The Advantage of Being Underestimated

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Author of Beyond the Prepper Stockpile and Be Ready for Anything

Being underestimated can be incredibly frustrating sometimes. If you’re a guy reading this, ask any woman you know, and she’ll tell you. But, the secret is, being underestimated can also be a tremendous advantage.

If you don’t appear to be a threat, there are many situations in which you have can have the upper hand without anyone realizing it. This is an advantage that many of us ladies have naturally. It can be infuriating when someone doesn’t seem to take you seriously. I spent years bemoaning the fact that everyone thought I looked “sweet” or “nice.” If that’s you too, I have good news. In reality, it’s actually a more often good thing that you and I are the last people anyone would expect to pull out a Glock or other weapon.

First, let’s talk about the negative side of being underestimated.

It’s not all sneaky ninja stuff, though. Being underestimated can also be a disadvantage. It can make you look like easy prey for predators. It can make others think that they can rip you off a little more easily.

It’s important to hit a fine line between being non-threatening and being confident to avoid those kinds of issues. You don’t want to set yourself up to be a target by being meek and unassuming. There’s a difference between looking like an easy target and simply not looking like a threat.

But on the positive side…

Looking non-threatening can mean you have the element of surprise. All of my friends who are military or former military have drilled into my head the 3 parts of a successful attack:

  • Speed
  • Surprise
  • Violence of action

Even if you’ve only got two out of three, you have a much better chance to prevail when defending yourself.

Last week I showed this photo on social media and some yahoo commented along the lines of, “If you don’t have training, you’re going to get hurt with your little pink knife. Wake up.” (Reworded slightly so it’s grammatical.)

I had to laugh. While I’m no expert, he simply assumed that I didn’t have any training, when in fact, I’ve had both one-on-one and group class training with defensive knife use.

Was it because my knife is pink? Because I have my nails done? Or just because I’m female? I have no idea, but it reinforces the fact that I would have the element of surprise on my side if this particular dude decided to attack me. Add to that the fact I’ve had some training, and as I discussed at length in my book, Beyond the Prepper Stockpile: Adventure, Adaptability, and Survival in the Modern World, the will to defend myself violently, it just might give me the opening I need to prevail.

Being underestimated in a group

Hopefully, none of us are ever in a hostage situation. But if you are, looking like a badass probably means you’ll be the first person to die. Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you are in a group dealing with a superior force, the last thing you want is to draw the attention of that force as a potential threat.

Particularly in terrorist hostage situations, it’s likely that they don’t plan to let you get out of there alive. Greg Ellifritz of Active Response Training writes (emphasis mine):

Look at every event worldwide where Islamic terrorists have taken hostages.  In EVERY event, the terrorists refused to negotiate or used the negotiation time to build better fortifications or attract more media attention.  Every minute spent in negotiation with Islamic terrorists strengthens their position and gives them the media attention they crave.  They don’t want to get away.  They want to kill all the hostages and die a martyr’s death.  Your negotiation tactics just buy the terrorist the time he needs to optimally complete his plan.

Need some examples?  How about starting off with the Beslan school hostage siege.  That’s the most famous event of this type.  The terrorists used the government’s attempts to negotiate solely as a delaying tactic.  While the military was “negotiating,” the terrorists were killing hostages, ringing the school with explosives, and setting up machine gun nests to prepare for the inevitable raid to come.

For additional examples of Islamic terrorist hostage sieges, look at the Australian Lindt cafe hostage siege.  Or the Bangladesh restaurant hostage siege.   The French Bataclan Theater hostage incident fits the profile as well.

Besides the attacks I mentioned above, Chechen terrorists also used the same “negotiation for fortification” strategy  at the Nord Ost theater attack.  Over a three-day period, terrorists “negotiated” with the Russian government and while doing so, placed explosive charges and suicide bombers around all of the hostages.  They also killed any male or person in power who looked like they might resist.  “Negotiation for fortification” in this incident created 170 fatalities and 700 more injuries. (source)

His advice is geared toward police responses, but he also advises civilian readers that if you find yourself in this situation, nobody is coming to save you. You must fight back or escape if you intend to survive. Check out the article for his very thorough breakdown of this type of hostage situation.

And let me reiterate this one sentence:

They also killed any male or person in power who looked like they might resist.

Chalk one up for the advantage of being underestimated, right?

Being underestimated isn’t just an advantage for women.

In my line of work, I’ve met a lot of badass guys with extensive training and backgrounds filled with violent situations. Only a couple of them immediately come across as the person in the room who will take you down. The rest are pleasant, unassuming, even goofy. You’d never guess that they have skills most of us only dream about acquiring.

