Do you feel like you shrink around people? Do you often feel like you’re not being heard, like nobody cares about what you have to say, or that you’re always wrong about everything and everyone else is always right?
There are two kinds of people, those who think to speak and others who speak to think. If you’re the thinking type, if thinking on things is something you happen to enjoy more than talking about them, then you will always gravitate towards doing it, even at times when it’s considered inappropriate, sometimes even in the middle of conversation. Other people, the kind that sense and feel instead of having a proclivity to think in silence, will come off as having a kind of superpower. If it isn’t small talk then you’re probably in an argument with someone, regarding work at the office, politics at the dinner table with the family, current events at a party or personal matters with a significant other. Being able to hold your own in situations like this is a necessity if you want to belong.
Having an argument with someone who speaks to think is almost always an uphill battle. It is disempowering and embarrassing to see your argument being torn apart faster than you’re being able to put it together. The moment you drop the slightest hint of a disagreement, within the fraction of a second, before you’ve even finished saying what you have to say, they will instinctively react with what appears like an automatic response, “Stop! Side B - Track 7 - Play”. What follows is an irrefutable and fluent rebuttal rehearsed to perfection that completely demolishes your point and leaves you buried three feet under. You can hear the confidence in their voice as well because they’ve probably said it a couple of hundred times before, so sure of the possible counter points and how to defend against them. With enough practice they can shield their point of view from almost any attack.
You’d have often found yourself in conversation where everyone is talking about something you’ve thought through long and hard, in depth and with detail. In the moment you feel like you’re going to drop a bomb on the table that will leave everyone stunned to clear the room so you can go off on a monologue. In practice, you will painstakingly put the words together hoping with your fingers crossed that they’d land and leave the next person thinking, maybe a little bit impressed or at least receive constructive feedback that leaves you with something to think about.
But that almost never happens.
More often than not you will find that people simply disregard what you’ve said and divert. They don’t even stop to think as though what you’ve said is something they’ve heard before and already know is wrong. You’d think that everyone’s really smart and don’t find what you’re saying is correct or at all interesting. You’ll begin to question your place in the world and how you understand it. You will give up and feel as though everyone knows more than you and you’re the dumbest person alive and thank the higher powers to have allowed you through the trials of natural selection to be alive and breathing today. You will be puzzled as to how you made it through millions of years of evolution to arrive at this point so hopelessly outgunned by almost everyone. Then life will happen and you will realise that most people have spent a lot longer learning how to talk about things than to think on them. If you happen to be the introverted thinking type, it’s quite likely that compared to you, other people have spent less time thinking about things and more time talking about them, which allows them to manoeuvre in conversation in ways that you cannot. You can think long and hard about something, juggling all the variables to study a problem from every angle and cherry-pick the right words to prepare a novel and original argument but it will almost always be effortlessly torn apart.
You can’t win at a game when you don’t know what game is being played. Knowledge and insight alone can’t help you win an argument. If you’re having to think on things then you’ve already lost. Most of the time, specially in the social setting, nobody is listening to the content of what you’re saying and you shouldn’t be listening to it either. Nor should you be putting any effort into delivering any depth because that doesn’t help your situation at all. People don’t listen to what you’re actually saying because they know that will only slow them down. They are more aware of the intent of the message than its content, which is what they respond to. Their incentive is to respond to your intent with disagreement, trying to understand what you’re saying is less important. They filter the depth and nuance out of the message because it is something they know is mostly irrelevant to the preparation of their rebuttal. Note that the preparation of a rebuttal is priority. To prepare a comeback, they focus on the intent of your argument, they feel they need to disagree with you and somehow translate that into speech to produce what appears like a valid rebuttal to your assertion. They will respond with corrective measures to mute the details and steer the argument back to a place from where they can comfortably resume their tried and tested ways to bring you into their frame where they can exert more control over the dynamics of the encounter. They will scramble to get you to agree to a certain surface level assertion and then immediately double down on you exactly the way they’ve done with the ten other people who argued with them on the same topic from before. If it worked ninety percent of the time, the odds are usually in their favour if they hit you with the same line of attack which they’ve rehearsed with practice. Nobody’s thinking, except you. And that slows you down.
Avoid being cornered into a spot where you have to stop to think because that is always seen as a sign of weakness that signals defeat. At least when it comes to dinner table politics, current events or social issues, most of the time, people aren’t talking to you out of curiosity, they’re only talking to you to establish their social position and they expect you to be doing the same. You can be in it to explore and understand while the person you’re talking to might not, which is often reason enough to not proceed with the argument in the first place. More often than not, the people who say they want to be disagreed with, probably aren’t genuinely curious or inquisitive, they’re just there to flex their muscle, hoping to leave the exchange with a stronger grasp over their side of the argument. That’s all they’re looking for out of it. They want you to disagree with them, not out of any sense of genuine curiosity, but for sport. Nobody really cares that much about your take on things, or even for that matter, their own. They care more deeply about defending and reinforcing their social position. Because that’s just all you have to do if you want to belong, save face, make a display of your confidence and demand respect. It’s called the Art of Being Right.