Close up Hands Tea x

Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Argument for argument’s sake.

Some people are so good at arguing, they ought to be given a prize for their ability.  Perhaps a big honkin’ flashy medallion attached to an award-winning ribbon with a four foot high gold trophy to match.  Ooh!  Or a ceremony, where they could be presented with epaulettes to display on their shoulders, which are better suited for chips, than crying on, any day.  These are not your downstream version of the Bickersons I’m talking about either.  These provocative, defiant, combative, argumentative people are unpaid professionals when it comes to their quarrelling skills (not to be confused with lawyers, who do argue for a living, but with a means to an end).  Kids, it’s best not to engage these provocative, defiant, combative, argumentative people.  Because somebody’s bound to put an eye out, their words are so sharp.

We’ve all encountered people for whom the phrase, “You say black, he/she says white” was seemingly invented.  You enter into conversation with this type of personality and it has the potential to end up in a heated verbal skirmish, no matter how calm and rational you think you are.  They have no interest in hearing what you have to say, no matter how knowledgeable or reasonable you are.  They can attack your character and chip at your self-esteem no matter how well you believe you’re perceived by the rest of the world.

Case in argument (pardon me, I couldn’t resist that)…

Engaged in a simple conversation with one of these highly-skilled squabblers, I casually mentioned that my son doesn’t eat pancakes anymore.  When queried as to the reason, I explained he’d had a bad experience when a nasty flu-bug caused an unwilling regurgitation of said pancakes and the association ever since had been bad.

“Were they thick pancakes or thin ones?”

“I don’t remember.  But the whole idea of eating any pancake is repulsive to him.”

“Yes, I understand that.  But were they big thick, fluffy pancakes or thin, crepe-like pancakes?”

“Honestly, I don’t recall the size of the pancakes.  It was quite some time ago.  I only remember them on their way out.”

“Perhaps if you told him that you’d make thin, crepe-like pancakes he would like that.”

“Possibly, but with his autism-related language deficit it is pretty difficult to have a conversation about it at all.  So, it has just been easier to avoid pancakes.  Thank heavens there are so many other breakfast choices out there.”

“Don’t talk to him about it.  Just make the other pancakes.”

“Well, there is the sensory issue, too.  The smell of the batter and the maple syrup…”

“Oh, Puh-leez.  You do know that there are other syrups you can put on pancakes besides maple, don’t you?”

What started as a simple tête-à-tête, felt as though it had the potential to turn into a left jab, straight right and ultimate left hook to my yammering jaw – ending the conversation with only one winner standing.   As a diversion tactic, I chose to fall face first into the old axiom “Quit while you’re ahead” and terminated the conversation about my son’s aversion to pancakes, instead asking about the best pancake recipes known to man (or woman, in the case of my sparring partner).

Despite my ability to mix it up with the best of them, arguing is really not one of my favorite pastimes.  It is probably why my competitive gene never really came to fruition.  No, really.  My thinking has always been, “You want to win that badly?  Go right on ahead and be my guest.”  Over the years, I’ve lost jobs, roles and love because of it.  Outside of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I have never felt there was much to fight about.  Still, there are people who “get all up in your stuff” and before you know it you’re engaged in full-blown communication combat.  But, there are some super tools available to tuck into your conversation utility belt to thwart an attack.

The closest thing I’ve found to superheroes among us, are law enforcement officers and they have some diffusing techniques that they engage to insure that no one is hurt or injured in a confrontation.  While I don’t think riot gear is necessarily needed in most run-ins with provocative, defiant, combative, argumentative people – I do believe the men and women in blue / khaki / green are on to something.  The two key diffusing techniques officers use are Ventilation and Active Listening

Ventilation is exactly what it sounds like, let the person vent.  Don’t argue, offer advice or defend yourself.  Just. Listen.  Once the person has expressed themselves, it does help to open up the air around them – but remember not to take ANYthing they’ve just said personally.  Oh, sure spew on you they might, but it won’t leave a stain.  Let it go.

Active Listening also means just what it says.  Do not sit there compiling your grocery shopping list or reviewing the current inventory of your Bucket List.  To be an active listener means offering validation, verification and, for good measure, tossing in some reflective questioning.  Something to the tune of, “I hear the emotion behind what you’re saying.” or “I can certainly understand what you’re saying.” perhaps even a “Could you expand on/explain what you just said?”  Also, it won’t hurt to channel your inner Homer Simpson now and again.  One simple, “D-oh!  I never thought of it that way…” and you may find any electrical charge diffused pretty quickly.

Not all conversation has to be entered into with such forethought, but with provocative, defiant, combative, argumentative people, you do want to try and walk away with all the pieces you came into the battle with.  You may not win any awards or braided epaulettes for your jacket, but as Edgar Watson Howe said, “A boy doesn’t have to go to war to be a hero, he can say he doesn’t like pie when he sees there isn’t enough to go around.”  Sometimes it really is not just what you say, but how you say it.  And who can argue with that?

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