Tag Archives: familiar strangers

A Nice Guy, or a Good Guy?

man-male-happy-face-guy-portrait-198949My friend was talking about a man who had stalked, restrained and physically attacked a woman we knew when she said, “But he’s basically a good guy.”  Shocked, I clarified:  “No, he’s a nice guy.  Definitely not a good guy.”

A nice guy, or a good guy?

We both knew this person.  He had been a guest in both of our homes.  He was attractive, charming, likable and a great conversationalist, making him very pleasant company.  However, beneath the surface, his niceness paled in comparison to his aggression, threatening behavior and willingness to put others at risk.

Yes, we all have bad days. We all have triggers that can cause us to behave unlike our better selves.  But someone who deliberately intimidates, terrorizes or attacks another person?  That’s not a good person.

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Believe Them the First Time – 6 Questions to Help You “Hear” Your Inner Voice

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.When someone shows you who he is, believe him the first time. Don’t wait for him to show you again.  If we’d all actually believe our eyes and ears and listen to our gut feelings, we’d avoid a lot of pain and heartache.  From business relationships to dating, and from online communications to in-person meetings, you can believe what people tell you…if you know how to listen.

I met someone recently I liked and felt comfortable with almost instantly.  This is rare for me, and was almost a “red flag” in and of itself.  However, when I considered what I knew about this person, that added context increased my comfort level, as did his willingness to answer questions directly and share relevant historical, professional and personal information.  We discussed appropriate topics, he respected my personal space, and allowed me to set the pace of our meeting.

What’s the context?  How long have you known this person? How did you meet?  Do you have shared business associates or friends, or did you simply meet by chance or through a shared activity or common location? Continue reading

Stop Giving Away Information!

It is impossible not to give away information about yourself.  The way you talk, the clothes you  wear, the vehicle you drive, and even the conversations you have in public tell others who you are.

Think of all the things you can surmise about a 20-something woman who gets out of a Prius with a college parking sticker on it, wearing an OU Sooners sweatshirt, worn-out jeans and a silver necklace.  She’s carrying a Coach purse, talking on an iPhone and has manicured nails.

Someone who wants to earn the trust (however brief) of a potential victim may need only to distract her a moment for a theft or assault…or might attempt to forge an “acquaintance relationship” by complimenting the target or enlisting her help.

Possible opening questions:

  • Your nails are gorgeous! Where do you have them done? (Where’s that? Are they gel? Is it expensive?)
  • I love your bag! My mom gave me one just like it, but zipper on the inside pocket broke immediately and I had to exchange it.  Is yours okay?
  • Hey, I think that guy just dinged your car door! You’d better go check.  I’ll get his license plate.
  • Is that an iPhone 6? I have a 5, but I’m thinking of upgrading. Do you think it’s worth it?
  • Can you tell me where Murray Hall is? I’m supposed to give a speech there but they didn’t give me directions and I’m late.
  • I’ll bet you get amazing gas mileage, don’t you? I’m thinking of trading…is it worth it?
  • I think you dropped $20 (either pointing to where it was allegedly dropped, or holding out a bill) when you got out of your car.
  • And the easiest one of all: Do you know what time it is?  (You look away, at your watch or phone, giving a stranger a moment of opportunity.)

Remember, context is everything.  How long have you known the person in question?  How did you meet?  How well do you really know him or her?  Consider these things when you let someone in your personal space, your car, or open your door to them.  When you engage in a conversation with someone, remember that it is a two-way street.  If you feel like you’re giving a lot of answers but not learning anything yourself, it may be time to cut that conversation short.

It’s become a cliché that we “open up” to certain people and share things we generally wouldn’t:  hair stylists, bartenders, seatmates on airplanes, and as a general rule, “people we’re never going to see again.”  Why do we do that?  Perhaps we’ve built rapport (or they have), we’re attracted to the person, our inhibitions are lowered due to alcohol, or they’re a “friend of a friend.”

Watch your words.  Keep your private information private, and don’t give away important information like your travel destination, hotel name or room number, children’s names, where you bank, your pets’ names, or where you went to school.  It is your personal information, and your choice whether or not to share it with a stranger.  Why should they care what your kids’ names are, or what grade they’re in?  (Honestly, I don’t even give my own name when asked in a restaurant.  The hostess or cashier doesn’t care, it amuses me, and I don’t have my name announced publicly for all to hear.)

Be careful when you encounter someone new with whom you have something in common.  Just because you both share a passion for the same type of music, you’re reading the same obscure book, or you’re on a flight to the same place doesn’t mean they’re not still just a “familiar stranger.”

Listen to your intuition, and remember your context.  Until next time…stay safe!


Security After the Fact…Is Not Security!

