How to Intimidate People: Pro Tips from Drug Dealers, Hostage Negotiators, Bouncers, and Drag Queens
Important life advice incoming.
Photo by Bruno Bayley
It started in the playground, where that sweaty bully dished out bad insults and made you feel like a putz. Years later, you're still being intimidated: on the street at night, in job interviews, at pickup basketball games, when someone says something nasty to you in the bar—in all these situations you're stuck being the victim rather than the aggressor, the one who has to back down while your tormentor makes that shit-eating grin at you. Don't you wish there was a way to shut him or her up, to force that clown into a humiliating retreat? Not by throwing a punch, of course, since that could end with you in a jail cell or badly beaten or both. You're going to win this fight without it ever becoming a fight.
The problem is, not everybody has a natural knack for intimidation. Practice makes perfect, but since firsthand research in this field can be slightly hazardous, I thought I'd get some pointers from a group of individuals who are skilled in getting the bullies of life to back the fuck off.
VICE does not advocate the use of violence or illegal activity, nor do we advise you to put yourself into a position of danger.
Click through below to read intimidation tips from:
The Homicide Detective and Hostage Negotiator
The Bouncer and Former Soccer Hooligan
The Supermarket Security Guard
The Drug Dealer
The Drag Queen
Jimmy Tippett Junior (right) with Dave Courtney (left) and Jimmy Tippett Senior (center)
Crime family member Jimmy Tippet Junior counts some of Britain's most notorious villains among his drinking buddies. His dad, Jimmy Tippett Senior, presided over his turf as the "Governor of Lewisham" from the 60s to the 80s. Jimmy Junior got out of jail last year after serving time for his part in a £250,000 ($400,000) jewelry heist and is currently staying clear of the guns, money, drugs, and crime that have characterized his life so far.
Do you know what it is [that intimidates people]? It's being really nice. Now, I would be as nice as pie if I was trying to intimidate someone, 'cause the more horrible you are the more it doesn't work. People who scream and shout threats—"I'll shoot you! I'll break your legs!"—I laugh at people like that. I would be the most charming, nicest guy possible. That person will go home, google me and the people around me, and see all this bad shit.
When I was in my late teens I was a nasty, vicious little bastard. I wouldn't think twice about sticking a knife in somebody or cutting them. If I wanted to intimidate someone I'd find out who was the biggest, hardest man in that area and then use extreme violence on them so everyone knows who I am. I wouldn't do that now, but that's what I used to do.
"Forget brawn—confidence is number one."
All the bad things I've done have made me the person I am now. I'm very confident; I don't worry about anybody or anything, anytime or anywhere. Forget brawn—confidence is number one. That's why I'm nice when I do things. The history you've built up makes the person. I'd turn up and be like, "Listen, this is how it is. You know who I am." I'd do it that way rather than threaten somebody.
If I was going to see someone and they had a large sum of money and I had to recover that money, I would turn up on my own, buy them a coffee, and be really nice. But in the background there would be two big lumps—scary motherfuckers—just standing in the vicinity. So the person would see all this going on, go away, and do his homework on me. It breaks his brain down.
It's like Tetris—whacking away the bricks. I've always turned up with a result, and it's never failed me. Life is a game. Every day you wake up and get dressed and you're going onto a stage—a platform—to do what you gotta do to better yourself.
I'm very headstrong. I refuse to lose. I'll go all the way. No one will ever beat me. If you beat me with your hands, I'll come back with a bat. If you beat me with a bat, I'll come back... well, now I don't get involved in things like that.
Bob Bridgestock was a heroic cop who talked people down from the tops of buildings and persuaded maniacs not to shoot their captives. During his 30 years on the force he took charge of 26 murder investigations, as well as investigating drive-by shootings, kidnappings, and extortion schemes.
The golden rule is treat people how you want to be treated. But sometimes you have to take control. You are a person in authority. Some people will not listen to a single word you say. Whether they're in the right or in the wrong, they just won't listen. They try it on to start with, to test what reaction you have. Will you take a step backward? Will you stand your ground? If you stand your ground they've got a problem. It's talking to people, but you've got to be firm.
Hostage negotiation is a totally different level. In some respects, if they're threatening to kill somebody, it's like the person is threatening to jump off the bridge or stick the knife in their own neck. I've been to people where they're bare-chested, have a bandana around their head, and are leaning against a samurai sword, and they say, "If you come through the door I'm gonna push myself straight into this sword." You say, "Well, look, I've got an ambulance outside. If you do that you're going to be in a lot of pain. You might not die, and if you do that I'll have to come in. I'm not going anywhere."
