How to Handle An Argumentative Person

I recently found myself in a situation facing a person who was seemingly looking for an argument. I have my own theories as to why, but I have no specific knowledge of why this person wanted to argue with me. All I know is that before I knew what was happening, I found myself under "attack" in what should have been a safe place. I didn’t know what was happening, and I lost my composure very badly. I was under a lot of strain, I was tired, and I just plain blew up in frustration at this person especially since as far as I could tell, the answer he was looking for was something we agreed on anyway. That gave him the feeling of the upper hand and he walked away believing himself to have won.

For whatever reason, some people are just looking for an argument, and you may find yourself facing down their barrel. Maybe you said something they misunderstood, maybe they didn’t agree with the way you said it, or maybe they just wanted a fight and you’re the last person in the room. In my experience, people wanting a fight will come at you hard and come at you fast, giving you little time to figure out what is going on and how to reply. Here are a few tips I’d like to share that you can follow when you find yourself in a similar situation against a contentious or argumentative person.

1) Never make assumptions

Never assume anything about this person, his or her philosophies, or position. Never. That was the first tactical mistake that I made in the situation I was in recently. I assumed based on the wording of the question that this person held a certain position. That prevented me from #2

2) Take time to understand the issue being argued

If necessary, keep asking "What do you mean by that?" Keep gathering information until you can repeat to the person the exact question that they are looking for an answer to. Before making any response at all, make sure that you clearly understand what is being asked or stated by the person. Often two people can use different definitions for the same word, so make sure that you understand theirs.

3) Verify any references

If part of the argument or question being put before you involves the quotation of reference material, if possibly, stop and look it up to verify a proper context. An interesting quote I’ve heard is "If you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything." Make sure that any quote referenced is placed in a proper context if required.

4)Accept that there may be no way to win

Some people who are argumentative and contentious just aren’t interested in settling a dispute. It’s possible that you’re facing a person who is just looking for a fight, not a resolution. You may have to just do the best you can and walk away, or send the person away. Pride goeth before the fall… Some incidents like this are about nothing more than pride or ego. Don’t let yours get in the way.

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