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When a character is in a situation that's just about to explode into a fight -- probably in a physical sense, but a severe verbal confrontation would count too -- but manages to deflate the aggression and tension through communication and to avert the unpleasantness. Communication is, of course, most obviously verbal, but these kind of situations are usually a good example of how important nonverbal aspects are as well, so the trope is not limited to talking.
Ways in which this can be achieved include but are not limited to confusing the aggressive party with something completely unexpected, Non Sequitur or otherwise, which tends to deflate the aggression; or calmly persuading them to look at the situation from an objective point of view and make them realise starting the fight is not in their interests. The important thing is not to continue in the normal track that would lead to confrontation, but to turn its course around to a different direction. Note that though "Judo" in the name specifically implies a "soft" self-defence approach, being meek in face of aggression isn't automatically Verbal Judo -- in some cases, showing fear may only provoke further. And techniques used for Verbal Judo as here defined can involve a certain degree of controlled aggressive assertiveness, as long as it comes from a surprising angle that leaves the other party off-balance rather than stoking their own aggression.
This doesn't so much apply when someone is deliberately about to attack rather than becoming heedlessly aggressive. That is not what is meant by a "volatile" situation above. Of course, a completely strict line between the types of situations is impossible to draw.
The trope name comes from the Real Life technique and book by George Thompson, which are basically about how to achieve this trope. Thompson contrasted it with "verbal karate", where you respond to hostility with hostility and only escalate the situation -- this being the way people are more often naturally inclined to react. "Verbal Judo" or "verbal self-defence" is defined more broadly in real-life usage, but the trope is defined only as stated above.
Compare Talking the Monster to Death. Has only a little in common with Politeness Judo. Contrast Break Them by Talking, a less nice technique, though it could theoretically overlap with this. Situations where this might be needed could involve Hair-Trigger Temper or Berserk Button; if it involves a Powder Keg Crowd or other mob, it's probably also an instance of Shaming the Mob. This makes a good technique for the Badass Pacifist.
- In For the Emperor, Commissar Ciaphas Cain has been assigned to a regiment with considerable internal tension, and soon finds himself facing a violent fight bordering on riot among the soldiers. When they start fighting the provosts sent to quell the fight as well, he's about to sneak out, but someone shouts out to him and attracts everyone's attention to him. Knowing trying to flee now would only get him killed, he suddenly starts giving orders for the troopers to clean the mess, making them pause in surprise and realise how out of hand the situation has got, and giving a perfect example of the confusion strategy. A That's an Order later, Cain having successfully asserted authority, the situation becomes easy to deal with.
- On the Discworld, Sam Vimes is canny and experienced enough to have pulled this off a couple of times.
- In Night Watch, Vimes finds himself in Ankh-Morpork of the past and commanding a Watch house at a time when there's widespread dissent and angry mobs are starting to coalesce around all Watch houses. Knowing a riot is just waiting to happen, he tells his men to not carry weapons but instead visibly do ordinary harmless things in the yard to avoid their looking to the surrounding people like Faceless Goons. When he himself confronts the mob, it's calmly and while lighting a smoke, and he makes sure that when a drunken troublemaker tries to break a bottle in his hand and only ends up hurting himself, the scene everyone sees is Vimes harmlessly standing at a distance lighting a smoke, with no possibility for even a mob to mistake him as having attacked. Then he takes the man in to be treated for the wound. His Watch house ends up being the only one that doesn't suffer a riot that night.
- In Snuff, Vimes does this after deliberately accepting the challenge to a fight from an aggressive local blacksmith in the countryside who's taking issue with his noble status. Even before the fight starts, he makes the man uncertain about whether he's getting in over his head, and once it does start, he only needs to show his street fighting skills with a few moves before quietly suggesting they stop the fight there before it gets real so that the other can at least save his face... both socially and literally.
