Six Simple Steps to De-Escalate a Tense Situation Reply

President John F. Kennedy sitting in a “figure-four” stance; generally viewed as a distancing or “barrier” position.










By Chris Simmons

Previous posts have addressed the principle that emotions – not logic – are the core drivers in any decision. As such, when engaged in a discussion wherein tensions are rising, you can quickly lower stress levels by using these simple forms of nonverbal communication:

(not in priority order)

  • Change the angle of your body vis-à-vis your counterpart.
    • Shift your stance so your torso is not parallel to his/her upper body (i.e., you’re not “squared off” as in boxing).
    • If standing, cross your legs.
    • Tilt your head during the discussion.
  • Concede space, by either stepping back or leaning back.
  • Lessen the frequency and length of eye contact.
  • Avoid “barrier” behavior, such as crossed arms or a figure-four sitting position.
  • Take a deep breathe and audibly exhale. This gesture gently expresses your frustration while concurrently calming you and those around you.
  •  Enjoy a “change of scenery” together. Take a short walk or go get something to eat or drink.

In every human interaction, the majority of one’s message is conveyed nonverbally. Thus, rather than telling someone you want to defuse a tense situation, show them. Given our reliance on visual cues, “show, don’t tell” always achieves faster and more effective results.

What’s Your Love Language? Reply

The key to enhancing love in all your relationships

By Gary Chapman, PhD    Prevention magazine

The 5 love languages

When someone says, “I feel like my spouse doesn’t love me,”—something I’ve heard countless times during my years as a marriage counselor—what are they really complaining about? After years of pondering this, I discovered that their answers fell into five categories that I now call the five love languages—five fundamental ways to express emotional love.

Just as we grow up speaking a primary language like English, French, or Italian, we also grow up with a primary love language. In the world of communication, if I speak only French and you speak only English, we won’t understand each other. The same is true in giving and receiving love. One language I call “acts of service”—showing your love by doing something for the other person. Another is “quality time”—if you love someone, you will spend time with that person and have extended conversations. The answer to keeping emotional love alive is learning and really jibing with each other’s language. I am still in awe that something so basic and straightforward has helped millions of couples restore emotional warmth to their relationships. Later I discovered that the same principle applies in all relationships. Learning love languages can enhance relationships with parents, siblings, and work associates and in the world of dating.

Here, the five languages I’ve identified.

Words of affirmation

“You look nice in that outfit.” “I really appreciate what you did.” “One of the things I like about you is…” All of those phrases express affirmation. Words of affirmation may focus on the way a person looks, some action he or she has taken, or something about that individual’s personality or character. You are simply looking for ways to positively acknowledge him or her. The words may be spoken, written, or even sung. (Not to mention affirmations can also boost creativity and reduce stress.)

If this is your primary love language, then nothing will make you feel more loved than sincere words of affirmation.

Acts of service

In a partnership, this might look like a massage, cooking a scrumptious meal, washing dishes, vacuuming, or taking out the trash. In a friendship, this might be helping with a computer problem or offering a lift to the airport. If this is your primary love language, then the old saying “Actions speak louder than words” will be true. Words may seem shallow, but when someone helps you, your “love tank” fills. (Going the cooking route? Consider these sexy meals for two.)

Articles continues here:   What’s Your Love Language?


The Delicate Protocol of Hugging 1

For fans of personal space, these are difficult times: America has become a nation of huggers

By Peggy Drexler, Wall Street Journal

I’m not a hugger. When I see a registered personal-space invader coming my way at a party, the music from “Jaws” plays in my head. And there are lots of people like me—reasonably comfortable in social situations, no particular phobias, just a bit reserved in expressions of physical intimacy.

For us fans of personal space, these are difficult times. America has become a hugging culture. What’s an Academy Award without a gauntlet of hugs from seat to stage? Any sports win will ignite an orgy of whooping, full-body man hugs. Political empathy in tragedy is measured in hugs.

We remain a “medium touch” culture—more physically demonstrative than Japan, where a bow is the all-purpose hello and goodbye, but less demonstrative than Latin or Eastern European cultures, where hugs are robust and can include a kiss on both cheeks. But we do seem to be hugging more.

For men, this is newly slippery terrain. Handshakes are scripted and reliable—a firm grip, a couple of brisk pumps, and done. There is evidence of hand-shaking as far back as the fifth century B.C. It may have started as a gesture of peace by proving that the hand held no weapon.

With hugging now in play, men must do rapid social calculations: body language, length and nature of the relationship, setting, alcohol effect and the other’s intentions. Decisions must be made in split seconds.

Male friends tell me that they adhere to the one-second rule (one-Mississippi and…break). They also favor the A-frame hug—shoulders touching, handshake high, a couple of quick taps on the back. There is no such middle ground for women. It’s either shake or hug.

Bill Clinton has perfected the hug that is not a hug: a handshake complemented by also holding the other’s upper arm. Advantage—more intense than a handshake but short of an embrace, and it can be maintained indefinitely. It can also easily progress to a full hug as the conversation dictates.

