How To Pick Your Battles

In our polarized times, it seems that almost everything is a cause for outrage. Things that used to be discussions now turn into full-on arguments and it can be tempting to rant about politics, sports, and other important or menial subjects. We must never lose sight of what’s important. It’s easy to get angry or let your emotions get the best of you, but this isn’t always the best approach. Here are some helpful strategies to help you decrease your likelihood of becoming entangled in unproductive arguments.

  • Choose your battles. Though anger isn’t good for you, there are times when it’s necessary to speak up. You might see someone get harassed, or you might not be getting the best customer service. Someone might decide it’s ok to dehumanize an entire group of people. If your words can be used to change something and make experiences better for others in the future, then perhaps it is possible to become involved in an argument that has a positive ending.
  • Choose a strategy. If you’ve found yourself in a situation where you must speak up, then choose a strategy. Don’t just say the first thing that comes to your mind. Many anger management coaches advise people to count to ten or take a deep breath – and with good reason. It allows us to collect our thoughts and say things in a constructive manner. After you’ve made the decision to speak up, you can engage using “I” statements or simply ask for clarification.

In today’s politically divided world you may run across people who throw seemingly random numbers and facts your way. Instead of getting angry or retorting your point of view, you can ask them for clarification. If the person arguing with you said something false, asking for more information will force them to come to terms with the fact that their argument may be wrong, irrational, or simply misplaced. Having a strategy for how you will engage in a discussion or argument also allows you to decrease your chances of getting angry. This isn’t just because anger is a negative emotion—it can definitely propel you into positive action—but left unchecked, anger could actually negatively impact your health.

  • Know when to say no. Sometimes it’s appropriate not to argue. This could be the right thing to do if you’re talking to someone who uses insults, abusive tactics, or who chooses to attack you personally instead of the idea they disagree with. Usually such people will not listen to reason. Try to be empathetic for where the other person may be coming from, but don’t worry about needing to convince someone who can’t be empathetic to your point of view. Some people simply want to shove their beliefs down your throat even if it means their feelings are hurtful to others. This might be a time to just let go and focus on yourself.
  • Remember that some people only want to push your buttons. This may be common in circles of friends or coworkers who know your views are different from theirs. People who only aim to trigger you, only want to make you angry on purpose to amuse themselves, to watch you lose your calm, or for other reasons that have nothing to do with you. It may hurt you when they say things. If someone is bullying you, you may have some recourse, such as discussing a hostile environment with your human resource manager or confronting the person at an appropriate time using concrete examples. If anything, this is your opportunity to grow thicker skin and move on despite someone else’s consistent unwanted intrusions on your life.

Even with these tips, sometimes you do end up in an unwanted argument with a family member, co-worker or stranger. Try not to feel bad if you lose your temper or end up embroiled in such arguments against your will. These things happen and they’re part of life, but hopefully your intuition will give you a sense of when it’s a good time to argue or let go. And remember, this is only a basic guide. Everyone’s context is different and may require a different response depending on the importance of the points being made or arguments at hand. 

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