"He's got a firearm, and he's shouting and screaming that he's gonna turn the gas taps on and kill himself and everybody else."
I've been in armored trucks where we've driven right up to somebody's window. He's got a firearm, and he's shouting and screaming that he's gonna turn the gas taps on and kill himself and everybody else. You could easily give up, but you don't. It's a case of, "Look, we're not going anywhere; you're not going to do that; the gas has been turned off in the street so that isn't going to work. The truck is armored; you're not going to injure anyone in here." Eventually, you wear them down.
Fortunately, I've never been in a situation where I've lost somebody—whether to suicide or kidnapping or anything like that. I don't know how I'd have coped.
Interviews are different again. Part of the interview technique is silence. It makes people uncomfortable. I've known [lawyers] to kick people under the table when they start to talk to remind them [to shut up].
Illustration by Cei Willis
Part-time bouncer and ex-football hooligan Phil "just likes scrapping." He says that age, injuries, and the need to keep a steady job have taught him how to navigate conflict without resorting to fisticuffs—sort of.
Make it look like you're fearless and up for anything. A few years ago I saw a guy while I was on a night out who had a reputation for being quite hard. I was coked up, so I started giving him shit.
I tried it on with his [girl] in front of him, and when he got pissy, I asked him what he was going to do about it. He left it, so a little later, when I saw him at the bar, I pushed him out the way, picked up his drink, and poured it all over his shoes. Then I just stood there, smiling.
He walked off again, and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, until he smashed a bar stool over the back of my head while I was sitting down. He got dragged out before I could get hold of him, but I was shouting at the cunt that I was going to find out where he lived.
[At this point in Phil's story I remarked that his tactics seemed to have failed miserably. But he insisted that they proved the guy was scared to fight him face to face, and that I should shut up and just let him carry on with what he was saying.]
I saw him a few weeks later around town when I wasn't on drugs. I didn't feel like starting on him again, so I walked over and told him to buy me a pint, which he did. When he handed me my pint I said that I was so happy we were friends I felt like burning my own house down. That seemed to do the trick.
If you're working the doors, you should get to the gym and make sure you're stacked. It's better to look big and have some power behind you. Learn some takedowns as well, and get in a few fights beforehand so you've got some confidence. Take up MMA or something. Don't be afraid to invade people's personal space, push them around, and stand in their way.
Freaking people out and saying weird shit can also help. Like if someone's arguing and getting in your face, ask them what their star sign is—but shout it at them. Then ask quietly how big their cock is.
Whoever was doing a security job in Woolwich Lidl circa 2007 was evidently doing it pretty well.
Danny came to England from Nigeria on a student visa to better himself and now works in a supermarket in an overcrowded and impoverished part of London, where arresting shoplifters is low on the list of police priorities. The supermarket was a long way from the run-ins he had in Lagos, but after a short time on the job he realized his own brand of Nigerian justice would come in handy.
This fella, he come in every now and then, nicked a few things, and run off. One day he got me into trouble, which I didn't find funny. He put a few things in his basket as normal—tomatoes, rice, and whatnot—as well as a bottle of whiskey down his pants. I was watching on the camera, and just as he went up to the till I came out of the office. By the time I arrived, he'd run away. All the items were on the till except the drink. The manager was fuming, but I was like, "He'll be back again."
A few weeks went past, and he showed up. Same old thing—he grabbed some whiskey. I didn't even wait for him to go by the till. As soon as he put it in his pants I walked up and was like, "Yo, can I get those things?" He was like, "I'm gonna put it back on the shelf." I was like, "Uh, uh, uh. Do you have the money to pay for the ones you took before?"
Me and the other guard took him to the manager's office. We searched him, and he only had a couple of pennies. I said, "How you gonna pay for a bottle of whiskey with pennies? I'm gonna have to take something. If we get the money back, you get your stuff back." So I said, "I like your shoes." He was being a dickhead, so I said, "I like your trousers, too—with the belt on—and if I have to take them off you I'm gonna knock you out first 'cause I can't be struggling." I wanted to take his socks as well, but they weren't my type. He took them off and I was like, "Are you gonna come back with the money?" He said he'd be back in a minute. This was January, and it was freezing cold. I was like, "Off you go."
