Lowering Your Profile

profileThis is the season (spring) when there is suddenly lots of energy around.

I used to regularly run around a local lake. The run was peaceful and pleasant at all times of year except in the spring. In the spring the male geese suddenly felt that that had to make their presence known. They would flap their wings and attack just about anything that moved, including runners.

I was reminded of this by a conversation with a young man who works in a restaurant and occasionally has to deal with surly and unruly customers.  He’s a tall, strong man and has been in a few fights himself.  He’s not by nature aggressive, but he can certainly defend himself.

He has been a bit energized himself these last couple of weeks, more prone to taking risks, doing well with less sleep, a bit more optimistic than usual, etc..

So I was very interested in his story of what happened Sunday night.

He was working in the restaurant, and it was packed with families having Easter dinner.

One somewhat disheveled man came in and seated himself in the window seat and began to solicit money from the other restaurant goers.  This was clearly going to ruin the holiday dinners of all those diners, and so the young man went over to the disheveled man and tried to get him to leave. Eventually without too much physicality, he managed to get him out the door, but he kept pacing up and down outside the restaurant, and it was only when San Francisco Police finally showed up, 30 minutes later, that the problem was taken care of.

All well and good, but then he told me that he had had three other near altercations that same evening.

He said, “It was almost as if I had a target on me.”

I put two and two together, and we spent the rest of the session talking about how being energized can lead, in ways that are completely unintentional, to fights and hostile interactions.

The problem for this young man is that when he is energized he draws attention to himself by a slight swagger in his manner. He is perhaps just a bit louder than usual, certainly more assertive. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But in some situations it is better to be a bit more diffident and self-effacing.

I often think of a long-ago television series called Columbo. Peter Falk played a seemingly perpetually befuddled detective called in to investigate difficult murders. He wanders in, looking confused, rumpled, and innocuous, asking seemingly random questions and then, right at the end turns around and says, “Just one more thing…” and asks the question that solved the mystery.

Columbo is my image of the perfect way of lowering your profile. Looking a bit rumpled, stance a bit hunched or slouched, soft spoken, he was obviously not someone you had to pay attention to. In some situations, and at some times, being innocuous is a good skill to cultivate.