My name is John Fallon, and I am a community college English instructor as well as an instructor of Verbal Defense & Influence. The following story was told to me by one of my students, who is a Math tutor.

 

The trigonometry tutor

Thursday evening, I had a regular student of mine, Jeannine, asking questions about trigonometry. After about an hour of working together on equations, we arrived at a problem solving method that she seemed to understand.

Jeannine copied down the method in her notebook and left for the evening.

The following day, Jeannine returned to the Math tutoring center and continued working on her trigonometry homework.

In the middle of doing her homework, she left her books and coat at her chair and went across the hall to where the Math faculty offices are located. It appeared the method Jeannine and I came up with was not working out for her.

She looked frustrated.

 

Tension builds

As I gathered from the other tutors, Jeannine had gone across the hall to see her professor about the discrepancy in answers.

The exchange between her and the professor escalated to a verbal altercation about the perceived impatience of the teacher, on the one hand, and the disrespect of the student, on the other. Jeannine soon returned to the tutoring center followed by a different Math teacher.

Jeannine began putting the problem on the board that had caused the verbal conflict. She then proceeded to say “this is how he [nodding toward me, the tutor] taught me to do it.”

While being accused, I was looking at Jeannine’s notebook and noticed that she had incorrectly copied down the method we had agreed upon.

The teacher looked at me and said “This is wrong. You taught her wrong.”

 

Making the smart decision

At this point, I had a couple of options.

I could speak up and say that Jeannine had incorrectly copied down the problem solving method, but this might feed adrenaline to Jeannine, who was already close to tears.

I could argue with the professor that I didn’t appreciate being accused without the teacher even soliciting my input during the entire interaction. However, that might have damaged my working relationship with that teacher.

In the end, I chose to remain silent, which allowed me to avoid getting into the sandbox with either person. The outcome worked to all of our advantages.

Jeannine eventually calmed down and is still a regular student of mine. I am still on good working terms with the faculty member, and nobody got into the sandbox to verbally duke it out.

While my story does not provide a textbook example of Verbal Defense—for example, there is no Universal Greeting or Persuasion Sequence—my story does illustrate one of the core tasks of a Verbal Defense practitioner which is to provide a calming presence in the face of conflict.

 

Another example of avoiding a verbal fight

The above story is reminiscent of the story in which two Verbal Defense & Influence masters went for a quiet dinner in an establishment that, as the night wore on, turned out to be a rowdy bar.

The Verbal Defense & Influence masters demonstrated the spirit of Mushin by maintaining a calming influence in the midst of the somewhat chaotic bar scene.

As it turns out, the two masters had a nice evening of dinner and conversation. Just their presence alone, paraphrasing Jack Hoban, made for a safer environment for all that evening.