Don’t Suck at Verbal Self-Defense
Have you ever been verbally attacked but didn’t quite know how to respond? I, for one, have been there, and it can be quite a frustrating experience. Perhaps you tried to argue against a ridiculous accusation using facts, only to see the doubt remain on the other people’s faces.
Or even worse, the verbal attack completely stunned you, and you didn’t react at all. With each passing minute, you felt more certain that you should have done something, but the longer you waited, the harder it became. But what exactly could you have done?
Disproving a preposterous accusation doesn’t accomplish a thing.
Let’s analyze the typical series of events:
- A preposterous accusation is made against you.
- You are shocked or completely stunned.
- Disproving the accusation has no apparent effect on the observers.
Does this sound familiar?
If it does, it’s because most verbal abuse follows the same basic pattern:
- The “hook”, which is usually something preposterous.
- A hidden implication, which is aimed to do real harm.
The hook needs to be shocking, both to distract you and to get you off balance. Also, while you are foaming at the mouth and attacking the hook (or just blinking in utter disbelief), you are essentially letting the implication stand. Every minute spent on the topic actually gives more and more weight to the implication!
This kind of power game happens at work quite often, and it also happens within family settings. The reason behind why people do it is a completely different topic, but what is important to remember is that the pattern is almost always the same.
So, the next question is: how do you defend yourself?
This depends on many factors: what’s the attacker’s motivation? What type of person is he or she? What is the power balance between you, the attacker, and the audience? Obviously, with all of these variables, it can be a long path to mastering the art of verbal judo.
Fortunately, there is a simple approach you can start applying immediately. This formula unfailingly gives you much more power in those types of situations:
- Ignore the hook completely, as though it wasn’t said at all. Never take the bait, because that is precisely what your attacker wants you to do.
- Recognize the implication and reveal it to everyone. Then, address the implication in whatever way you think is appropriate.
You must ignore the hook, and deal with the implication instead.
For example, if “unfortunately” and due to “understanding circumstances” some of your results are implied to “always” be of little use, then you can ask exactly when the verbal attacker concluded that you didn’t know how to do your job.
Or, if the attacker is going overboard to patronize you or be condescending, you can thank him or her for holding your hand, but also state that it isn’t necessary.
Sometimes, you might not have the faintest idea of what to do. However you still need to respond just the same. Just be sure to ignore the hook and attack the implication without losing your smile or your cool. Some people might not agree, but my personal opinion is that you should never let verbal attacks go undefended. Never. As I see it, your actual choice in this situation is either:
A) Willingly allow someone to take your power away; or
B) Risk making yourself somewhat of an unsophisticated caveman.
I’ll pick the caveman route every time, but that’s my own personal choice. I had learned the hard way not to give any of my personal power away without my consent.
You MUST act immediately, otherwise you are giving your power away.
A real eye-opener for me was reading the book “The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense,” by Suzette Elgin. It’s relatively old, yet I was completely captivated while reading it. Much of the advice from the book can also be applied immediately, which allows you to see the impact of your attitude change very quickly.
In short, however, everything boils down to these two points again:
- Be aware of the hook/implication trick.
- Ignore the hook and react instead to the underlying implication.
- Check the infographics I’ve made on verbal self-defense.
- Leave a comment, I’ll be glad to know what you think.
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