17

This is about my mothers husband (let's call him Bob for now). I visit them from time to time, and they are mostly pleasant to be around.

However, Bob has the tendency to blurt out completely false statements. And when I try to explain that to him, he just gets defensive, and starts repeating his statements without listening. This behavior is worse when he is drunk, which is most of the time. (He is trying to get off alcohol, but I don't think full recovery is realistic.)

So we get stuck in this loop of him repeating his statements and me trying to correct him. Last time I lost my temper and said something along the lines of "Please shut up for now". Which was successful, but not very pleasant for either party.

Example:

Me: "I decided to continue my study, I probably still need to write a thesis and a research for that"

Bob: "You already have more then enough work experience, can't you just skip the research and only write the thesis?"

Me: "I don't think it works like that. Reading technical documentation and implementing features is not research"

Bob: "But when you do something you need to research it, so you CAN use it for that"

Me: "There is a difference between learning to do something, and doing research. The latter involves creating new knowledge that was not available before."

Bob: "Can't you use your work experience as research?"

Me: "NO, LEARNING AND RESEARCH IS NOT THE SAME"

At this point, we just fall into repeating the same thing over and over again. I can't really continue whatever I wanted to share without restarting the discussion.

While this question is specifically about him, I have this problem with other people too. I try to keep listening, but this is not always successful.

Goals:

First priority: to prevent the argument from happening

Second priority: to stop the meaningless argument without hurting Bob too much.

Third priority: To continue the conversation we had BEFORE the argument, without restarting the argument.

Winning or losing the argument is irrelevant.

  • 2
    Is the conversation only with Bob, or with someone else and Bob is derailing it? – bob Jan 11 at 19:18
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    Hello network visitors! Please note that IPS is fairly strict about using comments as intended. Comments are only for clarifying and improving the question. Partial answers or general thoughts about the situation may be deleted without notice. If you'd like to write an answer, make sure to check out our posts on How do I write a good answer? and citation expectations first. Thanks! – Em C Jan 11 at 19:49
  • Refuse to answer what you don’t like if winning or losing is irrelevant. To prevent argument, say nothing. To stop without hurt, change the subject When hoping to continue anything, did you notice most arguments are about what we fought over last time, not now? If he blurts out falsehoods why not ask him to explain, until one of you gets sick? Who can really repeat statements without listening, unless the interlocutor - here, you - allows it? Your example seems too specific to address here but if you suffer this with others, does that suggest the problem is Bob's, or what? – Robbie Goodwin Jan 12 at 0:15
  • Am I the only one that feels like Bob is asking questions rather than making false statements? In your example Bob asked three questions - each one reasonable for someone that knows little about research and your area of study. It might just be a bad example but it seems like you are taking his questions as attacks and so responding as such escalating the situation. – simon_smiley Jan 12 at 9:44
9

Stop trying to negate what the other person says.

If your ultimate goal is to avoid an argument, disagreeing with someone belligerent is not going to work. When their opinion is "attacked", their goal is to defend themselves. To give more information, or, if they don't have any, to repeat themselves with different words so that maybe you'll understand this time. Or maybe, if they're louder, their opinion will be worth more.

In your example, you repeatedly challenged Bob's words.

Me: "I decided to continue my study, I probably still need to write a thesis and a research for that"

Bob: "You already have more then enough work experience, can't you just skip the research and only write the thesis?"

Me: "I don't think it works like that. Reading technical documentation and implementing features is not research"

Bob: "But when you do something you need to research it, so you CAN use it for that"

Me: "There is a difference between learning to do something, and doing research. The latter involves creating new knowledge that was not available before".

Bob: "Can't u use your work experience as research?"

Me: "NO, LEARNING AND RESEARCH IS NOT THE SAME"

There are different ways you can escape conflict - many of them outlined in the related question Carmeister linked. Ultimately, all of them involve acknowledging what the other person said (either legitimately or pretending to) and avoiding any form of challenge or negation towards their statement.

For someone who knows they're correct, and isn't used to going straight to the art of Gray Rocking, as suggested in the related question, there are alternatives.

My preference is a form of perky deflection.

