General Question

nikipedia's avatar

How do you gracefully opt out of an argument?

Asked by nikipedia (27526points) December 27th, 2008

I have a lot of opinions and, fortunately, am right about everything. This causes problems when I meet other people who think they’re right about things but foolishly disagree with me. I am constitutionally incapable of gracefully walking away from an argument. How is this done, exactly? How do you nip it in the bud, or abruptly end it without admitting defeat? Is this possible?

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41 Answers

Lightlyseared's avatar

Click the stop following this question link.

In real life? No idea. I always keep going even when the other person is backing away.

cage's avatar

I say it’s much better to welcome your defeat and say, I’ve learned something new then.
Or of course there’s the good ol’ “we’ll just have to agree to disagree”

augustlan's avatar

“It’s not worth arguing about.” “I don’t want to have an argument about it.” “We’ll have to agree to disagree, then.”

jessturtle23's avatar

Just keep your mouth shut. Not everyone agrees on everything so just learn to live with it. When you have an opinion about everything then people tend to just write that off as a bad personality trait and quit listening to you so when you have a good opinion no one will give a shit. They will have tuned you out.

amanderveen's avatar

If I’m absolutely convinced I’m correct and the person I’m arguing with is equally convinced that they are correct, then I simply concede that everyone has the right to their own opinion and that while they might have a valid argument, I’m still not personally convinced. Agree to disagree.

Jeruba's avatar

Try a mantra: “Silence does not mean assent.”

You are not responsible for preventing others from committing an error of reason or thought. They can live without your correction. How else would most of the world survive?

These are things I say to myself for the same reason.

This might help: think of an absurd example. I used to have a coworker who thought celery was an absolute abomination. Chicken too. Not only could she not abide either one, or even entertain the thought of them with equanimity, but she reacted to any mention of them just as strongly as if someone had placed a heaping platter of chicken and celery under her disgust-wrinkled nose. It was not possible to allude to either one in any setting without hearing an opinion from her, vehement with horror. She would have been satisfied only if everyone else had agreed to hate what she hated. Damn, it was hard to plan a potluck.

Sometimes when I find myself about to lock horns on a point that really doesn’t matter—- remembering that it’s okay to let the other person be wrong—-I think of her. She wasn’t changing anyone’s mind about their food preferences. She was only making herself an obnoxious object of ridicule.

LostInParadise's avatar

Please do not use the phrase agree to disagree. It is so overused.

When both parties to a disagreement have made exhausted their arguments then it is time to move on to something else.
Just say that it does not look like either of you is going to change the other’s opinion. Say that you understand the other person’s position, though you disagree with it, and ask the other person if there are any questions regarding your view. Say that you have nothing to add to what you have already said and ask the other person if he/she has anything to new to say. Most likely the other person will say no. In that case it is time to close the discussion.

cdwccrn's avatar

“yes, dear….” oh, wait…. That will probably get you in more trouble!

arnbev959's avatar

Most things are not worth arguing about. If the other person is wrong and unwilling to consider anything I’m saying it isn’t worth my time to argue. A simple “I have to go.” or “let’s talk about this some other time (yeah right!)” or simply “Let’s talk about something else.” is all it takes.

loser's avatar

I once got out of an argument by pouring a glass of water on my head.

cyndyh's avatar

“I don’t think we’re getting anywhere here.”


“I guess everyone’s doing their own thing in their own time.”


“Are we going to laugh about this and move on or should I tell you to fuck off first?”

lifeflame's avatar

Can you give some concrete examples, nikipedia?

wundayatta's avatar

Do you want a serious answer? I can’t tell, what with the jokey question, although people seem to be taking you seriously.

However, it is pretty simple, and yet rediculously hard to do what you seem to want to do.

All you have to do is to reorient your perspective on “arguments.”

Ask yourself why you engage in conversation? Is it to prove how smart you are? Is it to show you know more than the person you’re talking to? Most likely this is true, if you are honest with yourself.

There is another approach, a humble approach to conversation. In this style you are just looking for information. There is no need to prove yourself right and the other person wrong. What you want is to understand what experiences lead them to their current point of view.

Boy! Up until I was maybe 35 or so, I needed to prove how right I was. I was especially interested in conversting Jehovah’s Witnesses to atheism. Or at the very least, sitting with them for a long time and wasting their time.

About that time, I started having a number of other experiences that were oriented differently. It also helped to live in a city that thinks differently, due to its Quaker roots. This is the city of concensus building. Not everyone is Quaker, but every preschool teaches the kids to call everyone else “Friend.”

My training in organizational change showed me that I can’t change other people (or other people’s minds). I can only put them in experiences (if they hire me to do it) that might show them the value of going about it a different way.

