Author Greg Koukl
Published on 05/03/2016
Tactics and Tools

How Are Tactics Used with Someone Who Is Very Aggressive?

Greg shares how you can graciously interact with an argumentative person in conversation about beliefs.



What is the best tactical approach with somebody who is prideful, angry aggressive, overflowing with objections, and scattering their challenges out one after another? This sounds like a steamroller. In the Tactics book I have a chapter on dealing with the steamroller.

A steamroller fulfills almost all of those descriptions. They are usually angry, certainly aggressive, much of the time filled with pride and offering—bang, bang, bang—one thing after another. The characteristic quality of a steamroller is interruption. That is, they’ll give you a challenge aggressively, maybe angrily, and you’ll do your best to begin to respond. Once they hear something they don’t like—bang—they interrupt, break you off, and challenge what you’re saying. Before you know it, you have four or five things stacked up.

The best way to deal with someone like that—you’re not going to deal with their pride, anger, aggression, or hostility—you can channel it. The multiple questions business applies if you have 4 or 5 people that are ganging up on you at the same time. First, you try to stop the flow. You can do it in a gracious way and a genial fashion at first and pause the conversation. I’m putting my hand up here because I use body English when I encounter somebody like that. I’ll say something like this, “Hold on just a minute. Give me a second to finish my thought. Would that be okay?” It’s just an easy gentle pause. It’s a request that you be allowed to talk until you finish, and then you let the other person come in. “Hold on just a minute. You want to hear my answer? Okay, I want to give it to you, but I can only take one at a time.” That’s another line that might be helpful, “one at a time.” Whether there’s one question at a time from the same person or one challenge at a time from different people who are ganging up on you, it’s the same thing.

I want you to understand, though, what I’m looking for in this negotiation. I am not willing to continue in a conversation with somebody or a group of people unless it can be done in a measured, thoughtful, and genial fashion. If a person is going to keep interrupting or if a whole bunch of people are going to gang up on me, I am going to require of the circumstances that it be done differently or else it’s not going to be done at all.

My first step is to make this soft maneuver, and that is to say, “Hold on just a second. I’m not quite done. Give me a second, and I’ll be glad to let you in. Is it ok if I answer the question? Is that alright with you?” Listen for their response. If they say, “Yeah, that’s alright,” then you make your response. 

Be sure to try to keep it trimmed up a little bit because this person wants to get in, and they’re anxious. So their patience may be short, and in fact, they may break trust right away and start interrupting again. That’s when you say, “Hold on, you’re breaking in again. Listen, when I finish, I’ll let you talk, and I won’t break in on you. Is that alright?” That’s the first step, and a lot of times that’s all it takes. Then you have a gracious conversation.

You might have to remind the person a couple of times. That’s alright. However, what if they completely break trust with you, and they are steamrolling right over the top of you? At this point, you do the same thing that you did in the first step. Its efforts are more aggressive. I call it “stop ‘em” and second step is “shame ‘em.” That is, you directly address the inappropriate rude behavior. Again, you are not nasty. You are not harsh. You’re friendly. You don’t put your hands on your hips and say, “Will you please stop it?” or, “Can I get a word in edgewise?” That’s just not going to be helpful with a person like that. 

It may be that you can’t even get in. Then, let them roll all over the place until they have to get a breath. They pause, and then you address the problem before you start answering any questions. You directly say, “You know what? I would love to answer your question. The problem is, you keep interrupting me, and if you keep interrupting me, I cannot continue like this. So, I just need to ask, would you like to have a back and forth conversation without interruptions or not? If you don’t, and you want to keep doing this, this conversation is over. So, you tell me.” 

Once again, you put it in their lap, and see what they say. A little more aggressive there. It would have been inappropriate at first if you did it that way from the beginning, but now they’ve broken trust, so you can be a little more aggressive. Not nasty, but firm. 

First, you stop ‘em. If that doesn’t work, you shame em’. If that doesn’t work, you leave ‘em. Not everybody deserves an answer. Jesus said don’t cast what is holy to dogs or pearls before swine, and the idea there, Jesus said, is lest they turn on you and tear you to pieces. 

Sometimes you’re in conversations with people who just want to tear you to pieces. I do not think you have to stay, and play, and go through this sequence. It’s all in the book, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, and if they don’t want to play in a civil way, then leave them. That’s the best way to deal with somebody like that.