The Most Important Six Inches in Self-Defense
By Bob Chrismas
In the military, it has often been said the most important six inches on the battlefield is the space between your ears. This wisdom also applies to any of us who have to work in the potentially volatile modern workplace.
It is increasingly common for anyone working in the service sector to encounter people under the influence of street drugs, suffering mental health issues. As the global pandemic has carried on from months into years, it seems almost every workplace has stories of people out of control. Law enforcement and medical professionals have documented drastic correlated increases in mental health issues. It is prudent to train on how to most effectively de-escalate inevitable situations in almost every workplace. The convenience store industry is at the forefront of these increased problems. With situational awareness, knowing how to recognize and avoid conflict, most self-defense scenarios can be averted before they even start. However, there are situations that we cannot avoid. In those cases, most problems can be resolved verbally.
More than 90 per cent of human communication is nonverbal. If someone intends to assault or rob you, you should be able to see it coming. As human beings, we learn to read these cues in daily living. Still, we don’t always understand how to interpret what we are perceiving. Your senses will perceive a threat, and they will trigger a fight or flight response within your body. Sometimes we call this instinct. Suppose somebody is displaying body language that tells your senses that you’re about to be hit. In that case, you might get the uneasy feeling that something bad is about to happen. Then cognitively, you look around, and you try to make sense of the feelings that your body is giving you. With a bit of practice, you can learn to recognize and understand those sensory cues more quickly and respond effectively.
Some of the obvious signs that someone is about to take action, rob or assault you include scanning the environment with their eyes, agitation and fidgeting, paranoia and defensiveness, physically clenching the fists, rocking back and forth, bulging veins, erratic or increased breathing. A person who is about to assault someone often does a target glance. They are checking to see whether or not you are armed or may even be telegraphing. Police officers train on these cues and will react quickly to someone who is looking at their service weapons or looking for escape routes. If somebody is acting agitated and glancing around and position themselves into a bladed boxer stance, you better move. Police, soldiers, and mental health professionals are all familiar with the target glance – the opposite, which is also a clear indication of imminent aggression, is the thousand-yard stare.
People form their impression of you within seconds. This principle also applies to criminals and predators. In most cases, within the first moments of seeing you they will assess the environment and decide whether you are a soft or a hard target and whether it is worth the risk to try and rob you or assault you. Suppose you walk with confidence and look like you’re observant and able to deal with a situation. In that case, predators aren’t likely to try you. Working in a convenience store, you should try to have escape routes in mind at all times as you go about your daily business. If somebody was to walk in with a knife, would they be between you and the exit, or would you have a way to get out and call for help? If someone is highly agitated, don’t engage in a fight with them verbally or physically. One of the first things you learn training to be a police officer is de-escalating conflicts. You can do this by simply not engaging or not escalating the situation. If someone is yelling at you or someone else, you can intervene by remaining calm and speaking in a very low, relaxed voice. Someone agitated will often stop yelling to hear what you are whispering. Sometimes this is difficult to do if you are managing the fight or flight response within yourself. Try breathing deeply. Introducing calm to the situation, you can also use words that are less likely to agitate an aggressor.
Verbal self-defence, also known as verbal aikido, verbal judo, or tactical communication, is the art and skill of using one’s words to prevent, de-escalate, or end an attempted assault. It involves a combination of body language, tone of voice, and the right words to reduce the tension in any given conflict. While various specific models have been developed, they involve common sense and communications skills. The most important of the skills we can develop around conflict management is the ability and willingness to listen. Highly agitated people often wish to be heard. Suppose you stop and make them feel heard, rather than engaging in escalating behaviour. In that case, it is usually enough to cause someone to start settling down. Avoid triggering words, such as name-calling or arguing.
Most tactical communication experts identify several key elements to strong verbal self-defence skills. Identify what the person is agitated about and the source of conflict. Then, don’t agitate them. You can improve these skills by practicing. In your daily life, practice active listening. Stop talking and listen, repeat back to people what they are saying. You will find that once people realize you are a good listener, they will seek you out again and again. While some have provided training with specific word phrases and responses, there is no cookie-cutter approach. Common sense and a little thoughtful interaction, coupled with active listening, should allow us to approach almost any situation. Use that critical six inches of space between your ears, and you can avoid and reduce practically any conflict.
Bob Chrismas, Ph.D., is an author, scholar, consultant, passionate speaker and social justice advocate police professional with internationally recognized expertise in community engagement and crime prevention. An advocate for social reform, he has written and speaks extensively on innovative trends in policing, community partnership and governance. Visit Bob at BChrismas.com