Did I catch your interest? I’m not surprised. Given our age of instant communication and where everyone has a voice, we’re bound to come across plenty of people who just don’t like us or our ideas.
Let’s be clear though, there is a degree of variation in the “not liking us.” Some people stay reasonable – they merely want to criticize an idea or belief. They argue about the idea or belief and don’t take it to the personal level. I’m not talking about these people in this article. I’ve had wonderful conversations with people I disagree with on a host of issues. There’s a great deal to learn from people who disagree with you and are critical of your ideas and beliefs. These people are more helpful than harmful.
I’m talking about people who are convinced they are right and they will tear you down to prove it. I’m talking about people who seem to be brain-washed: When you look at them or speak to them, it’s as if they don’t register what’s going on – you feel like you would have better luck talking with a wall. I’m talking about people who interrupt you or don’t listen to what you have to say – ever. I’m talking about people who shame, dehumanize, label, and seek out conflict. They thrive on conflict.
I think you get the idea of the type of people I’m talking about.
So how do we deal with people like this? There’s lots of answers to this question. A better question may be how do you effectively deal with people like this? Let’s define “effectively” first. When you realize the person you are dealing with isn’t interested in having a conversation, but only in being right, shouting at you, tearing you down in the process, or bullying you, I would argue that “effectively” here means to end the interaction as peacefully as possible, as quickly as possible.
I have a long history in politics. I have come across many of these people in my years of politics. Politics attracts many irrational people. I think it has something to do with fitting it, seeking identity, and being a part of a group. these type of people thrive on the political environment. Getting a response is what these people desire. They want you drawn in and at their emotional level – irrational. As I learned so long ago – don’t argue with an idiot, they will bring you down to their level, and then beat you from years of experience. The same is true for irrational people.
Here’s a couple vital points, regardless of whether you are dealing with this person in person or online.
- You aren’t in a conversation. A conversation involves give and take, listening and speaking, considering the other person as an equal. Instead you are in an interaction. The other person isn’t thinking rationally. They don’t see you or hear you. They are consumed with their own rightness and ideas. They believe they are on a mission from God. You aren’t going to change their mind because they aren’t open to change. You might as well as them to change into a zebra. It ain’t gonna happen. This point is vital because it sets you up for the next one. If you violate this point, be prepared – you’re going to get sucked in and there is no way out rationally.
- The person desires attention. In case you haven’t learned the lesson from the 2016 presidential lesson, here it is. You want to grab attention – say outrageous things and watch how people get sucked in to responding. Attention gives affirmation. Attention is like a drug – you get a hit from it. Why else would reality TV be so popular – anyone can be a star and get attention! Attention means that your ideas and beliefs must be valid if the other person is responding to them. Attention is value. Attention is important for someone so consumed by being right and forcing others into their belief system. It is an affirmation of oneself.
So with these vital point in mind, how do we deal with a difficult person like this. Here are some techniques:
- Stay calm. Don’t get sucked into their emotional tornado. Recognize what is happening. Don’t worry about answering their questions or accusations. Compose yourself. I was at a rally where the group I was with was severely outnumbered. At one point some large men came over to us, surrounded us in order to intimidate us. I grabbed the attention of our group and told them not to move or do anything. Just stay calm and ignore anything that was said. Then I went to the large men, told them very calmly and looked them in the eye and said that we weren’t going to be intimidated. Then I just stood there in locked eye contact with the leader and didn’t say anything. My facial features were calm. After a few tense moments, the group stepped off and backed away. Calm worked.
- Don’t respond, pivot. Responding only gives credibility to the person and their ideas and beliefs and how they treat others. Don’t go to their level. Think through what the ideal is for you and move towards that.
- Agree. The best way to end an interaction, that I have found, is to just simply agree with the person. They can’t fight and argue with someone that is agreeing with everything they say. They may get upset that you are agreeing, but realize then that the issue was never about the ideas or beliefs at all – it was about getting attention. One of the best statements I have learned to say to someone like this is “You’re absolutely right.” It usually takes a few times for them to register what I said, but eventually they hear it. And they don’t know know what to do, so they move on. Here’s the thing. Just because you said you agree with an irrational person, doesn’t mean you actually agree with them. So often people state things with “I” statements, so all you are really doing is agreeing that what they said was their opinion or belief. And well, that’s true – it is their opinion or belief.
- Don’t take the bait. Sometimes these people will attempt to find something that is important to you and poke at it, just to get a response. I was at a rally one time and one of the opposition poked a friend of mine by saying that he hoped my friend’s brother would die in war. It worked – my friend responded and off it went. I get it. When something or someone close to you is attacked, we want to defend it. But with an irrational person, you are only feeding the fire. You have to have a thick skin and remind yourself that the other person is flailing around and attempting to reach out for something.
- Walk away. Yes, just walk away. And don’t listen to the insults they hurl your way as they do. Don’t respond. Don’t look back. Don’t acknowledge the person in any way – just turn and walk away. It may seem like you are losing the fight, but in reality, you were never going to win it anyway – the rules were stacked against you. Take a loss and keep your safety and dignity in not engaging in irrational behavior or talk.
- Ignore the person. Ignore the person as if they aren’t there at all. This takes some patience and practice. They won’t like it and they will do what they can to get your attention. Don’t give it to them. I was at another rally years ago and found a reporter friend who was covering the event. We were having a nice chat during the rally when someone from the opposition came over and started yelling at me their slogans and rhetoric. I engaged for a moment only to realize I was talking with someone who wasn’t interested in a conversation. So I quick broke my eye contact with the person and went back to talking with my friend where we left off. After about 30 seconds, the other person realized I wasn’t going to engage and left.
These tactics may sound harsh. They may sound impersonal. They may even sound dehumanizing – not paying attention to someone else could be considered a major insult. You may be wondering, where is the mercy and grace that I preach about. It’s there actually. By not engaging or going where the person is, you are being merciful and showing grace.
Realize, I’m not talking about the average person here – I’m talking about someone who is irrationally acting. They aren’t totally there at that moment in time. The point of these tactics is your own safety and sanity – not to get sucked into the irrationality and contribute to the problem.
Often times irrationality sets in when there is a mass of people – especially at rallies and protests. Mob thinking sets in which means individual thinking is turned off. You aren’t dealing with an individual at that moment, but a mob mentality – and mobs are not safe for anyone. One piece of good advice – avoid large crowds, rallies, and protests. This is where you will find the most irrational behavior and speaking. If you feel the need to protest something, find another way – write a letter, make a phone call, work on someone’s campaign, talk with people, etc.
Lastly, here’s a piece of advice that I try to practice more and more – pray for the person. Don’t pray one of those prayers that shows how right you are and how wrong they are. Instead pray for the person’s well-being. Pray that the person gets the attention they need from people who can actually help them. Pray that all who interact with the person would remain calm and be safe. Pray for peace. Pray that the person would experience God’s love and mercy. When we pray like that, we change how we interact with people.