We’re all going to have professional disagreements, situations in which we want to persuade someone to see our point of view or situations in which we need to defend ourselves.
How we handle these disagreements can make or break our professional relationships and, ultimately, our careers.
There’s one little trick I’ve learned, which can help: letting the other person have the last word. It’s not a magic bullet for winning an argument or getting what you want, but it can de-escalate tensions and help pave the way for getting the other person to come around to your point of view.
All you have to do is stop talking, texting, messaging, or emailing. Go silent. You don’t have to “close” the argument to everyone’s mutual satisfaction. You just stop arguing. Crazy, right?
The last word is something people are always fighting for. But it’s a silly pursuit, out of which good rarely comes. Letting the other person speak last, on the other hand, can lead to better outcomes.
Here are three things that happen when you let someone else have the last word in a disagreement:
1. The disagreement stops
Allowing someone else to have the last word stops the disagreement or argument from escalating. This is always good. Arguments are pretty much always stupid and ridiculous. People keep repeating themselves over and over again, nobody wants to listen to the other person, and you hardly ever change your point of view. Nothing is accomplished. People get angry and frustrated, and getting angry puts you in a vulnerable position. You’re never in a power position if you’re mad.
Not saying anything stops all of this in its tracks, halting the vicious argument cycle. Everything. Just. Stops. Maybe not immediately. Maybe the other person goes on a long tirade first, but they will eventually wear themselves out and then there will be silence. Blessed, welcome silence.
2. The other person starts to question themselves
It’s a weird thing because you think you want that last word. But, when you get it, you wait for the other person to respond, and when they do, you respond to them, they respond to you, and the endless cycle continues.
But if they don’t respond, you might start to wonder what they’re thinking, whether they’re angry, if you went too far, and why they have gone silent. The person who goes silent leaves the other person wondering what’s going on, whether they’ve made a big mistake, and what’s going to happen next.
Assuming your opponent has the ability to think, this is what they will do – think. And left to their own thoughts they will usually at least start to questions themselves. Self-doubt is human nature, even if we don’t always let on.
3. You have the opportunity to question yourself
When you stop talking and perpetuating the argument cycle, you also have the opportunity to think, and to consider your own behaviour and viewpoint. This is a valuable opportunity. Because maybe you are wrong. Or maybe you’re behaving badly, or expressing yourself ineffectively. Whatever the case, if the argument or disagreement is dragging out, whatever you are doing is not working.
There are many ways to get your point across and to bring people around to your way of thinking. Arguing your point over and over again, when someone disagrees with you, is not usually one of the most effective.
So, shhhhhh. Just stop. Step back and think about what is happening and what your next move should be.
Whatever you decide that move is, it probably isn’t “argue some more.”