For more than 30 years we have been teaching people that, when faced with Crucial Conversations, everyone falls along a communication continuum, where dialogue is in the middle, and silence and violence are at the polar, ineffective extremes. While the rhyming terms are hopefully easy to remember, that is not our primary reason for using them. Instead, we use them because we believe they accurately and appropriately reflect the concepts we want to convey.
Over the years, some people have expressed valid concern with the term violence. In response to their input, we now use the term “verbal violence” to differentiate it from physical violence. But why, you might wonder, do we keep using the term violence at all?
First, we believe that words have the power to inflict harm. At the extreme, those who have suffered verbal and emotional abuse or harassment know how damaging and debilitating words can be. Words have the power to shape how we think and feel about ourselves, others, and our relationships. That power can be wielded in destructive and damaging ways. We use the term verbal violence because we believe words have power to cause real harm.
Second, we believe that words have the power to incite. At times, words can be used to incite physical violence, and physical violence is almost always preceded by verbal violence. Our term recognizes the capacity of language to be harmful when used inappropriately, and to become physically harmful if not corrected.
Our intention in using the term verbal violence is not to diminish the devastating impact of physical violence. Rather, we want to acknowledge and spark conversation about verbal and other non-physical harassment and abuse as forms of violence against people.