Colleagues might have a tendency to be more challenging than friends or family, but strangers can be completely volatile and unreasonable. At the very least you and your colleague must answer to your employee and people in authority and you share the responsibility of keeping your workplace productive.
In an argument with a stranger, however, all of this is thrown out of the window. A stranger has no reason, above and beyond common decency, to be cordial and reasonable. Furthermore, a stranger can be in any type of mindset; they might be going through a painful divorce, be grieving or just be going through a hard time in their life, all of which might make them more confrontational and unreasonable. You might not ‘get along’ with your colleagues, but on the basis of spending a lot of time with them you probably have a reasonable insight into how the behave and what you can expect from them. With a stranger, everything is uncertain.
This isn’t meant to encourage a sense of stranger danger. However, you might have to accept that there is no persuading or managing a stranger who is being unreasonable and often the best strategy is to move away from the conflict. Often people struggle with this – they feel as if walking away makes them lose face, or that they have a right to stand their ground. In truth, these are ego-based responses that don’t really help the situation but just encourage you to add fuel to the fire and further escalate the conflict.
Of course, you can go one step further and prevent issues together by staying quiet and avoiding conflict. In public places, someone might be being unreasonable and rude, but rarely will people take issue with you unless you take it upon yourself to throw yourself in the situation. In general, most public places will have security of human resource professionals who are trained to deal with the situation, or at the very least, are paid to do so – leave it to them. Unless you feel the need to intervene because someone is harassing or being a danger to others, it’s probably best just to let it go.
On the same vein, try to think the best about other people. As touched upon previously, you have very little understanding of why the other person might be acting the way they are. Instead of presuming that being rude or causing conflict is part of their personality, try to empathize with the other person and consider the reasons why they are acting a certain way. You can probably think of numerous situations when you have been unreasonable or sharp to people in public – you might have just reached the end of your tether or perhaps there was more to the situation than what other people saw. Either way, we all have our ‘moments’ and learn to forgive people for theirs, or even better, try to offer a little help.
On the flip side, realize when people are just being difficult and obtuse for the sake of being difficult and obtuse. Some people just like to cause arguments and fights, even with strangers, for their own perverse reasons. There is no arguing with these types of people, or convincing them of your opinion – in fact, any attempt to engage with them at all is feeding their own desire for attention and self-importance.
This is especially true if you find yourself dragged into an argument or conflict over the internet or in any anonymous context, where people have the luxury and defense of hiding behind a screen. This gives people who enjoy conflict and irritating other people the ability to do so without needing the courage to face people in person, or the risk of facing any consequences for their actions. Don’t let these people get to you – just ignore them.