A friend of mine doesn’t talk to me anymore. It’s not because I did anything to her or said anything to offend her. We engaged in a political discussion where she and I share differing beliefs. “You voted for him?” It was the last thing she said to me before going silent and ending the conversation. My friend is highly opinionated, and I should have known better than to say anything that opposed her opinion about a subject in which she was overly impassioned. The truth is I should have ended the conversation long before it became so intense that we ended up not being friends anymore.
I have learned that there is one subject that is becoming more threatening every day. It is the subject of politics. If you want to preserve a good relationship, avoid talking about politics with someone who is very opinionated about their viewpoint.
The Highly Opinionated Person
Scientists say the brain’s job is to protect us. When people present ideas that go against our core belief, the brain treats these ideas as if they are a personal attack, therefore causing us to act in ways that seemingly protect us from harm.
Jonas Kaplan, Ph.D. is a scientist involved in an experiment that studied the brain and how people respond to challenges to their core beliefs. Kaplan says, “It is well known that people often resist changing their beliefs when directly challenged, especially when these beliefs are central to their identity.”
We come in contact with people from all walks of life, however, the people who are the most difficult to deal with are the highly opinionated people.
Following are some basic ways we can get along with them.
Change Your Viewpoint
One of the best solutions to dealing with highly opinionated people is to try to see things from their point of view. Even if we think they are wrong, we should try to imagine the life they live and how they might have come to their conclusion.
Highly opinionated people tend to be what we generally call know-it-alls. They act like they know everything under the sun. Studies show that the know-it-all personality types are more likely to be people from technical engineer backgrounds. If we question their opinion, they quickly edify themselves, telling us they are the expert on the subject matter.
Whenever someone starts telling me how long they have been in business and how much they know about something, I stop talking immediately because I know there will be no success in rationalizing with this person.
In the workplace, the know-it-all is especially difficult to work with because instead of working with us and offering the feedback we need to proceed forward with a project, they simply take on the attitude that they are perfect. In their mind, they never make mistakes and they question why we are even asking them to validate their opinion.
Psychologists say that some people become arrogant because of the environment in which they grew up during their formative years. It all depends on whether or not they suffered trauma. A lot of things, including personality come into play.
When people grow up in an environment that is overly critical, they tend to develop a defensive lifestyle that places barriers around them. This barrier manifests itself from fear, insecurity, and vulnerability.
Understanding that the know-it-all may have likely developed their arrogant character trait as a defense mechanism and understanding that they may be living in a somewhat vulnerable state of mind, we can deal with them with a little compassion. Instead of pushing back on them, we can practice strategies that can help them relax, let down their barrier, and work toward a goal that is beneficial to everyone.
Perhaps if we have an opportunity to get to know them a little better, we can mentally walk in their shoes for a moment and gain some insight into how they came to develop their way of thinking.
Use Paraphrasing in Communication
Earlier, I mentioned my friend who no longer speaks to me because of our differing opinions about politics. If I had paraphrased some of my comments in the discussion, we might still be talking today. Had I thought about my friend’s personal dilemma, I might have stated my position more thoughtfully, considering why she took on her particular political opinion.
Avoid Saying You
I have learned to never use the word, “You.” The word you can appear to be confrontational. It immediately draws a person to a defensive stance. For example, if we are at work and we notice that someone left their coffee cup on top of the copy machine. Instead of saying, “Hey, you left your coffee cup on the copy machine.” Upon hearing the accusation, the other person is likely to become defensive and may make up excuses as to why the coffee cup was there in the first place. They may even lie and say the coffee cup is not theirs (even though they know you saw them put it there). This negative encounter could be avoided by paraphrasing the statement. Instead of using the word you, say, “Hey, I noticed someone left a coffee cup in the copy room.” Stating the obvious in this format avoids confrontation and allows the person to go in and remove their coffee cup with dignity.
Ask, Don’t Tell
When we are dealing with highly opinionated people, we need to learn it is not wise to tell people directly what we think. We need to ask clarifying questions.
For example, let’s say you have to make a decision about what color to paint the house. You want to paint the house white but your partner, who is highly opinionated, wants to paint the house blue. If you were to say to your partner, “I want to paint the house white,” your highly opinionated partner is likely to immediately defend his or her preference. They are likely to tell you what color is best because they believe they are somehow an authority on the subject of paint and colors. You will not win this little battle.