Me: "I decided to continue my study, I probably still need to write a thesis and a research for that"

Bob: "You already have more then enough work experience, can't you just skip the research and only write the thesis?"

Me: "I wish! That would be super convenient! Anyway, here's my plan for what I'm going to do..."

Here, you acknowledge that their method would be superior (... if it worked), and then immediately move on to what you actually wanted to discuss, before they have a chance to jump back on their opinion.

In my experience, the trick to this particular method is that you need to engage in active listening to make it work - eye contact, eyebrow movement, all the facial features that show you heard what they said and you understood it. If you turn "I wish" it into a sarcastic grumble towards your palm or the floor, they often double-down and reiterate on why what they were saying is correct.

Show that you heard them. Say that you heard them. And then move on.

  • "I am at the stage of my life were I keep myself out of arguments. Even if you tell me 1+1=5, you're absolutely correct, Enjoy!" – unknown – Mazura Jan 12 at 1:01
10

Stop explaining, start saying

If you want to end a discussion, that someone else wants to continue, you have to end it. There is a big difference between saying

This doesn't work, because ...

and

This doesn't work.

Everytime you present something after the because it is an argument, and something that can be attacked. You are presenting a conclusion, and then give a premise. If someone doesn't agree with the premise, they'll surely attack the conclusion.

I have worked a lot with conflict resolution / problem solving and the way we put thoughts into words sometimes invites more debate than we desire. Usually, we try to include our thinking if we are either placating (explaining ourselves, as we would to our parent) or if we are unsure or in any other way desire feedback or the continuation of the discussion. Most often we try to include non-verbal cues to let people know that this discussion is over - but not everyone elects or are able to pick up on those. And some people are not very obvious when they try to send these cues. Communication isn't always easy.

Just cut it short, keep the explanation, or the justification, away and there should be less options to keep discussing. It won't make it impossible, if you ever had siblings you know that a discussion can continue as long as there is breath.

It is a bit rude though, which might be why you are avoiding doing it, but perfectly rational in your situation.

  • 3
    Absolutely! Do not invite a ruling from Bob by getting him to agree you are right. It doesn't actually matter whether he is wrong or not with this random thing he felt like saying. So leaving off the "because" is a great way to stop further discussion on the topic. Another approach is to "you would certainly think so, but that's not how the university sees it" or "I would agree, but I don't make the rules" or a similar way of pointing out that their opinion on this is not the binding one and it's pointless for the two of you to try to establish some sort of Ground Truth on the matter. – Kate Gregory Jan 11 at 18:39
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    If you say "This doesn't work", can't they just ask "Why not" or say "Yes it would"? How should you respond to that? – NotThatGuy Jan 11 at 21:25
  • @notthatguy something to the tune of "no, afraid not" is what I would say. – Stian Yttervik Jan 12 at 0:47
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    Yes. "I don't make the rules" is great in these cases. Bob won the argument, is sympathetic to your unfair plight, and you don't have to do anything different. – Owen Reynolds Jan 12 at 7:44
4

The best way to end an argument is to just stop arguing.

If you keep disagreeing with them, you are keeping the argument going.

Instead I would recommend just giving some half-hearted agreement or at least conceding that they make a reasonable argument. There are many ways to do this, such as by saying:

  • Okay.
  • Maybe.
  • I guess.
  • Fair enough.
  • I'm not sure.
  • I don't know.
  • Agree to disagree.

These are surprisingly versatile and at any given point in an argument you can probably use one or more of them.

I would resist the urge to add anything on top of one of the above statements, and just let the statement sit there for a second or two, which would emphasise that you don't have anything more you want to say about that.

After that you can simply change the subject.

Bob: "But when you do something you need to research it, so you CAN use it for that"

Me: "I guess. ... Hey, have you seen that new episode of Black Mirror?"

[OR] Me: Maybe. ... But anyway. So I have a few ideas about the thesis I need to write. ...

(Phrases like "Hey", "But anyway" and "So" could make the topic change a bit less jarring and flow a bit better)

If they feel really inclined to argue, they may try to reject your response (e.g. "You're just saying that"). If that happens I would suggest just again giving a non-committal statement like one of those mentioned above.

