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My attitude is that one cannot reason with someone who, for whatever cause, is being unreasonable. If that party has got it into their head that they are right, even despite blatant contrary evidence, no amount of justification will change that. Indeed, empirically, it usually makes matters worse. However, agreeing or submitting to their whims -- whilst an easy option -- is clearly not a good solution as it undermines yourself and sets a precedent for increasingly wild allegations. I therefore feel that, as one cannot "win" in this situation, the best option is to remove yourself from the situation entirely: i.e., don't "play".

However, this is not always possible. For example, if your significant other is being unreasonable, what does one do? One can listen and try to empathise with their position as much as you like, but it rarely works; meanwhile, your own position is marginalised, which causes increasing frustration. Changing the subject -- which is basically "not playing" -- can work, if whatever's being discussed is trivial enough, but for everything else, it's not going to fly. Asserting your position, as I describe above -- especially with logic -- definitely doesn't work, no matter how sympathetic you are!

Short of becoming an absolute stoic -- and I guess training yourself to not become defensive is partly a solution -- what techniques can you use to quell an unreasonable or non-evidence based argument when you're forced to engage?

  • Can you provide any life example? – user21996 Oct 4 '18 at 14:51
  • Yes, but surely a general solution exists, rather than one particular to a specific example? – Xophmeister Oct 4 '18 at 15:01
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    @Xophmeister a specific example would greatly help us focus our answers. As it stands, your question is quite broad, and it may even be already handled by questions such as interpersonal.stackexchange.com/q/2883/1599. Take a look at How do I write a good question, culture and the relationship you have with the person this is taking place with can greatly influence answers. As do specifics of the interaction taking place. – Tinkeringbell Oct 4 '18 at 17:36
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I always like to lay out the rationale behind each viewpoint:

I believe X because of A, B, and C. You say you believe Y, but why is that the case?

This approach prompts someone to lay bare their reasoning (or lack thereof). Even if they don't want to admit it a person is usually going to be aware that an assertion without any sort of evidence they can provide is not a strong one.

So while asking for explanations of why they think what they do won't necessarily make them more reasonable it provides an opportunity for them to demonstrate that they are being reasonable, or makes it clear why you think they are not.

The conclusion I usually get to (when there isn't a reasonable basis for the other persons opinion... or my own!) is that if you can't provide any basis for why you hold an opinion you are holding it irrationally. That doesn't mean that you are wrong, but it does mean that you should not expect anyone else to be impressed or persuaded.

And when you've reached that point and they still won't budge, then it's time to agree to disagree and move on. Unless one party has more argumentation to use to try and persuade the other, there is nothing more to discuss and nothing to accomplish.

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In this kind of situation, what I always do is try to agree to disagree.

If no one is going to change their mind and you are sick of talking, you can say something along the line of:

I see that we will not be able to agree. So, I suggest that we leave this discussion for now.

The "we" is important, by using "we" you don't just blame the other, you blame yourself too. So, you avoid implicitly telling them that they are too stubborn will you are not (which might lead to another disagreement).

If the other is still trying to argue, I suggest saying something like:

I'm tired of talking about this, please stop.

By making it a request and by being polite, the other person is more likely to stop (at least, that what I have observed).

If the other person is still trying to argue, refuse to engage! Do whatever it takes but do not fall back in the discussion, it will only make it harder to leave after.

What I suggest to not engage (this is a none exhaustive list):

  • Leave the room (even if the only place to go is in the toilet)
  • put a headphone with music on
  • Get mad and yell at the other person "I DON'T WHAT TO TALK ABOUT THIS ANYMORE!"

Warning: these options are kind of rude but the other person was kind of rude by refusing to stop talking about it, so they kind of "deserve it".

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