If You Can’t Defuse Heated Situations, You Won’t Make It.

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By the author of What School Should Have Taught You and The Faithful Prepper.

There’s a lot of talk within the Preppersphere about how you’re to interact with other people who are “outsiders” in a collapse type of environment. It’s the Golden Horde discussion. I want to give a bit of my two cents on some of that, particularly when it comes to diffusing heated situations. And let’s put off some of the big ticket items like an EMP or nuclear war this time and instead think about a hurricane, two-week power outage, dam rupture, or something of the like.

Let’s say one of those types of situations has happened – some type of massive natural disaster – and it has led to there being a lot of angry, hungry, desperate people around you. I don’t think this is too hard to imagine.

I don’t know if you remember this or not, but there’s a scene in James Wesley Rawles’ Patriots where two groups of people are meeting each other under these types of circumstances. Neither group knows anything about the other, they’ve both been through a lot, and neither really has much reason to trust the other.

I think this is a perfect example of what people see in disaster situations.

Consider being trapped on the interstate overnight during winter conditions. Rachel detailed how people began to get out and talk with each other. They were hungry, cold, scared, and desperate. When you combine all of this together, you have a powder keg that’s ready to explode.

People already get into fist fights on Black Friday (traditionally) because of a shortage of TVs. How will things be when there’s a shortage of food?

Because of all this, I think that one of the best things you can do is to understand a thing or two about how to resolve conflict and defuse heated situations.

I can remember once watching an older friend of mine defuse what was about to become a fist fight between two other friends when I was younger. That, I think, was the defining moment when I realized, “Wow, you can actually use words to make tense situations better.”

It’s not only a vital skill in daily life, but it’s most certainly one when you’re living in an area that’s getting pummeled by looters, is filled with hungry kids and scared dads, and where there’s a lot of pent-up anger.

One of the best resources I’ve found that I think could help the prepper in this regard is a book called Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.

While it doesn’t sound as cool of a book as Lights Out, Nuclear War Survival Skills, or the essential  Zombie Choices, I would argue that the lessons that are contained within Crucial Conversations would easily prove to be some of the best information you could have for navigating a world filled with angry humans.

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What a world of angry humans looks like…

Think about this: have you ever unintentionally done something to somebody that made them mad and they responded by escalation? You appeared to have too many items in your cart for the fast checkout lane, and so the lady behind you decided this was a fine time to loudly question your character. You tried to complement your coworker and they burst into hysterics. You honked your horn at somebody who was sitting at a green light and then they got out of their car. Did you ever get into a verbal (or more) fight with somebody since 2020 while out in a store?

The point I’m trying to drive home here is that there are a lot of people out there who have a lot in common with a territorial dog without a fence: they’re quick to bite and soon make things worse for all involved parties.

Admittedly, there are a lot of evil and crazy people out there too.

An older relative of mine had a complete stranger walk into his secluded business office, shove him down onto the ground, and kept shoving him down every time he tried to get up because he “didn’t wear a mask.”

You’re not going to talk your way out of an altercation with a guy like that. Some confrontations and their consequences cannot be avoided.

But some can.

While there are evil and crazy people out there, there are also a lot of stupid people.

These people ultimately want the same thing that you do, but they’re too dumb to see it. If you have teenage kids, you likely understand what I’m talking about.

You want them to be happy, and they want to be happy, but their pride and ignorance are in the way of their actually realizing that. And so, you both end up in a yelling match over something trivial.

A guy who wants to feed his hungry kids back at home wants to end up there in one piece. He doesn’t want to be injured, arrested, or worse. But in the heat of the moment, when he’s trying to cut in front of you at the barter fair (I think that’s what Rawles called it, right?) line, he forgets that it may be possible to get his food for his kids and get home in one piece. He maneuvers into thinking it’s a one-lane highway when it’s actually not. He ticks off a man three times his size, calls him a name, and ends up pummeled and laying unconscious on the floor.

You have to know how to navigate with others.

May I add as well, that it’s repeatedly stressed that no man is an island. The “lone wolf” dies. You need other people. If that indeed is the case (and it is), then isn’t it worth learning the skills to keep all of your people that are in your little hamlet from wanting to part ways because of an argument that started over farm chores?

After 2020, I came across a lot of stories of people who had their family life torn apart because all of the stress of the lockdowns and all that entailed proved to be too much. Confined circumstances, economic loss, human dignity trampled – it all proved to be too much for many, and their homes dissolved in the process.

Now, think about life in confined circumstances after a hurricane, flood, or what have you. Are we to magically believe that those circumstances would magically give us the skills to defuse heated conversations? Or, instead, would we find that this was an area where we could have prepped, but didn’t?

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Crucial Conversations will help you to learn how to defuse potentially explosive situations.