I wouldn't personally use "I'll look in to that" (assuming I won't) nor thank them, as suggested in another answer, as that feels a bit fake to me (at least more so than my suggestions). Although that may be considered a bit more polite than my suggestions and may be more effective if your goal is to keep the conversation going, but in a different direction.


I use statements like the above quite often in my day-to-day life and they are quite effective to disengage from an argument, and doesn't seem to really hurt the overall conversation much more than just saying one of the above things in another context. Which is to say they're mildly negative, but they're not really noteworthy and generally quite easy to move past.


Side note: I also feel I should point something else out regarding your specific argument: You can do research for theses in some jobs (possibly even before you decide you want to do a thesis), so I probably wouldn't be so quick to just dismiss that argument entirely. I might instead acknowledge that fact (or at least the possibility of that, if you don't know whether it ever happens) while explaining that the work you've done can't be used as research, or that this doesn't happen in your field, or something like that. If you bring something back to your personal experience and situation, that's a lot harder to argue with than when you try to make general statements. This doesn't end the argument, but doesn't dismiss their point of view entirely, so it's less likely they'd feel you're saying they're "wrong" and they'd be less inclined to keep arguing that they're "right".

3

My mother has a tendency to blurt out similar things as Bob. Often, these are in the form of 'well-meant advice'. Do note my mother isn't generally drunk when she does this, nor does she have a history of alcoholism that may impair her cognitive functions.

To prevent arguments from happening, I've often resorted to an appeal to authority. Instead of saying 'I don't think it works like that', be more definitive in asserting that things don't work like that. A simple 'No, the authority says this is the way' is often enough to stop her from offering up random ideas on how things could be done better. Rules are rules, facts are facts, and X says so.

For this to work, X needs to be an authority the other person 'respects'. It probably doesn't work if you refer to articles from scientific magazines when someone's main source of facts is a QAnon Facebook group. But in simple cases where you don't make the rules, like continuing a study, it's easy to say that having to do a thesis and research are simply the rules of the course made by the institution offering the degree.

The only downside to this is that it comes with a 50/50 chance of my mother starting to voice her opinion on the authority, facts or rules. Generally, I don't feel up to arguing the point and I give in with an 'I know but I can't change the rules/facts'. This usually ends that line of conversation quickly too, especially if I can see a way to actively change the topic. This doesn't have to be an entirely different topic either, going with your example, I might change the topic from having to do a thesis and research to what I want my thesis to be about.

2

Is Bob, or has he ever been, a salesman? How good are you at saying no to a salesperson?

This is a specific sales technique. Until a potential client says a definite No, you treat them as though they are saying Yes and just need a little persuading.

Notice right at the the beginning. What did you do to give Bob an opening? (click for answer)

Answer: You used the word "probably". This shows uncertainty and invites people to offer advice. "I probably still need to write a thesis and research for that"

Here is my suggestion - to be adapted as necessary

Me: I decided to continue my study, I still need to write a thesis and a research for that

Bob: You already have more than enough work experience, can't you just skip the research and only write the thesis?

Me: Possible but I've gone through all the options and I've already decided.

Bob: But when you do something you need to research it, so you CAN use it for that.

Me: I agree that's one approach but I've decided to do it my way.

Bob: Can't u use your work experience as research?

Me: I'm sure some people do that but that doesn't suit me so I've decided not to.

Etc.

The above acknowledges Bob's contribution but at the same time makes it clear that you are not to be persuaded whatever he says. Furthermore, it isn't an argument. It is simply a series of polite acknowledgements followed by a statement of your decision.

If he continues then you can say,

I know you are acting in my best interests but when I make a decision I always stick with it. What do you think about the latest Covid vaccinations? Will you be getting one if you are offered the chance?

What does this mean? It means that you are being an adult. You consider your options and you take decisions. You also take responsibility if they go wrong.

It took me a long time to learn this. I did finally learn it as a result of someone using this sales technique on me. In the end I simply said. Thanks for your time I really appreciate it but I have decided not to buy the product. The salesman simply said, "No problem" and presumably went on to find another sucker.


P.S. If someone is drunk they may talk for the sake of talking. The best option is to change the subject to something that doesn't affect you and let them talk away.