They disarm others with a smile or a sense of humor. They don’t walk around acting like a commando. They don’t dress in head-to-toe tacti-cool outfits.


Because they know, from years of experience, that having the element of surprise is a tremendous tactical advantage. So they’re nice. They’re pleasant. They don’t look like they’re there to cause trouble. To quote Patrick Swayze’s character, Dalton, in the movie Roadhouse, “I want you to be nice until it’s time to not be nice.”

How do you strike the right balance?

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a fine line between looking like an easy target and simply not looking like a threat. But how do you find that balance?

In a one-on-one situation, I think it has a lot to do with the way you carry yourself.

  • Be alert. Put away your dang phone and pay attention to the world around you.
  • Make brief eye contact. Let the threat know you are aware of his presence. Don’t be aggressive and don’t be dismissive. Just be aware.
  • Don’t display weakness. If you can avoid it at all, try not to display anything that makes you look like easy pickings.  This isn’t always possible, if, for example, you have a visible physical handicap. If you do have something about you that makes you look as though you’d be an easy target, you have to be able to offset that with skills that work with the body you’re in. (Something Toby reiterated constantly at the course for women in Croatia was “training for the body you’re in.”)

If you’ve been kidnapped, being underestimated means that your captor might not contain you as securely. He might be easier to take by surprise when you get your moment and you fight back to escape.

In a group setting, it’s even simpler. Blend in. Act like everyone else. If all the other hostages look afraid, don’t be defiant. Your goal is not to be the object of attention. If you’re anything like me, it will chafe at you to follow orders and appear compliant. But remember, you’re waiting for the moment in which the odds are in your favor: when the person is reloading, distracted, or being attacked by someone else, or when the group of hostage takers is separated.

What do you think about the power of being underestimated?

Do you feel that being underestimated is a negative or a positive? Have you ever used someone’s inaccurate assessment of you against them? Share your thoughts in the comments.

About Daisy

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, adventure-seeking, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty; 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived; and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. Her work is widely republished across alternative media and she has appeared in many interviews.

Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books, 12 self-published books, and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses at You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • As an historical point, Hitler also used the negotiation fortification strategy during the Munich Accords, which he negotiated with Neville Chamberlain et al. The Nazis were given the Sudeten region in return for a promise of peace, which they subsequently broke big time. So much for appeasement.

    I’ve been underestimated my entire life. It used to really irritate me. Then I learned to accept what I couldn’t change. These days, I work with it. Better to not show power until the moment power can be effectively deployed. Dalton was great, but also remember the A Team: accept death. It’s very calming.

  • When I was sworn in as a LEO I was 21 but looked very young. Looking like a petite teenager was an advantage working in a plainclothes unit because I could easily blend in the tourist areas and make arrests because criminals were on the lookout for tall male cops with crew cuts. In a few cases I literally walked right up to them as they were committing crimes and pulled out my handcuffs. They always looked shocked as if I came out of nowhere. Blending in the crowds and looking unassuming was a big advantage.

  • When you enter an environment it’s like throwing a rock into water. You want to make a splash. Not too big a splash not too small a splash not a skip.

    Head up eyes out and evaluating everyone and everything. It doesn’t stop when you’re driving.
    There are proper times for phones and other things and there are times you pay attention.

    Experience trumps training and training trumps lack of. Know your place and limitations and let the ego go.

    The last mistake you’ll make in a fight is underestimation.

  • I think it can be an asset, IF you put in the time and energy to be capable. I took a ton of martial arts in college. Two years of tae kwon do, two years of hakko denshin ru jiu jitsu, and then on top of that I had a good friend who had been in the Taiwanese youth special forces, and he spent a lot of time working on the principles of combative tai chi with me. I was popular at martial arts demonstrations because I could really spectacularly throw men 2-3 times my size (I’m very petite). Would I still be good in a tae kwon do sparring match? Oh hell no. I haven’t stayed on top of it. But would I be unpleasant to sneak up on? Yes, probably, because the jiu jitsu and tai chi emphasize lot of principles and instincts. Incidentally, I have tried a few things I have learned over the years, and yes, I can still do some of the strikes, and I have retained some of the muscle memory. I also haven’t put on weight since college, and am still in good shape. Daisy I know you’ve had a bunch of articles about the importance of being physically fit and I think that plays a HUGE role. We just don’t need to advertise it.