Even if you think to yourself, as I did, “Why on earth do I need to learn how to hold a conversation? I’ve been doing it my whole life,” I can assure you that you’ll still learns something from this book that could very easily end up saving your life.

I realize it’s something of a bizarre prep/skill to talk about, and the only instance I can really think of where anybody has covered it is in Patriots, but it is worth talking about.

What are your thoughts? Is de-escalation a skill you’ve worked on? Do you have any tips for the rest of us? Let’s discuss it in the comments.

About Aden

Aden Tate is a regular contributor to TheOrganicPrepper.com and TheFrugalite.com. Aden runs a micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has four published books, What School Should Have Taught You, The Faithful Prepper An Arm and a Leg, The Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications, and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American on Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.

Aden Tate

Aden Tate

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  • “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

    ― Mark Twain

    • During the lockdowns I went grocery shopping, a man said I needed to stand back (distancing) every one was wearing a mask. Walmart had cattle type fencing to keep people lined up and 6ft apart. This proves masks don’t really work otherwise why would people have to stand apart. I hope people don’t fall for this when another “event” comes up (bioweapon) . We never discuss preps or social breakdown with those living near us. Everyone is on their own. If people didn’t prep it is their problem. If things get “iffy” best not to answer the door, maybe talk thru open window.

  • I really just try hard to avoid situations that might devolve to violence.
    Living out in the middle of Nowhere helps too.
    Hate to say it, but at 6’3″ and 230 lbs, and the fact that I have a flat facial affect, neither friendly or unfriendly,, tends to make people avoid me LOL.

    • Nailed it! I’m only 6’1″ and 225 lbs, but I have a flat facial expression that people seem to navigate toward aggressively. So I learned to look forward and not make eye contact as I peruse whatever joint/store out in the public.

      Upon incidental eye contact, I’ve learned to subtly smile with pursed lips and nod respectively in a hello manner. Even driving my car, sitting at the stop light, I try not to look over, but sometimes the eye contact happens and you smile and nod hello.

      Practice on elderly people every day and watch how they love the attention. Soon, they’re speaking, “hello,” then “how are you today,” and soon my expression on my face is more peaceful.

      Like they say, Show fear or even a confusing hesitation to a dog and it may attack or growl. There are people in the world like that.

    • Hummmm I actually like the height and the weight. I need a friend and a bodyguard so I will not be alone. Seriously.

  • This is a skill that everyone should have mastered long ago. It is a necessary component to everyday living.
    SHTF or not, the basics are the same. The only differnce during SHTF is that tempers will be shorter and the reactions more violent.

    Men and women tackle these scenario’s differently. Different races also react differently. So other than adjusting your outlook and reactions from the start there are no easy answers. Once you let yourself get dragged into such a scenario it is hard to get back out.
    Older Men tend to be more reserved and calmer as they understand the consequences of an altercation. Women tend to react on emotion (and often are not held fully accountable for their actions). A woman can get upset and hit a man and generally will not get hit back. I know I will probbly get hate for this, but it is generally true. In normal society, Women are often allowed to react in ways a man never would be allowed to do. (Although that is beginning to change.)That kind of latitude that women enjoy today, will probably will not accepted or allowed once SHTF.

    When two women fight, often neither one gets seriously hurt; mainly it is Hair pulled, damaged ego’s, ripped clothing and maybe a few minor cuts and bruises.
    Unlike Male upon Male confrontations, which more often result in more major damage and or death. Weapons are more likely to be involved. But then men also tend to be quicker to forgive and forget a minor altercation.

    Men and Women also tend to process insults and remarks differently. Most Women take them personally and seldom forget them. Most Men won’t remember it for more than a few hours or a few days at most.

    Being Cool, Calm and Collected is a lifestyle, not something you can readily put on, to difuse a heated situation. You difuse it, by not letting it get to be a heated situation, in the first place. Once there it is not easily difused.
    This is a very deep topic into why people act the way they do, how they manipulate others by their actions and in how people react to each other.

    Seldom is it easy to get to the root of the problem. Which is often driven by fear, rage, insecurity or other factors. Without getting to the root of the problem, any “fixes” are temporary at best.

    • I agree with what you’ve stated above. As I have gotten older I’ve observed that showing humility to someone who’s agitated can go a long way with some people.

    • I agree with you on most everything, especially women getting away with being abusers. Cops automatically assume the guy is the abuser. My cousin and son are/were victims of domestic abuse! Son could not even defend himself as the abuser has brittle bone disease and any injuries she got beating him, she reported that he inflicted. Thank God she has moved across the country, but the mental damage she caused to the entire family has lingered. Once her switch flipped, there was no way to defuse her.

    • I have to disagree about two women fighting – your comment is a bit sexist and a stereotype. But maybe that is okay since most men will think the same and make a tactical error.