2

I suspect the problem is not as bad as you think. As long as Bob is not making truly ridiculous statements such as "The earth is flat.", it seems from your example that he is just insufficinetly informed about the facts (that you know) and hence comes off as making false statements. Many people do not really know what "research" means, much less "thesis". You have the option of either going into detail about what these mean in the context of academia, and explain that "research" in academia is not the same as "on-the-job searching for a solution to some problem", or you simply stop using words and phrases that the other party does not understand!

Note that you keep saying "research" and "learning" are not the same, but you never actually explain why. Also, you did not point out the more pertinent fact that it is not about what any arbitrary person thinks is "research", but about what the academic institution you are in counts as "research". If you say from the start that the institution or your advisor requires certain things to be done, then it is no longer a matter of opinion that Bob can argue against. He may (possibly even legitimately) argue that some requirement is silly, but he cannot argue that you can get away with not meeting it.

I am an academic researcher myself, and that is why I know very well how people not in academia tend to have misconceptions about "research", and that if we want them to understand we have to explain in more detail what we do, which is not so easy for theoretical fields, but has to be done! Generally, many instances of miscommunication arise due to different interpretation of the same terms, and can be cleared up by explaining in sufficient detail what you mean by what you say.

  • This is pretty on point. I often seem to forget that other people do not have the facts that I do have. – gorgabal Jan 12 at 11:41
  • @gorgabal: Yea we all make that kind of mistake now and then. A great deal of miscommunication starts with different interpretations of the same words. So I hope my response helps! =) – user21820 Jan 12 at 12:04
-1

First priority: to prevent the argument from happening

Avoiding getting into an argument would ultimately boil down to avoiding disagreement in the first place. I can think of several ways to help do this.
The first way would be to avoid subjects which you already know you and your interlocutor disagree in. For example, if I know that someone is a staunch advocate of mint-flavored ice-cream and will argue for its superiority at every opportunity, then I'd be better off avoiding the topic of ice-cream altogether (unless I'm interested in having an ice-cream flavor argument/debate, of course).

Another way to avoid arguments is to refrain from voicing your opinion. This tends to make conversation quite drab, though, so it's probably best applied selectively — such as when a contentious topic has unavoidably come up. If there are other people engaged in the conversation, you may be able to sit things out briefly until you think it's safe to resume participation. And if you do find yourself holding the ball, you might still be able to avoid the issue by giving a terse, noncommittal response or by changing the issue. If all else fails, you can always simply state that you don't want to talk about the subject, which will typically shut things down or otherwise force anyone interested to address you with something different; to continue pressing you for a response after you've explicitly declined would be rude — hence, doing so would demarcate an end to polite discussion.
This brings us to your "second priority".

Second priority: to stop the meaningless argument without hurting Bob too much.

There are a number of ways to end an argument, which can range from civil and polite, to blunt and forceful, to a complete failure of diplomacy and the consequent devolving of a dispute into a mere contest of power. (It seems acceptable to ignore this last case here, since it is likely beyond the scope of this question/forum). The simplest way would probably be to simply "agree to disagree". This doesn't resolve the disagreement itself, but it succeeds in moving the conversation forwards, which can be especially useful when an issue isn't directly related to what you're discussing and/or when you don't expect an agreement to be reached. And of course you could always choose to feign agreement for the sake of avoiding conflict, although this isn't normally a very good solution...

All other cases, I think, bring things to a matter of rhetoric. That is, failing all these other possible solutions, you will most probably find yourself in an argument, for which the art of rhetoric aims to guide one through the successful navigation of. Since rhetoric is an entire subject on it's own and deserving of its own study, I won't get much into it here; instead I'll simply mention it, emphasize its relevance, and strongly suggest that you acquire some proficiency with it if you haven't already.
Often times disagreements may not be disagreements at all, but merely misunderstandings (often owing to linguistic confusion) which can be cleared up from further explaining what each person means in order to ensure the same terms mean the same thing to the involved parties (this often involves tentatively accepting different definitions than one is used to for the sake of moving discussion beyond unproductive semantic disputes). In the case that there is any real, substantial disagreement between parties, identify what to appeal to. In some cases it may be appropriate to appeal to some authoritative source(s) to establish a matter of fact, or perhaps to turn to logic when defending or point out flaws in reasoning; other times still it may have to be accepted that people simply have different tastes ("de gustibus non est disputandum!"). In any instance, maintaining a civil and non-accusatory tone while doing your best to ignore any immaturity or poor form the other party may be guilty of will help keep things charitable and in good faith; do your best to keep a level head.
There is much more that could be said on the subject, but this answer is already getting pretty long-winded, so I'll go ahead and move on and wrap things up.