I started participating in several groups at that time that had no hierarchy. Everyone was equal, and equally responsible for organizing the group, or participating in it. What happened in these groups is that instead of arguing, people started listening. When we all knew people would listen to us, we changed the way we talked. We were more expressive, more poetical and descriptive, and, most importantly, more open about our lives.

Anyway, I don’t want to write a book about this (although I bet I could), but if you start to listen, and ask questions, and let the other person talk; and if, when you reply, you just share your experience with the question instead of telling them how wrong they are, you will no longer have arguments. Well, mostly. But mostly is pretty damn good, in my opinion. And once you stop having arguments, you learn that you really don’t like people who do argue and don’t listen, and you find yourself just walking away from them, instead of arguing.

My theory, now, is that people like to argue because it’s a game. They aren’t serious about issues when they argue. The serious people listen. The arguers are game players, looking for points in some imagined social status hierarchy.

It’s fine, if that’s what you want to do, but in my book, it condemns you to the arm chairs in the smoky rooms where the unimportant people play games. Important people listen, and they listen hard to other people, and they always ask questions and draw people out.

Just a hint: when I ask a question here, it is designed, as best I can, to open up space for people to share interesting things. I don’t always succeed, but when I do, I learn an awful lot. Sometimes other people tell me they like my questions, so maybe it works for others, too.

My opinions are just as strong and vehement as they always were, but since I’m serious about them, I try my hardest to listen as much as I can, instead of engaging in arguments. It’s working for me, though I still have a lot to learn about it.

dalepetrie's avatar

Listen to about 2 hours of right wing talk radio…they are EXPERTS at shutting up anyone who doesn’t agree with them. You’re sure to figure out some good strategies.

cyndyh's avatar

@dalepetrie: That’s exactly why I hate the phrase “agree to disagree”. It used to be their go-to phrase for anyone disagreeing with the ranting talk crock of the moment. I don’t know if it still is because I haven’t spent any time that way in a long time now.

arnbev959's avatar

@dale: They are not experts. If you disagree with Mark Levin he calls you a name and hangs up on you. That’s not a very convincing strategy.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

“i think that says more about you than it does about me.”

dalepetrie's avatar

petethepothead – I didn’t say it was convincing, just effective. There is effectively zero dissent allowed on say Hannity or Limbaugh. I think the answer fits the question, because it’s the attitude espoused by these blowhards, and what they seek is exactly what is sought in this question….so if you share their moral certitude, might as well share their modus operandi as well, no?

dalepetrie's avatar

and of course I understand the tongue in cheek nature of the question, my answer was meant to be in kind

Jeruba's avatar

I don’t believe the question was tongue-in-cheek. I think it was a serious question expressed in a tongue-in-cheek manner because it is very hard to find a way to say “Anyone who disagrees with me is wrong” with a straight face, even if you honestly believe it.

I give Nikipedia credit for wanting to learn to back out gracefully without conceding. I know plenty of people who, in that position and being of the same conviction, do not concern themselves with grace at all.

Foolaholic's avatar

I politely excuse myself, explaining that if I try to take “this” argument any further, I’ll probably end up needlessly angry. If people can’t respect that, then they weren’t worth matching wits with anyway.

Vinifera7's avatar

I despise when people say “we’ll have to agree to disagree”. Biggest cop out ever. Why not just be intellectually honest and admit that you don’t feel like considering other arguments? If your argument is convincing enough for you to be satisfied, just say so.

People that say “we’ll have to agree to disagree” and think that they’re being witty need to get hit by a bus.

susanc's avatar

My departed father was also always right. To sweeten this reality, he made fun of himself about it. He NEVER resorted to ad hominem arguments or did other crappy things to convince you you were a fool to oppose him. He just taught you stuff, connecting what you were saying to stuff you didn’t already know.
He did not subscribe to daloon’s enlightened and humble approach (it would have been against his nature), but somehow he must have been paying attention to what other people said, because that is how he came to know everything.
He got by, and I don’t see why other people who are always right should be ashamed of it. Au contraire! Go niki go.

nikipedia's avatar

Thanks for the brilliant advice, all. Yes, it was a serious question couched in guilty, tongue-in-cheek wording. And @lifeflame, this particular question was inspired by a conversation gone awry—a friend and I were discussing a finding in a neuroscience paper which I found incredibly unlikely. My friend, who does not study neuroscience, insisted that every possible expert who has ever lived would immediately see how obviously true and correct this finding was. I, who am getting a graduate degree in neuroscience, disagreed. Unfortunately the conversation escalated to the point where I had to just say, “okay, whatever you say, enjoy being right, game over.” Which was unsatisfying to both parties.