      • It’s not a stereotype Selena, if “most” men think the same way. It must have some truth and validity to it.

  • Words are always easier than bullets. You can always resort to bullets when words fail. But words should, in most situations, be your first line of defense.

    The one thing to always remember is that in any crisis situation people will likely react differently than they would during “normal” times, and not necessarily logically or reasonably. In many ways the modern dichotomy has changed as well. They was a time, not that many years ago, that people were much more reasonable, at least in my opinion. The last 20 years has seen the rise of a very egocentric, borderline narcissistic, society. Social media seems to have brought about an attitude that many believe they are always right, and willingness to admit when one is wrong has declined. The idea that it is always someone else’s fault, and the use of excuses to deflect blame if one is in error, has become mainstream.

    I like your reference to Patriots by Jim Rawles. I remember it well. But, I also remember an instances in A. American’s “Surviving Home” where the main character is directly threatened, and his response is both swift and final. Always remember that words have weight. What might be considered a trivial insult in “normal” times, may wind up in a life or death situation in not normal times. It’s kind of like going back a hundred or so years in many ways. Call a person a horse thief in 2022 and you’ll probably get laughed at. Call someone a horse thief in 1873, and it was probably an invitation to a shoot out.

    Always remember the wisdom of Tommy Lee Jones, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals.”

    • I started busting up when I read the first line–“Words are always easier than bullets.” Ain’t that the truth. What a way to put. But that’s where it seems the country is going. So, I think I’ll buy that book and brush up on my “de-escalation skills with words” while having a second option within reach.

  • I would prefer words also, but some attacks happen quickly. The video of Wisconsin Democrat State Senator Tim Carpenter’s attack by two women happened incredibly fast.

    He was filming a BLM protest, and the video is short. By 5 seconds, two women start to approach. By 7 seconds, he’s getting assulted. Others then joined in and he ended up in the hospital with a concussion.

    At least one of the women was acquitted, by the way.

    Try to imagine how you’d respond there. Knowing what happened changes perspective, but in real time, at what point would you reasonably believe you were under threat? Would shooting those women have been justifiable? Then what? No words could have diffused this. Perahps there are no good options, though for most of us, I think that would be “don’t go anywhere near crazy people holding protest.”

    • I think this falls under, “Take a long hard look, before putting yourself in a situation.” As you state, going near a protest can possibly lead to unforeseen circumstances. Weigh your words and actions. Generally it is the impetuous actions, that we enter into without thinking, that wind up putting us in situations that we don’t want. In any SHTF situation cool, calculated words/actions, are what will help keep us out of harm’s way.

  • I worked at one point in my career as a IT help desk person. My manager taught us to let a person blow off steam – yell if they were yelling and don’t interrupt until they run out of steam and then say ” I am very sorry for what happened and ask “How can I make things better”? It was amazing how well it worked on very angry people and is a lesson I still use many many years later. Asking someone how you can help make things better takes the focus off the mad and requires them to think and respond with what they expect or want to happen, so gives you a clue how to assist.

    • I used to be so much better at this in my retail days where everything was my fault :). My daughter who worked retail agreed it’s easier to accept fault to calm a customer down. But then I realized somewhere in my years, as females we may tend to lean to apologizing for things we shouldn’t. I’m no feminist or victim but I am much less likely to say I’m sorry if I don’t mean it now & try to stand in my truth.

      I like that though, ‘How can I make it better?’ I will try that. Though, I will admit, the plandemic did a number on my tolerance of stupid people. Or maybe it’s my age. I just can’t deal with it much anymore. Lol.

  • I’ve defused many potential violent situations from becoming active by merely saying, “I can appreciate what you’re saying” and leaving them a legitimate opening to back off.

  • I used to manage a soup kitchen, and each night was the ‘bouncer’. I had about 5 seconds as people were walking in to gauge how altered someone was by drugs or alcohol (too much, obviously meant trouble). Humour, deflection, and a technique called fogging (you can find out more about that via Google) saved my bacon on many occasions.

  • You can’t reason with a hungry person. If he thinks he can get food by killing you, that is what he will try to do. So if there’s a lot of hungry people around, avoid being near them. If they’re hungry enough, YOU will be their food, and no amount of soothing words can stop them.

    • concur. weeks into grid-down many people will simply bypass any conversation and go straight to action, before you see them if possible.

  • Anger is a secondary emotion. If you can QUICKLY discern what was the first emotion that caused the anger you have a better chance at diffusing the situation. Unless they are just flat out nutz! Mental disorders, drug induced and withdrawal folks are on a whole other level in my opinion. Getting them to rationalize is not exactly in their mental vocabulary. Just my humble opinion from my experiences and abuse. For He that is in me is greater than any in the world. During shift though??..…. probably only a lead thump. :/

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