You install a home security system to keep your home secure.  If you leave your door unlocked, your garage door open, leave a key under the doormat, sleep with windows open, or simply fail to arm the system, you have effectively undone any security there might have been.   If you open your door to a stranger…you have handed him your future.  As the adage says, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Whenever a workman (plumber, etc.) is in my home, I always check all of my doors and windows to be sure they’re locked after he has left.  That way, I can be sure that he has not left himself an easy means of entry into my house. After hosting a party, I do the same thing.  I double check to be sure everyone has their coats and purses, the candles are extinguished, and all doors and windows are secure.

If someone’s date comes to the door saying, “I think Susie left her purse,” I won’t open the door for him. Why?  Because I owe him nothing.  I’ve already checked to be sure no items were left behind, and why isn’t Susie there asking me herself?  Treat suspicious situations as suspicious.  Listen to your intuition, your gut feeling.

Courtesy can get you – women especially – into trouble.  Simply opening the door of your home under the wrong circumstances can be a fatal mistake.  The UPS delivery man does not need to come into your home.  That teenager who says his car broke down nearby doesn’t need to use your phone…YOU can make a call for him.  And while your attention is on the person on your front porch, stay aware of your surroundings and be sure he doesn’t have friends on your back porch trying to get in.

Last week’s post about familiar strangers addresses this concern as well.  Here are two scenarios from my personal experience:

On a weeknight around 11:30 p.m., I heard a loud knock at the door.  I looked out and saw three men in their early 20s.  They were fanned out across my porch, with one in front and two flanking him.

“Our car broke down (insert vague gesture toward the highway here, as if I were going to look away from him), and I thought you might have a four-way tire iron,” said the guy in the middle.

“I don’t.  Would you like me to call someone for you?” I asked through the door, a .357 in my hand.  His hands were in his back pockets.  His friends looked at their feet, my yard…everywhere but at me.

“No, we just wanted a tire iron. Well, we have one, but not a four-way,” he said.

“I don’t have one, sorry,” I said.

“Come on, I’ll bet she has a gun,” said one of his cohorts.   They milled around on my porch for another minute or so.

I called the Highway Patrol, and an OHP Trooper showed up in under five minutes.  Funny thing…the guys already had moved their car. 

On a Saturday afternoon, I came to the door to find one of the tallest, most heavily muscled men I’ve ever seen, standing on my porch.  He had knocked, then stepped back about five feet, and was holding his ball cap in front of him with both hands.

I said hello through the door, and he responded, “Ma’am, my car ran out of gas right over there (he turned and pointed to a car parked on the shoulder of the road), and I wonder if you could call my wife for me to let her know I’m running late…?” I made the call for him, and told him he was welcome to wait in the shade on my porch for his wife to come.  She was there shortly with a gas can, and off they went.

Two similar, but very different scenarios.  One situation was obviously shady, the other, clearly legitimate.

If someone gains entry into your home, your office, or your car…defend yourself with any means necessary, escape as soon as you possibly can, and call the police immediately.  Don’t rationalize it away, and don’t worry about who is to blame.  Get help, and keep it from happening again!  But most of all, put your safety and security first, eliminating potential threats before they happen.

Tell Me About Your Friends

“Friends” is a word that is overused today.  Out of habit and inclusion, we will refer to almost anyone as “my friend,” when the vast majority of these people are acquaintances or just familiar strangers.

  • Best friends
  • Work friends
  • Church friends
  • Neighbors
  • High school friends
  • College friends
  • Professional friends
  • Teachers/students
  • Running buddies
  • Fishing buddies
  • Hunting buddies
  • Facebook friends

Perhaps you get coffee from the same barista every day.   Run into the same lady walking her dog at the park.  See the same guys at the gym.  Sit next to the same couple at every football game.  Have your oil changed by the same technicians at the same Jiffy Lube.   Sit next to those nice kids at church.  Pass the same runners on the street, wave and smile.  You chat about the weather, your kids, your workout, your car, your favorite teams…

Are these people your friends, or are they just being friendly?  Are they good neighbors, or just being neighborly?  If they show up at your door on a Sunday afternoon, will you open it?  What if they show up in the middle of the night and ask for your help?

In reality, I have a few really close, true friends.   I trust them implicitly.  I have a lot more acquaintances, some great professional relationships, some fantastic students, some good running buddies…you get the picture.

Talk is cheap, and trust, if misplaced, can be costly.  When you interact with people outside your inner circle, whether in person or online, consider two things:  how do you know them, and in what context?  When they appear in your life out of context, that should raise a red flag.  Be extra vigilant, consider their possible motivations, and act based on that knowledge.

Toward that end, I highly recommend reading The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker.  It is inexpensive, easy to read, well organized, and the single best book I’ve read on personal safety.  Give it a read.  You’ll be glad you did!