46

There are many people who, after stating their political, religious or ideological view, or an opinion in a debated or controversial topic, explicitly ask for confirmation.

For example, "Am I right?", "Isn't it so?"

Assuming it's not done in bad faith to provoke a debate, but it just occurs naturally to them, as they expect agreement or sympathy from those around them, how can I avoid expressing agreement, in case I don't intend to trigger a debate in the topic at the moment?

Staying in complete silence is not always an option, especially if the number of participants is very low, or the question is addressed directly at me.

The tactic I usually use is to silently mumble something like "well, that is one way to look at it". Usually it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Note: there are occasions when I'm happy to accept a debate and go into deep discussions about the topic. I'm asking about occasions when I don't.

  • I'm more curious about what personally triggers the occasions when you don't? – user2322 Oct 30 '17 at 21:11

14 Answers 14

15

I run into this a lot, because I live in a region which is on the opposite side of the political spectrum as me. Usually the person I'm speaking with isn't expecting a debate at all, because it's just so obvious to him that what he's saying is right... ;D

So what I like to do is ... defer the debate until a time which is convenient for me. Might be later that afternoon, might be, well, never. Usually goes like this:

Friend: [Insert provocative statement], amirite?

Me: [Laughs] Wow, that's a whole 'nother discussion. I'll get back to you on that. How bout [different subject or angle]

This usually gives me what I want, which is not a debate on issue/candidate/calamity X.

Sometimes my friend will probe a bit more, and I'll just remind him that we don't have time to give the subject the attention it deserves just now.

42

You don't need to answer the "am I right" part if "yes" wouldn't be true, and "no" might invite an argument.

If you'd like to discuss this with the person, try responding as though they hadn't asked for the confirmation:

Why do you think so?

Even [better/worse/more] than X? (If they said that something was the best/worst/etc)

Note: Choose X carefully so as not to "but what about" - so if they say a Democrat was the worst X ever, you can ask "even worse than [another Democrat]? not "even worse than [a Republican]?" which is more like debating. If you want to propose a better "best" movie it should be in the same franchise, or time period, or by the same director. Otherwise you're debating, which you don't want to do.

I don't know a lot about that. Where do you learn about it?

If you don't want to discuss it and want to change the subject, then change the subject. It's traditional to signal such changes:

Oh, I never discuss politics/Star Wars/religion at parties / over lunch / before midnight / with family present / after I've had a glass of wine. [Cheesy smile to indicate your humour is weak and you know it.] So, did you see that baseball game last night? or So, what are your plans for the end of year break?

You can lampshade it even further. I know someone who says:

Look! [points] An obvious distraction! [Launches into story about something they've done recently, or asks a conversation-starter question.]

I mean literally says "an obvious distraction." People laugh, and agree to change the subject.

  • 54
    "Look! [points] An obvious distraction!" I'm going to have to steal that. – apaul Oct 30 '17 at 18:18
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    I've always been a big fan of "Oh, yeah, speaking of changing the subject..." myself. – GGMG Oct 30 '17 at 18:59
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    Oh you avoid politics, Star Wars, and religion, you say?! Well let me get you started on the politics of the Star Wars religion! – corsiKa Oct 30 '17 at 19:59
  • "I don't know a lot about that. Where do you learn about it?" - the problem with this is that it expresses ignorance (and therefore submission) in a topic one might wish not to do so, and it might invite further "explanations". – vsz Nov 2 '17 at 5:08
  • @corsiKa Do you have a moment to talk about our dark lord, and saviour, Darth Vader? – Immortal Blue Nov 2 '17 at 7:00
8

Assuming it's not done in bad faith to provoke a debate, but it just occurs naturally to them, as they expect agreement or sympathy from those around them, how can I avoid expressing agreement, in case I don't intend to trigger a debate in the topic at the moment?

If it's not done in bad faith, they're probably looking for a confirmation that you heard their view. You can respond like

"I hear you."

"I see what you mean."

"I understand your point."

all confirm that they communicated their message clearly and don't say anything about whether you agree or disagree. Remember, this assumes that this is their natural way of talking - if they are actively seeking out a conflict, this won't be enough. For people who actively seek out conflict, see this thread. On some topics, it's perfectly acceptable in some cultures to respond with, "I apologize but I don't discuss that topic" (IE: religion).

