The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense is Suzette Elgin is a book on defending yourself against bullying and aggressive communicators.
- Don’t react emotionally: that’s what the verbal attacker wants
- Agree with them when they use general presuppositions
- There are many kinds of attacks, but once you know how to answer to a few, you can answer to all of them
The Gentle Art of Self Defense uses a lot of example and voice tonality. For the voice tonality, of course, I can’t help here.
These are the overarching principles you need to
1. Know You’re Under Attack
Many don’t know and blame themselves for being too sensitive.
This is because the attacker often is not physically threatening or because he uses double-binding techniques, such:
It’s not your fault if you don’t have any sense of humor, I would be the same in your situation
Now if you get snippy and angry, you do validate his statement.
How do you know then you’re under verbal attack? Simple: listen to how you feel.
2. Know What Kind of Attack You’re Facing
3. Fit Your Defense to The Attack
4. Know How to Follow Through
This is about actually putting the strategy into work. Some people know what they should do but they either go head on with their feelings and overreact. Some other people do nothing and let others run them over.
Verbal Attackers Want to Get a Reaction
Suzette Elgin says that verbal attackers get a kick out of getting a reaction out of you. He is addicted to his sense of power of stirring people’s emotions.
People under stress fall into 5 categories of verbal attacks:
Blamer: they use words such as “always”, “never”, “everybody”. They accuse, sometimes talk louder and wiggle their fingers.
They look confident, domineering and powerful. But it’s because they’re insecure that they feel they need to use that aggressive style.
Placator: they use words and body language that express a desperate desire to please.
This is typical nice guy syndrome.
Computer: neutral. They don’t use “you” or “I” and speak in instructions.
Distracting: they switch from one mode to the other
Respond in Same Sensory Modes
You should answer to the attack using the same sensory mode of the attacker (ie.: sight, hearing, feeling).
Agree to Defuse The Attack
When the attacker uses general language, such as “everybody knows that X is done that way” or “anyone who cared about the budget would not throw money around”.
And you reply:
You’re absolutely right
That’s true indeed
That takes the wind out of the attackers’ sails.
Rules of Engagement
Whenever you are attacked:
- Ignore the bait
- Respond to the presupposed attack
- Send the message you’re not playing their game
The “Even You” Attack
Example of an “even” attack:
Even a woman can understand that
Everything coming after “even” here is supposedly inferior. Taking the bait here would mean replying “listen, I can understand here as good as any man in this team”.
A few good replies:
The idea that women are somewhat inferior has been put to rest since a long time, but I’m really astonished of hearing it from you
When did you feel I wasn’t meeting your standards
Avoid “why” or “what makes you think” because you give the attacker a chance of keep attacking.
Never Give an Order
.. if you can send the message in any other way.
This is the same principle as in Never Split The Difference. At the core it says don’t like being told what to do.
Smart Use of Proposition
If you must ask a silly question, don’t say:
I know this is a silly question and I’m sorry I need ask it, but what did we decide on…
I know this is a silly question and I’m sorry I need ask it, what did we decide on…
Might seem a small change without the “but”, but it makes a big difference.
Real Life Applications
Don’t Take Ownership of The Offense
Same as in Verbal Judo, the message is that you should avoid to put your ego in between. Refuse to take ownership of the offense.
Lots of verbal attackers take pleasure in roiling you. Don’t give them that satisfaction.
Note: however, you must respond to direct public offenses or you look weak.
Time Has Passed
There are cassettes being sold of The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense. And they go at 89 Dollars :S.
Examples Less Culturally Relevant
Some of the verbal abuse made fun of women, saying things such as “even a woman would know how to do that”.
Today that stuff would you get you in troubles very quickly.
The book strays from its original goal of teaching people how to verbally defend themselves.
Some Good Wisdom
Some of the recommendations are very good and I took away some good wisdom.
The Gentle Art of Self Defense is a good book, but it wasn’t “biting” enough for me. It lets the attackers too easily off the hook in my opinion.
Yes, many times you don’t want to react, and almost never you want to overreact. But sometimes you must push back because the attacker is trying to shame you, dominate you or use you for social climbing.
In those cases, you must go on the offensive. And the book doesn’t deal with those situations.