have calmed down you still need to remain vigilant. You should leave at the earliest opportunity.
  • Simply attempt to leave the area. It is best to do this immediately upon noticing an issue is building.
    • Sometimes this is all the aggressor wants. If you depart the other person feels a false sense of victory and you have won. Nobody went home wounded.
    • Sometimes the aggressor will attempt to block your exit. This is a serious situation. Why would they want you to stay?
  • Offer to get the person something to drink.
    • This is an offer of friendship and may lead the aggressor to think that perhaps they have misread your intentions. If your offer seems genuine then they may decide you are not such a bad person after all.
    • They may indicate they do not want you to get them anything. They may put a good deal of emphasis on their refusal of your offer. They may feel offended that you attempted to buy them off with a drink. Expect them to escalate.
  • Adopt a posture of calm self-confidence and detached tactical analysis.
    • If you appear calm, confident, and in search of tactical advantages this is unlikely to go unnoticed by the aggressor. They may get a sense that they are in over their head and decide to save face with some parting verbal assaults. You should say nothing.
    • The aggressor may misread your intentions and think you are confused and unprepared. They might also conclude that you are bluffing. In either case they are likely to attack. Do not let that calm and confident tactical planning go to waste.
  • Seek the assistance of the police or some other authority figure.
    • The aggressor may decide they do not want to deal with this added complication and may verbally accost you one more time before they depart.
    • The aggressor may decide that you should not have involved some authority figure in a personal matter and may attack you before the authority figure can arrive or intervene.
  • Do something completely off topic. Start singing, dancing, telling a story, or walk over and begin talking to some bystander. If you’ve got it, throw a wad of cash on the floor between you and the other person and yell, “Free Money!” Simply be entertaining for a few moments.
    • This sudden shift in mood and focus may be confusing to the aggressor who may spend some time trying to figure out what is happening. All the while you are working your way toward the door.
    • Naturally the other person may think you are distracted and therefore make an easy target. Don’t take your focus off the other person for a second.

In every case above an effort to diffuse the situation might cause the aggressor to attack you. There is no right answer. Sometimes a strategy will work and sometimes it will fail. It has little to do with yourself. The mindset of the assailant is the unknown variable. Based on the best evidence you have available about the person, others nearby, and your surroundings you can only select an option that seems to have the best hope of success. You must attempt to prevent further escalation, but you must know that such an attempt might actually result in an escalation. You can do little more than hope for the best and expect the worst.

Sometimes your attempt to dissuade an aggressor may cause a temporary truce. The aggressor may back away, but this could be only temporary as they mull over the recent events. In two minutes they may be angry again. If there is a cessation of hostilities then you should immediately attempt to leave. If the aggressor returns a second time they are unlikely to be dissuaded again.

You may notice that one category of response not included in the list above is any form of challenge, insult, or derogatory comment. If you become aggressive in your demeanor, words, or actions then it is unlikely an agitated aggressor is going to back down. This may be exactly the response they expect and want. After all the person is giving you every indication they are looking for a conflict. Why give them the very excuse they seek?

Similarly you would not want to entice the other person or invite them into a conflict with phrases like,

  • “Well, come on then.”
  • “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
  • “I think you’re a lot of hot air.”
  • “You want a piece of me?”
  • “You’re about to make a huge mistake.”
  • “You don’t know who you’re messing with.”
  • “I hope your health insurance is paid up.”

Such phrases are an aggression on your part. When using these phrases you are intentionally trying to incite a conflict.

Another reason to avoid any form of aggression is that some witnesses may interpret that aggression as the provocation that started the fight. When they talk to the police they are more likely to say you started the fight – even though you did not deliver the first strike.

As an increasingly trained martial artist it is your responsibility to attempt to avoid these types of conflicts. You should take whatever reasonable actions are necessary to reduce the possibility of an escalating conflict. But you do not need to be foolish either. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the other person will attack you. You should anticipate such an attack. Now you need to employ the appropriate leg of the ETD Model.

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