Deciding how to respond when they verbally attack you can make the difference between a constructive discussion and a conflict with unsuspected repercussions. Of course, offensive comments, harmful words and malicious criticism are never welcome, but if you react by simply letting yourself be guided by your impulses, instead of acting intelligently, aggression is likely to build up and burn the bridges of understanding.
What to do? What to say? Is it better to be silent or to answer? Psychologists agree: when you are verbally attacked you have to defend yourself. Words can hurt and cause enormous discomfort, so you shouldn't allow others to insult, humiliate, yell, or step on you. However, defending yourself does not mean sinking into the mud of anger. There are much more intelligent, assertive, and most importantly, answers that protect your sanity.
How to respond when attacked without losing control?
It is said that one day Cato the Younger, a Stoic philosopher and Roman politician, was defending a case when his opponent Lentulus spat in his face. Undaunted, Cato said, "I would swear to anyone, Lentulus, that people are wrong when they say you can't use your mouth."
This historical quote shows the huge difference between a person who gets carried away by the anger of others and an intelligent person who keeps control of the situation, resolving the conflict in his favor with serenity and even a little humor. To answer like Cato, you need to follow these three steps:
1. Check the first impulse by breathing and counting to ten before responding
When you feel attacked, your first impulse is to defend yourself and react. It's normal. But that's usually not the most sensible and intelligent solution. Therefore, if you want to respond when you are attacked instead of reacting, you must learn to manage the first emotions.
When you are verbally attacked, your brain perceives those words as a threat, so it sets off all alarms. The first few seconds are key to preventing an emotional hijacking and losing control, so that you end up saying or doing things that you later regret.
Breathing deeply is an effective strategy for calming emotions. Breathing is like a "hand brake" that slows the heartbeat and lowers blood pressure, signaling to the brain that everything is under control. Therefore, before responding when attacked, it is essential to compose yourself by breathing and counting to 10.
2. Create a protective shield by taking a psychological distance
Emotions are contagious, especially in stressful situations. We subconsciously perceive the emotions of those around us because they serve as warning signs that something is wrong. In fact, several studies have shown that we are able to smell the anxiety and stress of others, which influence our behavior without us realizing it.
Therefore, in a heated discussion, it is easy for us to infect ourselves with the anger of our interlocutor. Taking a psychological distance will allow us to create a protective shield so as not to fall into the networks of other people's emotions. It will help us to think that it is not a personal attack or to be aware that the person who attacked us has a hostility problem.
3. Regain control of the situation
If you respond with serenity when you are verbally attacked, you will be in control. Use a firm tone of voice but don't get too excited. Be careful not to fall into insults and contempt because this would give the other person control. Remember that those who lose their mind also lose control.
Instead, use short, concise sentences. In moments of anger, short, straight to the point sentences are more effective and easier to understand, as well as avoiding misinterpretations. Even interspersing a compliment or positive words from time to time can help calm people down.
In many cases, it is helpful to try to understand why the person is attacking you so that you can investigate their motives. You can ask him: what is the specific problem, what bothered you? o Why do you think this? You may find that it's all due to a misunderstanding or that you can clear up the situation without raising the tone.
In any case, if you realize that your interlocutor is too excited to be able to maintain a minimally constructive dialogue, it is usually best to interrupt the conversation and tell him that until he calms down, you will not continue to listen to him. If the person does not give up, you may want to ignore them and walk away to resume the conversation later.