How to Argue With Someone Who Thinks They Are Always Right

What is it about so many of us that promotes within us an insatiable need to be right? Many of us wonder how to argue with someone who thinks they are always right, but few of us stop to consider if we’re doing the same thing.

We see this a lot in politics right now. People vilify their opponents, and become so entrenched in their own ideas that they’re unwilling to consider any other position. It becomes a point of pride.

When we find ourselves in this situation, it is invariably because someone “did this or that” and until they apologize, collaboration will remain an out of reach elusive dream. As you can imagine, this is very toxic in the workplace.

PREPARING FOR BATTLE

I was recently scheduled to meet and discuss a workplace situation with a client.

When she arrived for the meeting I noticed she was carrying two 3-inch binders, both of which were filled to capacity. 

I had thought she wanted to meet and explore her options; different ways of resolving the numerous conflicts in her life.

Boy, was I wrong.

She shared story after story to illustrate the unfair, unjust, unethical, unwarranted, unappreciated, unprovoked and unprofessional conduct to which she was exposed daily.

And those 3 inch binders?

Well, they were bursting with what she saw as incontrovertible evidence in support of her claims of ill treatment.

She pulled out letters, emails, screencaps, copies of documents and forcefully shoved them across the table for me to review. Some of these related to events that had taken place so long ago I swear her notes were actually drawings of figurines carved into small pieces of rock.

I think I was supposed to read each page and acknowledge my support for her cause.

Perhaps she thought I was a judge who would render a verdict in her favour and force those who had so maliciously wronged her to suffer mightily as they repented the error of their ways.

I wanted to interrupt her but was afraid, lest my very words and actions be placed in one of her files for use at a later hearing.

ALWAYS TWO SIDES

Philosopher Baruch Spinoza said “no matter how thin you slice it, there will always be two sides.” 

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After considerable time had passed I realized she probably was not going to share with me the “other” side. I finally did pluck up enough courage to point out that I was getting the point she was making. I told her that I understood that she believed that she was continually on the receiving end of poor and unprofessional treatment at the hands of her colleagues, and asked her the one question that can shift the thinking of someone who always thinks they’re right.

ASK THIS QUESTION

I asked her what outcome she hoped to achieve in her future interactions.

She paused, gazed blankly straight ahead after, after much internal deliberation declared that what she wanted was for all these folks to stop finding fault with everything she does, stop criticizing her every breath, and to provide her with the same workplace environment and opportunities afforded to every other employee.

I asked what she thought needed to happen to achieve this end result and what role she needed to play in resolving these matters.

She told me that in order for a lasting peace treaty to be declared, each of the offenders would need to sincerely apologize to her for their behaviour. Without said apology, sustainable peace was not an option.

When I asked her what her response would be if each of “them” felt that she was the cause of all conflict and should therefore be the one offering apologies she gave me a withering look.

It was, however, the first time she paused to consider anyone else’s position.

THE PROBLEM WITH BEING RIGHT

It seemed to me that to her, it was more important to be right than to create an environment that could be embraced by all.

The problem with being right is that for that to happen it is necessary for one or others to be wrong and when we all hold firm to the belief that we are right and therefore, cannot possibly be wrong, then the only possible result is the continuation of an untenable situation made bearable only by the feelings of superiority that come with being right.

All those things “they” did to us have already happened. They happened in the past.

History is what it is. We can never change it.

What we can do is choose the affect it has on us. One way to start this process is to ask ourselves what our ideal outcome is. Usually the ideal outcome will not be brought about by gathering ammo against your opponents.

Perhaps if we can reach a place within ourselves where it doesn’t matter who was right and who was wrong, and instead focus on behaviours that unite rather than divide, then our lives would be less stressful and more joyful.

And we wouldn’t have to spend our days collecting evidence in 3 inch binders.

Till we read again.

Photo of Rael Kalley,Habits coach in calgary canada

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