Telling People That They Are Wrong (Nicely)

How To Tell People They Are Wrong (Nicely)

Sometimes you get into situations that make your blood boil and your mind rage: someone being ignorant to a world issue, not listening to what you say or being rude about you or a loved one. It can happen to anyone and at any time, and every person deals with this anger in a different way. Some may have an angry outburst and start screaming their face off, some could simply ignore it and let the rage manifest inside of them, or as my fellow Her Campus writer, Meredith, attempted, you could write a 3000 word essay on the issues you have, print it out and hand it to the perpetrators.

While I am not suggesting that these forms of telling someone they are wrong aren’t effective, I just personally think there are better, perhaps more civil ways to shut down someone’s awful opinions in a way that makes your valid arguments even stronger than they were before.

With my intro complete, here are my top tips on how to tell someone they are wrong (nicely).

#1 Keep Calm

This is probably the most basic piece of advice in this entire article, but I would argue that it is the most important. However you decide to word your interactions with a wrongdoer, ensuring that you stay calm allows you to do a multitude of things that get your points across in a clear and effective way. It keeps your head clear so you can gather your thoughts and quickly fire back comments if needed and it makes you appear all the more put together, giving an air of confidence. It can even allow you to assert a certain dominance over the situation, especially if the other person is flailing to find a cohesive argument. Without staying cool, calm and collected you often ruin your chances of successfully telling someone they are wrong.

#2 Where will you tell them?

I believe there is a time and a place for both online and offline conversation when engaging in confrontation. There are definitely ways you can use them both to your advantage, but of course, there are times where you should stay clear.

Confronting someone online about a problem that has surfaced through online communication, in my view, is perfectly acceptable; just be sure to think through what you are about to say, and follow the other tips in this article.

For issues that occur in the ‘real world’ but then are put in an online space can be very tricky, but the internet can have its uses in this context. Firstly, if you are far away from the person you have conflict with (say, you went on holiday) and something urgently needed addressing, I suggest that online communication would be acceptable – but make sure that you keep level headed, and that any messages are simple and easy to understand to avoid hurting people and making the situation worse.

This being said, I would avoid the classic ‘Hey, can I speak to you?’ message because those can cause far too much stress and anxiety, and it can often escalate a situation before it’s even started by coming across too forward and confrontational before any conversation has even begun.

Continuing, I do think that in most circumstances, especially when bigger issues are involved, speaking to someone in person is the best way to go about telling them they are incorrect. Most importantly, it is far easier to read someone’s emotions in person, especially with the aid of body language, and this can help you better assess the situation or your next steps.

#3 Look at behaviour, not personality

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I get angry, it becomes all too easy for me to take a personal jibe at the person I am confronting instead of being rational and keeping focused on the task at hand. However, this is not the most effective way to win an argument, and will more often than not cause an escalation rather than a rational debate. As such, I would suggest staying clear of commenting on someone’s character (Unless that is truly the core of the issue) and instead focus on the behaviour that has upset you – whatever that may be. For example, it would be a better idea to criticise someone’s slut-shaming by informing them that women do not have to be held to imaginary ‘sexual standards’ instead of seeing red and calling them every name under the sun – you can do that privately. 

#4 Be confident

In a heated discussion, there are many ways your confidence can falter; anxiety, anger, and passion are all emotions that can crop up. As these emotions are all very natural, staying confident, whether it’s faked or not, makes your words seem more poignant, polished and professional, giving you the upper hand in the conversation. Hopefully, this article will help in the quest to have a sensible confrontation wherein you are fully confident in what you are saying.

#5 Know your stuff

If you have time to, it is super important to research what you are about to say. Even if you have conflicts of opinion, it is always good to have facts to back up your opinion as it will often give you an upper hand. Similarly, stick to the truth to the best of your ability, embellishing stories and creating facts can lead to confusion and give an opportunity for your argument to unravel. With all of this being said, I wouldn’t get too caught up with making sure you reference everything you say; depending on the situation sometimes an opinion may be all you need. It all comes down to context and trusting yourself to judge a situation.

Just remember, don’t let your passion for subjects be ruined and ridiculed because you didn’t manage to keep your cool.