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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.

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    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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  • 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. – sam_smith Jan 12 at 9:44
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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.

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  • "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
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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.

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    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
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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".

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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.

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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.

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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 insufficiently 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.

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  • 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

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