Gray man communication: How to talk to anyone

two men talking

Be sure to check out our entire series on being a gray man:

  1. Part 1: What is a gray man?
  2. Part 2: Practicing situational awareness
  3. Part 3: Gray man clothing and gear
  4. Part 4: Travel as a gray man
  5. Part 5: The communication style of a gray man (current article)

We’ll be introducing the different aspects of a gray man, how to approach day-to-day situations as a gray man, exploring a strong Mental EDC, and making recommendations on gear and tools.

In Part 1 we talked about how being a gray man is carrying yourself in a state of vagueness, or in a condition that draws little to no attention. We then defined in Part 2 what situational awareness is and why it’s a key component of being gray and in Part 3, we talked looked at how a gray man approaches the clothing he wears and the gear he carries. In Part 4 we talked about how a gray man travels and moves through everyday life. And finally, in Part 5, we talk about the communication style of a gray man.

What if?

Imagine this, you and your family decide to take a trip to the beach for the Fourth of July. The plans are to enjoy the day through various activities, ending with dinner, a parade, and fireworks show on the seawall.

“You don’t have to enjoy talking to people to be able to carry on a conversation and defuse situations. However, you should be good at it. It is an important skill which is vital across numerous aspects of life.”

After a nice dinner, you and your family make your way and pick a prime spot to view the parade. Once you pick your spot and everyone gets settled in, you notice (as one would expect) a large number of people who are consuming alcohol. As time goes on, you can tell by their demeanor (verbal and non-verbal) that they have probably been drinking most of the day.

No one is getting out of line or acting stupid, but you make note of the environment. Everyone is focused on the upcoming parade. The festivities kick-off and all attention is on the sights and sounds. All is well until the parade comes to an end.

Once all the parade participants clear the street, the crowds begin to converge on the empty roadway and folks no longer have something to focus their attention on. All of a sudden you find you and your family in the midst of a large crowd. You also notice the limited number of law enforcement compared to the masses.

A little later than ideal, you decide to get your family off the main street in an attempt to hit the sides streets for some relief from the crowds. As you are leading your family to an exit, you inadvertently bump into someone’s shoulder. You hear some loud, profanity-laced words coming in your direction and you see someone headed your way. The look on his face and his aggressive posture tell you he is up to no good.

You have a decision to make at this point. 

Do you allow pride to get the best of you to the point where you enter into an altercation? Or, do you attempt to defuse and de-escalate the situation? If you choose the latter, do you feel confident you can communicate with someone who is in that frame of mind?

For the purposes of this scenario, let’s assume you are going to attempt to talk your way out of the situation. There is no way to safely remove you and your family without some sort of verbal exchange at a minimum.

You don’t have to enjoy talking to people to be able to carry on a conversation and defuse situations. However, you should be good at it. It is an important skill which is vital across numerous aspects of life.

In the context of this article, I am talking about verbal communication and the physical responses surrounding verbal communication. In the most basic sense, it is an exchange of information between two or more people through speech. 

Now, to relate that to a gray man, we first need to review what a gray man is. 

What is a gray man?

On the most basic level, a gray man means you have the ability to carry yourself in a state of vagueness or in a condition that draws little to no attention. A gray man avoids:

  • Acting in the extremes on both ends of the spectrum (loud versus quiet, slow versus fast, etc.)
  • Taking on the appearance of a threat or a target
  • Drawing attention for the wrong reasons

One needs to have the ability to be gray when needed, but it is not something that needs to consume your thoughts and actions.  (For a more detailed look of what a gray man is, take a look the article below where I go into a lot more detail, What is a gray man?)

An often overlooked facet of being gray is the ability to engage and talk to people in a way that doesn’t draw attention to yourself. 

See if you can relate to the following:

  • Have you ever encountered a person who completely freezes up when they are spoken to? How about the person who seems to never stop talking? Both are pretty memorable for all the wrong reasons.
  • What if you end up in a situation you shouldn’t be in? I’m not talking about breaking the law here … I’m talking about those rare instances when you might inadvertently be in a prohibited area and are confronted by someone. Or, maybe you are on an international trip and you violate some cultural norm? As a result, one of the locals is upset with you and starts to confront you. What do you do then?