Another easy way to avoid agreement with a person not seeking conflict is to pinpoint a question and drill into it. When they ask for agreement, ask about something they previously said, like "Did you say Joanne bought a boat? What kind of boat?" You begin shifting the conversation away from any conflict. This also helps keep your interest in a conversation; unless you like conflict, someone asking for confirmation is probably less interesting than a topic you find interesting. Focus on that by asking questions.

5

One strategy you could try would be to just state that there are many reasonable perspectives.

Them: ... Am I right?

You: I think it's a complex issue, and there are many reasonable perspectives with no objectively right answer.

If they respond with "but what's your perspective", or something similar, you're unfortunately mostly back where you started, but a less polite response could make sense, since they're obviously rudely pushing the issue.

At that point, I'd say you have roughly these options:

  • Repeat the above response, word for word, until they stop asking

    This is a fairly conflict-heavy approach and makes it clear that you don't appreciate them pushing the issue.

  • Refuse to answer

    "I don't want to get involved" would be a less conflict-heavy response and can be repeated as necessary if they keep asking to make it clear that you don't appreciate that.

  • Be a fence sitter

    "I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other" is about as non-committal as you can get, and you're unlikely to run into much problems with this approach.

    You can use this approach even if you have a strong opinion, if you want.

Deflecting to "some people" is another strategy you could try if you want to share your opinion without really starting a debate or justifying that opinion.

This approach can admittedly get you some weird looks.

Them: ... Am I right?

You: Some people might disagree with you on that.

Them: Disagree how?

You: I don't know, you'd have to ask them.

Or:

Them: ... Am I right?

You: Some people might say that ...

Them: But ...

You: I said some people, I'm not the one you should be arguing with.

4

You could try to postpone it for the future and remain vague at that moment. One advantage is that you can later postpone it again, if they (I'll call them "Bob") comes up with it again.

Something like:

Bob: Michael Bay is truly the only real artist among the contemporary directors. Am I right?

Two possible answers (thanks to NotTatGuy for the suggestion), statement at the beginning may be omitted:

Stronger:

You: (That's certainly possible.) I have to think about it some more.

Weaker:

You: (I suppose that's a possibility.) I have to think about it some more.

Which one to use may depend on whom you are talking to and how you read the situation. The stronger statement may make it appear as if you weren't neutral (or might lean towards their view), but may be more effective in satisfying someone more argumentative.

The drawback is that he may still press on (but you can deflect Bob) or that he doesn't forget about it. You may not be able to evade his questions forever.

Instead of keeping silent, or mumbling, you could also try to

smile friendly

and appear interested. This may not always work, but oftentimes, especially very opinionated people, assume that others think like them. And then they may interpret your (non-) reaction as agreement, when you actually didn't (and so could later deny that).

  • I think this really depends on person and situation. I know (religious "fanatics") people who would insist in you if you reply with anything other than complete agreement. I tried "I have to think about it some more." once and it resulted in them firing a tirade of additional "arguments" for their standpoint. – Fildor Oct 30 '17 at 15:51
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    "That's certainly possible" does show some support for their point. I'd probably opt for something more like "I suppose that's a possibility" or even just omitting that sentence entirely. – NotThatGuy Oct 30 '17 at 16:59
  • @NotThatGuy Thanks! I incorporated your suggestion. – Anne Daunted Oct 30 '17 at 17:13
3

You're assuming that it just occurs naturally to them, as they expect agreement or sympathy from those around them, so I will as well.

The issue is that you don't have the agreement or sympathy they're looking for. However, I've found when a person asks a question like this, they're looking for any sort of affirmation at all, not just complete agreement. So when I feel obligated to confirm an opinion I don't agree with (and I don't want to debate it), I'll give an open-ended answer, followed up by any complimentary aspect about the position.

For example:

Friend: Clearly, The Matrix: Reloaded was the best in the trilogy, right?

Me: [dying inside] I think it's pretty tough to come up with a clear favorite, but there were definitely some great fight scenes in that one.

More often than not, this will lead to a conversation about that particular aspect. This means that you should always pick an aspect you genuinely agree with (not being disingenuous was the point anyway, right?). First off, you're likely to move the conversation onto something you both agree with! Second, if you complement something you disagree with, you're likely to find yourself in the same situation in a few minutes.

For example:

Friend: Clearly, The Matrix: Reloaded was the best in the trilogy, right?

