How to Avoid Getting Into Arguments and Fights

An effective strategy to disengage.

Posted Sep 27, 2020

It might not take much to start a fight these days. People are stressed-out and exhausted. Someone says something that hits a raw nerve and before you know it, you feel a wave of anger sweep across your body. Sometimes it may feel as if you have no control and without realizing it, you may be saying or doing something in anger that you may potentially regret.

On a neurological level, that wave of anger is related to a flood of neurotransmitters that literally interfere with your ability to have a calm, cool, logical reaction. Have you heard the saying, “blind with rage?” It is because the emotional part of the brain is overriding the logical part. Luckily, there is a split second between processing what is happening and reacting, where you can choose what will happen next.

Sometimes it seems that people know exactly how to be aggravating. They know how to caste a big juicy worm, hoping you will bite and then they reel you in. This is called “baiting,” as in fishing, where casting bait is intended to get a fish to bite. In the case of starting a fight, the antagonist, wants you to bite. They dangle a challenge in front of your nose and wait to see how you will react. The game is to get you to get upset and for you to lose control. This gives them validation and satisfaction (they may even laugh!) and for you, it is all the more aggravating.

You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who is being unreasonable. The more you try to be cooperative, fair, and reasonable, the more you will continue to get pummeled. There is a saying, who’s more the fool? The person who is unreasonable and foolish, or the one who is trying to have a reasonable conversation with the fool? In other words, you can’t cooperate with someone who is not willing to cooperate. You may think being reasonable is the best strategy to avoid a fight, but in some circumstances actually sets you up to continue to be absorbed into the chaos.                 

The most effective way to avoid a fight is to not take the bait and disengage. Even if you know you are right, is it worth losing your peace? Do you really want to play into their game of baiting you? You can say, “I’m not going to participate in this,” and walk away. This is a clear communication, focusing on your choice and gives others nothing to respond to. They are left swinging their fishing rod into an empty pond with no fish to bite.  

Some may try casting out bigger bait (accusatory or mocking words), as you walk away. Let them have the last word, because in the big picture, who cares? It means nothing. If you find yourself wanting to defend, attack, or lash out, you can remind yourself, “he or she is not worth it.” It is not worth getting hurt, getting arrested, or damaging your property. Don’t give them the satisfaction. It is not worth it.

This occurs on both the micro and macro levels—from family arguments to political arguments. When emotions run hot, no matter what logical point you want to make, it will not be heard. Pick and choose your discussions. It is not effective trying to convince someone to change their beliefs if they are emotionally tied to what they believe. Instead, agree to disagree. This is not about being passive about your point of view, but rather about being choosy for when and where it is most effective to express yourself.

If you know a family member, ex-spouse, or co-worker who likes to instigate arguments, then you already know they will likely bait you. Observe them without reacting and watch how hard they try to get your attention. Don’t participate. If you know there’s going to be a confrontation with the intention to instigate upset and hate, why give them the attention? If people ignore them and don’t engage, then they are left with no audience.

On the other hand, use your voice, efforts, and energy towards productive actions. It is also helpful to forge alliances and surround yourself with like-minded people for validation and affirmation. If you are lucky, you might have an opportunity to engage in productive conversations exploring diverse points of view with people who have an open and inquisitive attitude.

Otherwise, you might want to think twice about wasting your time entertaining people’s attempts to upset you or provoke you into useless, discouraging, and unproductive fights or arguments. This is especially true if this includes name-calling, belittling, or disparaging comments. If there is hate, don’t participate.