A better way to address the color of the house is to ask your partner what color they would like to paint the house. Keep in mind that having an open mind and seeing things from your partner’s point of view is part of the process. Here is an example of what a non-confrontational conversation might look like:
You: What color would you like to paint the house?
You: Really? What makes you choose blue? (You want to learn the story behind their selection so you can see things from their point of view.)
Partner: Well, when I was growing up, we moved a lot. The house I enjoyed living in the most was blue.
This tidbit of information allows you to move the conversation forward from an informed perspective. You have learned why your partner wants to paint the house blue, which allows you to have an appreciation for their choice of color and perhaps identify with the color blue in a way that you might not have considered if you had not asked the question why. You may still want to paint the house white, but now you have opened up a conversation that has a more compassionate tone and your partner may be open to hearing your suggestions. A compromise may have to be made, but everyone's feelings were taken into account.
Pump Up the Compliments
Most people are afraid of failure. As stated previously, they surround themselves with protective barriers. This protective barrier can show up in the form of isolating themselves or not letting others see their faults. They have a need to feel accomplished and well-appreciated.
If we stop and analyze highly opinionated people, we may find that these people are actually suffering from low self-esteem. They need to be pumped up with positive feedback. I’m not saying we need to placate them, I’m saying we need to take notice of the good qualities in them and compliment them when we see them. Compliments are beneficial because people are more motivated to do something when they receive positive reinforcement.
A note of caution is in order; we should never deliver false compliments. People can see through phoniness and our efforts to falsely praise a person will backfire. They could label us as untrustworthy.
Know When to Walk Away
In some cases, no matter how we respond to people, they will stick to their opinion even when they discover their opinion is clearly incorrect. They don’t care. Once they put their opinion on the table, they stick with it to the end.
Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others.
— Paramhansa Yogananda
There is no limit to how far they will go to assert themselves upon us. They will belittle us and do all that they can to make us feel inferior. In some cases, they may become so highly emotional that their actions may become harmful and dangerous. We must walk away from people like this. We will never change their mind. We will not win.
Tell them thank you for their opinion and then walk away from the conversation. It is especially important to walk away from the conversation when we have to live or work with the overly opinionated person. We must be careful not to offend them, however, we do not need to cater to their hostility.
If we notice a conversation becoming volatile, we simply need to acknowledge that we heard the other person's opinion and then walk away and tend to other business. If they are aggressive and pressure us for our opinion, we need to just tell them we want to keep our opinion to our self.
Do Not Take It Personally
We all have a set of luggage in the form of emotions that we carry around with us. How we deal with life situations has a lot to do with the teachers, mentors, and our nature to conform or not conform to societal norms.
In getting along with highly opinionated people, we need to analyze ourselves first to determine our reasons for reacting to their opinions. Are we being overly sensitive, or is this person simply being a jerk?
Whatever our answer, when interacting with highly opinionated people, also known as know-it-alls, following a few simple strategies should help us get along with them:
- Look at the situation from their point of view.
- Paraphrase and ask open-ended questions to discover what leads them to feel the way they do.
- Avoid the confrontational you when making a point.
- Show honest praise for their accomplishments.
- Know when to walk away.
- Do not take it personally.
We don’t have to be submissive, but it is good to know how to get along with highly opinionated people at home, at work, and in social environments where these people are bound to show up.
Video: Gain More Insight on How to Deal With the Highly Opinionated Person
The following video shows Mel Robbins, a renowned motivational and keynote speaker, giving some valuable tips on how to deal with the person who is a highly opinionated know-it-all. Her insights will help you take control of your mind, actions, and emotions so that at the end of the interaction with the highly opinionated person, you are left in a more powerful position.
How to Deal With Someone Who Always Has to be Right
Goulston M.D., F.A.P.A., Mark. “Know Any Opinionated People?” Psychology Today, October 13, 2015, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/just-listen/201510/know-any-opinionated-people. Visited October 30, 2018.
Kersting, Karen, “Keeping the peace.” American Psychological Association, June 2004, https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2004/06/peace.aspx. Visited November 7, 2018.
Kaplan, Jonas, et al. “Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence.” Scientific Reports, December 23, 2016, https://www.nature.com/articles/srep39589. Visited October 30, 2018.
Carnegie, Dale, How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1937.
© 2018 Marlene Bertrand