It was a hot summer day in the early 50s. I had been fighting with my younger brother over something that seemed terribly important at the time but whatever the issue was, it has long been forgotten. However, I do recall that during the argument, I had tried unsuccessfully to talk him into seeing my point of view, and he wasn't making any sense expressing his. I was at my wit's end. Therefore, I retreated to the only person that would understand me-my friend, Mr. Lee. He had been born in China and had come to America as a young man and lived across the street from me. I liked him for many reasons, but what I appreciated most was that he listened to me. In a non-judgmental way, he was always able to show me where I had made a mistake or needed to change. He would allow me to vent over arguments with my parents or brother, and then he would tell me a story about growing up in China as an illustration of his advice to me.

On this occasion, Mr. Lee entranced me with a story about a Buddhist monk that was his teacher in China. He recounted being a teenager when he got into a heated argument with another student in the monastery where both were studying. The other student wasn't making any sense to Mr. Lee. The more Mr. Lee argued with his fellow student, the more frustrated he got. It nearly got to the point of a physical fight.

The Buddhist monk took Mr. Lee aside and talked with him. The monk ended his admonition with these words: "If you argue with a fool, you will leave the argument feeling like a fool." Even at my young age, I knew that Mr. Lee wasn't calling my brother a fool-even though I often called him worse. Mr. Lee wanted me to see that when tempers rise to the boiling point, nothing gets resolved.

Here are several ideas that will help you avoid becoming frustrated when you are tempted to argue with a fool or at least one who you feel is acting like one.

  1. Call a time out. If the argument is heated and getting nowhere, stop and agree to reconnect at another time. Continuing the argument longer merely makes you more frustrated. If you haven't resolved the issue and the argument is overheating, it is doubtful that anything positive will be added if you continue. Therefore, agree to call a truce to allow tempers to settle down. This is not a license to forget and to bury the problem. It is rather a cease-fire, which provides for you and the other person time to reduce the tension.
  2. Parrot back the other's points. When you do reconnect at the appointed time, here is a technique that will help in the communication process. Start by having the other person state that person's position in the argument. Then you parrot back or restate the person's view. Then ask the person whether your statement did justice to that person's viewpoint? If the person isn't satisfied with your recounting, you must restate again that which you feel is that person's argument. You continue to restate the other's position until that person says that your statement illustrates the way that person feels. Then you make your position to the other, and that person parrots back your position as many times as it takes until you are satisfied that the other fully states yours.
  3. Use "I feel" statements. This is a softer statement and conveys a tentative nature to your position. It is a less abrasive way of talking, and it allows the other to mirror your more conciliatory tone.
  4. Agree to disagree. There are some situations and questions that are not resoluble-at least in the immediate future. Therefore, when you come to one of these impasses, agree to disagree because the relationship is more important than this particular thorny issue.
  5. Affirm the common goal that you share. Most relationships have much more in common than they have differences. Build new bridges or reinforce existing common ground with the person with whom you have had an argument.

Mr. Lee will be proud of you if you use the advice given to him by a very wise Buddhist monk years ago: "If you argue with a fool, you will leave the argument feeling like a fool."