So in the case, the daloon method would be to ask questions about my friend’s side without presenting my case, thus precluding any possibility for argument? Which incorporates the Jeruba method of allowing him to be wrong and not trying to persuade him otherwise?

augustlan's avatar

My best friend and I have humorous disagreements, which always end with one of us saying “You can think what you like, but I know the truth.” When the matter is more serious, one of us will say with exasperation, “You know…”. Either way, we recognize the ‘catch phrase’ and the disagreement is over.

Jeruba's avatar

In that situation, @Niki, I am not sure I would apply the variety of diplomacy I recommended, which is mainly about getting your mind to put a hammerlock on your mouth, as I thought you were requesting. Hardly any solution for anything really works globally. I find “one size fits all” to be about as revolting a principle as “one-stop shopping,” a concept I do battle with every time I meet it.

If I were in your place, as I have occasionally been in my own field, I think the best I would be able to muster would be something along the lines of “Out of respect for our friendship, I think we are going to have to drop this subject.”

I am guessing that your friend either does not sufficiently recognize your expertise, resents your always being right and thought he/she had you, enjoys challenging you, or did not realize how seriously you would engage the question.

Not speaking for Daloon, but I think his excellent advice and my suggestion were better suited to a situation between equals where the issue is one of opinion and relative knowledge and not a difference between an expert and a layman within a given field of knowledge.

wundayatta's avatar

Yeah, when you have expertise, you can ask for sources, or proof of a hypothesis. When I’m unsure of something, I’ll start out by saying it’s a hypothesis, so if someone has greater knowledge and can show the hypothesis is wrong, then it’s the hypothesis that is wrong, not me.

This is all about management of feelings and sensitivities. That’s why protocols are developed in science or politics or whatever. If you are operating from different protocols, things become difficult.

Sometimes it is best just to leave the field of play. You know the other person is playing with a handicap, only they don’t know they have the handicap. Just go. Trust that sooner or later, they will find out how misguided they were.

LostInParadise's avatar

I have a suggestion, which I admit to never having actually tried, but which I think would work. It would help, though it is not necessary, to have pen and paper available.

Summarize both sides of the argument, without showing any bias in favor of your view. Then try to pinpoint the cause or causes of the difference of opinion. If possible, tell what would be necessary to be true in order to change your opinion and invite the other person to do the same.

It could be that things boil down to a difference in values or, as in your case, a difference in what you are willing to accept as true. In that case, you have reached a true impasse, which should be simpy acknowledged.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

I usually just try to change the subject, and silently ruminate to myself that this person is a complete idiot. Well, maybe not complete, as it is obvious they are missing a few brain cells.

I got into a discussion on Christmas about the likelihood of being bit by house spiders. Even though I have the backing of several experts and plenty of personal research, people are still convinced that spider bites are quite common. Some people just refuse to give up their cherished misinformation. I stopped when I realized I was dealing with apparent idiots. Also someone interjected that Christmas was no time for arguments.

That darn comic book and movie hero Spiderman isn’t helping to spread the REALITY of spiders biting humans. I hate him. :-)

Siren's avatar

Good golly daloon – this is the best answer I’ve seen from you yet. Good job!

wundayatta's avatar

Thanks Siren. (you should see some of my other answers)

SeventhSense's avatar

Will you be my zen teacher? Brilliant.

SeventhSense's avatar

@evelyns pet zebra
There are of course the spiders from Mars.

Shuttle128's avatar

@LostInParadise I have actually had to do this on several occasions. An argument almost always boils down to a difference in definition, the acceptance of an axiom, or simply a difference in subjective values.

These are things that cannot be easily changed, and the result is usually to depart the argument with an understanding of the fundamental difference in thought.

philosopher_saint's avatar

I’ve sometimes used the hackneyed platitude: “We’ll have to agree to disagree”.

SeventhSense's avatar

Fuck You I win.

philosopher_saint's avatar

@SeventhSense: I wonder: does that work?!

SeventhSense's avatar

For some reason no.. but you won’t miss the Family Guy.

john65pennington's avatar

When my wife and i have a disagreement and its really out of control, one or the other will reach out for the others hand and say…..“truce”?. lets face it, i am not always right and neither is she. and, this also applies to you. if you are wrong, be a big enough person to admit it. we all make mistakes and thats why someone invented the two words…........“i’m sorry”. p.s… might also have a reality check on your being right all the time. it just ain’t so.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Fact from fiction, truth from diction. If it is a polite debate I would say “well, when you can show me the facts then I will believe or or we have more to talk about.

If they are snide ans d insulting I say “I was told never to argue with an idiot, those watching from the outside might not be able to tell me from the idiot so I am leaving”.

jrpowell's avatar

I try to avoid arguments. I don’t give a single fuck if someone thinks that they won. As long as there is beer to be drank I will let others argue with the brick walls while I get wasted in a bubble bath.

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