If you had a chance to avoid a violent encounter with words, would you take it?
I’m betting that your answer is yes. Especially if that encounter is just someone having a bad day, or a drunk brother-in-law.
This is where verbal judo can come in really useful – not just in potentially violent situations, but every day, at work, in your clubs, even at home with your teenagers (if you have any!).
Verbal judo is a key part of self-defense because it manages another person’s hostility and deflects it from violence.
Verbal judo works in your daily life
One of the main techniques behind verbal judo is empathy.
The late Dr. George Thompson explains it well in a lecture to students at the Columbia Business School (below).
It is a great reminder how verbal judo works in every day life, even though Dr Thompson had intended it for cops as an alternative to using force.
If you use the wrong words, you can lose your promotion or your job, you can alienate your loved ones, you can get sued, you can die. – Dr George Thompson
The way Dr Thompson sees it, instead of saying what comes naturally when you are angry, control that anger and use what he calls tactical language.
Tactical language is communication that is used to achieve your goals and to handle the situation you are faced with.
In the instance of a potentially violent situation where you are not able to get away from, but where there is still a chance to prevent it from turning violent, stay engaged with the aggressor and deflect his aggressive language.
Deflect verbal assaults
Deflection of a verbal assault can be done by using at least two of the following, in combination with a projection of empathy and sincerity in the delivery and followed up with professional, calm language.
Some examples of deflection that Dr Thompson taught include using opening phrases such as:
“I might feel that way too …”
“I appreciate that, and …”
“My wife/husband would agree with you….”
“I think I understand why you feel that way …”
It is important to remember that if you want to calm another person down, you need to project empathy, rather than saying “Calm Down”, which usually does the opposite.
The moment you stop thinking like the other person, you lose your power over the situation.
Empathy will also help you understand what the person really means, rather than what they are yelling at you in the heat of the moment.
Paraphrase to keep the other person calm
Try paraphrasing to ensure you have heard what has been said correctly, in a much calmer, sincere voice than the angry person is using. The tool for paraphrasing is as follows:
“You’re (angry, upset, or other emotion) because of (reason/reasons). Is this true?”
This gives your adversary the opportunity to modify the feeling you stated, or the reasons why he is feeling that way, or he could modify both.
In any case, it gives him a chance to back away from the edge, and gives you an opportunity to understand his situation better.
If the other person is spinning into a cycle of anger, you need to break his tailspin without upsetting them further.
One verbal judo technique is to interject with: “Let me see if I understand what you said…”, followed by paraphrasing as described previously.
When you have been able to:
- deflect the initial verbal assault,
- empathize with and clarify why they are upset by paraphrasing them, and
- used non-offensive ways to interrupt their rage,
- the next step would be to attempt to negotiate your desired outcome.
Negotiate the outcome you want
Dr Thompson outlined a five-step negotiation process, starting with:
- Asking the other person to do what you would like them to do, such as to “Please put down that broken bottle.”
- Giving them the reasons why you are asking, such as “because that broken bottle you are holding may lead to something that none of us can fix.”
- Giving options, not threats, and:
- Use a friendly voice.
- Provide the positive option first, then the negative, then remind them of the positive.
- Be specific. Generalities are ineffective.
- Root it in their selfish interest.
An example would be:
“If you put the broken bottle down now, no one will get hurt. Nothing bad has happened yet, and there is still a chance to press the reset button on this, to start over.
If you do not put that broken bottle down, you may cause permanent injury and you will never be able to take that back.
You will end up in jail and you will have to deal with the police and the justice system for months.
This will cost you money you don’t need to spend, and will take time from your family and your job.
You could lose everything.
Please, choose to start over, and put that broken bottle down.”
- If they refuse, confirm that they are choosing to not comply, and help them find common ground that they can stand on and save face. Ask: “Is there anything else I can say or do to get you to do put that bottle down?”
- The final step is to act – either to escape or to defend yourself if violence is unavoidable.
Remember, verbal judo tools are ways to deal with people who are extremely upset and may be potentially violent, and are not designed for people who have already decided to hurt you.