"Boards Don't Hit Back..."
In the film, Enter the Dragon, as Bruce Lee’s character faces off against his opponent, a really tough and brutal man named Ohara, the man tosses a board he has been carrying into the air and smashes it in two with a single punch. Lee maintains his detached cool, looks at Ohara and, with a slight smile, informs him, “Boards don’t hit back.” Immediately afterward, Lee annihilates Ohara in the fight. Unfortunately for Ohara, his attempt to “psych-out” Lee failed miserably.
Perhaps you’ve experienced something similar yourself at one time or another. Maybe you were preparing to engage in a golf or tennis match against another person, be it a friend or someone you’d only just met, and your opponent looks you up and down and with a smirk says, “Well, I hope you’re ready to lose badly today, pal.” Or perhaps you were vying to be part of a team assigned to a particular project at work, and another co-worker who wanted the position pulled you aside and told you, “You know I’m going to get the job because I’ve got far more experience than you.” In both these cases, the other person was attempting to psych you out in some way.
“Psych-outs” are psychological ploys used a person to evoke some kind of response (usually a negative one) from their target. The perpetrator’s objective is to draw a response or reaction from their intended victim which plays to their own advantage. The psych-out may be verbal in nature, or it may be expressed through a person’s overall behavior and attitude towards you. In either case, the goal remains the same, to offset you in some way.
There are different types of psych-outs, but ultimately they all fall into three primary categories: provocation, intimidation, and evoking guilt feelings.
‘Provocation’ psych-outs include:
“Cage-Rattling” – When using this method the perpetrator constantly taunts the victim, frequently under the guise of friendly kidding. They will say such things as “You’re not too bad…for a beginner.” Cage-rattling can be overt or it may subtle. In either case the perpetrator is literally trying to “rattle your cage” (your brain or mind) and the message is “You don’t scare me; even your best won’t be good enough. I’m superior, you’re inferior.”
Teacher-Teacher – In this case the perpetrator gives their victim gratuitous (and usually unasked for) lessons or advice. In the case of an athlete, the perpetrator might do such things as correcting the person’s stance, or pointing out mistakes in their motions -- “You didn’t turn your body with that punch. I used to have the same problem.” Teacher-teacher psych-outs often include faint praise mixed with condescension -- “That would’ve been great, if only….” The underlying message with this form of psych-out is “I’m the expert and you’re the dummy. That’s why I am teaching you” As with cage-rattling, the underlying message the perpetrator is attempting to convey is that they are superior to you.
Cold shoulder – In athletics, younger players often look up to veterans, not only for inspiration but also for recognition. The same goes for the business world. New employees often look up to seniors as benchmarks or examples, and seek some sort of recognition from them. When using this form of psych-out the perpetrator feigns a complete lack of interest in what the other person is doing, no matter how good the performance is. The message conveyed is “Nothing you do interests or impresses me.”
‘Intimidation’ psych-outs include:
Roaring Lion – The perpetrator tries to intimidate and impress opponent with their superiority in whatever it is they are doing and convey the message -- “Give up now, because you don’t stand a chance.”
Secret Weapon – In this instance the perpetrator points out some reputed advantage they have over the other person. It might be related to materials or equipment, or it could be some form of information or knowledge. The intimidation factor conveyed in the message could be something like, “I’ve got you where I want you because of this new equipment .and it far surpasses yours” or “I have some information about this project that nobody else knows about.”
‘Evoking guilt feelings’ are psych-outs intended to make you feel bad about yourself in some way:
Nice Guy/Nice Girl – When using this tactic the perpetrator tries to help you and keeps reminding you non-stop what a terrific person you are, saying thing like, “Wow, I wish I could kick like that” or “You’re so fantastic. You always do that perfectly.” Whether the act is put-on or real, the objective is to convey through words and behavior, the message that you should be ashamed of yourself for trying to beat a nice person like them and get you to apologize for your own good work and lay back and not do your best.
Poor Soul – In this case the perpetrator let’s you know he or she is playing under a handicap of some sort, such as – “I’m just getting over being down with the flu for a week.”
Whether provocation, intimidation, or evoking guilt feelings, the insidious thing about psych-outs is that they are deceptive, and many times we receive them on an emotional level rather than on an intellectual level where we could deal with them more rationally. The psych-out is apprehended unconsciously and gets to you without you recognizing it.
Some people thrive on psych-outs and love to use them as often as possible because they think it will give them an advantage over the other person and increase their chances of success or winning, etc. These people are usually very competitive and feel the need to use something extra to gain some kind of edge against any form of competition.
Your prime defense against being psyched-out is awareness; seeing what is happening and understanding what is going on. When you notice a person is trying to psych you out in some way, recognize that it could be an indication that they’re worried about your ability and are demonstrating their own insecurity by trying to offset you.
The next time someone attempts to use a psych-out against you, maintain your “detached cool.” Look them squarely in the eye, smile, and tell them – “Boards don’t hit back.”