1. The four basic principles



2. The goal

To establish an environment in which verbal violence almost never occurs; and in which -- on those rare occasions when it cannot be avoided -- it is dealt with efficiently and effectively, with no loss of face on either side.


3. Using Miller's Law (from psychologist George Miller)

"In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true and try to imagine what it could be true of." (George Miller; 1980.)

Our tendency when we hear someone say something that strikes us as unacceptable is to assume that it is false and try to imagine what's wrong with the person who said it. (As in: "That's ridiculous! He's only saying that because he's stupid/biased/ignorant/trying to trick me/..." and so on.) This guarantees communication breakdown; instead, use Miller's Law. The proper response when someone says, "My toaster has been talking to me!" is to give the speaker your full attention, ask, "What has it been saying?", and then listen carefully.


4. Using the Sensory Modes (from Jung, Edward T. Hall, and others)

We interact with the world by using our sensory systems -- sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, and more. By the time we are about six years old we've discovered that one of those systems works better for us than the others do, and it becomes our preferred or dominant sensory system.The Sensory Modes are the vocabularies of the sensory systems, plus some associated body language items. Because people communicating under stress tend to rely most heavily on their preferred Sensory Mode, matching that mode is a way to speak their language and increase your chances for satisfactory communication.

Rule One:
Match the mode coming at you.

Someone says: "How bad does it look?"
Right response: "I don't see it as serious" or "It looks pretty bad."
Wrong response: "I don't feel like it's anything serious."

Rule Two:
If you can't follow Rule One, try not to use any Sensory Mode language at all.

Someone says: "How bad does it look?"
Right response: "I don't think it's anything serious."


5. Using the Satir Modes (from Dr. Virginia Satir)

The Satir Modes -- Blaming, Placating, Computing, Distracting, and Leveling -- are language patterns people use when communicating under stress. Suppose that five people are in an elevator and it suddenly stops between floors....

Blaming: "ALL right! WHICH ONE of you pushed the STOP button??!"
Placating: "GOSH, if this is MY fault, I'm sure SORRY!!"
Computing: "There's no reason to get upset. Any sensible person knows that."
Leveling: "I don't like this -- it's scary."
[A person using Distracter Mode will use all four of the other Satir Modes, switching rapidly from one to another; Distracting is panic.]

The Satir Mode Loops:

Blaming in response to Blaming gets you a fight.

Placating in response to Placating gets you an undignified delay.

Computing in response to Computing gets you a dignified delay.

Leveling in response to Leveling is an exchange of the simple truth; it's always the best choice when it's safe and when it's appropriate.

Distracting in reponse to Distracting is panic feeding panic; it's always a mistake.

Rule One:
If you don't know what to do, go to Computer Mode and stay there until you have a good reason to change.

Rule Two:
If it would be desirable for the Satir Mode coming at you to escalate -- if that's what you want to have happen -- match that mode.


6. Using the Three-Part Message pattern (from Dr. Thomas Gordon and others)

The three-part message is a language pattern for making complaints. It's designed to get past the automatic negative reaction people have to complaints and bring about the desired change in behavior. The pattern is: "When you (X), I feel (Y), because (Z)." All three parts must be items that can be verified in the real world. This pattern is more likely to produce that behavior change than traditional complaints, and is always the best move. Example: "When you don't water the tomatoes, I feel angry, because plants die without water."

7. Managing the Verbal Attack Patterns (VAPS) of English

Vaps are English language patterns used to demonstrate power over a targeted victim by (a) capturing and holding their attention and (b) evoking a highly emotional response. They have two parts: an open attack (the "bait") and one or more attacks sheltered in presuppositions. For example:

A. "If you REALLY cared about your job, YOU'D get to work on TIME!"
B. "WHY don't you ever LISTEN to me when I talk to you??!"
C. "EVen a person YOUR age should know SOMETHING about stocks!"
D. "SOME people would FIRE you for coming to work dressed like a THUG!"
E. "YOU'RE not the ONLY person who has PROBlems, you know!"

Rule One:
Ignore the bait.

Rule Two:
Respond directly to a presupposition.

For example.......

"If you REALLY loved me, YOU wouldn't waste MONEY the way you do!!"
"If you really LOVED me, YOU wouldn't waste MONEY the way you do!"

(The first part of the attack presupposes "You don't love me"; the bait is, "You waste money.")

Recommended Responses:
"Of course I love you."
"When did you start thinking I don't love you?"


8. Principles for dealing with the body language of English

A. When the words and the body language don't match, believe the body.
B. No words, no matter how carefully chosen, can cancel body language.
C. Emotional information is carried almost entirely by body language.
D. The most powerful part of body language is the tone and intonation of the voice -- the tune the words are set to.


9. The Metaprinciples

A. Anything you feed will grow.
B. Anything you starve, smother, or neglect will fester or die.
C. Every language interaction is an interactive feedback loop.
D. The only meaning an utterance has in the real world is the meaning the listener understands it to have.
E. Mismatch is a warning sign; watch for it.

[This overview can do nothing more than provide a very rough idea of the system. For details, explanations, history, examples, exceptions to rules, and additional techniques, see the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense books and audiotapes; see also the sources cited in those materials.]


Copyright © Suzette Haden Elgin 2000


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