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Talk Your Way Out of a Dangerous Situation

Featured image background credit: Arbor Day Massacre


You’re in a crowded bar and you accidentally spill the beer of the guy next to you, who pulls a gun out of his belt and sticks it flush on your temple.


a) Freak out and play dead

b) Start yelling at him “WTF, dude, it’s just a beer!”

c) Punch him in the face faster than he can pull the trigger

Well this happened to a friend of mine, and he did none of the above, but came out of it without a scratch.

How did he do it? The answer might surprise you.

He told the guy a joke.

Why does this work?

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image credit: Legal Leaders Blog

Because most of the time you just need to diffuse the situation. Angry people are like ticking time bombs, but they’re running off a short fuze of a cascade of hormones. If you just scramble the signals, you can usually diffuse the whole situation back into non-existence.

Sure, it’s better to not get yourself into one of these situations. But can you really, really, really guarantee to yourself you’ll never spill some coked-up-jackasse’s drink in a country with lax gun laws?!?!?
I can’t. (but then again, I’m clumsier than most)

The trick with staying safe while traveling isn’t to keep yourself out of all dangerous situations – that just leads to boring traveling – it’s to know how to handle yourself when you come face to face with one, and to come out of it unharmed.

Being a Woman Has Its Pros and Cons

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image credit: Nitrate Diva

For example, as a lady, the above man would probably not pull a gun on you. He’d just get sleazy and tell you that you owe him a drink, but he likes you, so he’s going to buy you one instead (while trying to wrap his sticky paws around your waist and pull you in closer to his bar stool. I’m not sure which scenario I prefer.)

As a woman, you’re less likely to get punched in the face, and you’re more supposedly likely to talk your way out of a speeding ticket. But as a woman, you’re also more likely to get groped, or worst, and just generally attract trouble without having to do much looking for it. You gotta play the cards you’re dealt.

How to Use your Words Instead of Your Fists

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Image credit: Quiet Mike

Regardless of sex, the steps are more or less the same.

  1. Don’t be afraid.
  2. Try to lighten the mood.
  3. Get ’em where it hurts.
  4. Act absolutely insane.
  5. Go ninja on them.

Don’t be Afraid

Your body language shows people what you expect of them, and they usually live up to that role. If you’re afraid, you’ve made them the threat, and you the victim.

Don’t let your lips tremble, don’t let your voice crack, keep your shoulders and your chin up (but not too far up,) stand your ground emotionally and physically.
Don’t let a scary, but so far harmless situation start its path down a slippery slope.

For example, I used to walk home from my bar shifts in Montreal, from downtown, through a semi-sketchy area, to my house – about a 20 minute walk – alone, at 3 to 4 in the morning.

From time to time, a group of drunk boys (old enough to be men, but boys nonetheless) would stop, roll down their windows, asking me where I was going and if I needed a ride. Most of the time it was innocent banter, their last attempt at picking up a chick that night. But I held my composure and didn’t act as if they were a threat. If I hadn’t had done that, it might have cued them to act upon my perceived fear. Instead, I’d joke with them.

That leads us to the second point:

Try to lighten the mood.

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Ok, choose your jokes wisely, please.
Image credit: Cyanide and Happiness

Do NOT ignore. You will bruise egos and they will try to prove themselves. Ignoring says “You are below me, you mean nothing to me, please, I invite you to show me how I should find you more important.”

Do NOT be rude. You will bruise egos and they will try to prove themselves. Being rude says “I don’t know you but I already have beef with you. Just looking at your face makes me want to vomit, I invite you to show me how you have dominance over me.”

Do NOT be a pushover, or overly nice. You will fuel their ego and they will want more. Being a pushover says “I am below you, you’ve done nothing and yet have already proven your dominance. I invite you to push me around like a puppet.”

DO be polite. Being polite says “I see you, you and I are on the same level, I’m no better or worst than you, we might be different but I respect you. I invite you to respect me back”

DO lighten the mood. Crack a joke or something. Lightening the mood says “Your presence does not affect me negatively, we can be friends if you want, I invite you to make me laugh” Also, it’s really not expected and is just really confusing, especially in the intensity of the example above.