Third priority: To continue the conversation we had BEFORE the argument, without restarting the argument.

This third priority seems fairly simple and straightforward compared to the other two.
If, after the first and second priorities have been handled, you still wish to resume the conversation from an earlier point, then you can simply return to the earlier topic; you might say something like "so anyways, now that we're all on the same page about [x], …", or perhaps a transition along the lines of "well, ignoring [x], let's return to the topic of …". And otherwise, there's nothing wrong with letting a conversation end.


I hope this admittedly loquacious answer is at least somewhat helpful. In any case, I wish you the best of luck; hope things go well / improve!

  • 1
    Hi and welcome to IPS! Please take a minute to read our citation expectations. Answers on IPS need to include some backup in the form of either personal experience or references - could you explain why you think this advice will work, have you used this approach in a similar situation before, or is this something you've seen recommended by someone else? You might find How do I write a good answer? helpful too. – Ael Jan 19 at 10:43
-2

I'm not sure how helpful my life advice will be here (since I'm only 19), but here's my take.

You will almost never regret not saying something.

In my experience, you will never win an argument no matter how well-versed, eloquent, and well-researched your response is. You will never achieve a perfect argument, because your crafted argument will only be perfect in your vision. You cannot read the minds of others to discern what they would see as "wow, this is undeniable proof that I'm an addict and need help." At a certain point, the argument always devolves into attacking the premises of the opponent's arguments, after which the argument is an unwinnable battle for both parties, because every argument requires certain assumptions (i.e. axioms) that do not have an exclusively logical basis.

Your friends will not agree with you simply because they wish for their conclusions to be true. Especially in such a difficult case involving addiction, and having experienced alcohol addiction myself in the past, I can confidently say that this is what addiction does to a victim's brain.

Arguments cannot help you. Every victory in words will be a Pyrrhic victory, the cost of which is paid with your image and reputation. People will watch you argue, and remember not the eloquence with which you spoke, but the hot temper with which you argued. Thus, the answer to your question is this: Resist the urge to appear correct all the time. Tame your ego, and do not say anything in response to the blatantly wrong unless absolutely necessary or socially beneficial.

Now you have two options.

  1. Ignore him. Remove yourself from a persistent source of negativity and enjoy the rest of your life.

    Some people are sadly doomed to their fate, regardless of whether their suffering is circumstantial or causal. Negativity is infectious, and akin to a virus. You will get nowhere constantly helping those for whom you feel pity, for they are in plentiful supply. You will only make yourself irritable and miserable, as demonstrated by your temper.

However, if you truly wish to help this individual for whatever reason (e.g. he's family or he saved your life in Vietnam), then your only other option is to:

  1. Do not be direct. Learn the art of subtlety.

    Having learned direct arguments will get you nowhere, the only other path you can take is to be subtle. Ask questions instead of stating answers, and guide him towards the realization that alcohol is destroying his life. Personally, the loss of my ex-girlfriend helped me get off alcohol infinitely more than any argument from my friends or family. Spend more time with him sober and refuse to talk to him drunk, and make him realize that the clarity of sobriety is superior to the hazy stupor of alcoholism.

  • 2
    I'm not sure this really answers the OP's question as stated - they don't seem to be trying to get Bob to stop being an alcoholic, just trying to defuse arguments. They also mention at the end that they get into this sort of situation with people besides Bob too, so (probably) not just a problem with drunks. – Em C Jan 11 at 20:05
  • Well, I'm not going to argue with you, but I would like to point out that I explicitly answered the question in bold by prefacing my answer with "The answer to your question is this:". I don't know what more you want. – qiu Jan 11 at 20:18
  • It is still very useful advice. I wish I had your wisdom at your age. – gorgabal Jan 12 at 11:53

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