When we expand our exploration to the man-woman hug, things get dicey. Especially at work.

Science says that hugs are healthy: They release endorphins, strengthen the immune system, boost self-esteem and promote bonding. But they can also put a warning in your personnel file.

There are many valid reasons to hug in an office setting—anything from a big team win to goodbyes after downsizing. But one senior executive I know shared some universal career advice: “Don’t yell, don’t cry, don’t hug.” His advice is backed by surveys that say that most people don’t want intimacy with other workers.

As the question of whether or not to hug becomes more situational, the potential rises for awkward encounters. The biggest risk: going in for a hug only to realize too late that the other person had not planned the same. Expert consensus says that if you’re going for the hug and it’s too late to turn back, don’t stop. Press on, but make it quick.

For nonhuggers, there are some defensive maneuvers. Deflect: Keep something (a desk, a table, a co-worker) between you and the serial hugger until the moment passes. Deny: “Sorry, I’m not much of a hugger.” Resist: Take physical control with a stiff handshake and firm elbow that keeps personal space intact. Escape: Find something that requires your immediate attention. If nothing comes to mind, drop your cell phone. Lie: “I really don’t want you to catch this cold I have.” Or when diversion isn’t feasible and escape is impossible, accept the hug with an icy response and hope that the hugger remembers.

Workplace hugging is particularly problematic when your workplace happens to be a school. Teachers have been told never to hug any child for any reason—even though a hug is precisely what a child might need.

Many schools have also added a written policy against hugging between students, with suspensions finding their way into national news. Students and some parents are irate at bans on a simple act of affection. But feel for the school administrator, responsible for determining when a simple act of affection becomes a more complex situation.

There is always the question: Are we overthinking this? Maybe we’ve complicated a simple act to the point that risk has overtaken reward, and it’s just not worth the effort. Some would say it’s a lamentable loss of human connection. As someone who believes that we call it personal space for a reason, I’m OK with that.

—Dr. Drexler is an assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and the author, most recently, of “Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers and the Changing American Family.”

Not a Good Day to Die Reply

By Chris Simmons

Death came calling that warm spring evening in the form of an indicted war criminal and his entourage of 15 bodyguards.

In Bosnia as a peace-keeper, I was the Collections Chief for NATO’s intelligence battalion. I ran the alliance’s “Human Intelligence” efforts, gathering information from over 200 “sources” living throughout Bosnia and Croatia. Our collection requirements were diverse: refugee issues, Persons Indicted For War Crimes (PIFWCs) (i.e., war criminals), demilitarization of the former combatants, corruption, terrorism, etc.

Running successful espionage operations required an aggressive, hands-on approach. As a result, I was frequently in the field with my collectors helping them improve their “tradecraft,” that is, their “source” handling skills. On this particular day, my colleagues and I had just finished an extraordinarily fruitful day with our collectors in Tuzla, a 6,000-year old town in northeast Bosnia. To celebrate, we decided to go off base and have dinner in the city. As “shallow-cover” collectors, we drove unmarked civilian vehicles rather than the “Humvees” used by the rest of the peace-keepers. Military convoys were easy for the “bad guys” to spot and avoid, whereas we blended in with all the other commercial vehicles on the road.

The restaurant’s parking lot was empty when we arrived, so we spread the vehicles out to minimize attention. Everyone in our group was openly armed as we walked in. Additionally, several carried MP5-SDs (German sub-machineguns with silencers) in their innocently-appearing backpacks and carry bags.

We were early into our meal when the Specter of Death arrived. A well-known PIFWC and his bodyguards pulled into the parking lot. Recognizing him on sight, everyone drew their weapons, but kept them hidden under the table while we quickly assessed options. They had a slight edge in manpower, but we had the element of surprise – they couldn’t see us through the restaurant’s tinted windows. On the downside, our additional ammunition was outside in our vehicles.

Surrounded by a phalanx of bodyguards, our PIFWC remained near his vehicles while a small “advance team” approached the restaurant. Once they were through the second set of doors, we’d be face-to-face and the situation would explode. “Everybody stay cool. I’ve got this,” yelled Nick as he jumped to his feet. A Brit with extensive service in Northern Ireland, Nick was the #2 man at our Tuzla company. “You,” he commanded one of the waiters, “When I signal, you open the second set of doors and greet them.” The server did as ordered.

Weapon holstered and elbows tight by his side, Nick held his hands mid-chest with his fingers spread. Approaching from their blind side, he calmly announced “Everybody relax, we’re here to have a nice relaxing dinner just like you.” Having drawn their attention away from the rest of us, the advance team now realized they were grossly outnumbered and – with the outer doors now closed – out of contact with the rest of their group. Voice calm and reassuring, Nick continued moving slowly towards them without breaking eye contact. “Let’s call a truce for tonight. Nobody gets shot and your boss doesn’t get arrested…at least not tonight,” Nick quipped with a slight smirk. The gallows humor provoked nervous laughter from the bodyguards. “Agreed,” replied their lead man.

