“The best defense is to not be there.” ~ Mr. Miyagi. Sometimes, when the threat of interpersonal drama rears its ugly head, a little mental judo is just what the situation calls for. In college, a friend of mine told me about Leon. Leon was brilliant. He was so smart he would correct the teachers, and occasionally even the textbooks. His IQ was off the charts and he graduated with an engineering degree in three years. One time Leon was explaining something. A classmate said “No, that’s wrong.”
Leon said “Actually, it’s right and here’s why…” And Leon took about a minute and a half to explain to the guy the reasoning behind Leon’s position.
The classmate said “No, that’s wrong.”
Leon knew he was right. Leon knew the classmate was wrong. Leon smiled at the classmate and said “Well, ok.” and walked off. Leon was smart enough to know he was wasting his time arguing with someone who’s mind was made up. Leon also recognized there was nothing at stake- it wasn’t a test question.
Later that year another friend came to me, very upset because someone had criticized her in front of other people and embarrassed her. What really drove her crazy was that she knew she was right about the “error” she was being criticized for. She tried over and over to defend herself and explain to her critic why her position was not wrong, but he just got more and more assertive and demeaning because he was convinced he was right.
So I relayed to my friend the story of Leon. Several months later, she told me her own story. She had just returned from a recruiting meeting with a very large firm. There were a lot of candidates there, of which she was one. During a social session, a guy calls her out in conversation and explains what a blunder she had made. She knew what she had said was not wrong, but she also knew this guy was not going to back off. Her biggest fear was looking like a fool in front of her potential employer. But despite her fears, she looked at the guy, smiled and said “Well, ok.” and walked off.
From that, she explained that she learned two lessons. The first was obvious. She avoided getting sucked into pointless drama, arguing with a person she would never be able to persuade. But the second lesson she got was a surprise. Later in the day, one of the people that worked with the firm that was recruiting, pulled her aside and praised how skillfully she had handled that guy’s rude behavior, rose above it, and “took the wind from his sails”. The company hired her.
Sometimes this approach is not appropriate. If something big/important is at stake beyond our egos, then we may need to take a stand. But often times, if there’s no real gain to be had, we’re better off letting the belligerent have they field. They will often wind up on it, alone.