Learning how to navigate conflict in relationships is essential to interpersonal health, and every relationship will experience conflict at some point in its duration. Many individuals struggle when they come up against conflict with someone who is always right, regardless of the facts in the situation. Though an inherent need to be right all of the time can be attributed to many different underlying issues, understanding how to handle these interactions can be a huge interpersonal stress reliever.
1. Don’t take it personally
When engaged in a discussion with someone who is always right, it is inevitable to feel as if you are being personally attacked—and to wonder if that person is out to push your buttons. This internal reaction can immediately trigger strong negative emotions that stand to further disrupt the conflict without intervention.
The first step in more effectively responding in these situations is to recognize that people who always need to be right have likely developed that issue long before their interaction with you. It is not a personal attack and should be viewed as a learned behavior instead. Separating yourself from their learned behaviors can immediately give some relief to escalating emotions. An internal dialogue reminding yourself that their need to be right is not a personal assault can often calm you down and allow you to move on from the discussion more readily.
2. When possible, walk away from the conflict
An individual who always needs to be right during conflict can be an energy drainer. Spending copious amounts of your personal energy trying to defend your point of view, point out discrepancies in their reasoning, and use examples of their mistaken assumptions will typically only lead to your own burnout—potentially expressed in verbal aggression and uncontrolled emotions.
Learning the timing of when to throw up a white flag and calmly walk away from conflict that is going nowhere is invaluable. When situations are escalating, emotions are heating up, and you have been talking in circles for an extensive amount of time, it’s best to assertively state you are going to leave the conflict. Direct communication is key—and it may take you more than one time to make this statement clear, as individuals who enjoy arguing will rarely end conflict until they feel vindicated in some way.
It is imperative that you learn your own signals of reaching the point of no return and equally important that you are able to stop and take time away from the conflict as soon as you’ve identified them. Using a canned phrase repeatedly may seem contrary to genuine communication, but when you are trying to leave an emotionally charged situation that has no end in sight, it’s best to take the emotions out of your communication and leave for some respite. Making a statement as simple as “I need some time away from this discussion to think about it” or “I don’t feel like continuing at this moment will help either of us” can be invaluable in buying you some perspective.
3. Stay out of the blame game
Feeling an urge to point it out when someone is hurtfully engaging in conflict or making it challenging to actually resolve anything and move forward is completely natural. Unfortunately, this reaction will help neither party and is likely to create more dissonance.
Blaming creates increased problems, whereas taking responsibility for your own actions can resolve issues. Problems arise when you are involved in a heated debate with someone who is a pro at blaming others—and individuals who always need to be right have likely mastered this skill. Recognizing ahead of time that they will probably try to blame you, or at a minimum avoid taking responsibility for their own words or actions, can remove some of the sting when it actually happens. Expect for the blame game to surface during these discussions, but refuse to play at all costs. Blaming someone who always needs to be right will not nudge them towards taking responsibility; instead, it will find you playing right into their trap and will open up opportunities for them to jump to the victim role, up the ante on emotionality, or turn the tables on you.
The best reaction in these situations can often be to calmly but assertively state your part in the conflict, accept responsibility verbally for your own actions, and immediately temper your expectation that the opposing party will do the same. However, it does take away some of their power when you proactively admit your own role in the argument. This can give you an opening to end the conflict and walk away—and if you feel it is a topic worth taking a stand on, you can always leave with the invitation for them to identify their own function in the argument when they feel ready to do so.
4. Keep the conflict focused on one topic
People who always want to be right tend to be experts at incorporating non-relevant information into every argument. Incidents from years ago, situations that have already been resolved, and their own past experiences can be quick ammunition to launch in the current attack. Staying ahead of this pattern will conserve your energy and avoid rehashing things that have no bearing on the present.
Canned phrases are handy when trying to keep conflict on track, simply because they remove the emotions from moment and can help participants regroup without adding fuel to the fire. Saying “that is not what we are working on right now, let’s stay focused” or “I’m not going to discuss anything but our current disagreement” can help you and others bypass adding more pain than is necessary. Additionally, dredging up everything that has gone wrong in the past never helps differentiate and solve what is currently happening; the minute someone starts bringing up situations that have already been addressed is the time to immediately intervene to stop this harmful cycle.
Conflict is inevitable and has a purpose, but that purpose will be derailed if the past is allowed to be brought into every argument. Participants will stop feeling that resolution is possible, and arguments can turn into a free-for-all that only ends in hurt and anger. Being able to recognize attempts to distract from the present topic and insert a neutral, canned statement (with an immediate follow-through and commitment to stay out of the past) is one of the most important skills to maneuvering through conflict with people who always need to be right.
5. Avoid the trap of supporting witnesses
People who always need to be right will inevitably call in supporting witnesses if they sense you are not playing their game. This can be devastating not just to your own relationship with those people, but also to the witnesses themselves—who will likely feel cornered and react accordingly.
In these situations, it is usually best to drop the rope and walk away. Take the higher road when possible, remind everyone involved there is a current topic that needs to be addressed and does not involve external people, and then assertively leave the conflict—with the caveat that you are willing to re-engage when only the direct participants are ready to work towards resolution. In the end, this will protect your relationships by minimizing damage from the immediate conflict as well as firmly demonstrating your boundaries in a caring, appropriate way. (It goes without saying that if a conflict does actively involve more than one person, it is always effective to problem solve with everyone together at the same time to avoid splitting and manipulation.)
The inevitability of conflict can be daunting, especially when you find yourself constantly engaging with people who have a need to be right at any cost. You will likely feel exhausted and doubtful that resolution will ever be possible when interacting in these situations. These outcomes can make continued relationships challenging to say the least, but in some cases it is not possible to end them. Having some tools available to help you navigate this conflict and minimize the harm resulting from it can be priceless.