Immediately disengage from the situation
Chances are, on some level this person wants to negatively engage you (either to satiate their ego or take out their bad mood on someone or something else). And therefore, this person tries to inflame you in order to get a reaction.
Disengage. Disengage. Disengage.
They want you to get angry. So just…don’t. Don’t give them what they want. Even if you’re angry, don’t show it.
If they are genuinely displeased yet they want a meaningful outcome from the situation, they would approach the discussion in a different, more productive light.
Instead, if a situation is approached in an overtly hateful manner, you know where they’re coming from.
Just take a step back. Take a few seconds to collect yourself and analyse how best to proceed. Take a few conscious breaths.
If anything, delaying your response by a few seconds will only serve to annoy the other person more.
See? You’re at step 1 and winning the argument already.
(And if the other person doesn’t get annoyed and waits patiently for a response, chances are, they are coming from a genuine place and are looking forward to your involvement in arriving at a win-win solution together).
Analyse the outcome of this discussion – is it beneficial to you or your priorities?
Decide, at the very outset: how far do I want this argument to go?
If I “win” the argument, does it benefit me or my cause or what I’m standing up for? Sometimes yes, but sometimes, no.
Instead, is it better for my endgame if I appear to compromise?
What does “losing” the argument do for me and what I’m standing for?
Does this conflict call for me making a strong statement for what I believe in? If yes, do I engage for some time and then walk away, or do I remain disengaged?
These are questions nobody but you can answer, so take some time and think wisely.
Alternatively, some arguments call for the (new-and-improved) silent treatment. Try this: next time somebody’s being an idiot and driving you up the wall, remain silent. No matter what this person throws at you, just remain silent.
If you think “winning” the current argument (even with logic on your side) doesn’t meet your long-term end goals, just don’t do or say anything. Just walk away.
Walking away doesn’t mean you’re ceding victory. Instead, it goes to show the maturity in your understanding of which is more valuable – the short-term “win” of the argument, or the long-term “win” of your priorities.
In any case, silence angers the weak. So that’s a win for you anyway.
Respond, do not React
This passage from Dr Cloud and Dr Townsend’s wonderful book Boundaries is something that explains the difference between responding and reacting in a perfect way:
“When you react to something that someone says or does, you may have a problem with boundaries. If someone is able to cause havoc by doing or saying something, she is in control of you at that point, and your boundaries are lost When you respond, you remain in control, with options and choices.
If you feel yourself reacting, step away and regain control of yourself so family members can’t force you to do or say something you do not want to do or say and something that violates your separateness. When you have kept your boundaries, choose the best option. The difference between responding and reacting is choice. When you are reacting, they are in control. When you respond, you are.
Once you have ensured your separateness, respond according to your priorities and your values.”
Respond with only logic at your end (no drama or emotion) and someone who tries to inflame you based out of their ego will in all likelihood, escalate. Think about it; they expect you to back down and acquiesce as per their desires or they expect you to yell or get mad. But if you respond calmly, and logically negate what they say, they feel cornered.
Cornered and full of ego is a bad combination.
Learn the subtle art of “manipulation”
In an ideal world, there would never be something called “manipulation”. But sometimes, for us to make sure the other person understands (note that I only say “understands”, not “agrees with”) our point of view, we may have to take a different kind of approach. We may be wiser for letting the other person come to our conclusions on their own, without us stating something explicitly.
So as opposed to arguing endlessly, from the outset, you can apply certain psychological methods to allow the other person to come to the same decision as you.
This is extremely subtle and often comes only after experience in dealing (and empathising) with people.
What I’m trying to say is summed up delightfully in this beautiful little poem by Emily Dickinson.
“Tell all the Truth but tell it slant –
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.”
5. Pay attention and use your empathy (even though your opponent may not deserve it)
Often people who argue for the sake of argument or out of ego and hate, dance around in circles not making much sense. Senseless statements are made when one feels cornered and pressured, so make sure you’re paying attention. Use such statements to your advantage.
Empathising makes sense too. If you’re able to mentally reach for what they’re trying to say (but are unable or unwilling to say), then calling them out on their real motives can often be the turning point in the conflict.
However, it is undeniably important to remain calm and logical even after you arrive at what you feel their true intentions are. This will throw your opponent off course.
Remember, if you meet drama with drama, you go nowhere.
Consider an outside mediator
If you feel you’re in the ethical and/or logical right, think about involving a third party in your conflict.
This helps when your opponent isn’t backing down despite clearly being in the wrong.
However, it is an art to do this the right away. If you’re visibly angry, hurt or annoyed and then running to other people to support you, you’ll be seen as a crybaby.
If you want to bring in a mediator to the discussion, maintain your calm exterior and inform your opponent that the discussion would benefit from an impartial, third-party opinion. Without waiting for a response, you may proceed to request a friendly face close by to please give their opinion on the issue at hand.
Don’t be a tool…recognise if, behind all the noise, the opponent has a point
If your opponent is all bull, but there’s a glimmer of truth behind what they’re saying, don’t still hold on to wanting to be right and “winning”.
You win when you do what is right, and it’s far better to win at life than win a silly argument.
But sometimes, in the heat of the moment, that isn’t imminently clear. So…
Sleep over it and analyse
Life is pointless unless we can make it a habit to analyse difficult situations and make it a point to grow from them.
Don’t let painful moments and situations go to waste. They’re already painful to experience, so why do you want to let them go without at least a constructive lesson? Where there is pain, there’s always something to learn – and an opportunity to grow into a better person in the process.
Could I have responded better to something? Was I right to escalate it to this point? Maybe I should’ve been calmer about the whole thing.
Analyse if holding on to your point of view is still the best option. Even if you are right, did the other person’s narrative have one or two small points you could maybe benefit from?
Give special attention to how you felt after the conflict. Did you feel good about yourself – that you at least handled it the best way you could? Or did you feel anxious? Did you feel disturbed and maybe a bit guilty, even? Look into why you feel the way you do.
Even if you were fine and there isn’t much to learn from this situation right now, analyse and stock up your responses for further, potentially similar conflicts.
Preparing yourself helps you feel calmer when you’re in the moment.
At the end of the day, it sucks if you find yourself in the middle of drama and meaningless conflict, especially if you’re dragged into it out of nowhere. But you know, it isn’t worth ruining your entire day over something petty. And that’s exactly what drama is – petty.
Roll your shoulders back, hold your head up high and smile like the Queen (or King) that you are.
What are some of the ways you tackle conflict? Tell me all about it in the comments.