Are You Threatening Me?

Threatening behaviors are always cause for concern. Given, the behavior of an angry or aggressive person can become unpredictable. Furthermore, our appraisal of the problem can result in unpleasant feelings that become incredibly explosive when in emotionally charged situations.


Threatening behavior is a broad term. The term is general and transcends mediums to include face-to-face communication to electronic communication and everything in between. Threatening action can include

  • Words and behaviors that indicate a threat is imminent.

  • Using language, a person could reasonably interpret as threatening.

  • It is insignificant if the person making the threats have the means to carry out the threat.

  • I was just upset when I made the statements or threatening gestures do not negate the threat.

  • The method used to convey the threat does not matter and why the person made the threat in the first place.

  • Actions that destroy property

Unfortunately, well-intentioned conversations can sometimes spiral out of control. One such conversation is a discussion between colleagues about vaccination against COVID-19. Initially, the debate was about whether issuing a vaccine mandate violated people's right to decide for themselves. Eventually, they drew lines in the proverbial sand, and then it seemed without warning the discussion escalated into name-calling.


In fairness, there were some warning signs anger was escalating. What were the warning signs?

  • The name-calling (words I won't repeat here) offered the first clue.

  • There was a reluctance to listen to each other's perspectives without interruption.

  • The reactions from both parties seemed unreasonable based on the nature of the discussion.

  • Shouting profanity-laced tirades at each other, that seemed relatively innocuous until they were standing face-to-face.

  • They both traded insults that were unrelated to the topic.

We overlooked the warning signs because we had no "expectation" there would be a need for an intervention. In hindsight, we could have quashed the debate once the name-calling began. While we are not responsible for the outcome, we could have intervened earlier.


How do we determine if our well-being is under threat? Threats can be direct or implied, and it is significant we understand how people express threats.


Direct threat – two people are angry at each other. One person delivers an explicit message of intent to harm the other person. The target of the threat is the other person in the conflict; the person making the threat says, "I will punch you in the face."

Indirect threat – some people are aware of the consequences of making a direct threat to an identified person or property. So, they use vague statements that are unclear as to what is their intention. Therefore, the meaning is up to interpretation. For example, "you should know what I can do to you."

Veiled threat – the statement is ambiguous, inexact, lacks directness, and implies some action is likely but communicates no clear intention.

Conditional threat – you are warned of impending action against you if your behaviors are not following expectations. For example, "if you do not stop pointing at me, I will punch you in the face."


We are likely to use threats when we are:

  • In negotiations

  • Conflicts

  • To establish a dominant position.

  • To control another person's behavior to meet specific demands.

  • Use threats to coerce people to behave in a particular way.

There is no single answer that may suffice when we interpret our safety as compromised by the actions of another person or persons.

  • Individuals make threats through verbal and non-verbal communication.

  • Are you threatening me? Yes, it is a reasonable question to ask when you feel threatened by someone who makes a statement of intent to harm you.

  • How the threatening message is framed and delivered can constitute an emergency or a non-emergency.

  • Assess quickly if you are in imminent danger and whether the person making the threat has the immediate means to make good on the threat. The onus is on you to protect yourself against clear and present dangers.

  • If the threat is deemed credible and is an emergency, call the police.

  • You may not want to appear weak, so you respond with the same intensity as the person making the threat. The passion you respond with can escalate or de-escalate the conflict. Therefore, try to redirect the discussion to what you started out discussing.

  • Summarize what you hear the other person saying and repeat it back to the person in a concise manner. Summarizing may let the person know you are listening.

Be vigilant about your safety.


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