Have you ever been verbally attacked and found yourself at a loss for words? Or have you become defensive and found yourself drawn into a verbal volley that left you drained emotionally and energetically?
Every verbal attack is an attempt to bring down your energy level, a projection, an invitation to an argument, or a defense to something you have said. You would be surprised how little it really has to do with you. Learning strategies to neutralize a verbal attack without harming yourself or your attacker empowers you in even the most difficult situations.
Although your feelings may escalate to red-alert, using the following strategies can avert a power driven argument that can harm a relationship for a day, a month and sometimes even longer:
- You may be right.
- Thank you for sharing that with me.
These short one sentence responses may appear to be giving in or agreeing with the aggressor, yet are they really? "Okay" is really only an acknowledgment that you received the message. "Thank you for sharing that with me" is also a verbal response that you heard what was said. You are not agreeing to anything, simply acknowledging that a message was delivered. Finally "you may be right" is also a neutral response with an unspoken "and you may be wrong." All three of these responses are neutral. You neither agree nor disagree. You are neither admitting guilt or innocence.
The key to using these strategies effectively is to say nothing more. An explanation is a defensive statement. An accusation is aggression. Any further discussion draws you deeper into conflict. This doesn't mean that you aren't going to feel defensive, hurt, angry, and afraid. It simply means that you will be coping with the attack rather than participating in conflict.
Several years ago, I participated in a spiritual group that was attended by young and old, the experienced and novice. The group read a book together and then each person made a comment based on personal experience.
After the meeting, one of the older members of the group verbally attacked me and my comment. He called my name as I was walking to my car. After the first sarcastic, critical remark, I refused the invitation to fight and calmly said, "You may be right."
"Yes, I'm right," the attacker affirmed, slapping the book he held in one hand into the palm of the other. "It says here . . . " His companion stood beside him embarrassed and unsure about what to do.
My response to every verbal jab was either "you may be right" or "thanks for sharing that with me." Without my participation, it was hard to continue the argument. The energy of the attacker fizzled out within a few short minutes. The man did his best to look pleased with himself for making his point. I got in my car and left with my heart in my throat and my stomach in knots but I left knowing that in truth, I saved face by remaining neutral and the other person had only made himself look bad.
It wasn't until I learned and practiced strategies to defend against a verbal attack that I was able to choose to avoid conflict without running from it. Only then could I could learn to have compassion and curiosity for my attacker.
What opportunities can you see to use these simple strategies to remain neutral when you feel you're being verbally attacked?
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