The Psychology of Arguments
How to Interact with Combative Personalities and When to End Conversations
“Those who make conversations impossible, make escalation inevitable.”
― Stefan Molyneux
What do you do when a conversation doesn’t go your way? You may try to explain yourself more carefully. You may try to listen to the other person more attentively. But you should accept the reality that some people do not start a conversation with you in order to understand you, but to fight you.
Some conversations are unproductive, and the sooner you walk away from them, the better. You cannot help it that some people are combative. They are not there to be changed or persuaded. They are not interested in mutual understanding. They want the conversation to make you look bad or look dumb.
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The sooner you discern the hidden motive of a conversation, the sooner you can decide whether to invest in that person or spend your time elsewhere with someone who cares. How can you tell?
There are 4 tells that someone has entered into fight mode.
The obvious is they begin to raise their voice.
This is not always bad. In my experience, these people may actually be the most benign because they are being honest to you—every honest person gets angry. The dishonest keep it inside; the honest vents occasionally. They are showing you that they have a safety valve—once they let off some steam, they calm themselves down.
My mother, who is a meek and mild personality, actually has a positive take on why loved ones raise their voice at each other. She says because they trust. They cannot share their frustration freely with others, so they end up dumping it on someone close whom they feel safe around. If you understand this, fewer conversations will ever escalate into arguments. This may be why I’ve never heard my parents fight. They probably had disagreements that they diffused quickly.
My mother would by no means make an excuse for combative people with uncontrollable anger. An emotional valve should be allowed; an emotional volcano should not. Allow an honest person to let go of some steam. But you have a right to stay away from volcanoes. Make sure you know the difference.
The worst kind of combative people are the pretenders—certain journalists, lawyers, psychologists, betrayers and backstabbers—people who lure you into a conversation not to understand you, but to entrap you. Jesus often met such people. Their behavior is known as passive aggressive. Their aggression requires your discernment.
MARK 12 (NKJV)
13 Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words.
14 When they had come, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?
I’ve experienced a newspaper sending a journalist to do a hit piece on me. He badgered my staff for an interview with me. He started out flattering me, like the Pharisees did Jesus. “You have such a large following. I’m interested in doing an interview of you to find out why.” I checked his words. He had no interest in learning anything, much less changing his mind. He was fishing for something sensational that would make him look smart to his boss and me look unfavorable to his audience. In such instances, I disappoint them with how boring I am. I ignore such time wasters.
Pay attention to 3 commonly used techniques of people who want to pick a fight with you!
They deny what they obviously said.
“I didn’t say that” and other forms of conscious denials. Presidents, Prime Ministers and health officials in almost every country in 2020 said to their people, “If you take two vaccinations you will not be infected with the coronavirus and you will not transmit the virus.” We all heard it. Now they deny this and said we voluntarily submitted to the program.
Some professions seem trained in the use of denial as a technique. For instance, the police or social workers calling you for a friendly information gathering session. When you show up, they don’t gather any information; they start insinuating you’ve done something wrong. Once you realize they’ve blindsided you, they deny they asked you to come and say you came voluntarily. They are dismissive of your presence. Whatever you say will be used against you and it’s your fault.
In such cases, they are liars, but there is no point calling them out. First, you are better than that. Second, they are not interested in becoming your friend or better human beings. Denial has become second nature to them. They lie without filter. The inner voice of their conscience has been silenced by continual violation.
They accuse you of what you didn’t say.
It often starts with, “So what you’re saying is…” then their next words don’t remotely resemble anything you think or believe or ever said.
The most common technique is to twist your words. For instance, I often write “Dear Son” tweets. These are thoughts I want to record for my son to read one day. In one tweet, I wrote:
Look for the following in your future wife:
6. Healthy body
7. Good looks
8. Good cook
9. Never posts a selfie.
10. Doesn’t like drama.
You won’t have to ask if she loves you.
You will have a happy life.
Responses poured in like “what if I’m not a virgin…what if I’m not good looking…what if I like to take a selfie?” First of all, I do not apply these standards to anybody else. They are directed to my son only. I know him like no one else. I also know he respects God’s Word. If you wish to apply my values or wisdom to yourself, you are welcome. If not, no one is forcing you. You are more likely to grow by making your own list and making your own mistakes.
Some combative leftists picked on number 8 on my list, “Good cook.” One wrote, “He’s a misogynist. Why is a woman’s place only in the kitchen?” His question is ironic. Why does he assume that a woman who cooks well doesn’t have a job and only lives in the kitchen? I know many great female chefs who work full-time jobs, part-time jobs, or stay at home. It should be their choice. What does cooking skill have to do with her place in the home or workplace? His reaction is not only impulsive, but misogynist. Isn’t his assumption more misogynistic than what he’s attacking?
This loony leftist launched straight into fight mode. He made no attempt to understand. So I did not reply to him directly, but I utilized his example to illustrate the absurdities that combative people assume. They are wrong and don’t want to find out why. My son happens to be a picky eater and I know that enjoying his wife’s cooking, the way he enjoys our home cooking, is going to bring happiness to his life. You can eat whatever you want. There’s no need for us to have an argument.
Some combative Christians looked at my list and took to criticizing that I did not mention “God”. “So his wife doesn’t need to be a believer?!” wrote one.
Notice I also did not mention “love”. Does that mean I don’t believe in love? Or that my son should not love his wife? My choice to exclude a word is itself a lesson to someone seeking to learn.
Why would I exclude the word “love”? No purpose is served telling the modern youth “marry someone you love.” Duh. All couples believe they love each other in the beginning, at the intoxicating stage of starting something new, but then 50% of them end up in divorce. What happened? For one, they needed some clearer criteria of compatibility than the feeling of love.
