How You’re Wasting Your Time Arguing with Angry People

Photo by taha ajmi on Unsplash

People who don’t listen aren’t interested in a conversation. What they want is to stand on their soapbox and give a lecture.

It seems with each passing day that it’s becoming more difficult for people with differing opinions to have reasonable discussions about those differences in opinion. Call me an optimist, but I do believe it’s still possible. The trick is to
have a strategy before you start the discussion. Otherwise, it’s way to easy for the conversation to dissolve into a real world version of “Clash of the Titans.”

The first trap to avoid engaging people when they’re ill-tempered, disgruntled, or otherwise enraged. with points both parties can agree on and tread lightly from there. And you have to have a game plan as opposed to responding off the cuff in a huff.

I have a friend I’m engaging with via Facebook. There are issues he appears to not get, but I’ve seen personal growth in him the past on a similar issue and I’m positive he’s capable of more. Why go back and forth over points to some that seem obvious? Primarily, because I see him not so much as someone who’s purposefully being spiteful, but someone who’s trying to make the jump to better understanding of a complex issue. And also, because he keeps coming back for more.

I’ve been told I have a lot of patience for discussions about racism. (Thanks again, Thaddeus.) I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, but I do believe in having a long-range strategy that focuses on incremental steps. It’s all about having a simple game plan about the Who, the What, the When, the How, and the Why that impacts the discussion.

Who Do You Think You’re Talking To?

We’re most likely to impact people with whom we have a pre-existing relationship (family, friends, coworkers). These are folks with whom you’re going to have the most credibility. But that also means knowing your audience. There’s some people who have no intention of budging in their opinions. I steer clear of those folks. It’s not that they’re not worth my time, I simply choose not to waste my energy on someone who has no interest in what I have to say. People who are at least open to reasonable discussion or want to foster an environment that’s conducive to casual discourse — those are the folks I seek out.

What Did You Just Say?

I’m referring to the substance of what’s being said. People respond best to a balance mix of fact (the irrefutable, that which both parties can agree) and opinion (how those facts directly impact your world view). But the particular mix differs from person to person based on their individual communication style. For some reason, my opinion essays work well on Medium, but the ones with a light sprinkling of hard cold facts connect best.

When You’re Ready to Listen, Let Me Know.

Like I said above, avoid having a discussion about a hot button topic with anyone when one of you is worked up into a frothing lather of anger; like during Thanksgiving dinner when a relative have has one too many adult beverages and is on scorched earth mission. Better thing to do: head for the kids’ table and teach them the joys of flinging green peas. People are more open to listening to different opinions when they’re calm and don’t feel threatened … which leads to the next point.

How Am I Supposed to Do *That*?

I’ve said this before, treat the other person with respect and care and listen. When others see that you (or anyone for that matter) are giving what they’re saying a modicum of consideration, they are — more likely than not — going to respond in kind. Intentionally try avoid using language you think might be incendiary. Trust me, it won’t aid your cause at all, it’ll only raise their blood pressure. Translation: think of it as biting your tongue. Yep, it’s always difficult, but it invariably pays off in the long run. Don’t let their grumpiness/hatred debase you or your position.

Why Even Try?

While your “end game” strategy may be to change their mind about a particular topic, I’ve found it beneficial to have an immediate goal of simply planting seeds. Rarely do any of us make paradigm shifts based on a single conversation.

The Wrap-Up

This all comes down meeting people where they are and engaging with them accordingly or not. And remember, your goal may be to change their mind, but that takes time. People form their opinions, good or bad, over time. So it’s only natural to assume that it will take time for them to willingly embrace a different point of view. All you can do is plant and nurture the seed of a different point of view.

Love one another.