Last summer (2018), I was exiting a train at the Bloor/Yonge subway station. It was crowded and as I walked toward the stairs I accidentally bump into a man. I turned to apologize and saw him squinting at me with hands by his sides, fists clenched. I put my hands up, explaining that my bump was accidental.
“Idiot!” He said, then walked away.
It occurred to me say something (we all have egos after all) but I refrained. It was, I realized later, a good decision.
What you say (or don’t say) can have a significant, even life-changing, impact on how a potential conflict plays out. To be clear, there are instances when “using your words” will be utterly futile. If an assailant is striking you, pulling you into a vehicle, they are beyond reason. In these cases, the solution is physical – fight to protect yourself. If that man on the subway platform started punching and kicking me as I babble apologies I will accomplish nothing save facilitating my knockout.
This being said, there are many instances where choosing the right words, accompanied by an appropriate tone and body language can de-escalate a situation and prevent it from getting into the physical. Every situation is unique but here are some general guidelines.
In my experience, many situations can be avoided or prevented. When possible use vocal and body language to de-escalate a potentially violent confrontation.