Verbal & Non-Verbal Communication: What message are you sending?
Posted on August 04 2017
It was as typical as you can get when you are out shopping with four children. My kids and I were at our favorite supercenter store in a part of town that does not really cause one to be concerned or to be constantly looking over their shoulder. That’s not an excuse to let one’s guard down, just the fact of most people’s feelings in any low crime rate area.
I had just exited the laundry detergent aisle when I noticed a Middle Eastern man in his late 50’s about forty feet away from me on the diaper aisle. The red flag was not his ethnicity, his age, or the fact that he was in the diaper aisle; what caught my attention was that his gaze was fixated on my six-year-old daughter. As I walked past him I tried to make eye contact to get him to see that I saw him, but his gaze never left my daughter.
It is one of those situations where your instincts put you on high alert and your mind goes through every possible scenario that could unfold and the course of action needed to get you out of each. That’s where my mind was as I rushed through the store to finish my shopping as quickly as possible. Yet everywhere we went he seemed to pop up. I did not necessarily notice if he followed us or if it was pure coincidence. But again, my situational awareness was on high alert. I did not know his intent. His fixation screamed pedophile to me, but he may just have been a gawker or a creepy man. I also did not know if he was alone or if he could be a potential kidnapper or human trafficker. All I knew was that my gut was uncomfortable with his fixation and I was ready for any situation if it escalated past creepiness.
I was wearing my tennis skirt, a tank top and of course my Dene Adams® Active Bra Holster. I had my Sig Sauer® P938 chambered with a spare magazine and a knife. These are all last resort tools in case I needed to stop an imminent threat to my children or me. Yes, I was carrying all this. Yes, I had easy and quick accessibility if it came to that. Yet it never crossed my mind to use them. My focus was on avoidance and de-escalation only. It is important to know that if an attacker is choosing such a public and populated place that they are going to only seek out a quiet and easy target.
As I turned the corner down the light bulb aisle there was the gawker. He just stood there and stared. Normally I can use my cart to keep me at a comfortable distance, but this man had no regard for my personal space. I felt I was being tested or confronted, or both! As he stood there in my personal space he very quietly asked a question. In order for me to hear him it would require me to take my attention away from my children and perhaps that was the strategy while a second person moved in. Instead, I stood in a firm position, got up in his face, and yelled, “WHAT?!” He seemed shocked and panicked. He then pointed at small night lights and asked which one he should get. I replied with the same force, “GET WHATEVER YOU WANT!” As I created more space between him and my kids he said, “I don’t know what kind of light to get, my house does not have lights.” RED FLAG! If your house has no lights then why are you looking at night lights?
He had no cart. His hands were empty and he had literally been all over the store. I proceeded to give him a nasty look and then aggressively yelled, “THEN GET A LAMP!” Then I walked off with authority. I made my way through checkout and noticed him one last time as he exited the store empty handed, got in a car, and drove off with another man.
The use of verbal and non-verbal communication is extremely important when it comes to not being a victim. Did I avoid an attack or my child’s abduction? I do not know, but I also do not want to know. Did I startle or offend a middle-aged Middle Eastern man who asked a question? Again, I do not know, but I also do not care. What I do know is that I paid attention to my surroundings and my children. I do believe that we may have been targeted that day and I feel that my prevention for evil began long before I spotted him that day.
It is our tendency to be sympathetic and want to assist someone that asks for help. We want to be the good Samaritan and abide by the culture engrained in us to be helpful. At times that is definitely okay. It is extremely important to trust your gut. Never ignore your gut. Do not ignore the red flags or dismiss your feelings that something is not right. Trust your instinct. It is not profiling to listen to your gut. What you are doing instead is putting your family’s and your safety first. It is being confident enough to be proactive if a situation does not feel right and to do something about it even if it makes you feel mean or embarrassed.
Have you ever noticed a secret shopper in a store? The secret shopper’s job depends upon them remaining unseen. Have you ever noticed a shoplifter in a store? The shoplifter is on high alert because they are scared of getting caught. They may be situationally aware of everything around them. Now it is the job of the secret shopper to remain unseen and alert security of any shoplifters. Secret shoppers are stealthy. A predator has that same stealth. It might not be their job, but they are skilled at ensuring they pick a victim that is an easy target.
From the time I exited the vehicle I walked with confidence. I constantly looked around me and made eye contact with other patrons. I did not look at my phone. My two preteen boys stayed at my side, my six-year-old daughter’s hand stayed firmly planted on the cart, and my youngest daughter was strapped into the cart. Each of them know to stay within an arm’s reach and each of them know to pay attention. We are ready for any situation because we are constantly alert and prepared.
If we had been watched that day it was to size up how easy of a target we were. When I did have to confront the man, I was loud, confident and showed through my verbal and non-verbal communication that my children and I were not easy targets. Even though I felt uncomfortable and my personal space was breached it never became appropriate to brandish or draw my firearm. My verbal communication de-escalated the encounter and I was also able to create the adequate space needed to move away from him.
Did I overreact in my encounter? Absolutely not. There have been several abductions and attempted abductions in the metropolitan area that are exactly like what I encountered. In one case an actual tug of war was reported when a mother and the abductor were both pulling on the arms of her child. Can you imagine?!
If I found myself in a tug of war battle over my child I would be both justified and prepared to end the situation with lethal force. I would step in front of my child, wrap my left arm around my child’s arm to interlock them to me, and then I would access my chambered firearm with one hand to end the fight.
If you find yourself being aggressively confronted or someone is approaching you in a threatening way that you cannot escape or find a barrier or adequate cover than your verbal communication is extremely important. If you do find yourself in a situation like this there are three reasons your verbal communication is crucial to your safety.
- Shouting from your diaphragm lets witnesses know that you are the intended victim. Example phrases to shout are:
- “STAY BACK, YOU ARE SCARING ME!”
- “GET AWAY!”
- “SOMEONE CALL 911, I AM BEING ATTCKED.”
Never shout anything like, “Stop, I have a gun.” Or, “I’ll shoot you.” These are offensive sounding phrases and can make the scenario confusing as to who escalated the conflict.
- Shouting from your diaphragm also lets the attacker know that you are NOT an easy target.
- Shouting from your diaphragm causes additional inhalation of more oxygen which is helpful in a high stress state.
Communication in this way should be automatic and what is used even before drawing a firearm. Do not draw or brandish your firearm unless you have no other option.
You can avoid being a target by being aware of your surroundings, listening to your gut, and by giving loud commands- even at the risk of embarrassment if you are wrong about a person’s intentions. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Taken from Anna's video on July 13, 2017 "Verbal & Non-Verbal Communication".
Revised blog by Andrea Shelton