  • Lol. I live by being underestimated. I’m a gray haired 5’5″ great grandmother soon to be 75 years old.
    After covid last spring I’d lost weight, muscle, and agility. I couldn’t lift a full gallon of milk with two hands. I’ve used hand weights, pushed myself and I’m back to handling my critters 40lb bags of feed and carrying in 40lb bags of heating pellets. I do have a bad knee so I don’t easily get in the bed of my 4×4 pick up. A neighbor has taken on the job of having off my trash bags and dumping them in the bins at our area trasnfere station. 6 months ago I couldn’t do it. Today I could but getting up in the bed of the truck is still a pain. I sweetly accept the help of thoughtful neighbors. They don’t realize this old lady has at least a years worth of food stashed away. I garden so I can and sun dry food to last from harvest to harvest. I have a few chickens, ducks and rabbits. I let some areas grow up in head high weeds. It isn’t obvious but there are edibles and medicinals there. Same with the flowerbeds and other areas. One propertyline is slowly filling in with prickly pear cacti. That’s protection and food. I’ve been back practicing in out of the way places so I can walk soundless, shoot straight, and my archery is getting back to the way it should be.
    I walk my propery in daylight so I can walk it at night in my navy blue sweats with little or no light. My favorite carry on those nights was my husband’s old 38 revolver. I can hit a dog in the run.
    I’m just an old lady now living alone.
    I’ll keep it that way.
    I still work hard but more openly I’m bartering for work.
    Simple life,
    works for me.

    As a skinny teen I fought and won against gang members many times bigger. You use their motion and strength against them. You appropriate it by simply redirecting it or turning it back on then. You’ll be standing while they are suddenly on the ground. Then you can simply walk or run away. I’d rather disappear than take on the fists of a bigger attacker. But even a punch can be redirected.
    Looking soft and feminine can be under estimated.
    It was the same when I owned my restauurant or later ran a private school for over 22 years. I loved taking on the self assured salesmen and getting what I needed at my price point. One salesman ended up watching for restaurants going out of business and buying up the #10 cans of vegetables to sell to me for $1 each or he knew I’d bargain him out of part of his commission on what he sold to me. The folks going out of business were glad for the cash sale. I’d ease up on the haggling over paper goods and other things I needed.

    At the school I was the final say on problems or business decissions. State reps would come looking for the principal. 🙂

    I live in a 95% Hispanic community. The men didn’t like doing business with women. I delt with the mechanic and bought and sold vehicles here. They soon figured out it was me, not my husband, they would have to deal with. The young men will stop and help if they see me doing something heavy. I appreciate their help. Many have done business with me and I hope they find me fair but not a push over.

  • I read somewhere that during WWII “little old ladies” would sit in bus and train stations knitting. No one suspected them because of the way they were underestimated.
    Thing was, they were watching and listening and then passing info to those who needed it.

    Make use of the way you look to do good.

  • I can confirm from personal experience that pulling a knife on a guy that gets a little bit too close for comfort can have spectacular results if you are a girl. (In one case, so spectacular that I ended up spending the next half hour calming the guy). Not that I have done it many times, mind you. If you are always getting into those sort of situations, you must be doing something wrong.

    My advice:
    1. Be very comfortable about knives and use them often as tools before even thinking of doing anything like that.
    2. Only do it if you are sure the guy is unarmed. You don’t want to get into a knife fight.
    3. Have a very specific plan about what you are going to do when you pull a knife, before you pull it. It shows in your eyes when you have a specific plan. And that’s what scares the hell out of a guy.

    • both guns and knives are considered deadly weapons, so afterwards be prepared to be treated the same as if you were carrying a gun. and “flashing” a knife is the same as “brandishing” a firearm. also a concealed knife is a concealed weapon, so be prepared for that as well. ask a local police officer for some guidance for your local area.

  • “Do you feel that being underestimated is a negative or a positive?”

    both. if “bad guys” think you’re a target, you’re more likely to be targeted. sure you’re more likely to get a counter-punch in, but that will be after the first hit.

  • A few weeks back I blew out my knee and couldn’t walk but a few steps in pain.
    It made me re-evaluate my safety & how to deal with SHTF during my healing.
    I always bring a gun to a knife fight.
    Enjoyed the article.

  • I have been at both extremes of the appearance paradox. For years, no matter what I did, wore, acted, I was considered some type of very capable, even deadly, person. After reading John T. Molloy’s Dress for Success I was able to temper that some.

    It reduced the times I was keyed on when there was someone around with bodyguards. Especially politicians. I learned to use role camouflage, the equivalent of what is now called gray-man, to not appear as threatening as I had been.

    Just as I now often use my ‘weak’ appearance to my advantage, I have used the other extreme to deescalate potentially dangerous situations. Usually in defense of someone else. Several times some pretty nasty people decided whatever it was just was not important enough to pursue when I became involved.