DO throw a random compliment and start an unrelated conversation. “Man, those are nice rims! How much did you pay for those?” It’s like cracking a joke for non-funny people. It says “Your presence does not affect me negatively, we can be friends if you want, I invite you to tell me more about yourself.”

DO be firm. being polite doesn’t mean agreeing to everything, it means saying hello, and how are you, and oh what a nice evening it is tonight. Being firm means NO, I will NOT get in your car. But say it more like, “Oh no, thank you very much, your help is appreciated but I do this all the time, I like the walk, it clears my head, thanks though!” If they insist, you insist, but you do it with a smile on your face. Being firm says “I understand what you’re asking of me, but I’m not willing to go there. I invite you to gently back off now”

In the case of my pimped-ride-admirers I would usually flash them a nice big smile and upon them offering me a ride I’d say “oh thanks, hun, that’s real sweet of you, but I know where I’m going. No damsel in distress here.” If they told me I looked nice I’d say, still with a big smile “Thank you very much for noticing, I’ll let my boyfriend know he’s got a catch.” I’d find the right balance of flirt while showing that taking me home was not an option and that they didn’t scare me. I’d do this without skipping a step in my swag, of course, that would ruin everything.

Do NOT stop walking. You have somewhere to be, someone expects you, they are a regular and minor intrusion into your routine, they needn’t deviate you from your course. However you don’t need to walk faster either, just keep at it. If they insisted I’d tell them that “a good looking gentleman like you, with this sexy ride, should have no problem finding himself a pretty lady who isn’t already taken.” Males generally responds well to the word “gentleman,” plus it reminds them to act like one. They’d usually leave me alone after that one. Most men aren’t actually looking for a stroked penis as much as a stroked ego.

Sure, I didn’t need to do that walk, I could have taken a cab. But I was confident nothing would happen and couldn’t part with a hard earned 10 bucks every night. If you’re not confident about a situation, stay away from it.

Get ’em Where it Hurts

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image credit: Kicked In The Groin 

Sure, if you have a clear shot, kick em in the nuts. But that’s not what I’m talking about. :)

If your assailants don’t leave you alone when you’ve treated them with respect and tried to lighten the mood, it’s time to up the serious a notch.

Everyone has a moral Achilles’s heel. The person facing you might be religious, they might have an obviously weak ego, they might have made their moral line clear, or if all else fails, they have a momma. Whatever you can get from the person’s attitude and dress, use it against them, but in a nice friendly way.

This is when phrases like “I know your mom taught you better than that!” come in handy. You don’t want to put someone down, you want to remind them they want to be a better person. This is much easier to do if you’re a female. It might actually be a bad idea if you’re a male. Use your judgment.

If you know the person is religious, ask them what their religion means to them, bond over the meaning of their faith and remind them that every action is a chance to prove themselves in the eyes of their creator.

Remember, the point is to remind them they are a good human, all they need to do is act like one. Unless you’re face to face with a psychopath, you should get somewhere. You’ll definitely get further than by putting them down, calling them names, or worst of all, throwing them in a pre-made little box you’ve called “you people” or “people like you”

The sure way to get someone to act like an asshole is to call them an asshole.

Remember the person in front of you is a human, they’ve been pushed to a level of desperation you need to try to understand, and communicate that you understand, and help them back out of that desperation. Empathy is key.

Here’s a great example:

Act Absolutely Insane

Sometimes, you are facing someone who actually just doesn’t give a rat’s @$$ about anything, and just wants your stuff. In this case, just give it to them. That is all.

If they want more than your stuff,  this being a more extreme situation, and there’s no help in sight, then it’s a good idea to just confuse them, and buy yourself some time.

Now you could channel your inner insane, like this guy:

old man goes nuts, gif, acting insane, wild, real life taz
This could scare your assailant away, it could also earn you a pistol-whip to the back of the head though
image credit: GIF bin

and in some situations that might work. But I’m talking about something a little more subtle.