Another guy came around a different day doing the usual—stealing items and threatening people. I got him back. In the office I said, "Have you got payment on you?" Obviously not. When I searched him all he had was his passport, so I took it. I think it still might be in the manager's office. I never saw him again in my life.
Photo by Giorgi Nieberidze
Marlon is in his 30s and a career drug dealer. Intimidation has been part of his day-to-day existence since he started selling weed on the banks of London's Grand Union Canal in the 1990s.
If you're dealing with a street punter [buyer], there is a balance of power. Intimidating someone who has already made himself vulnerable by buying illegal drugs is easy.
Most of the time, putting the shits up someone is more about the threat of violence than violence itself. It depends on who the target is. I used to have some right curtain-twitching neighbors, but they were sorted out easily—I just told them to fuck off, keep their curtains closed, stay inside.
My business depends on controlling the lines of credit I give out to my customers, and I use different stages of intimidation. The first stage of getting to people is friendly. I'm just like a bank or a debt collector. It's constant phone calls and text messages. This will normally nudge the average middle-class kid to pay up. Then, if that doesn't work, I'll threaten the fuckers with violence. That usually reels in the rest.
"If a dealer owes me money and he can't pay, he will expect a slap."
Most people freeze in the face of cold-blooded violence. Just a slap around the chops is well outside their comfort zone. It's the speed and ferocity with which you turn from a friend to a foe that catches people off balance. I've seen grown men well up with fear.
If a dealer owes me money and he can't pay, he will expect a slap. If someone steals from me, he can expect to get battered. It's not as random as it might appear. But this doesn't even come close to dealing with my rivals over turf. It's not purely about numbers or firepower, but about reputation, acting with confidence—you need an element of surprise; that is what intimidates people.
Power is people knowing I won't back down. The last time someone tried to muscle in on my game we went to war. Within hours we had kidnapped two rivals and blown out the windows of a house of a close relative of a third with a sawn-off shotgun. We just continued to hit them until they surrendered.
But intimidation is not just about violence. If you are holding personal information about someone you can dangle them from a thread. In this game it's about threatening to tip off police or immigration services, or threatening families overseas. It's dirty; we all know it.
This section by Max Daly
By day, Mercedes Bends supervises construction workers; at night she's part of the Brighton drag scene and has dealt with her fair share of leering drunks and horny men. She likes to deploy a non-gender-specific array of weapons to combat haters, whether she's at her job or in the bar.
Drag queens can be really scary. I can do it. Obviously I don't do it for the sake of it, but I can turn it on if I have to. There's something unhinging about someone who looks so girly but has the physical aggression of a man. Women are good at mental torture, whereas a man will punch. The combination of the two creates a powerful effect.
I used to work in a bar in Brighton that catered to [bachelor and bachelorette parties]. Straight guys who would normally mock gays would come in. Without my drag, they would have the ability to intimidate me. The drag was like an armor that gave me the upper hand.
"I'll flatten you with one line, sugar-tits."
Building sites can be really aggressive places, too. But it's just about baring your teeth bigger than they can. A lot of people who work in manual-labor jobs and want to cause trouble are quite simple. All I have to do is use a word with a couple more syllables, and they're mentally intimidated.
Mostly it's the delivery. I've got the sort of attitude where I'll go straight in for the kill. I'll flatten you with one line, sugar-tits. When I first started on sites I'd get a lot of comments, but I'd be so quick with the comeback that I'd kill them with humor.
When someone pretends to try it on with me, which has happened so many times, I just turn it around on them. I've never been retiring about it. "Come on then, darling. Let's go do it. Get it out." They turn into nervous little boys. For example, there was a black guy on site; he came up behind me and started touching me up. I turned around to him and said, "I've never been with a black guy before. Do you fancy it?"
I've caused whole pub brawls because people have been intimidated by the sexual element. Once, at the Brighton bar, a guy came in with a group of his mates. He ended up taking a real shine to me. Next thing I know, there's a brawl. His brother kicked off 'cause he was paying me too much attention. He was shouting: "My brother's not going home with a cock in a bra." The barman got involved and started lamping people, and I waded in there in full drag.
- Dave Courtney
- DRAG QUEEN
- security guards
- Vice Blog
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- how to intimidate people
- Ryan Fletcher
- Jimmy Tippett
- Bob Bridgestock
- beat someone up with your words
- hostage negotiator
- football hooligan
- Mercedes Bends