Communication Barrier

Has it ever happened to you that you talked to someone, and what you quite calmly said made them froth at the mouth?


That happened to me the other day. True, the content of my words wasn’t necessarily the nicest, but it wasn’t rude or insulting either. It was stating a point of view that the other person did not share1. If my words happened to be the truth, then I can see that that sat uncomfortably with my conversation partner. If my words happened to be completely off the mark, then I can see that they feel upset by my misjudgment.

Either way, the only constructive way to move forward is for them to consider why I might have chosen those words, and discuss the reasons for that. What I don’t expect is a lengthy diatribe detailing an alternative point of view as the only acceptable explanation of reality2, delivered spitting with venom and spite.

I’ve been in that sort of situation before. Let’s, for the sake of the argument, assume that I can infuriate people easily, and blame such occurrences on me.

When that sort of thing happens, I tend to get pretty angry pretty quickly. I can stand being wrong. It’s not a very comfortable feeling, but you get used to it3, and at some point you learn to expect that possibility. What I can’t stand is if someone does not even listen to what I say, and reacts merely to, for lack of a better explanation, what they want to hear.

In the past, I’ve tried to correct them — if you think that’s an unfortunate choice of words, I agree. No-one likes to be corrected, especially when they’re angry. What else do you call pointing out obvious flaws in someones argument, though? Being angry myself, my attempts at correcting people may not always have come across as a genuine effort to bring clarity to the situation4.

Now I’ve never really learned not to get angry in such a situation. What I have learned the hard way is to shut up, more or less. If anything I can reasonably add is likely to incite my conversation partner further, there is nothing more that I can do. I can’t even explain my reaction, as that can easily be misunderstood as self-righteousness.

I’ve been on the receiving side of that strategy myself, and god it infuriates me. Still, sometimes I have no better idea what to do myself, so ultimately I can’t blame people who use it5.

So how do you deal with people you can’t argue with? Do you have a better approach than shutting up, one that doesn’t involve shouting matches?

  1. I’m not going to go into the details on that, so don’t ask. []
  2. Where, truth be told, both point of views could easily co-exist — as is proven merely by the fact that the two of us viewed the same situation differently. []
  3. Especially if you’re married. []
  4. Still, the amount of times I resort to insults to get a point across are incredibly rare — the occasional rant on this blog excluded. I’m being insulting for artistic purposes there, and that’s not done in anger. []
  5. Also, that’d mean I’d either have to blame myself for it’s use, or employ an odd double standard. []