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Close Protection Conflict Management



The objective of this article is to outline the ‘bigger picture' in relation to conflict management for the modern close protection officer.  In discussing specific conflict management techniques- for instance certain tools and tricks of the trade- you will begin to see how all these techniques work in synergy, fitting together as like pieces of a puzzle to assist the close protection officer in carrying out his overall mission.  What exactly is that mission?  To protect, establish and maintain a safe environment for the principal while having the ability to implement an ongoing strategy for continually minimising risk to your client, yourself and the rest of the close protection team.

The Basics of Communication

Believe it or not the words that we communicate to another individual only make up 7% of how we are interpreted.  The remainder of our message is often decoded and deciphered by our tone of voice (28%), which is best defined as what people ‘hear' you saying, rather than what you actually said and body language (65%) that we display, which is often taken as the interpreted but ‘unsaid' meaning.  These elements can cause a barrier of communication and can easily distort the original message of the sender.  Succinctly put- it's not what you say, it's the way you say it that is paramount when communicating a message or interpreting what someone is trying to say to you.

Whether you are working as a PSD in a hostile environment or a CPO for a trendy celebrity client in London or L.A., remember your number one goal is to always intercept conflict before it happens.  The ability to intercept one's intentions and defuse conflict is a vital attribute that will keep you and your principal alive while in Iraq and continually working safely while enjoying your stint in Hollywood.

In successfully defusing a confrontation it is important to understand the dynamic continuum of a potentially violent conflict and how this affects the role of the close protection officer.  As part of a close protection team if you choose to adopt aggressive behavior towards irritating paparazzi for example, this reaction could very well start a chaotic loop that often results in unnecessary harassment, violence and sometimes in extreme cases can even result in death.  Princess Diana's death is a good example that could have possibly been avoided had her body guard tried to offer the Paris photographers a photo session as she often granted.  Instead the body guard's decision to react aggressively toward a photographer stirred up a violent frenzied pursuit by the paparazzi that led to the untimely death of Diana.

We call this chaotic loop The Cycle of Behavior.  This basic four prong learning model helps us to check that our own attitude starts at a reasonable and empathetic level with the intention of resolving conflict and not attracting too much attention to ourselves and/or our principal.  Simply stated, my attitude will reflect the behavior that I display; consequently my behavior will influence the other person's attitude which will in turn shape their resulting behavior.  The outcome can be positive or negative based entirely on the way my original attitude was communicated to the other person in the first place.  It is advantageous in your role as a CPO to always start with an empathetic approach.  The resolution of conflict starts with empathy which in turn dovetails nicely with a positive, assertive attitude to create a win/win situation for all parties concerned.  The secret, then, of professionalism and quality customer service is to be able to harmonise your words, tonality of voice and body language (non-verbal communication) to match your role as a modern close protection officer.

Danger Indicators

Under stress the nervous system works in a particular way.  There is a step-by-step procedure for looking for and recognising potential conflict.  We break this down into three basic areas of identification:




From a visual perspective there are a deluge of indicators that provide us with sign posts for conflict and danger.  These can vary from person to person, but all are very common things that you will clearly see in an agitated individual.

Visual Indicators:

- Pecking neck

- Clenched fists

- 1000 yard stare

- Punching his own hand

- Pacing

- Suddenly face turns white (blood draining from the face)

- Clenched teeth

Audible indicators create background and foreground noise that can interfere with awareness.  Managing violent conflict can lead to high stress, so as close protection operators we must remember to be aware of surrounding sounds and noises to help indicate that conflict needs to be dealt with immediately.

Audible Indicators:

- Yelling and/or shouting

- Opponent is only capable of one syllable words

- Demonstrators' chanting

- Firearms discharge

Easy to recognize - but harder to deal with - tactile indicators are usually felt rather than always being seen and/or heard.

Tactile Indicators:

- Pushing and/or bumping into you

- Grabbing onto you

- Assaulting you

- Protesters throwing objects at you

Awareness and avoidance plays a big role in the recognition of these danger indicators.   Initiating a more pre-emptive approach towards accomplishing our mission will lead to controlling a confrontational situation with assertiveness- not aggression.  A CPO with a proclivity for recognising all these pre-conflict signs;  learning to defuse conflict first; striving for a win/win outcome and adapting with an immediate action response plan will be successful at problem solving and confronting potential conflict management situations that will arise within the field of high to medium risk close protection.  This is the catalyst of empowerment for the close protection operative- intercept the problem before it happens!

Tactical Proactive Response Stratagem

When dealing with a potential conflict, real skill lies in adopting a tactical action plan.  Remember, that, as a close protection officer your mission is to protect your principal first and foremost.  With that in mind, here is a map to follow that will keep you and your principle S.A.F.E.R.

  1. Step Back

Take a step back adopting a non-violent posture.  Blade your body slightly and keep feet shoulder width apart with your weight about 50/50.  Bring your hands up and make sure to show palms to your opponent- this will enable you to acquire better position; enhance your attitude; position yourself to look and listen empathetically; make enough space to control the reactionary gap and secure a strong stance that exudes confidence.

2. Assess the Threat

Whist maintaining a non-violent posture assess your surroundings- the person in front of you; others in your peripheral view that may be involved; objects that may cause danger to yourself and your principal and threat assess your environment quickly establishing escape routes and obstacles that may get in your way.

3.  Find Help

This is a vital component; call for help via communications, hand signals, call signs etc.

4.  Evaluate Exit Plan

Calculate your final recce of the situation and get ready to respond.

5.  Respond

It's ShowTime!  The better actor you are, the better you will serve your principal and the less stress you will experience working with the sometimes difficult and nasty public.

This whole process when learned and practiced takes only seconds to implement.  Do not underestimate to power of this process.  You are also S.A.F.E.R. because you are not emotionally involved.  You remain calm, adapting your role and developing your own delivery style; this new approach makes daily interaction a challenge in your role of a close protection officer that is uplifting and positive.

So, aside from the daily bonus of working as a CPO, the serendipity of managing conflict with an empowering attitude is the pathway to your professional evolution and self discovery in the world of high to medium risk close protection.


Joe Hubbard’s professional background is represented by a collective body of experience that spans over more than two decades of operational security know-how, close protection operations and close quarter combatives training. He is a highly sought out personal protection specialist who has authored five instructional DVDs and has written articles in international martial arts magazines such as Martial Arts Illustrated, Combat, Black Belt UK and Budo International. As a respected self-defence instructor, Joe has proven experience teaching many elite operatives that include former Special Forces operators, U.S. Marines, UK law enforcement, private corporations and responsible private citizens. As a licensed close protection operative, he has been trained in force protection tactics, counter-terrorism, tactical first aid, counter-surveillance, IED awareness and personal protection. Joe also holds many accredited instructor certifications and multiple black belts in martial arts systems comprised of unarmed combatives, ground fighting, knife/counter knife, stick fighting and fire arms.





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