Jason Fox: How To Deal With Hostile Situations
As Foxy’s new Channel 4 series ‘Meet the Drug Lords: Inside The Real Narcos’ hits screens, his latest column for us is about how to deal with potentially hostile situations…because he’s certainly been involved in a few.
In the latest column, Jason Fox tells you how to deal with the high-pressure, hostile situations which life and work can throw at you. Sure you might not be dealing with a roomful of hitmen like Foxy was faced with in his unmissable new documentary series ‘Meet The Drug Lords: Inside the Real Narcos’ – in which he meets cartel members in Peru, Mexico and Colombia – but in normal life you will still have to enter situations to deal with difficult people in difficult circumstances which you want to handle well and emerge with a good results.
Here then are the tactics to employ, according to the big man:
Be Emotionally Aware
People expect me, with my background, to be about kicking down doors with guns blazing and asking questions later. When actually it’s more a case of being a people person and being emotionally aware. Being situationally aware too: what’s going on with people on the periphery, what’s the atmosphere in a room, or between certain people?
The way around hostile situations is, before that situation takes place, to take a period of time to breathe and relax. Take 10 seconds or 10 minutes, whatever time you’ve got, and use it well to get yourself into the right mindset.
I remember I was taught by the police about how to drive fast. And the first part of each day was about getting yourself in the right mindset for driving. If you’re going to go into a car angry, you’re going to achieve nothing, and probably end up with road rage, or cause an accident. You’re not going to get what you need to get done. I think it’s the same for any situation that you think is going to be a bit sketchy – you need to go off and get yourself in that mind space.
Foxy with a cocaine chef in San Francisco, Peru
Don’t Try to Be the Alpha
My old job in the Special Forces predominantly attracts alpha males. Which is cool, that’s what you want in certain situations, but we also learnt relationship skills and in the situations I found myself in the Narcos series, you can’t play the Alpha game. I was going to their yard, to their area, to find out about them, and wanting to build a relationship with them. They were potentially quite hostile people, so you’ve got to swallow your alpha male pride sometimes. It won’t do you any favours.
As soon as you are smiling and making eye contact, then people are going to start warming to you and think you’re not a threat. And if you’re not a threat, then you get so much more done. When you’re in the room with all these people, it’s about breaking down the alpha male barriers. Or the barriers put in place by the situation.
Imagine you’ve been pulled over by a policeman – if you’re angry and being dismissive and bolshy, he’s going to be on the backfoot and then think, “Hang on a minute, I’m an alpha too, I’m going to show him what I’m all about.”
It could be dealing with the police or a cartel member, or at work, but whatever the situation, take your time to breathe and get yourself into a good mood. We’ve all got the ability to do that. It’s not quite about swallowing your pride, it’s about doing what’s right to get that situation calmed down.
If you want to get things done, whether that’s a business deal where you’re trying to get clients into a contract, or if you’re trying to wheedle your way into the mind of a hitman, it’s about coming across as personable and gaining their trust, and then moving on to get them to do what you want them to do.
It’s not about manipulation, it’s about finding common ground where you’re all happy and can move on with whatever it is what you’re trying to do.
Don’t Freeze Up From Fear
It is natural to freeze up. One time we were in a room, with all the crew, waiting for 3 or 4 cartel members who were renowned for being horrific. And it can be difficult psychologically. One of the guys who’s a fixer for me, I asked him how long, and he said 4 minutes. I said to myself, ‘I’ve got 4 minutes to get myself together, I don’t know them, they don’t know me, but I’ll get prepared’. Then as soon as they walked in the doors, it was all big smiles, shaking hands, ‘thank you very much, really appreciate your time…’
As the conversation goes on, you’ve got to try to keep it up, see if you can get away with a tap on the shoulder, smiling every now and again, nodding your head, saying ‘I appreciate what you’re saying, I appreciate what you’re doing.’ It’s to continue the relationship build and it’s a barrier breakdown.
Foxy with a Mexican cartel hitman.
Remember you’re all human
On Narcos, I was thinking, ‘OK, they’re hitmen and cartel members, they’re badass,’ and they were probably thinking, ‘he’s a journalist or an ex special forces guy, what’s he up to?’ But to look at it another way, we’re all human, and we’re all worrying about something, that’s why they’re coming in with guns on show. It’s about breaking that down, and showing I’m a bloke and he’s a bloke, and we have feelings, and emotions. If you can push their worries to one side you can get on with the business you’re actually there for.
