Don’t Argue If They Won’t Listen

Over the past few years, I have learned the value of simply not arguing with someone. As a person who spends a great deal of mental energy and time concerned with correctly speaking their mind, it can feel counterintuitive to allow someone to misunderstand me when I’m trying to voice an opinion or share a thought. I’ve learned, though, that it is generally a lot better for my mental health to let them do so and do my best to exit the conversation as quickly as I can once it is clear the person I’m talking to isn’t actually interested in hearing what I have to say. It can be incredibly difficult, especially when that person is someone I spend a lot of time talking to for various reasons, but it is almost always worth it to just shut up, stop arguing, and bail out.

It is useful in both my professional and my personal life, given that I seem to attract people who want to be angry about something and, despite their own claims to be interested in my thoughts, refuse to listen if I have the gall to suggest that there are variables they haven’t considered or another side to the story they’re refusing to see. I do my best to be an active listener and make sure I understand if the person I’m talking to merely wants to vent rather than have me suggest things (frequently by explicitly asking), but a few people in my life frequently say they want my suggestions and then just tell me I’m wrong when I say that there is something they’re not considering when they’re complaining about a problem.

If I seem a little focused on this idea, I will admit that I had encounters with two different people behaving like this today (the day I wrote this) and it has left such a sour taste in my mouth that I’m still upset about it several hours later. No one appreciates being talked over or having their experience or knowledge dismissed out of hand for no other reason than because it contradicts whatever point the person they’re talking to is trying to make. Heaven forbid any of those people consider their expectations are wrong or that they might be the problem in the scenario.

Unfortunately, other than walking away or refusing to argue with them, there’s not much you can do. If someone fundamentally isn’t willing to listen, then no amount of your time or effort will reach them. Now, there are a lot of ways to attempt to reach someone who has different views and experiences than you do, and a lot of that work is worth doing. You can have a certain amount of success with some such people if you explain why their behavior bothers you and other people aren’t consciously engaging in bad-faith arguments. Giving the people who fall into these categories the opportunity to change their behavior by explaining why it is important to be an active listener in any kind of relationship can repair and even better relationships with them. If the problem doesn’t go away, though, you should not trap yourself into a relationship (platonic or otherwise) with a person who is never going to listen. Give them a chance and, if they refuse to change their behavior, accept that there’s nothing more you can do.

I firmly believe in second chances, so I do my best to address these kinds of problems when I realize they’re happening, but I’m incredibly familiar with how frustrating and emotionally draining it can be to try to work through a problem like this with someone who refuses to address the problem or refuses to even acknowledge it. The worst offenders, though, are the ones who acknowledge the problem and refuse to admit that it is a problem for them to deal with. I’ve only encountered two such people like that, but both were so draining and exhausting that even thinking about them now is enough to make me want to lay down in the dark and stare blankly at a wall for a couple hours, until my soul has recovered.

So walk away if you think they’re never going to listen to you and don’t feel too bad about it. They won’t. They’re probably going to be too busy blaming your for the crime of wanting to feel heard or just wanting to not be talked over when you’re answering a question they asked.

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