Contact Avoidance vs Contact Management

| September 14, 2015 | 3 Comments

If you get enough professional training eventually you will get contradictory instruction from people you respect.

This can be a difficult situation for a student to navigate, especially if they have trained with one organization for a period of time and then encounter something different the first time training with a different instructor.

I encountered such a contradiction while attending Craig Douglas’s Extreme Close Quarters Combat class this July.

If you’ve read my write-ups and after action reports about the class, you know that I loved the course. I really like and respect Craig Douglas. I learned a different strategy for managing unknown contacts, and it caused me to choose what’s best for me.

One strategy is contact avoidance — if you don’t know who the person is or profile them as a potential threat, avoid them if possible. I have learned this approach from QSI Training, Defense Training International, and Suarez International.

I’ve termed the other strategy contact managementThis approach means interacting with the unknown contact(s) in order to determine their intentions. Dialog, posture, and positioning help us evaluate the other individuals. This is the approach taught by Craig Douglas / Shivworks.

Contact avoidance = stay out of trouble. Contact management = talk your way out of potential trouble.

Contact Avoidance

I’ll describe the tape loop taught by DTI, QSI, and dozens of other schools affiliated with DTI. The strategy I learned from Suarez International was less structured, but the intent is the same: don’t engage with someone you don’t know.

The objective is to get away from someone as quickly as possible while being direct but not aggressive.

I’m sorry, I can’t help you.” This is the key phrase used in the contact avoidance strategy. Hands up in a defensive but non-threatening posture, brief, non-aggressive eye contact, and polite refusal to interact any further.

This technique works incredibly well where I work in downtown Minneapolis, which is chock a block with panhandlers and other hustlers.

If “Sorry, can’t help you” doesn’t work, the next attempt is a misdirection. Point away from the contact, make a noise, and move the opposite direction. The intent is to divide this person’s attention, giving you time to move away. Hopefully the additional distance gained from this technique will end the encounter, or help you determine the intent of the unknown contact.

Lastly, it may be possible to get loud and direct if the other techniques don’t work. If the person is still following you, and/or if they become hostile, the phrase is


If contact continues at this point, you have clear indicators that this unknown contact is a negative one. You may have to use force to end the encounter.

Conflict Avoidance vs Conflict Resolution-0


  • Avoids unknown contacts — no need for in-flight problem solving
  • Practiced phrases and techniques remove the need for in-contact thinking, allowing the student to focus on situational awareness, threatening behavior or unfolding situations
  • Practiced phrases are non-confrontational and designed to be overheard by witnesses in the event of an incident. “The woman kept saying ‘get away from me,’ and the guy kept following her.”


  • Requires the student to profile people based on physical appearance and body posture, which may make some uncomfortable
  • Saying “I’m sorry I can’t help you” to an old lady makes you feel like an asshole (ask me how I know)
  • Some think that immediately dismissing an unknown contact may cause that contact to become more hostile

In the photo above, I am in the grey shirt and am the “defending” student. I continued to move and keep my hands up in a ready but non aggressive manner. My hands are not balled into fists, and I am the one attempting to remove myself from the scenario.

However, the other contact was just asking for a few bucks to get gas. Maybe they were being truthful, maybe not. Maybe he was going to assault me, maybe he wasn’t. I never gave him that chance, right or wrong. The Contact Avoidance strategy is definitely less “friendly” than the Management strategy.

Contact Management

Contact Management is founded on the idea that we can’t go around in public avoiding people all the time and/or yelling at them to get away from us. This approach is a balance between always being on alert and being unrealistically optimistic that everyone we encounter has good intentions.

This strategy also has an escalation route, but the way a student gets there is more free-form and improvisational. This gives the student the maximum flexibility in managing an unknown contact.

The first phase is acknowledgement. Verbally or physically indicate that you see the unknown contact. At this point, the scenario has an opportunity to unfold for good, bad, or indifferent.

The student must now utilize techniques learned from Doug or elsewhere to determine the contact’s intentions. For example, are they touching their face, looking around, balling their fists, or patting their clothing? All of these things are possible pre-fight indicators.

Does their story add up? If they are asking for gas money, do they want you to drive them to get gas?

If at any point the student feels uncomfortable or threatened, they are to use verbal dialog, movement, positioning, and physical force as necessary. The student has full discretion to decide when they’ve had enough of this person, and to react accordingly.

“I’ll talk to you, but you need to stop right there. Don’t come any closer.” This example phrase indicates that the student is unsure if the person is a threat or not, but they could be, and issuing a non-threatening but direct command results in compliance or more information about the unknown contact.

From there, the student repeats their OODA loop on how to deal with the contact.

