The link in the previous paragraph leads to a fan page explaining the concepts of verbal self defense. but I strongly recommend you search online or at your local bookstore for a used copy of the book, which has been out of print for a few years.
The basics of "GAVSD", as it's often abbreviated by fans, is best summed up as follows:
- Understand that you're being verbally attacked,
- Identify the type of attack.
- Make the defense fit the attack.
- Be ready to follow through.
I can't summarize the entire book in a single blog posting, but I can certainly give an example or two which may help convince you to rush out in a buying frenzy to grab a used copy of the book to read for yourself.
There are structures identified in the book as "Verbal Attack Patterns". Each VAP has a specific set of defenses.
The point of GAVSD is not to escalate. The point is not to win. The point is to turn an argument (or an attack leading to an argument) into a productive and useful discussion.
Commonly, verbal attacks all contain bait and suppositions. You must learn to ignore the bait, and instead respond directly to an indirect presupposition. One example I commonly use when counseling my engineers how to handle upset clients:
This is a common verbal attack I've experienced from clients who were highly upset during tense technical situations: "If you REALLY cared about fixing this mess, it would be DONE by now!"
The first part of the attack--the presupposition--is "You don't care about fixing this".
The bait is, "You're not working fast enough."
How on earth can a person possibly respond to this without getting into a debate?
It's not useful to say "I'm working as quickly as I can," because that will just lead to a response of "No, you're not!" The same applies to an attempted answer of "Well, of course I care about fixing this". Both of these attempted answers take the bait and ignore the presupposition.
Here's a more useful response: "When did you first begin to feel I didn't care about fixing this?"
I promise you, this answer will stop the verbal attacker in their tracks, because it rips away their presupposition and ignores the bait. This answer indirectly acknowledges the situation, and simply asks for clarification.
And making someone stop and think--even for just a few seconds--about how to respond to a calmly worded answer such as the one above is all you need to turn a potential argument into a thoughtful discussion.
Even if the attacker says something along the lines of "The minute you walked through the door!", it's easy to defuse the emotional content by asking some basic questions such as "Why did you feel that way?", or "What did I say to make you feel that way?" Avoid yes-no questions during this phase of the exchange, because the goal is to keep the attacker discussing what's really going on inside of their head so you can both logically and calmly address those feelings and start working on the situation together.
Obviously, I can't (and won't) try to rehash the whole book here. Suffice it to say that I make a point of re-reading The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense at least once a year, or whenever I run into a verbal exchange that escalates, to remind myself that there is always a better way to handle negative interactions than escalation and Mutually Assured Destruction.
During her life, Suzette wrote several specialized versions of GAVSD: for the workplace, for education, for the military. The primary difference between the various versions is the set of situations used for examples. Despite this, a copy of the original title is easily applicable to any personal or professional situation, and should be easy to locate.
Then there's how I learned to differentiate between opinion and fact...but that's a topic for a different post.