    And I was and am only 5′ 8″ tall, and somewhat overweight, and walked with a walking stick. Even dressed nicely for karaoke night, the same thing would happen. Potential trouble for some poor guy or a woman being hassled and me walking over was enough to calm the situation down. I often did not even have to say anything.

    And, as I said, when I attended political events (for that short timeframe when I did things like that), I was invariably singled out and often isolated by security. Even to the point of times when there were Q&A sessions of not being able to get the mike no matter what I did. I did learn how to get around that, although it did make me persona non grata after the third time.

    Anyway, using role camouflage I have been able to reduce the stress of other people in thinking I was someone dangerous, for the most part. I still use it when I need to, although now, due to my worsened disabilities, it is more the being underestimated that occurs. Which, as you said, Daisy, can be a very major positive.

    The few situations that have come up over the last few years that called for me intervening in something have been from that underestimated look. Each time, when I suddenly was not what the person(s) thought I was, the situation deescalated quickly. I have to use a rolling walker now, but still always have a walking stick magnetically attached to the walker. So, when I straighten up, take the stick off the walker and look the person in the eye, suddenly I have gone from weak, old man, using a walker to someone that suddenly appears to know exactly how to handle the situation, the situation suddenly goes away.

    All the other aspects you mentioned have occurred, as well. The only people that do not underestimate me are my prepper friends that have seen what I can do in many different situations. If anything, they expect me to be able to do more than I actually can now, because I used to do it, even when I was deteriorating healthwise. Partly because I find alternatives so I can achieve the same goals that I always have, only in a different way. Such as using a game cart I have modified to carry things I can no long carry on my back. Often a great deal more than they can handle using their backpacks, having been in the military and experienced in carrying 70 to 100 pound packs.

    Anyway, I highly suggest using everything about yourself, whether or not someone else considers it a strength or a weakness, to you advantage. The first step is the evaluation, brutal, of yourself and your capabilities. And then the analysis of how even the weaknesses can be utilized in a very advantageous way.

    Just my opinion.

    • “I often did not even have to say anything”

      we are composite beings, not just biologically but also spiritually, and these recognize each other. theirs recognize yours.

  • My brothers both do a great job at this. They are highly trained martial artists, but you would never guess by looking at them. One looks the part of a software developer. The other is a movie director and has what I would call a dorky style that doesn’t look the least bit tactical. He was once underestimated and left the other guy with a broken arm 🙂

    My husband, on the other hand, really has a hard time blending in. He just screams cop. He’s tall and ripped, bald and has a neatly trimmed goatee. Everywhere we go people just assume he’s a cop. I’m thankful for all his security and law enforcement training, but at the same time worry about how much he stands out.


  • Remember that time you were in the store watching the person demonstrate their brand of fancy kitchen knives they were trying to get you to purchase? The person doing the demo looked around and chose the wimpiest looking lady in the audience to be part of the demo, just to prove how easy these knives are to use!! I was that wimpy looking lady. 🙂

    I may be wimpy-looking but I am also very watchful & have scared bad folks off before.

    Good article, Daisy. I think you’ve inspired me to do more.

  • In a SHTF scenario, being underestimated is a bad idea.
    The problem is in showing just enough of your hand to let others know that you are not someone to be messed with. This is partly done by you level of Confidence in yourself and your abilities.

    Most people are looking at this in terms of todays standards, not SHTF standards. That is a major mistake. Cognitive Dissonance, quietly at work.

    Also most people don’t understand how bad people think. Experienced Criminal types tend try to avoid confrontations with those who might be a problem or fight back. Easier prey is always out there.
    The lessor experienced types may attack anyone indiscriminately. So no matter what way you act, you may end up a target. But if you look formidable, they too might look elsewhere.

    As far as being targeted first, that is also questionable. Who is their right mind wants to go one on one with the badass of the group, that tends to be a good way to die quickly. Since even a slight injury during SHTF, might cost you your life (as opposed to todays, quick and effective medical care), that could work in your favor.

    The biggest problem will be those who try to pretend to be a ” bad ass” and are not.
    Those who are more experienced, will see through this faked personality, really quickly. Including the more experienced, “bad guys”.
    It is nearly impossible to try to be underestimated, if you are a warrior. It is much more than how you look or dress. Those who are warriors will notice you, regardless of these things.
    If they don’t recognize it, then they will not last long in a SHTF world.

    Most of these ideas comes from a cowardly point of view, one of “hiding” oneself, in trying to justify their cowardice in the guise of being a ” Grey man” or some similar concept.
    Which will attract the wrong type of attention in the long run.

    So just be who you are. If that is not enough right for you right now, then start training, until it is enough.
    All this grey man, being underestimated stuff, is great for spies, undercover operatives and such. That is where it belongs, not in a SHTF scenario.

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