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How to deal with verbal aggression

Verbal aggression includes taunting, jeering, shouting, ridiculing others, swearing and making threats.

Often, those subjected to this kind of abuse feel powerless to deal with it, perhaps because no physical violence is used and speech is so transitory and hard to pin down that no clear evidence of wrongdoing is left behind.

However, there is no need for anyone to simply put up with verbal aggression. A range of tactics can be employed to deal with it and make it a thing of the past.

Taunts and Insults

Avoid directly replying to a verbal assault. Do not get drawn into a slanging match, where insults are traded, as this can worsen an already tense situation.

Keep your voice calm, quiet and level, in contrast with the abuser's tone. This implies that you are the one in control and it may encourage the other person to be more moderate in response. At the very least, it will not worsen the abuse. If you are dealing with an abusive stranger, for example, in the street, move away immediately, as you cannot predict how that stranger may behave.

Take time out from the situation if you can, to allow tempers to cool. Often this can be achieved simply by moving from one part of the room to another, or completing a routine task before responding to the abusive person.

Inform your manager in situations where you have faced repeated abuse from a colleague. In school or college, inform a teacher or tutor with pastoral responsibilities. In such circumstances, organisations have a "duty of care" and policies to deal with unacceptable behaviour. In some instances, for example, racial abuse, the insults may amount to a crime. If so, consider informing the police. Keep a careful note of abuse of this kind, with dates and times.


Restate the abusive remark in more neutral terms. For instance, if someone uses an expletive and then screams: “I hate you!” Restate the remark as: “OK, you dislike some aspects of my behaviour. But there's no need to be abusive.”

Defer what you have to say in response until the abusive person is in a calmer frame of mind. Refuse to argue. Say: "I am not going to talk to you if you are going to swear. When you can speak to me without swearing, I'll talk to you then." After saying this, walk away. This leaves the impression that you are in control of the situation and avoids a direct confrontation.

Discuss the dispute with the abusive person at a later time, when the atmosphere is no longer so highly charged. Describe, in objective terms and without emotion, the precise things you object to in the abusive person's behaviour, such as terms used, body language and tone of voice. Explain how the other person's conduct made you feel and be clear that you expect it not to be repeated.


Do not respond directly to any threat made against you by an abusive person.

Tell someone you know and trust that you have been threatened. Do not try to face such a situation alone. Make sure someone knows where you are going to be, try to stay in company with others and carry a mobile phone in case of emergencies.

Report the threat--if you consider it serious--to your manager in a work situation, to a teacher or pastoral tutor at school or college, or to the police in other circumstances. Threatening behaviour is a criminal offence, and you do not have to tolerate it. Keep a careful note of what was said when the threat was made, along with exact times and dates.


  • Never confront or challenge verbally aggressive people. They may go on to behave violently.