- In Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub, Judy Marshall's husband tells a story about her that involves her having prevented a fight between two strangers after a car accident. The driver of one car is aggressively bearing down on the other, who is only provoking him by backing off. Marshall gets so angry at the aggressive man for his being about get into a fight he'll regret that she walks up to him and berates him about it, surprising him and ultimately calming him down.
- In Kim, Kim defends himself and the Red Lama by making fun of potential aggressors.
- One of Jeeves' many superpowers. Just when things look blackest, he'll often settle everything by coming out of nowhere and politely making a brilliant suggestion or giving everyone the wrong impression.
- An absolutely awesome example in Criminal Minds. Reid and Hotch are trapped in the interview room with a Complete Monster, and the guards aren't going to be there for ten minutes. Hotch challenges the guy to an knockdown drag-out fight. Yes, Hotch. He's going through some stuff. Reid, horrified, promptly stupefies the killer with science babble, launching into a rambling speech about all the possible biological/chemical/FreudianExcuse he could have. Cut to ten minutes later, Reid is still talking about how the killer never had a chance, the killer is sitting down, Hotch hasn't raised a fist, and the guards have arrived. On the way out, the guy asks if he really never had a chance, or if Reid was just stalling.
- Delia of In Plain Sight pulls off one of these brilliantly when a Neo-Nazi potential witness tries to pick a fight with her.
Delia: You don't have to sign a thing. You can rant, and spew your hate, take a swing at me for all I care. I'd like that, actually. I'd like to see this entire office pin your cheek to the cold, hard floor and before you can get up from under my shoe, your deal's blown, and you're locked up where no one can protect your sorry ass. (steps closer) So, please, Ms. Owens, I'm begging you: don't sign.
- In Justified, Donovan storms into Duffy's trailer and threatens to kill Quarles for murdering his friend Brady. Quarles talks down Donovan by telling him about how his father forced him into prostitution as a young man, and how Theo Tonin adopted him. Donovan lowers his gun, and a tearful Quarles embraces him as he starts crying. Unfortunately, we see Donovan bound and gagged in Quarles' bathroom at the end of the episode, suggesting that Quarles plans to torture and kill him just as he did Brady.
- Occurs a number of times in the Mass Effect series, usually Paragon/Renegade checks. In one case, it's possible to do this when Wrex gets angry about your plan that will lead to the extinction of his species, if you have high enough stats in Charisma/Intimidate. There's also the confrontation with Ethan Jeong on Feros, the corrupt guards right at the start in Lorik's office on Noveria, and others.
- Fluttershy from My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic:
- In "Elements of Harmony", she does a nonverbal version, calming down an angry manticore by walking right up to him and making friendly gestures. It turns out he's just angry because of a thorn in his paw.
- An almost completely different example in "Dragonshy": Rainbow Dash pulls a Leeroy Jenkins on the giant dragon and provokes him to attack the ponies. Fluttershy, finally forgetting her own fear of dragons when she sees her friends being attacked, flies right up to his face and starts telling him off for it, instantly changing the anger to shocked surprise. Combining the surprise effect with that of her Death Glare and absolutely steely assertiveness, she eventually has him crying and then leaving peacefully.
- This is a key tactic of Bugs Bunny's. Just when his pursuer has him cornered, he changes the subject and tricks his foe into dropping his guard long enough for Bugs to escape or retaliate.
- Mentalist Derren Brown, being a professional in manipulating people's reactions and perceptions, mentions some techniques that he believes could be used in such a situation in his book Tricks of the Mind. He also recounts his own experience where he applied them almost by accident: Accosted by an aggressive drunk on the street, he decided to try to use suggestion on him by first confusing him to make him susceptible and then suddenly stating that his feet were stuck on the ground to make him really briefly believe so so that he could just walk away. To do the first part, he started relaxedly talking something completely Non Sequitur about the height of fences in different countries. It turned out that that was enough, as after being so confused, the drunk broke down and started opening up to him about the reasons he was in such a foul mood.