As we’ve written before, sometimes the best way to argue with an arsehole is to act like an arsehole. But what about those milder disagreements, like when that guy at the gym spews bro-science about his routine or your mother-in-law insists that her political views — and hers alone — are correct?
If you disagree with a friend, you could probably get away with a simple “you’re wrong and here’s why” without it impacting your relationship. But with, say, strangers, a supervisor or people you’re generally trying to impress, being an arsehole isn’t the wisest move.
Over on a recent Reddit thread, this very subject came up and users offered advice on how to fact-check someone without coming across like a total jerk. As u/riotacting suggests, your first strategy should involve asking them questions until they’re faced with an error in their reasoning.
Ask them to explain their argument — why they believe a certain thought to be true or where they heard this idea — and when it feels like an appropriate moment, offer your thoughts without insisting that your opinion is right. (Just don’t be patronising about it; if you’re not sincerely curious about their thoughts, maybe it’s best to avoid this.)
Our managing editor, Virginia, follows a similar strategy when dealing with disagreements. “Truthfully, in social settings, I often go the passive route and say ‘oh, I think it’s xyz?’ and frame it as a question,” she said. “Or I correct them but move it along quickly and keep it light, maybe make a self-deprecating joke about my own misunderstanding, depending on the context.” Allow them the opportunity to correct themselves, or at least, find gaps in their logic that need to be filled.
If that fails, u/scienceforbid offers a simpler strategy. “If I’m openly disagreeing with someone, after a minute I just go, ‘Duh! We can Google this!’” they said. “It adds humour to the situation and implies either could be right.”
Redditors also seemed to agree that tone and word choice matter a lot when you’re dealing with someone whose facts aren’t right. “Avoid telling people they are wrong and avoid telling them, ‘No,’” u/kamikazepuffer recommends. “People want two things: to feel heard and like they belong. Telling someone they are wrong doesn’t accomplish either.”
When all else has failed, it’s your decision whether you’re willing to compromise your relationship; even in the face of facts, people can still take a correction personally. If it’s a small disagreement or an important relationship, maybe you might give in this one time (and for your own sanity, if you’re confrontation-averse).
If it happens again and again — or involves a subject that personally impacts you — however, then maybe it’s time to show them the receipts. If they’re absolutely unwilling to listen and you’ve tried everything, sometimes, it’s perfectly ok to be a jerk! Go ahead and be upfront if you’re certain they’re wrong — just verify your own facts, first.