Conflict Avoidance vs Conflict Resolution-1


  • A more socially viable, humane way to manage unknown contacts. Sometimes people need help, and this system may allow you to discern that
  • Flexibility to change behavior / reactions based on interacting with the unknown contacts
  • May be more effective on unknown contacts who may not speak English as their first language, and/or have hearing problems


  • The student must stay engaged with an unknown contact for longer periods of time
  • The student must improvise how to handle the situation. Students get better doing this with experience and practice, but it still requires decision making
  • The student must break free of social conditioning in order to have a conversation with an unknown contact. For example, most of us stop when talking to someone. This is a terrible thing to do when dealing with an unknown contact. Experienced practitioners of this technique continue to move, but the majority of students in the ECQC class did not

In the photo above, I am wearing the gray shirt and am standing next to Craig Douglas. The student next with his hands up is the “defender,” and he’s managing an unknown contact via speech and distance. However, he was standing still, and not looking at me (he was aware I was a 2nd unknown contact, but unsure of my role in this scenario). Had Craig released me into this scenario, it would have been easy for me to blitz the defending student.

Keep it simple

In my experience as a student, I’ve watched and heard a lot of people manage unknown contacts. This may take place in a force on force class, or as part of de-escalation drills.

Here are things I’ve noticed about improvised verbal communications with unknown contacts:

Students may say things that are unnecessarily aggressive. They may also not be aware of what they say. While attending a fixed blade class taught by Chris Fry of MDTS this February at Rangemaster, the “defending” student accessed a training knife, squared up on his unknown contact, and yelled “I’M GOING TO FUCKING KILL YOU!!!” After the drill was over, the student did not believe he said such a thing, and repeated himself over and over until someone showed him video of the incident.

I’ve heard other students say things like, “get away from me, you fucking bum,” or “I’ll blow your head off.” The worst is when they try to be funny or amusing — this usually causes them to stop moving and may further incite aggressive contact from a person they should be avoiding.

I also think there’s value in having pre-constructed, consistent verbalizations. The tape loop taught by QSI and DTI are simple, and direct. They may create a supporting body of evidence that the student was a reluctant participant in any conflict that may occur.

It’s Your Call

The difference in techniques taught by Shivworks has made me think a lot in the two months since taking the ECQC course. After thinking about the pros and cons of each, I’ve decided to stay with the Contact Avoidance strategy.

However, depending on your life situation, job, environment, and morality you may choose the Contact Management strategy. I think the Contact Management method is the only method for those in law enforcement, security, etc. They may get enough practice “on the job” to use it off the clock.

Which strategy do you think is best for you?


About the Author:

Short Barrel Shepherd Short Barrel Shepherd is a regular guy and works to make Web sites and mobile apps easier for people to use. He spends his free time attending fight-focused firearm, knife, and combatives training, motorcycling, writing, and playing games. His daily carry is a Glock 19 pistol and an AR15 .300 Blackout pistol in a backpack.

3 Comments on "Contact Avoidance vs Contact Management"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. The She-Shepherd The She-Shepherd says:

    I love this article because it does a very fair job of highlighting why it is important to challenge your training and be open to new techniques.

    I honestly think that we are all capable of taking each situation in turn and applying the strategy that will be most appropriate.

    For a more diminutive person, or one who has limited self defense training, conflict avoidance with an emphasis on awareness and disengagement might make more sense than trying to manage someone with an obvious physical advantage who might be benign, but still sets off your radar.

    For women in particular this notion of “being nice” is especially dangerous. Think of that scene in Silence of the Lambs where the woman thinks she should be nice to the man trying to load his couch into a trailer. You can tell he makes her uncomfortable, but she wants to be helpful.We already know how to be helpful and nice. What we need is training in being direct and clear with our boundaries and a plan for how to handle someone determined to cross them.

    If you’ve already mastered conflict avoidance or if you feel confident in your ability to handle a situation that goes wrong, it makes perfect sense to proceed to the management piece of training.

    There is room for everyone in this community.

  2. Drew Pruhs says:

    A point of clarification.

    Craig’s MUC starts with an avoidance technique, with the first verbal line being “Sorry, can’t help you”, with the intention being to leave the area if possible or dissuade further contact. Assuming that doesn’t work it switches to more of a management mode, with (up to) two to three “levels” of verbalization before things could go physical.


  3. Robert says:

    Great article! I agree on several levels.

    For one thing, I’ve run into this same issue where several trainers teach you diametrically opposed techniques. What do you do? My answer has always been to take what works from each and file the rest for future consideration. I just wrote an article on this as it relates to point shooting vs. sighted fire.

    I also like that you’ve given this some serious thought. Sort of like the “thinking athlete”, you have to do your thinking and planning BEFORE action is needed, so that when the action is needed, you act without having to think about it. That is indeed why Craig goes with the scripted responses, so that the responses are automatic and you can focus on what’s happening around you and what the contact is doing rather than saying.

    Good stuff.


Post a Reply to Drew Pruhs