How to Stop Any Argument in its Tracks


“You may be right.”

On their own, these four words don’t appear to be that powerful.  However, when used in the heat of the moment to defuse an argument, they can work wonders!

Case in point:  you’re engaged in a heated argument, and your opponent is attacking.  As with some forms of martial arts, you can take the strength of the attack and deflect it.

I’ve seen this technique work wonders over and over — because it works immediately.  And it doesn’t call for concessions.  It merely interrupts the pattern of the attacker and proposes the theory that he or she “may” be right.  When you take away their reason for arguing, the heat goes out of the moment.

Winning or Losing

You don’t even need to think about whether you’re “winning” or “losing” if this is a concern.  These four words neutralize the situation.

Which brings to mind the countless dialogues we hear every day.  You know the type I mean – the couple bickering in a restaurant.  “It was Tuesday.  No, it was Monday.  No, it was Tuesday.”  By the time they get around to the story, it’s lost its impact.

If you go out in public, it’s hard to get away from this mindless back-and-forth sparring.  We hear it at the mall, in the airport, waiting in line at the grocery store or at the dry cleaners.  You name it.

And, to what end?  Often, “being right” trumps everything.  Winner takes all.  But, what have you really won?  A momentary victory, maybe, but at what cost?

Any positive energy that existed earlier has been taken out of the equation – not to mention the toll this can take on a relationship over time.

According to author Steve Pavlina, the way to “win” an argument is to aim for a goal other than being right.  Huh?  If you aren’t trying to win the argument, then what is your goal?  Pavlina suggests we set the goal of raising the other person’s awareness while maintaining our own sense of calmness.  Yeah, right…

Redirect the Energy

Okay, let’s give it a shot.  According to this theory, you can deflect your opponent’s attacks by focusing on their behavior.  Whenever he or she tries to pigeonhole you into a negative role, simply sidestep their comments and direct their own energy back onto them.  Never defend against any of their comments.

In other words, don’t attack – ever.  Merely deflect the other person’s attacks back onto them, over and over.

You become like a mirror.  So, the more the other person tries to attack you, the more they weaken themselves.  People can’t punch themselves in the face for too long.

Statements to Use

You can come back with neutral statements like “You seem to be upset about this.  Why do you think that is?” or “So you’re saying you’d like to feel free to disregard my requests if you don’t agree with them.  Is that correct?”  Stay focused on the other person and their feelings – not your own.  But don’t take ownership of anything they say.

Here’s an example that may sound familiar.  Your significant other comes home in a bad mood.  He’s had a fight with his dad on the phone.  Normally in instances like this, he won’t open up and talk to you.  He slams things around.  You get upset.  He gets upset that you’re upset.  And the evening deteriorates from there.

If you can hang in there with compassion and verbalize his words and actions back to him in a neutral state, it may allow him to open up, get the thing about his dad off his chest and move on with the night.  It’s a tricky process, though.

Cool as a Cucumber

The key is to remain calm inside (which is often hard to do when you feel like frustrations are being taken out on you).  In this way, you’re sending vibes of concern and compassion, rather than upsetting vibes.

One of my husband’s favorite movies is Gandhi.  No matter how many times we’ve seen certain scenes of this movie, I’m always amazed at the discipline that’s displayed – and the global impact it has fostered.

No doubt about it – this method takes a lot of practice and patience.  Eventually, though, it can become second nature, according to several psychological and communication models.  So, the investment of time may be well worth it.  And we all know how many times we run up against situations we could use for “target practice!”

Don’t Cave In

This is not to say we “roll over,” cave in or refuse to stand up for our principles.  Healthy debates can be positive – with both sides learning something.  It’s just that when the situation becomes too heated – or the behavior shows up as a pattern over and over – that techniques such as this can be helpful.

Generally, discussions are calm back-and-forth conversations, while arguments are emotionally charged matches that are more about winning and losing than coming to consensus.  Discussions are useful; arguments are often not because they don’t involve respecting the other side’s opinions – or they end up with one side giving in or admitting fault.

Put Out the Fire

A more productive goal is to defuse an argument so that a discussion can take place at a later time.  The calm discussion is the time to consider the other person’s views, not when they are red in the face and shouting at you.

Just remember these four words:  “You may be right.”