If Things Do Kick Off
On one occasion there was a mistranslation with the interpreter from me to them. They thought I was asking a question they’d told me not to ask. And then the hitman in the background was like, ‘Right f*cking stop, I told you if any of you f*ck around I’m going to kill you and bury you in the desert.’
I was like, ‘No, no, no, I’m really sorry,’ – at the same time my mouth was getting extra dry! – and I put my hands up and apologised saying it’s my mistake, looking at the floor, the old submissive thing. Again, the pride had to be swallowed to just quell the whole thing down.
I couldn’t have said, ‘it’s not my fault,’ when it was their interpreter they’d brought along – there was no point in doing that.
It was a case of hands up, palms up, the least aggressive gesture while they’re stood there with guns by their side. It’s about a de-escalation. You have to suck it up a little bit sometimes.
Keep a Lid On your Own Anger
I was with a fixer who was a bit of a hot head, and he’d get wound up. I said to him, ‘Just calm down, let it go, chill out,’ and he’d be like, ‘I can’t, I can’t.’ I said, ‘Well, if you can’t then we’re going to die, so please just calm down.’
I’ve got wound up myself in the past, and I know the best thing for me is to extract myself from there and give myself the opportunity to calm down.
Go away and breathe. It’s like mediation, getting yourself in a more reasonable state. When all the adrenaline is pumping round and you’re clenching your fists, you need to breathe and get the blood going to the organs that allow you to think straight.
From meeting these people on Narcos, I learnt that they don’t have much choice about the life they lead. They’re born into those communities. And it’s not even the communities’ fault, it’s the high-level authorities’ fault for not wanting to deal with the communities; educate the people and give them legitimate work. Even the cartels aren’t particularly to blame because all they’re doing is exploiting the situation by giving people a better opportunity. If there was education, if there were jobs, then there’d be less of a reason for people to get involved in organised crime.
I don’t know if I learned a lot from the individuals but what I did learn was that they are human. People think they’re just animals as they’re involved in the drug trade, but their own government isn’t doing anything to help them. It’s about investment in those areas, not just with money but allowing them to feel like they’re worth something to a higher echelon of power.
All a lot of these people want to do is provide for their families, and there’s no other way of doing it other than making cocaine or selling it on the streets. The opportunity from that is far outweighs the opportunity of having a legitimate business.
A lot of it is keeping a flexible mindset. If you think you’re going to get something done a certain way and it doesn’t go that way, you might flip out and get angry.
Understand what needs to be done if the situation does go a bit sketchy. You’re less likely to get hot headed if you’re aware that it might not go the way you wanted it to, but it doesn’t matter. Plan a few courses of action before you enter the situation, then you’re more prepared for if it does go wrong.
Foxy with the Anti Drugs Special Operations Division of Palmapampa, San Francisco, Peru.
And finally, on ‘…Inside the Real Narcos’
We visited Peru, Mexico and Colombia, and the three countries have their own characters. In Peru, they were rustically naïve to what’s going on outside of its borders. They just make Peruvian flake, the product, but they didn’t really understand the enormity of the cocaine trade. There were dangers out there but if it had of kicked off there it would have been on a rustic level, farmers with pitchforks that kind of thing.
Colombia was just edgy altogether, whether you’re with law enforcement or cartel members, because they’re quite well developed in their approach to what they’re doing, so they’re very afraid of each other. There’s an edginess there, and I wasn’t happy on either side.
And then Mexico was even worse because of the police being so corrupt. The cartels are in control of everything, and the violence is on another level – people are getting chopped up. They’re the mentalists, definitely.
I did enjoy doing the show. I enjoyed the challenge and the danger – there is a sense of achievement having gone in there, unarmed, only as a small group of people, and coming away with a TV show that should be mega-informative. For me, it’s an unbiased view of everyone involved on both sides of the fence, whether it’s the war on drugs or the business of drugs. I wanted people to see the individuals involved, what they thought, what jobs they did, and who they were as people.
It was quite dangerous though!
The first episode of ‘Meet the Drug Lords: Inside the Real Narcos’ is screened on Channel 4 on August 2nd at 9pm.
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