How to Survive Aggressive People

Surviving Aggressive People: Practical Violence Prevention Skills for the Workplace and the Street
© 2014 Shawn Smith
268 pages

Most of us have encountered aggressive people in our lives, and if we work with the public we probably do so on a daily basis. How can concerned readers prepare themselves for future instances of the same?   Shawn T. Smith is a psychologist with a background in counseling and corrections, and previously who served as a member of the Guardian Angels in Denver, a citizen-driven neighborhood security organization.  In Surviving Aggressive People,  he offers readers an analysis of the two main groups of aggressive behavior they can expect  to encounter, and offers separate  advice for each.

Smith sees aggressive behavior as being either desperate or deliberate (“expert” is the word he uses).  Desperate aggression is usually context or incident driven: a person who feels cornered resorts to lashing out in an adrenaline-induced reaction.   Expert aggression, on the other hand, is planned, and has a defined goal in mind – whether that be robbery, rape, or the simple ego boost of pushing someone else around.  Both types of aggressive behavior have warning signs, and in expert/deliberate behavior,  these can be quite elaborate: human predators, like their counterparts throughout the animal kingdom, have ‘rituals’ that precede the violence.

In both types of aggression, the primary goal from Smith’s perspective is escape – and not simply escape from a situation that one is already in, but avoiding them altogether by paying attention to warning signs.  Throughout Surviving Aggressive People,  Shawn beats the drum: pay.  Trust your gut.  Intuition, he argues, is not irrational;  it’s merely your subconscious processing the environment on its own, the primal brain at work beneath the conscious.

Responding to desperate aggression mostly involves communicating with them, talking with them in a deliberate way to find out what they need.    Expert aggression is more varied, but Shawn advises readers to be aware of the most common tactics  — information overload, sympathy  etc and to assert themselves from the beginning, challenging the aggressive whent they are still beginning their approach.  Most predators will back of and look for easier prey if they are regarded with open, challenging eyes,  pointed questions, or resistance straight from the gate. If they’re persistent, at the very least an outright challenge keeps them from closing and attacking in an ambush.  Shawn wraps up the book by reviewing the main points, and then discussing the merits of some martial arts styles – -though he cautions the reader, in using them or any kind of weapon, that they must practice constantly and be aware of the style’s or the weapon’s limitations. (Pepper spray, for instance can literally backfire if it’s used against the wind…so exercise caution.)

How to Survive Aggressive People strikes me as a useful resource, although it does not include information on dealing with people who are mentally unstable owing to substance abuse.   I was introduced to the book a few years ago via an interview with the author on The Art of Manliness;  you may view a transcript here which might give you a more comprehensive review of the contents.

Verbal Judo: The Art of Persuasion, George Thompson

Guardian Angels:


About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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6 Responses to How to Survive Aggressive People

  1. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like a useful book for the times we live in.

  2. I have had my eye on this one for a while, thanks for the review!

  3. Brian Joseph says:

    This sounds useful. Unfortunately there are such folks in the world who need to be dealt with. Trusting one’s instincts is a good idea.

    Perhaps they should teach this in school.

  4. Pingback: (Most Of) What I Read in 2019 | Reading Freely

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