Thursday, May 22, 2008

How to Deal With a Verbal Attack

In Philadelphia sometime in the mid-1970s I took an assertiveness training course based on the principles in Manuel J. Smith’s book WHEN I SAY NO I FEEL GUILTY. To this day, more than 30 years later, those concepts I learned have been of tremendous value to me.

When you are assertive, you stand up for yourself without getting aggressive. And the following technique I’m going to share with you is a great technique whether you are 15 or 50. (If you want to get this information from the horse’s mouth, you can go on Amazon and find the book.)

The most important point to remember in the following technique is that sometimes a person is angry at you and NOTHING you say will change that person’s mind. The more excuses (even if true) that you make, the more opportunities you have given the other person to attack you solely because that person WANTS to attack you.

Here’s the exercise we did in the assertiveness training class in order to de-sensitize ourselves from feeling compelled to make excuses. First I will give you the “script” the way most of us do it. Then I’ll give you the “assertiveness training script.”

PHYLLIS: Sally, your hair really looks bad today.
SALLY: I didn’t have time to blow dry it this morning because I got up late.
PHYLLIS: You should have set your alarm clock so you wouldn’t oversleep.
SALLY: I did set my alarm clock. But my cat knocked it off the table in the middle of the night and the clock broke.
PHYLLIS: You shouldn’t let your cat sleep in your bedroom.
SALLY: I don’t usually but …
PHYLLIS: Face it, you’re just inept.

Got the idea? Every “excuse” that Sally says just gives Phyllis more ammunition to attack Sally. Here’s the alternative:

PHYLLIS: Sally, your hair really looks bad today.
SALLY: You’re right, it does.
(Phyllis is shocked that Sally agreed with her, but Phyllis is in the mood to attack Sally so Phyllis keeps going.)
PHYLLIS: You should have blown it dry this morning.
SALLY: You’re right, I should have.
(Now Phyllis is really thrown off her stride. It’s no fun attacking someone who doesn’t get upset when attacked. So Phyllis has to find an exit line.)
PHYLLIS: I hope you’ll blow dry your hair tomorrow.
Sally nods and Phyllis walks off.

Try this technique the next time someone verbally attacks you for seemingly no reason except to attack you. Then let me know how this technique worked for you.

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