How to Know When to Quit a Debate That Won’t Go Anywhere

Some debates seem to escalate into meaningless arguments in which no one is willing to even try to agree. To avoid wasting time on these kinds of discussions, here are a few red flags to watch out for and how you might be able to save the discussion before backing down.

The facts don’t matter to them

Facts are useful tools in an argument, but if your opponent cannot agree on any one fact, you are probably wasting your time. Facts will do two things: either help you maintain perspective, which gives your opponent, or completely give back blow . A fact that goes against what your opponent believes to be true can cause him to stick to his weapon even more, making him more defensive and precluding the possibility of more open discussion.

To try and keep your debate alive, Quora’s Adam Mordechai suggests finding a way to personally relate the facts to them :

Facts are cold, impersonal details that have nothing to do with this person’s reality. In order for them to truly hear you, they need to personally connect to it … they will be more likely to turn off the switch and hear you. The problem is, you have to do this one person at a time.

If they still can’t accept the most basic facts, it’s time to step back. There is no point in pushing a brick wall. Explain that you would like to come back to this topic later when you both have time to study it in more detail.

They say the same thing over and over

When your opponent is constantly repeating the same bit of information, it usually means that he has nothing more to offer, and you are just running in circles. This is especially true if you have already touched on this issue.

Make sure they know their point of view is heard. If you agree with a point of view, and they are still repeating it, they try to make it the determining factor in the whole discussion. If you object, and they repeat it, they are deliberately denying what you put on the table and are clearly not ready to hear what you have to say. You may be able to ask them questions to open up more areas for discussion, but if they seem stuck, it’s time to agree or disagree.

Their emotions take over

Emotions can turn any discussion into a full-fledged argument in the blink of an eye. At this point, there is no point in promoting your point of view, because you will only upset them even more. You can usually tell if emotions have entered the equation by looking at their volume and by their body language . However, there is a difference between emotion and passion. When they start attacking you, you will know for sure that these are emotions.

If they are upset, Linda Hill, author and professor at Harvard Business School, recommends that you stop saying anything to give them time to calm down:

If the emotional level is high, your first task is to get rid of some of the emotions. This often means sitting back and letting someone speak. Hold on and let them have their say. You don’t have to agree with this, but listen …

Don’t tell them to calm down or push them to try to understand you. If they seem to have calmed down after the splash, you can continue the discussion. If not, apologize for upsetting them and don’t shy away .

They keep trying to change the subject

When you are discussing one thing, and your opponent does not stop talking about another, your debate can be dead. They are clearly no longer interested in the current topic, but they still want to butt about something. They may be trying to move on to a topic they know more about, or trying to get out of trouble.

This logical fallacy, known as ” red herring “, is a favorite among politicians. You can try to derail this by immediately succumbing to a new topic with phrases like “maybe you’re right” or “I’ll have to think about it.” Then redirect them back to the original thread with phrases like “… but I would like to go back to what we discussed in the first place” or “before we continue, let’s finish talking about such and such. “If they fail, the initial debate is over and it’s time to move on.

More damage seems to be done than good

There are many ways to win an argument , but above all make sure that winning matters. What seems like a friendly argument to you can be so much more to your opponent. They may not want to talk about it directly, but they may have a personal connection to the topic that makes them a little more sensitive. In this case, the debate can go somewhere else, but it is no good. If you feel like your debate has moved from causation to uncomfortable territory, it might be time to end the debate.

It’s important to choose your battle wisely , whether it’s a silly discussion between friends or a discussion between colleagues. Think, if anything, what it would mean to win your debate. You don’t want to ruin your relationship just to prove your point, so ask yourself if it will do more harm than good?


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