Me: [lying inside] I think it's pretty tough to come up with a clear favorite, but there were definitely some great fight scenes in that one.

Friend: Oh yeah! I thought that fight at the beginning was the best I've ever seen! Didn't you?

This means that if you're responding to a position you simply don't agree with on any point, this is not the approach to take. However, in my experience if I can't find a single aspect I like about someone's position, I'm very rarely willing to pretend I don't mind it.

3

Some people are just looking for a debate - while that's fine, it sounds like all you really want to do is avoid starting a debate about particular topics. And if that's the case, then you should just be upfront about it.

You would say something like:

Well, you might have a point, but I'd rather not get into a debate about X right now.  

Mind that a wary listener might notice "you might have a point" as very weak agreement and take offense - so you may want to leave it off and cut straight to "I'd rather not talk about/get into a debate about X right now".

Which acknowledges the validity of their point (not that you agree with it, but that they have one - which is usually what the speaker is looking for anyway) and indicates that you'd rather not continue the discussion. This works even if you do agree with the person, but would rather not talk about the subject at the moment.

If you'd rather not acknowledge that the point they're making is valid, you can side-step it by simply cutting to "I'd rather not get into a debate about X" - and if the speaker insists on making their point, reiterate that you don't like to talk about X - this makes it so that you aren't directly shutting their point down, but just trying to avoid talking about something that makes you uncomfortable.

Now this doesn't completely absolve you of any rudeness - not wanting to talk about something can upset certain people if they're very passionate about it - but it does allow you an avenue to avoid certain topics you'd rather not discuss at the moment.

  • I like this, but I've shortened to leave off the '...you might have a point...' as people seem to hate that more than not engaging. – Mirv - Matt Oct 31 '17 at 17:05
  • @Mirv That is a good point - it was built as weak on purpose specifically so you could brush a point off with it, but a wary listener could notice that and take offense. – Zibbobz Oct 31 '17 at 17:20
  • If the point is to avoid a lengthy debate, why bait that person into another debate? I love a good snark, don't get me wrong - but if it doesn't help me get away, save it for a better time? – Mirv - Matt Oct 31 '17 at 17:27
  • @Mirv Because the person might have a good point - it wasn't intended as a snarky dismissal, just to concede that there may be some merit to the point being made without fully committing to the idea. – Zibbobz Oct 31 '17 at 19:20
1

You can't really do that

When confronted with such a situation you have quite a few ways to react, but they all boil down to:

  • confirm their view
  • stay silent
  • offer another view

The first one is what you explicitly don't want, so I will leave that one out.

The second one is the one you already mentioned. Silently mumbling, grunting a bit, shrugging your shoulder, ... it all really is just a way of saying "I don't really want to talk about this right now.", which is what you want. But you specifically ask about cases where that doesn't work.

The only real option left is to state your opinion and offer another view. You can of course try to be evasive:

That is what most people think.

This leaves out a silent, but mostly understood, But there are people who think differently.

And that is where the type of person you are asking about comes into play. They see that you are not confirming their view and will start a debate. As you have tagged this with I assume that these debates are often not quite as nice as you would like them. But these people would start such a debate anyway, no matter whether you tried to stay silent of offered another point of view.

The best way to go about this is to really only offer a different point of view:

There are many people thinking like that. I see it slightly different, because of [x] and [y]. But that's just me.

If you are lucky they will accept this. The last part shows that you are not looking for a big debate and you are placing your statement as the one with less support from other people. Whenever this doesn't work, not confirming their view was the first mistake and you could hardly do anything about it. If this is a person you are talking to on a regular basis and you know how they will react you can decide beforehand: do I want to stick to my opinion or keep it to myself and avoid the conflict?

  • I strongly disagree with your options. First, you can simply decline to engage the statement, "we won't go into that one". Second priests, imam, rabbi & secular parties are able to chat, respect each other & by reaching across with emotional connect on personal levels rather than intellectual discussions to affirm someone's importance to them, in a way ignoring the statement. – Mirv - Matt Oct 31 '17 at 17:04
  • @Mirv I don't see how that is not the third option of offering another point of view. Of course there are many people who can react to that in an understanding way, but the question seemed to be about the type that won't simply choose to "live and let live". – Secespitus Oct 31 '17 at 20:34
  • I'm not sure what you're talking about in the first part, which part are you responding too? I agree on the live & let live, that's why I go for the emotional validation - its tough to argue with someone who thanks you or says you are good... – Mirv - Matt Oct 31 '17 at 21:37
1

We call this validation.

