5 Verbal Strategies to Defuse a Situation: Prevent Escalation to a Potential Attack

Being attacked verbally by someone can be almost as scary as being physically attacked. Being verbally attacked can also be a precursor to a physical confrontation, which you would normally want to avoid at all costs. You can often defuse a situation, or make it less dangerous, by using verbal strategies. Often, verbal strategies can help prevent a situation from escalating into a physical attack. Here are some ways that you can use verbal strategies to defuse a situation and prevent the escalation of a potential attack.

  1. Acknowledge that the person is upset with you for some reason. Usually people begin yelling because they feel that they are not understood. If they continue to feel misunderstood, then the situation can get worse as they become more angry. Calmly asking the person what they are so upset about, while avoiding judgment and sarcasm, may lead to a quieter discussion rather than a physical confrontation. Even if you feel angry yourself, try to defuse the situation verbally before it becomes any more violent. 
  2. Speak calmly and quietly to the person who is verbally attacking you. When you respond by yelling back, the situation can quickly escalate. By remaining calm and quiet, you are requiring the other person to become more quiet in order to hear your response. This can help them calm down and communicate more effectively. Once effective communication is established, you significantly decrease the likelihood that a confrontation may become physical.
  3. Repeat and reflect what you hear the person saying to you. For instance, you may say something like, “I hear that you are angry with me because…” When you are able to use the other person’s words to explain that you understand the issue, you may be able to bring the entire situation down a few notches. If possible, identify the points that you both agree on, and clarify the disagreement specifically so that it can be addressed. This increases the chance of your confrontation being resolved verbally.
  4. Avoid arguing back with the person yelling at you. Stay calm and continue to repeat calm phrases and questions. Do not challenge the other person when they are being irrationally upset, this will generally only serve to escalate the situation. Do not return threats or engage in any behavior that leads toward physical contact.
  5. Take a time out. If you are engaged in a verbal confrontation with someone and have an opportunity to walk away, even for a minute, then you should do so. Sometimes just the down time can result in the situation being de-escalated and less likely to turn into a physical confrontation. Take any chance you get!

Using your verbal skills to turn a potentially dangerous situation into a minor one is important. Any time you can avoid having a physical confrontation with someone, you should do everything in your power to do so. Any confrontation that becomes physical becomes instantly far more dangerous and you risk personal injury. Being able to de-escalate or defuse a situation verbally may mean the difference between walking away unscathed or engaging in a dangerous physical confrontation with an angry attacker.