The Angry Will Not Listen to Reason – Don’t Fight It


Having a conversation with an angry individual is probably something we have all experienced. As a young man, I made this mistake too many times. While that is never the best scenario, there are some things we can do to ensure that we don’t lose our cool and end up saying or doing things we might regret. Sometimes the best thing to do is to simply plant the seed of doubt and give it plenty of room to grow.

Recently, I had a discussion with a gentleman about the current economic situation before us. It was a light conversation, nothing serious—just a robust exchange of ideas between two guys. In true leadership style, I was speaking to what I know and trying to listen to what I don’t, as he was doing the same. It was pleasant.

At one point in the conversation, I said something about how nice it would have been if people had paid attention to the warning signs leading up to the crisis, and this gentleman said: “You can’t really see these things coming.” Of course, I retorted with the contrary and referenced the art of projections. But instead of providing my projections, I chose the projection of an economist in our area who had informed the small business community back in 2019 that a recession was likely underway. In doing so, I was making the case that such things can be projected accurately.

Then from out of the hallway, walks in another gentleman (we’ll call him Shane) who quite aggressively stated that what I was sharing was “bullshit” – as if to insinuate that I was lying. Let’s be honest; he yelled at me. Never mind the lack of motive to lie to anyone about this, “Shane” then proclaimed that there was no way that such things could be projected, and then he stormed off, cursing under his breath. I remained seated as he stormed off and didn’t bother attempting to reengage him in the conversation.

So why would I not reengage him? Sure, I could have argued my point and provided my sources so that he could examine the evidence himself. Still, since I had arguably missed my opportunity to ensure that the information would be easily processed, it was likely better to retreat, having planted the seed of doubt instead. A heated exchange would have likely only reinforced his misconceptions. I’ll get back to this in a moment but let me hit on a few key points first.

To begin with, the man who yelled at me and then stormed out (Shane) is an Investment Adviser. He does financial planning, investment, and estate planning. Now, you would think that ANY economic insight might interest a guy like that. In his line of work, understanding economic trends and projections could be helpful and potentially make him and his clients a considerable amount of money. However, I would also imagine that he feels that he already has a solid grasp of economics, so perhaps his bias is showing here. Regardless, the fact (or even the idea) that someone could have projected a downturn is probably a significant threat to him. This is especially true considering that he obviously didn’t see it coming – a costly mistake.

Second, what I was sharing was not “bullshit” at all. In fact, what I was sharing specifically at that moment came from a considerable amount of data compiled by expert minds. To clarify, in early January 2019, I had the opportunity to hear a 2019 economic forecast from Jeremy Hill, Director of the Center for Economic Development and Business Research at Wichita State University. Dr. Hill had previously come from Georgia Southern University, where he was the Coastal Rivers Water Planning and Policy Center director. I share this to help demonstrate his expertise. In his 2019 forecast, Dr. Hill made it quite clear that a recession was likely to begin (if it wasn’t already underway) by mid-2019 and that we would likely see it for what it was by late 2019 or early 2020. For him, it wasn’t a matter of “if” it was a matter of “when.” Now, I don’t know about you, but it appears to me that his projection was spot-on.

Of course, this was just one accurate projection out of many I have reviewed in recent years. Yet, I can’t help but imagine how much better off “Shane’s” clients would be today if “Shane” had been privy (or willing to listen) to those who have provided such projections leading up to this downturn. Again, it wasn’t just Dr. Hill (or myself) projecting this mess. There have been quite a few that saw the economic cracks and tried to make those cracks known to the public for quite some time.

Perhaps “Shane” just wasn’t prepared to hear such things. Perhaps he misheard something or took something out of context. Or, perhaps he was confusing one situation with another. It’s hard to say, but the angry response likely speaks to something much deeper inside him. I say this because even as he heard me share this sobering perspective, he remained unwilling to really listen to it and then mounted an internal (and then outward) defense to reject it before it could be completely understood or even validated.

No doubt that you have had similar interactions in the past, and that is why I wanted to discuss this with you. I think several things can be learned from these situations. The first takeaway is that there will always be some who just don’t want to hear from you. This could be for any number of reasons. Maybe it’s the way you look, the way you speak, or because you are somehow a threat to their intelligence. Remember that the angry rejection of information without examination is nothing more than ignorance masked as fear. Don’t fight it because you will likely not win the bigger battle. Just accept this truth for what it is because there is usually nothing you can do to change the mind of someone that is not prepared to do so.

I alluded to this earlier, but another takeaway is that no matter how much you would like to “prove them wrong,” some will do everything in their power to protect their contorted worldview – no matter how contorted it might be. In these situations, especially when facts and supporting evidence are purposefully ignored, it’s probably best to retreat from the conversation if the information is not or cannot be easily and clearly understood. I say this because of a phenomenon that I wrote about in Destroying the Narrative. Norbert Schwarz discovered that when factually correct information was provided to some people, their misconceptions or myths about those topics continued and were often reinforced by the attempt to correct them. Not only that, but these people will usually get quite defensive and angry. The angry usually do not listen to reason very well, so it’s best not to fight it. This is to say that retreating from the conversation once you recognize the resistance (and having already planted the seed of doubt with solid contrast) will likely result in a better outcome than if you remain in the discussion and fight about it in an attempt to prove someone wrong.

Of course, as I sit here and write this, I cannot help but feel sorry for his clients. I think that is what bothers me the most. These poor people have put their collective futures in the hands of the willfully ignorant. It seems to me that his fear of these certain truths is likely costing his clients a lot of money. This is sad because I can only imagine that his clients assume that he knows his stuff. And based on his immediate and emotional rejection of these sobering truths, I can only imagine that there is a lot of other important and necessary data that he has refused to examine. So perhaps that is the final takeaway: before putting your monetary future in someone else’s hands, do what you can to discover whether or not this person is reluctant to examine elements of the foreseeable future. This might require a bit of research, but if the financial planner demonstrates an ignorance of the topic, act accordingly.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy my brief article regarding Constructive Conflict.

If you are interested in learning about the concept discussed in this article, check out: Making the truth stick & the myths fade: lessons from cognitive psychology. By Norbert Schwarz, Eryn Newman, & William Leach