Note in here too - often in the current american culture - we have some pretty polarized views & the emotions run heavy, it's likely anything but agreement can trigger the unwanted conflict. That's why I recommend people deal with the human connection & not the statement.

You know potentially the other person might be spoiling for a fight or be hurt inside if you don't agree. So instead of validating the discussion, you validate the human & seek to grow your connection with them.

First you accept & validate that they were talking to you, "Thank you for sharing!" or anything similar, ... its short and address the human behind the statement without engaging the statement. Be sure your delivery is adjusted to the audience...some people in a snarky atmosphere might mistake what you said.

Normally, based on the situation & how much you care - you could tie it to them personally, with a sentiment of caring, "I imagine that affects your life a lot." or close to this which lets them talk about their distress which was caused the superficial statement they made.

Side note: Most of my philosophy comes from humans are emotional & the emotion has to be handled before the logical points.

Have you ever looked into non-violent communication? Its my go to in tough situations, but pretty basic, "I think I see what you mean when you say {POINT}, it's that {SUPPORTING POINT}". Then they reply back confirmation. It helps defuse down the emotional turmoil too, especially if you are able to say something like, "This is a problem, how do you feel it really effects you?"

0

This may or may not suit your needs, but I've had a lot of success just saying that I don't want to get into a big discussion about something. Most conversations involve less depth than participants could reach, and disagreement with a stated position isn't that different from answering "fine" when someone asks how your day has been. It's obviously not the full amount of detail, but acknowledges the question and allows the conversation to move forward.

A: [Some assertion or other]. Don't you agree?

B: No, I don't really think of it that way and so I don't agree (or some similar comment).

A: What do you mean by that?

B: I don't really want to get into it right now. It'll be a whole thing. Let's just get back to what we were talking about before. You were saying [...]...

And that's usually the end of it. My experience is that when people behave in a conversation as you have described they are usually looking for validation which they mostly expect to get, and that validation is really what the "am I right?" type comments are about. A deep discussion examining whether or not you should have provided that validation after the prompt is nearly always off-topic to what was being discussed and not what the prompter wants to talk about anyhow.

0

Never collude when someone wants validation. Instead, try to understand (by asking questions) of their feelings toward their beliefs.

Isn't [insert politician] the dirtiest politician ever?

How do you feel about him? What do you believe should be done about him/society? How do you feel about what he has done?

Agreeing with why someone feels the way they do, or believe what they believe is far easier, than believing the truth of a statement that someone puts forward.

0

What do you actually want to achieve?

My mother-in-law used to simply change the subject, quite abruptly:

"I do wish they would sack Boris Johnson. I can't stand him. Don't you agree?"

"Have you noticed that the snowdrops have come up in the park?"

I initially found it quite disconcerting but it can actually work surprisingly well. Especially as it's likely that everyone else in the group wants to stop you droning on about Boris Johnson and will respond immediately by switching to the new topic.

0

The other person's behavior here is inherently and intentionally aggressive, and there's really no way to achieve what you're asking for. That's precisely why the person is doing it.

I'm going to assume the worst outcomes, in an order that depends on power dynamics, are:

  • surrendering your tacit agreement to something you don't actually agree to
  • outing yourself as being someone who doesn't agree
  • getting pulled into an uncomfortable discussion

While it can't entirely avoid all three of these, an approach that can likely avoid all but outing yourself, and lessen the degree to which you out yourself, is calling out the other person on what they're doing:

It sounds like you want an argument. I don't want to go there.

or:

If you think everybody here agrees with you, why did you ask that?

There are probably further variants that can lessen the degree to which you out yourself as disagreeing with the other person's view, and instead focus on disagreement with their behavior of putting people on the spot about it.

0

My favorite strategy is simply to repeat the person's opinion back to him or her:

I see, so you think that economic benefits of this bill offset the environmental consequences.

A person who is truly looking for confirmation will appreciate the validation and not press you for further discussion.

  • 1
    This might work, however we encourage answers to be backed up by explanation why it might work for the OP. At least explain why you think this is a good idea. – Vylix Oct 31 '17 at 20:10

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