Protecting the village

By US Desk
Fri, 02, 20

Your defense against people (predators) is to recognize the survival signals in the very behaviours intended to put you at ease. Here they are...


Think of violence as a process in which the early, subtle events are as telling as the dramatic events. A traffic signal does not turn red randomly; it is preceded by a yellow light, which is preceded by a green. Safety while driving requires that we know this sequence. Similarly, when predicting violence, there are pre-incident indicators. Your defense against people (predators) is to recognize the survival signals in the very behaviours intended to put you at ease. Here they are:

Forced teaming

Forced teaming is an effective way to establish premature trust because a we’ve-got-something-in-common attitude is hard to rebuff without feeling rude. Forced teaming is not about coincidence; it is intentional and directed, and it is one of the most sophisticated manipulations. The detectable signal of forced teaming is the projection of a shared purpose or experience where none exists: “both of us,” “we’re some team,” “how are we going to handle this?,” “now we’ve done it,” and so on. The simple defense for forced teaming, which is to make a clear refusal to accept the concept of partnership: “I did not ask for your help and I do not want it. Please leave us alone.” Like many of the best defenses, this one has the cost of appearing rude, a cost we must be willing to pay.

Charm and niceness

Charm is another overrated ability. I call it an ability and not an inherent feature of one’s personality because charm is almost always directed toward a goal. Like rapport-building, charm has motive. To charm is to compel, to control by allure or attraction. Think of charm as a verb, not a trait. Most often, what you see won’t be sinister, but other times you’ll be glad you looked. “He was so nice” is a comment we often hear from people describing the man who, moments or months after his niceness, victimized them. We must learn and then teach others that niceness does not equal goodness. Niceness is a decision, a strategy of social interaction. People seeking to control others almost always present the image of a nice person in the beginning.

Too many details

People who want to deceive often use a simple technique that has a simple name: too many details. When people are telling the truth, they don’t feel doubted, so they don’t feel the need for additional support in the form of details. When people lie, however, even if what they say sounds credible to you, it doesn’t sound credible to them, so they keep talking. The defense is to remain consciously aware of the context in which details are offered. Think of context as the water we are swimming in, the circumstance in which things occur. Knowing context is the necessary link that gives meaning to everything we observe. You could watch two people argue, for example, and no matter how hostile they became, you’d feel no alarm if they were actors performing in a play. Context is always apparent at the start of an interaction and usually apparent at the end of one, but too many details can make us lose sight of it. Every type of con relies upon distracting us from the obvious. That’s how a conversation evolves into a crime without the victim knowing until it’s too late. No matter how engaging a stranger might be, you must never lose sight of context: he is what he is, a stranger who approached you.


Typecasting always involves a slight insult, and usually one that is easy to refute. But since it is the response itself that the typecaster seeks, the defense is silence, acting as if the words weren’t even spoken. If you engage, you can win the point, but you might lose something greater. Not that it matters what some stranger thinks, but the typecaster doesn’t even believe what he says is true. He just believes that it will work.


The fact that you owe a person something makes it harder to ask him to leave you alone. Also, people who offer to help us (or to help children) can be perceived as “nice,” and this designation gives them an advantage with some targets. Like the more traditional loan shark, a person using this strategy gladly lends one amount but expects to collect much more. The defense is to bring two rarely remembered facts into consciousness: he approached me, and I didn’t ask for any help.

The unsolicited promise

Promises are used to convince us of an intention, but they are not guarantees. A guarantee offers some compensation if the speaker fails to deliver, but promises offer no such collateral. They are the very hollowest instruments of speech, showing nothing more than the speaker’s desire to convince you of something. Aside from meeting all unsolicited promises with skepticism (whether or not they are about safety), it’s useful to ask yourself: why does this person want to convince me? The answer, it turns out, is not about him – is about you. A person volunteers a promise because he can see that you are not convinced. You have doubt (which is a messenger of intuition), likely because there is reason for doubt. The great gift of the unsolicited promise is that the speaker tells you so himself. The promise is the image and the reflection of your doubt. Always, in every context, be suspicious of the unsolicited promise. Here’s the defense: When someone says, “I promise,” you say (at least in your head), “You’re right, I am hesitant to trust you. Thank you for pointing it out.”

Discounting the word “no”

This is the most universally significant signal of all: ignoring or discounting the concept of “No”. Anyone who chooses not to hear the word “No” is trying to control you. In situations in which unsolicited offers of assistance are appropriate, such as approaches by a salesman or flight attendant, it is simply annoying if you have to decline three times. With a stranger, however, refusal to hear “No” can be an important survival signal. Declining to hear “No” is a signal that someone is either seeking control or refusing to relinquish it. With strangers, even those with the best intentions, never let the word go by without acknowledgment. If you let someone talk you out of the word “No” or ignore it, you might as well wear a sign that reads, “You are in charge.” A common response that serves the criminal is to negotiate (“I really appreciate your offer, but let me try to do it on my own first”).

Just remember “No” is a complete sentence. Say out loud a version of what you think. Do or say something that communicates early and clearly that you are not an easy target (steely eyes, hold the stare, walk away, raise your voice). When someone ignores “No” ask yourself: why is this person seeking to control me? What does he want? It is best to get away from the person altogether, but if that’s not practical, the response that serves safety is to dramatically raise your level of insistence, skipping right over politeness. “I said NO!”

Taken from Protecting Your Gift by Gavin de Becker