A gray man understands how to interact with all types of people in a variety of situations. The idea is to be able to communicate effectively while drawing as little attention as possible.


When you are talking to someone, be sure to have the proper demeanor. Your demeanor is how you conduct or carry yourself or how you “behave.” Your demeanor can also be broadcast through your facial appearance or expressions. When you are talking, people read your body language and compare it to the things you are saying. If the two do not match up, it raises suspicion.

When confronted with a comment, question, or anything of the like, try to not be awkward. An awkward, knee-jerk reaction or reply will be looked at with scrutiny. Instead, pause for a moment and gather your thoughts before providing a response. A two-second pause may feel like an eternity, but in the course of normal human interaction, it will hardly be noticed.

It may not be as easy as it sounds, but it is something anyone can get a grasp of.

The bottom line is you need to be able to converse with folks on a “normal,” acceptable level. Some may say label this type of dialogue as small talk. 

Deflection and/or redirection

What about those tougher situations where the person you are encountering is coming on a little more aggressive? Remember, the main thing you need to do is remain calm. This goes back to having the proper demeanor … think tone and body language. Then, if you think a simple explanation will not work, you can use a variety of deflection and/or redirection techniques. These tactics can be used to avoid hard questions or to subtly change the topic of a conversation. 

“Try to go in with a solid knowledge base built around the people you will encounter, the political environment, current events, weather, and geography. Tailor your responses in a fashion that draws information from the other person.”

Try a few of the techniques listed below:

  • Answer part of the question and not the whole question. This will sometimes give you the wiggle room you need to avoid the tough stuff. 
  • Acknowledge the original question and use it to divert to another topic which you can honestly answer. This will allow you to transition from the tough question to something you want to answer. This is called bridging.
  • Reframe the question as an alternative to bridging. Use this technique to take a difficult or negative question and frame it into something positive. This allows you to avoid the original negativity and highlight points of your choosing. The person questioning you can remain in control and you can answer on your own terms.
  • Answer in a way that confuses the other person to the point they lose interest in the question or conversation. You can do this by giving convoluted and uber detailed responses.
  • Use humor to defuse or lighten a situation that is becoming too serious.
  • Find a way to flatter or compliment the person to change their demeanor and direction of questioning.
  • Use a word or phrase in the original question and associate it with another topic you can speak on. 
  • Use the excuse of needing a bathroom break to disrupt the conversation. Once you return, engage the person with a new topic to steer the conversation in a more beneficial direction.

Depending on the environment you’re in and how much advance notice you’ve had, a little preparation ahead of time can go a long way. Try to go in with a solid knowledge base built around the people you will encounter, the political environment, current events, weather, and geography. Tailor your responses in a fashion that draws information from the other person.

We are not talking about psychological warfare here. Just make the conversation about them, offer as little as you need to in order to answer questions, and don’t completely lose composure if a topic is brought up you have no idea about. 

Focus on those attributes, have the ability to defuse awkward or bad situations, be able to deflect and redirect when necessary, and always have an exit plan. If you are well versed in these areas you will be well on your way.

What would you do?

Let’s get back to our original scenario.

As we say down here in Texas, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Meaning, there are a lot of different approaches to take here depending on your knowledge, skills, and abilities.

  1. Acknowledge what happened and apologize. “Hey man, my apologies. I didn’t mean to bump into you. I’m just trying to find a way through the crowds.” Don’t try to play stupid or pretend it wasn’t you. You will immediately lose credibility.
  2. Show some empathy. No matter your feelings towards who is right or wrong, let him know you understand his reaction. “It’s crazy out here. I’ve been getting bumped around all night. Has it been the same for you?”
  3. Finally, let your show of empathy allow a transition to de-escalation. “Do you know the quickest way out of here? I don’t want to keep struggling my way through this mess.” This would be a good time to take advantage of your situational awareness. You need to be cognizant of any pre-assault indicators. Try to keep a healthy reactionary gap, if at all possible.
  4. Once the opportunity presents itself, keep making your way out of the area while keeping a watchful eye.

Cody Martin

With over 18 years of federal law enforcement, training, and physical security experience, Cody focuses his time nowadays on both consulting and training. He regularly advises individuals, groups, multinational corporations, schools, houses of worship, and NGOs on security threats while conducting customized training as needed.

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