by Brendan M. Lynch | July 01, 2005

illustrationIn business and personal dealings, verbal conflicts can arise. How to use words wisely? Following are tips on verbal self-defense from Suzette Haden Elgin, Ph.D., author of How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable (John Wiley & Sons).

Be detached. When we perceive a verbal attack, our rational thought process shuts off, and we tend to react with a fight-or-flight response. To avoid such instinctive behavior, pretend the offender is a toddler. Don’t be afraid, and understand they’re not a threat to you. Detachment will keep your own anger from taking over.

Consider gender. “Men have learned to use hostile language as a sport,” says Elgin. “They throw stuff back and forth like a tennis match, to score points. Women, by and large, tend not to do that. Women cannot understand how men who seem to abuse each other can then go off to lunch together. They don’t understand it’s a game.”

Criticize carefully. If the argument stems from misinformation, Elgin suggests saying “as you know” before setting the record straight. “It saves them face, while costing you nothing,” she says. And done politely, it can diffuse the unpleasant situation.