In his book ‘Tricks of the Mind’ the Illusionist/Magician/Hypnotist Derren Brown recounts a story of when he was accosted by a drunken thug. It’s pretty amusing as he manages to avoid a tricky situation by using a rather abstract distraction technique. Brown confuses the thug and puts him off track by asking “Is your garden wall four foot high?”. Bamboozled the thug ended up sitting down with Brown and telling his life story which, although annoying, was preferable to a beating.
Geoff Thompson recommends something similar as a ‘pre-cursory action trigger to pre-emption’ in his self-protection book, ‘Dead or Alive’. During the very early stages of the ‘attacker’s ritual’ he suggests asking a question to engage the brain, thereby distracting the (potential) attacker from their assault. This allows a window of opportunity for a pre-emptive strike or, if the question involves some kind of recognition (How’s your mum these days?), often results in the (potential) attacker leaving the scene. I’m not sure Thompson suggests anything as random as Brown’s approach but it’s similar in essence.
Using distraction to diffuse a situation does work, I know from personal experience. Probably as long as 12 years ago, I was on a bus with two friends, returning home from a football match. We’d had a couple of beers, to avoid the crowds and were quietly singing a couple of songs when a big thuggish bloke got on and took offence. He was a fan of our local rivals, drunk and had a big scar on the side of his rather ugly face.
From his demeanour and language, it was clear he wasn’t really open to discussion. He was aggressively ‘raring up’ on my mate, surprising, as there were three of us and only him. Ugly thug wasn’t bothered and continued pushing for a fight. This was circumvented and it ended up with him sat next to me talking about his holiday with his mum in the Isle of Man. I can’t remember what I said to him initially but my ’diffusion’ strategy was to get him talking about himself, everyone likes that topic, especially when drunk.
I just followed his prompts, asking how our rivals had fared, their promotion chances and the like. Eventually he moved onto his family and all was well with the world. That is until my mate piped up with a comment, although neutral it was sufficient for the thug to remember he was supposed to be fighting not chatting. It was only a blip and I soon had him discussing his holidays.
He eventually got up to get off the bus a couple of stops before us. He was dawdling, waffling on while a small group of teenager lads were trying to get past him to exit the bus. Amazingly, by the time he had got down the stairs and off the bus, he was fighting with the teenagers! He really had been up for a fight, the distraction was only sufficient to save us the bother of a scrap.
Thugs are thugs, but distraction can work, as the books say!