Reality Check: When Someone Wants to Pick a Fight

Do you know someone who wants to pick a fight? Perhaps there’s somebody in your family or at work who wants to argue. Some people enjoy a fight. But the fact that someone wants to fight with you doesn’t mean that you have to indulge them. You have choice.
Declining to fight can feel uncomfortable, especially if it’s new to you. But fighting is usually uncomfortable anyway, so it’s up to you to weigh which discomfort you’d rather live with in the long run. If the fight is making your life miserable and you don’t see how to avoid it, here are two suggestions.
One suggestion is to make a “rule.” Yes, we can exercise our personal freedom by making our own rule. If you don’t want to discuss something, you don’t have to.
There are plenty of discussion topics that you might like to avoid, so fill in whatever applies to you in this example: “Thanks for being interested in my opinion, but I have a personal rule. I don’t talk about [politics, religion, race, climate, weather, sexual activities, war, energy, language, culture, etc.]
Of course, this doesn’t prevent the other person from talking. That’s ok. It’s not much fun to argue alone, so if you don’t respond, they may go away.
But what if it’s a situation that you can’t avoid? Maybe it’s your boss or your mother-in-law; someone with whom you want/need to keep a reasonable relationship despite your disagreement.
The second suggestion attempts to set a tone of understanding and cooperation rather than conflict and division.
When your arguing partner starts up, ask, “Where do you think we agree?” Many issues that people argue about are big: the state of the world, the economy, treatment of specific groups, fears/angers about the future, use and misuse of words, big questions about life, death, right and wrong.
If you start from a position of, “Where do we disagree?” you’re sure to find disagreement. From personal experience, I know I can find areas of disagreement with pretty much anyone, even myself! And it’s hard to climb back from the position of, “I’m right and you’re wrong” when we get entrenched in our argument, caught up in the joy of winning.
However, if you start from the position of, “Where do we agree?” there’s at least a chance that you will learn that you are not so very far apart.
Searching for agreement can require creativity. Thus, it’s more fun. In the best case, it could even turn your potentially antagonistic conversation into shared laughter and absurdity. Can you agree that the sky is blue? (Always true in beautiful NS, of course, it’s just hidden sometimes.)
Look at it as an adventure. You don’t know where you’ll end up. You may be shocked to find that you share much agreement.
If arguments are sapping your energy, give this a try. Trying something new can feel awkward, so don’t be discouraged if your first attempts don’t solve everything.
After you’ve tried, evaluate your experience. Do you feel more energized and confident approaching the conversation this way? Or do you feel deflated? Have you learned anything useful about yourself or the other? Is it worth trying again, perhaps with changes?

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