Golden Rule 2
When to argue, when to walk away
I’m sure we’ve all had arguments where later we feel that it was
just the wrong time and the wrong place. Knowing when to enter
into an argument and when not to is a vital skill. Before embark-
ing on an argument always ask yourself: is this the right place and
the right time? Is it better to walk away and not have the argu-
ment at all, or to have it at another time and in another place?
Think especially about the following:
Could there be a productive outcome from this argument?
Is it better to have the argument in private or with other
Do you have the information you need to make a good
Are you feeling emotionally ready for the argument?
Is the other person emotionally ready to hear your arguments?
Let’s consider these points separately.
Could this argument be productive?
There’s little point in having an argument if no good to anyone
could come from it. Imagine you were at a works party held to
try to drum up new business. You introduce yourself to a dis-
tinguished looking man who soon informs you that he’s the
head of the local hunt. You are strongly opposed to hunting.
You could enter into an argument over the morality of hunting,
but it’s highly unlikely that this would be productive. You’re not
likely to put forward any arguments he doesn’t know already.
In a party environment you can’t give a long lecture on the evils
of hunting. The argument is not going to get anywhere and you
may even end up damaging the interests of your business. It’s
time to walk away or quickly change the conversation.
HOW TO ARGUE
Or, imagine the family Christmas dinner and Uncle Geoff starts
making some homophobic comments that you find objection-
able. There may be a time and place to talk about the issues
with Geoff, but Christmas dinner is probably not it. The end
result of any argument is pretty predictable: you and Uncle
Geoff will both get upset and the rest of the family will not be
best pleased with you! Leave it for another time.
There are some people who are so emotionally committed to
their point of view that they’re unlikely to change it. You’re
unlikely to persuade someone in a single conversation that their
religion is wrong. The most you might hope to do is create a
doubt that they will want to explore another time.
That’s a telling question. If the person suggests that no evidence
could prove them wrong, then you know you’re dealing with a
total fanatic. Walk away!
Private or public?
This can be an important issue, especially in a business context.
You need to think carefully about it. Is this an argument best raised
on a one-to-one level with the individual concerned, or is it better
discussed in a group? There are several issues to think about:
Confidentiality. If in the course of the argument you need to
raise issues that are confidential (either about yourself or
someone else) then you need to make sure the conversation
is in private so you don’t breach confidentiality.
Confidence. Will you feel more confident if someone else is
with you? Or if you’re alone? If you want someone with you,
who will it be?
‘What evidence would you need to change your mind?’
Never argue with a fanatic, it’s a waste of time.