Something to keep in mind when you’re on the verge of an alcohol-fueled altercation: People don’t like to fight; people like to beat people up. That’s why so many guys can flip on their tough-talk switch when in the company of five or six friends. It’s easy to be mouthy when you’re one of the backup singers.

On the flipside, when one is outnumbered, composure is critical to keeping things from boiling over. One of the things common to any experienced fighter is the unexpected calm they radiate prior to a pedestrian throwdown. There’s a grinning dismissal of the beer-muscled bozo in their face. Most of the crowd is too toasted to notice themselves, but right before the fight should start, someone is just smart enough to notice that despite the meathead’s taunts and chest-bumps, the other guy is responding with even eye contact and a steady stance. That’s eerie enough for the sidekick to step between the potential combatants and call it off.

And that’s the outcome you want, even if you don’t know a focus mitt from a flying armbar. Let’s presume you’re not an accomplished fighter. Can you summon Eastwood-calibre cool when a beatdown seems imminent? If so, there’s a good chance you can diffuse a situation before the haymakers start flying. Dig deep into that store of self-confidence, and you could make it out unscathed.

1.Go Easy on the Drinks

Having a few pops can lead to, well, eating a few pops. Who knows why you’re the target of tonight’s aggression, but if you’ve downed one too many, you might think you can man-dance with the best of them. Enjoy your first drink if you like, but alternate with soft options so you’re always thinking clearly, or at least more clearly than the guy doing upside-down margaritas on the saddle mounted to the middle of the bar.

2. Breathe

So, you said something about guys doing upside-down margaritas having mother issues, and that guy happened to hear you, even if he’s not sure what the hell mother issues are. You’ve been called out. A circle of fellow bar patrons is drawn, and you’re suddenly nose-to-nose with a tequila-breathing ‘roid head straining with rage against the seams of his Ed Hardy t-shirt.

This is no time for tension, wiseass. Match energy, and the whole thing will boil over. Oxygen is essential for rational thought and response. Draw deep through your nose, exhale through your mouth and keep your calm.

3. Put Your Hands Up

No, not “put your dukes up”. Taking a fighter’s stance, where you drop a foot back and raise your fists, says, “Okay bruh, let’s do this.” No, no, and no. Instead, stand with feet even, shoulder-width apart in a gunslinger stance. Bring both hands up in front of you, clasping your palms together (without interlacing your fingers) in a kind of quasi-prayer alignment. Keep your elbows down toward your hips.

What you’ve just done is put up what self-defense experts call “The Fence”. There is now a layer of defense between them and you. Your hands are at the ready to protect your face, your arms shield your body’s center. The worst thing you can do is leave your hands at your sides, which is an all-access pass to get pummeled everywhere that’s vital.

4. Manage Your Distance

Do this now: Hold one arm out straight in front of you, fingertips extended. Consider that the radius of a circle around your body that no one should transgress without your invitation. That’s punching and tackling distance as well. As tequila-boy walks up on you, simply step back (at an angle, preferably) and resume the protected stance described above.

If he continues to come forward, you continue to angle away. You’re not retreating, you’re creating angles of attack and defence—hopefully for the minute or two it will take before the bouncers arrive.

5. Maintain Eye Contact

Here’s where primal, predatory programming can over-ride meathead grey matter. Bullies love easy targets. Start to cower and you might think it invites pity. What it often does, however, is enrage Mr. Swole because he gets even more pissed by the sudden departure of your spine. “You aren’t even man enough to look at me, bro?”

So, don’t narrow your eyes in aggression, don’t gape in fear. Just hold an even gaze, which should be attainable because you’re at a safe distance and controlling your breathing. You’re still breathing, right?

6. Moderate Your Voice

You grew up watching Rambo flicks and can recite every line from Reservoir Dogs. Good for you. Now shut the fuck up.

Your fence is up, you’re managing distance, you’re keeping eye contact. If this guy is regaling the room with his description of what he’s about to do to you, about your under-endowment, about the sexual reputation of your mother—so be it. This is sticks-and-stones territory. Your goal is to wake up tomorrow without your jaw wired shut. Keep your script simple: “No problem, man.“ “It’s all good.” And, even, “I’m sorry.”

7. Beware Boomerang Confidence

Maybe the bouncers arrive, or a few friends step in. Great. Get your coat and find a different establishment. You don’t want to stay there and trust that dude’s hormone surge is going to taper off after he knocks back a few more Long Islands. Think about that. He was a nano-second away from trying to play “All About That Bass” on your teeth, and that’s just going to dissipate as the night wears on? Hardly.

If you’re still there at last call, expect another challenge at the very least, more likely a drunken sucker punch that you never saw coming, and that costs you a few teeth. Even worse, if he’s left and returned? That means he’s gone to his car for something with more bark.

There will be other happy hours, other ten-cent wing nights. Hit the bricks promptly, and you won’t have to worry about drinking your meals for the next three months. Wherever you end up, make this the last time you go somewhere that serves upside-down margaritas.