Whatever is expected of you, do the opposite. If it’s obvious you’re supposed to be scared especially, do your best not to be.

Think of this one as the emotional equivalent of playing dead. An animal doesn’t want to eat another animal that’s already been killed, it could be damaged and cause them harm. Well do your darndest to appear damaged, and potentially harmful.

If it’s your genitals they’re after, you have a venereal disease and are just so happy you’re finally gonna get laid after 3 years of no one wanting to touch you, willingly unbutton your trousers. Or try hugging the person, they might just be looking for some real love, not just sex.

If you’ve just been held up at gun point (and there are two of you) have one fake a seizure and the other one say this happens all the time under stress, you need to hold their tongue back and get the EpiPen thing out of the bag before they pass out and die, and could they please pass the bag to you, because this gets really messy before they die and you’re sure they don’t want to see what happens next.

If you’re being kidnapped and you haven’t been gagged, it’s a fun adventure, something you wanted to knock off your bucket list, ask how you can make the whole thing go smoother, go beyond cooperating.

These are just things I’ve come up with, they might not work for you, and of course, it depends on what kind of person(s) you’re facing. Use your imagination.

Anything to break the flow. Remember the person you’re dealing with is also a human, they’ve visualized and planned what was about to happen, and ANYTHING that can throw a stick in their wheels will buy you time, but you need to execute it well, and then need to be quicker on your feet than they are. All you’re doing here is buying yourself a few seconds to let them make a mistake and act on it.

They’ll pause, they’ll place their weapon in a vulnerable position, they’ll loosen their grip, they’ll get frustrated, they’ll do something that will allow you to pounce, or evade.

Go Ninja on them

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image credit: Funny Junk

If all else fails, it’s time to get the #@% out of dodge.
Try to evade them, calmly plan an escape route and bail unexpectedly and suddenly once you have something. Use your surrounding. If there is a gun involved, know that most people don’t really know how to use their guns that well, and if you run in zig-zags you’re likely to escape with no vital wounds.

in some instances, you’ll need to resort to physical violence.

This isn’t something I can teach you. this is something you’ll need to practice with an expert.

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image credit: King T Davis

It’s a good idea as a traveler to have some basic self-defense skills, learn some martial arts. It doesn’t need to be very complicated, but some basic moves to disarm an opponent, use their force against them, or even break something, aren’t very hard to learn, for either men or women.

You’ll want to practice them of course, and you might want to spend some of your free time putting yourself in safe situations that are good practice for dangerous situations, for example, go play some paintball.

Train to unleash your inner superhero


While some scenarios are perfect for playing stupid – for example if a foreign cop is asking for a bribe and you can safely pretend not to understand – most of the time, playing dumb will turn around on you quickly once your assailant realizes you’ve been taking the piss.

Sure you can pretend for a while not to understand the language spoken around you to get the upper hand in understanding the situation. Sure you can pretend not to understand the subtleties of the cat-calls being thrown at you, to a certain extent. But don’t go overboard. If a signal can easily be understood through body language, it’s usually not a good idea to pretend you didn’t get the drift.

The key to escaping a dangerous situation alive is to practice respect and unbelievable amounts of focus and determination.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to think about any of this while under the influence of adrenaline but always try not to panic and take long slow breaths to help you think calmly. When we were held up at gunpoint, I didn’t think much of the steps, but I did treat our assailant with respect and did my best not to demonstrate fear. We made it out only with a few scratches, but who knows the real reason behind that. Dangerous situations are complicated and difficult to pick apart, try to help dumb them down by not creating more commotion.

**This post in no way intends to blame victims for their attacks/traumas. It’s still totally NOT ok for people to be trying to rob or kill you. In everyday life, respect should be earned, in extreme situations, it should be handed over for safety. It is NOT a woman’s fault if she was raped, it is, however, a really good idea for her to be ready for certain situations that are still unfortunately statistically extremely high throughout the world. **

Have you ever had a close call? What did you do to diffuse the situation?

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