The bad news is that violent crime in the U.S increased from 2011 to 2012 according to the latest U.S. Bureau of Justice survey. The good news is that more than 70 percent of violent crime was simple assault. Statistically, about the worst that a victim of violent crime will suffer is a punch in the nose or losing some teeth.
That’s hardly comforting if you’re the victim. If it happens in your business, it gets worse: violence reduces productivity, increases insurance costs, and draws the attention of a host of government officials. You’ll be going to meetings and filling out paperwork for a month, and possibly face stiff fines and penalties.
Avoidance is a better outcome.
Whether in the workplace or out on your own, there are some simple, but reliable, signs that things may be about to go from bad to worse. When you encounter someone who exhibits behavioral signs that may be precursors to violence, these body language signals will give you some advance warning, and time to take appropriate action. If you’re feeling tough or have responsibility to handle the situation, you’ll be ready to duke it out. More likely, the sensible path will be to defuse the situation or exit the danger zone. In either case, you’ll be forewarned.
Robert Rail is an internationally recognized expert and trainer on the subject of body language – he even wrote a book about it: THE UNSPOKEN DIALOGUE: Understanding Body Language & Controlling Interviews & Negotiations. He’s taught cops and civilians from more than 60 countries about how to deal with potentially violent situations by reading body language, something that he first learned to do during his years as a Chicagoland police officer.
One of the challenges Rail faced when training police officers and peace keeping soldiers in places such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Jordan, Africa and Asia was the spoken language barrier. When “shoot and ask questions later” was not an option, it was difficult for cops and peace keepers to tell the difference between threatening and non-threatening words spoken in a foreign language. That’s why Robert was assigned to teach body language skills. The knowledge and skill of reading body language that he had developed on the mean streets of urban America translated to war zones.
If you and the potential attacker speak the same language, that may give you more warning but the body signs and language are a better indicator because they are universal. Moreover, attacks are not always preceded by spoken words, but almost always with some form of non-verbal body language.
Here are some of the most common and easy to recognize signs and gestures that Rail says may indicate an impending attack.
Gestures. When a person displays gestures that appear to be senseless, such as lighting a cigarette and then immediately crushing it out, looking at their watch or cell phone so briefly they could not have seen anything, repeatedly scratching their nose, nervously yawning or stretching, breathing so loud that you can hear it, it is a sign that frustration is growing and action is being contemplated. Usually that action is an attack on whoever is closest to them.
Voice. When the volume of a person’s voice grows louder and louder, and the pitch of their voice becomes higher and higher, it’s evident that emotions are building up. This is a signal that there is potential for an attack that may be only a split second away.
Distance. When the distance between you and another person becomes closer and more compressed as the conversation goes on, this is another clear signal that emotions are building, and so is the potential for an attack.
Inflating. When a person tries to loom over you, trying to be bigger or taller than they are, they are getting ready for the tactical advantage of “striking down” their victim. This can start as verbal inflation of their status and escalate to actual physical “inflating” by puffing out their chest or standing on their toes. It may look comical but this is a very serious sign that emotions are growing and an attack could be pending.
Verbal to Physical. When the sentences being spoken become shorter and a person begins to physically emphasize their words by striking a wall, door, furniture, or their fist, emotions are growing. As the sentences diminish to single words such as “no”, “go”, or “stop”, this could be the moment when they start to physically emphasize their words by striking you.
Hands. When a person is agitated and they start using their hands to emphasize what they are saying, be very cautious when the hands move in front of your face. There is a very fine line between waving fingers and a clenched fist.
Eyes. When the eyes of a person are constantly locked and staring directly into your eyes, the only thing they are thinking about at that precise moment is you. You are the only reason for whatever is good or bad to them and you will be the one that receives all physical action from the pending emotional outburst.
Rail cautions that you should not ignore any of these signs. “When you consider each of these things individually, they do not seem to be anything of great importance. Too many times we dismiss them as inconsequential acts because the other person ‘is upset.’ It’s important to realize that each of these acts show an increase in emotions and therefore an increase in the possibility of a violent attack.
Dr. Robert R. Rail is recognized internationally as one of the foremost experts on managing interpersonal relations. He has taught his “understanding body language” techniques and methods to people from more than 60 countries. As a consultant to the United Nations in the Balkans and Iraq, he was responsible for designing curriculum and instructing elite police officers. He was also named as a physical confrontation advisor and resource training provider to select personnel of NATO and OSCE (Organization for Security & Co-Operation in Europe). He was a resident instructor at the Specialized Advanced Training Unit of the High Institute of Baghdad Police College. He is a frequent contributor to television and radio programs, and periodicals. He conducts both training and consulting services to institutions and corporations worldwide. He is the author of five books: The Unspoken Dialogue; Defense Without Damage; Custodial Cuffing & Restraint; Reactive Handcuffing Tactics; and Surviving The International War Zone. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Nossaman is founder of the PSC
Image courtesy of FreeImages.com/Catalin Pop