Why should I exclude the word “God”? Well, my son wants to marry a Christian any way. He knows God says, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14 NKJV). No purpose is served saying “marry a Christian” because 1) there are fake Christians and it’s hard for young people to tell, 2) there are genuine Christians who would make a terrible partner for my son. I avoid writing clichés in a tweet which is limited to 140 characters.
The silent treatment.
The silent treatment is a form of escalation. When your enemy talks a lot, they are negotiating for a truce or resolution. When your enemy falls silent, they are usually preparing for war. Most lawyers who plan for a court battle will advise their client to stop talking to their counterpart. It’s cheaper to resolve problems when everyone is communicating. Lawyers get rich when your silence begins.
When you see someone ignoring your polite question or request, they are disrespecting you. They know what they’re doing. As Stefan Molyneux said, “Those who make conversations impossible, make escalation inevitable.” Silence is a passive aggressive way to frustrate you or hurt you. Don’t let them.
A disrespectful person gets nothing from me. A person who respects me can get more from me than any aggressive tactic or persuasive technique can. You should not react to rude people. Don’t reward a person who disrespects you with anything.
People who give the silent treatment are childish and you should treat them like little infants. Combative people usually resort to silence after they’ve denied what they said and accused you of what you didn’t say. They gaslight you, then they terminate the conversation. It gives them a feeling of being in control. In fact, if you hold your ground and don’t care, they have lost the argument. They’ve also lost my reward.
A relationship with me is very rewarding. It carries many benefits because I’m a loyal and giving person. I’ve stood by people when no one else would. My friendship is tenacious. I don’t forget the good people have done to me. I forget the evil people have done to me because they have their reward or punishment from the Lord. They will not have any reward from me. My conversation is a gift. My attention is a reward.
An illustration of this technique happened the very day I posted this article (22 Nov 2022 in USA time). White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre shut down two reporters (Daily Caller’s Diana Glebova and Today News Africa’s Simon Ateba) asking Dr Anthony Fauci whether he has investigated the origins of the coronavirus. Why?
No one is more qualified to answer the question in the White House press briefing than Dr. Fauci. And Dr. Fauci is obligated to the American public—he is the highest-paid government worker ($480,654/ year)—they pay his salary. Jean-Pierre waved her hand down and said the reporter was being “disrespectful.” She then terminated the valid conversation everyone wanted to hear, “No, I’m done. Simon, I’m done. Simon, I’m done. I’m done with you right now.” Was she talking to second graders?
When I see any of these tells, I have options not to be gaslit or disrespected. I can politely say, “This is not a productive conversation any more,” or “I’m no longer comfortable with the way you talk to me,” or I can walk away calmly.
Spiritual Dimension to Communication
Communication without misunderstanding is impossible. That’s why communicating to understand each other is such a gift you give another person. It’s one of the best gifts of a good marriage. You need to stick to a person long enough to develop a rapport with little misunderstanding. As I mature, I realize this is better than kisses and I love you’s. Peaceful communication is a strong glue. It’s a source of my energy and clarity.
In an age of nameless critics seeking quick fame and keyboard warriors hiding behind screens, the need for polite, civil communication has never been greater. People have become impulsive and combative on social media. The lack of manners that seem acceptable with strangers has spilled over into normal interaction among young people who spend a lot of time in front of the screen.
The best remedy to people’s combativeness, loneliness and unhappiness is to start communicating with God on a personal level—with a genuine motive to understand Him. Think about it: The possibility of God misunderstanding you is ZERO. He knows all about you and hears every word you say. You’ve got the best listener on the one side.
The possibility of you misunderstanding God is less than your misunderstanding other people. God has written in stone His most important thoughts He wants you to know (in the Bible) and He has stated that He does not change His mind. People change all the time. They are not stable or reliable. They don’t always keep their word to you and they barely understand themselves.
Comparatively, God is much easier to talk to, so long as you accept who He says He is, just the way He wrote it. If you don’t understand something He wrote, don’t launch into a combative mode. He will ignore you and deprive you of His attention. But if you develop a habit of reading His Word daily, and listening to sermons anointed by the Holy Spirit, you are likely to understand God and enjoy the best communication of your life.
Thanks for reading Pastor Steve Cioccolanti's End-Time Prophecy & Bible Comment! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Good thoughts 💭.
My previous wife would start arguments regularly. I could never understand why.
Later, after she had left and we were divorced, I watched the “Love & Respect” DVD lessons that went along with the book.
It pointed out how many women would start arguments in an effort to connect more intimately with their husbands.
That was a light bulb 💡 moment for me.
I’m sure as irrational as it sounds it was probably very true.
I’ve never been in a relationship with so much conflict.
We both played our parts. After hours of being lectured I would blow up, volcano 🌋, and say mean & hurtful things.
Out of the abundance of the heart.
But the Lord had a redemptive purpose in it and used all of it to mold and shape me to become more like Him.
I pray 🙏 the same for her.
It was a object lesson for me that anger kills relationship.
I’ve grown spiritually in many other areas as well. I’m much quicker to lay down my wants or turn them over to the Lord.
I’ve been very, very blessed in my marriage now. I’m very thankful, we relate wonderfully. I don’t take anything for granted.
Things my previous wife found irritating my current one finds endearing.
God is so compassionate, slow to anger, and GOOD.
Your article has good insights. Thanks
Thank you Pastor Steve for the insights of conversations. Looking back into my own life, I could have used this wonderful lesson. I've learned alot in my 69 years. And this helps me very much. Thank you again!!!