Derren Brown's guide to overcoming awkward situations

Boing Boing reader tw1515tw mentioned this essay by mentalist Derren Brown on how to overcome awkward situations. Most of Brown's strategies involve behaving irrationally to disarm the other person.

Here's one of Brown's tips:

How to handle aggressive situations

This is simply about not engaging with your aggressor at the level they expect. I was coming back from a hotel at about 3am one night and there was a guy in the street with his girlfriend. He was really drunk, clearly looking for a fight and he started kicking off at me. I had a routine ready in my head for this sort of situation and it worked a treat on this occasion. He asked me that typical aggressive rhetorical question — “Do you want a fight?” You can’t say “yes” or “no” — you’ll get hit either way. So, I responded with, “The wall outside my house is four-feet high.”

I didn’t engage at the level he was expecting me to, so immediately he was on the back foot. He came back with, “What?” and I repeated my bizarre response. I delivered the line in a completely matter-of-fact tone, as if he was the one who was missing something here. Suddenly, he was confused. All his adrenaline had dropped away, because I’d pulled the rug from under him. It’s the verbal version of a martial-arts technique called an ‘adrenaline dump’, whereby you get the person to relax before you hit them. A punch will have much greater impact if the recipient’s guard is down. I stuck to this surreal conversational thread with my assailant, saying things like, “I lived in Spain for a while and the walls are really huge, but in this country they’re tiny.” After a few of these exchanges, he just went, “Oh f*ck!” and broke down in tears. The guy had all this adrenaline and was on the point of really laying into me — I was seeing myself beaten to a bloody pulp — but these non-threatening nonsense statements broke that aggression down and he genuinely started crying. I ended up sitting next to him on the kerb, comforting him. It’s the same with guys that come up and ask to “have a look at your phone”, and you end up handing over your stuff and hating yourself for doing it — you can use the same approach. My PA had some stuff nicked in a Tube station recently, and I said to him, “If you’d just starting singing, they would have left you alone.”

Derren Brown's guide to overcoming awkward situations

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