Calmly placing a hand on his upper arm, Nick “asked” his bodyguard counterpart “How about you go back outside and tell your boss we’ve made a deal. It’s good for tonight only and if anyone asks, none of us were ever here.” Nick’s skillful handling of the situation prompted a most welcome but unexpectedly humorous response: “As your colleagues from down under would say, no worries mate!” Turning to the remaining bodyguards, their chief told two to stay with their new found friend while one accompanied him back outside.

The two briefed the PIFWC and the rest of the protective detail. Visibly apprehensive, they become collectively calmer as reality set in. The truce was their only way out. The forces were too evenly matched for a gunfight and even if some of them survived, they knew we would never allow the PIFWC to leave the parking lot alive. Conversely, if they turned around and left, that would break the truce and trigger an immediate nationwide manhunt. Outplayed, they entered the restaurant, each man nodding as they passed our table. We nodded back and watched as they sat down at a table on the other side of the restaurant. Still terrified, the staff temporarily closed the eatery to other diners.

Ninety minutes later, our meal finished, we rose to leave. As we did, Nick strode over to their table, made eye contact with the PIFWC and then his entire detail. He calmly thanked them for accepting our invitation to a temporary truce. “There’ll be no trouble tonight,” he reassured them, before turning and walking out with the rest of us.

The meeting of my intelligence collectors and a heavily-guarded PIFWC was akin to putting together a King Cobra and a mongoose. The survival of one required the death of the other. So it was for us, collectively, that warm spring evening in Tuzla.

Nick saved everyone’s lives that day by following the 1st Rule of Human Nature:  Self-Interest Trumps Everything. Our PIFWC’s self-interest – and that of his guards – focused on two complimentary goals: avoid death (immediate need) and preclude capture/arrest (long-term need). Our immediate self-interest was identical to the “bad guys:” survive tonight. Our long-term interest, however, was to see our PIFWC arrested at some point in the near future and we were absolutely confident we would accomplish that goal.

However, understanding human nature wasn’t enough to keep everyone alive. Nick’s masterful use of body gestures, personal space, and vocals (i.e., tone, pitch, voice speed & word choice) pushed the PIFWC’s assemblage to agree to a solution they were already pre-disposed to accept. Additionally, we knew the mind’s tendency towards self-deception would work to our favor. Our PIFWC certainly thought that if NATO was willing to call a truce that night, it was possible the alliance might be amenable to an arrangement that would let him avoided a war crimes trial. The key fallacy with this self-deception was that we weren’t NATO personified. We were simply a team of collectors who – while willing to die if needed — wanted to live to see another sunrise.

Thankfully, for one brief shining moment during that tension-filled evening, everyone’s immediate self-interest was fulfilled. Shortly thereafter, our PIFWC was captured and flown to The Hague for trial.

What Volleyball Huddles Can Teach Us About The Dynamics of “Personal Distance” Reply

By Chris Simmons

Most of us don’t realize that the distance we place between us and others greatly affects our communication and relationships. To illustrate my point, let’s look at a real life situation that clearly demonstrated the dynamics of closeness.

I was thoroughly enjoying the volleyball tournament my talented daughter was competing in when a team huddle caught my attention. “That’s not the way they huddled last week,” I thought. Just seven days earlier, the girls were 6-1 going into the championship round. Their teamwork and technical skills had been nearly flawless and it showed in every time-out prompted huddle. The girls stood in a tight circle – many hugging their teammates on both sides.

But today – several things were different. They were off their game and they knew it. They were winning, but the game was closer than it should have been. The other team wasn’t scoring points as much as much as my daughter’s team was giving away points with sloppy play. When the coach called a time-out, the girls huddled but with 12-18 inches between every player. Shoulders sagged. No one touched, laughed, or even smiled. They were frustrated and disappointed in themselves.

As the tourney continued, three of the girls hit a slump and their opponents used the opportunity to take a small lead. At the very next huddle, not only was there now one to two feet of daylight between most of the players, but the three slumping girls stood loosely together five feet outside the circle.  No one had said anything to them – the three had excluded themselves. Later that afternoon, they settled down – regained their focus – and played the best game I’d seen in years. Their re-found camaraderie and joy again showed in their huddles. Everyone was hugging and smiling.

The girls had played together for months at this point. They were all good friends – some had been best friends for years. Even so, the ebb and flow of emotion visibly displayed the expansion and contraction of  their individual and collective personal space needs. The “intimate zone” bonding of a seasoned team gave way to physical distancing among players as a result of their stress.

Known as “proxemics,” this occurrence refers to the distance between interacting people. Personal distance is a key element for judging and then displaying how a person aids our self-interest. It’s a subconscious survival instinct derived from gathering visual clues and deciding to move towards someone, let them come to you, or move away. The fluid dynamic of this physical space reveals a great deal of information, as the four “proxemic” zones (listed below) are circular areas in which others enter or stay based on the relationship we have with them at that exact moment.

   The Four “Proxemic” Zones
Intimate Space: Within 18 inches.
Personal Space: 18 inches – 4 feet.
Social Space: 4 – 12 feet.
Public Space: 12 – 25 feet.