What are YOU looking at ?

22:28, Apr 07 2013

Alistair Bone talks to experts about what to do if you are male and are confronted by another drunk male.

The aftermath of the attack on Jesse Ryder, if that's what it turns out to be, is still playing out in the courts. Police initially said that it was not alcohol related, which seems strange on the face of it, as it happened after midnight outside a bar where everyone involved had been a few moments before.

Notwithstanding police perceptions, it's undeniable that drunken assaults happen often, and often to innocent parties. There is a large amount of resources available to women on how to stay safe when out at night, but not so many for guys, who are usually attacked under a completely different set of circumstances.

John Oetzel is a professor at Waikato University's school of management. His job is teaching people how to deal with difficult conversations, usually in an office setting, but he also has a few tips for men who come face to face with an aggressive drunk. Phil Thompson runs Protect Self Defence and is regularly on TV telling people how to be safe.

Thompson believes most situations can be avoided. Alert people can see trouble coming a mile off. "There are a bunch of pre-contact indicators. For instance, in almost every situation, we get what you call the ‘hard stare' from someone who wants problems. The guy might be standing there, drinking and talking to his mates, and you'll see him turn and look, and look back to his beer, and then very quickly come back to you and hold that stare in place. He is now fixated on you. If it's going to be a group attack, there is usually then some group communication with the people he's with. Then there'll be a group hard stare."

Oetzel says it is easy to innocently provoke drunken violence with a look of your own. Where he grew up, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, there was a strong Hispanic and Latino influence with macho rules around eye contact. "We called staring ‘mad-dogging'. The rule was never to make sustained eye contact with other guys if you didn't want to fight. You made it briefly and then looked away."

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He also says to be wary of a drunk person within your group. "You can see a drunk person escalating conflict and if you're friendly with them, you're not going to be the one they go after. But look for snide remarks from someone you don't know very well."

Thompson says the way the attackers then start acting can be telling. "As they're walking toward you, very often it will be accompanied by what we call a ‘head on a swivel'. They're looking around to see who's around and what the situation is. Usually people who are aggressive will come up on their toes and hold their weight high. They will puff out to get the basketball-under-the-arm look."

The really clever ones get out of the joint right away. But sometimes you are cornered. Oetzel says the first thing you need to confront is yourself. "It is critical that you remain calm. You can do that with deep breathing or internal self-talk: telling yourself that everything's going to be OK and you are going to walk away."

Tone of voice, he believes, is crucial. "If you raise your voice, the other person is going to continue to escalate. They are still going to continue to escalate anyway, but it will be worse if you don't remain calm and use a slow, calm voice." Smiling can be misinterpreted as smugness. "Some people can get out of it because they are very charismatic and start joking, but that can also backfire pretty easy, too."

The rules of the conversation are different with a drunk, says Oetzel. "In normal situations, a lot of what we do is around getting the other person to give you respect. But trying to convince a drunk at a bar, who's trying to pick a fight, that you're worthy of respect isn't going to work. You don't argue, you don't disagree with them, you don't tell them they're wrong, you don't try to convince them why you're right. When you have someone who's famous, sometimes people will approach them and the whole goal will be to cut them down, physically or emotionally."

The next bit can be the hardest part, especially for young Kiwi blokes out on the razz. "Accept the put-downs," says Oetzel. "If they're going to call you names, just say, yup. Give them the emotional victory and avoid violence. The idea of losing a little pride in that situation and avoiding physical violence may be hard to accept, but you're not dealing with a rational person."

Thompson, who also teaches physical self-defence and can easily look after himself if he has to, agrees. "I tell all the alpha male types on my course that it's OK to walk away. It's not about becoming a victim, it's about empowering yourself and not being a slave to your emotions, like most people are."

Thompson divides aggression into two classes. The predatory, criminal type and the more common ego-driven type usually found in pubs. The goal when dealing with the ego type is to let the other guy escape with his ego intact.

There are four basic rules. He says the first is to not challenge the person. "Returning abuse is wrong. You have to be unchallenging in what you say and with your body language. As soon as you challenge them, they can't walk away."

You can't threaten them, either. "Either overtly, if you are angry - get the hell away from me - or even by threatening to call the police."

The next rule goes against what some others teach. "You can't command them or tell them what to do. ‘Back off, get away.' " Thompson says this is OK and effective when dealing with a criminal, predatory attacker, but won't work with someone driven by ego. "You see this in a domestic situation where people are having an argument and one person tells the other to calm down. That never, ever works."

Accepting a command would damage the ego. "Better would be: Listen mate, I didn't come here for any issues with you, I really want to solve this problem, but for us to do that we both need to be calm. I'm not telling him to calm down, I'm saying it's really important that we are both calm, giving the illusion that we both have the same problem. Then you can start a dialogue."

Implying that the drunk is wrong is also a mistake. Thompson says if someone uses the time-tested approach of "you were staring at me/my missus", you have to be able to tell them they were right, but for a different reason. Thompson recently apologised to an aggressive drunk and told him that he was just tired and staring into space. The guy backed off saying, "OK, but don't f...ing look at me again." Thompson says this is the point where many people's egos fire up and they react to the drunk. "But that insult that he threw at the end is his way out, his face-saver."

Oetzel says acting scared is a mistake. "Bullies prey on fear, and a drunk person who escalates a situation is a bully who's drunk. You have got to be strong without being too aggressive. You don't want to disagree with the person, but you don't want to let them know that you're afraid, either. You have to be firm without being defensive and argumentative. It's a fine line."

The end game can be deceptive, too. It's not over when the drunk walks away, says Oetzel. "It isn't over until they are completely out of your sight. Just because they walk away and sit at the other end of the bar doesn't mean it's over. You make it over by getting out of there."

Thompson agrees. "If you successfully de-escalate, get out. It's only over when you're home and safe."

Thompson teaches ordinary people how to fight effectively in a bar as part of his training course, but he wouldn't recommend it as a hobby. He says you'll be lucky these days if there's just one attacker. You'll be doubly lucky if there are no weapons used. Another whole segment of his course is on how to deal with the aftermath of a pub brawl and the legal, emotional and ongoing physical toll it leaves behind.

He says it's important to realise that sometimes there's just no way out and a physical attack happens to an innocent person.

"It's important because anyone who has been through that should not think they have done something wrong."

Drunk dickheads are sometimes just a fact of life.

Waikato