Have you noticed that some people have to have the last word? It can seem impossible to converse politely with them; they may get on your nerves or leave you feeling deflated after your interactions. While you can likely avoid “Last-word Leslies” in your daily life, it’s common for many to encounter them during the holiday season. I’ve recently run into a few of them and want to share how I’ve best handled Last-word Leslies.
First, we must understand and identify the habits that drive a Last-word Leslie. Mindset expert Dr. Eve Meceda shares in a recent podcast that they commonly can’t accept other points of view because they have a fixed mindset. They also tend to assume that everyone else has a fixed mindset and needs to be right just as much as they do. Here are three behaviors you can watch for that show a fixed mindset in action:
- Always needing to look smart and win
- Avoiding challenges and trying new things in an attempt to avoid failure
- Quitting or giving up quickly to save face
People can fall into a fixed mindset for many reasons. The simplest one is that the alternative can be difficult: facing your imperfections and intentionally focusing on personal growth. Last-word Leslies may feel they have something to prove or have possibly built a habit of acting this way. They may believe they’re the most intelligent person in the room or that their beliefs are fundamentally right while everyone else’s is wrong. However, I try to remember that their actions are usually driven by insecurity and fear, as those who are confident don’t feel the need to prove anything. This little reminder helps me keep my perspective when interacting with Last-word Leslies.
Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: you’re not likely to change this person’s mind—especially around the holidays with flowing wine. So here are some relationship management strategies from the world of emotional intelligence to help you navigate these conversations.
You Can’t Change The People Around You
It’s easy to brush off interactions with Last-word Leslies when you don’t have to see them again. There’s a saying, “You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you.” If the people around you are making life difficult, you can reassess who is in your life, minimizing challenges and inviting new, positive influences. However, there are times when we have to carry on a conversation with Last-word Leslies, and family holiday gatherings are high on that list. What then?
I recently spoke with the CEO of Office Space Copier, Anya Krebs, about the wonderful, kind, helpful, positive people she’s surrounded herself with on her way to success. She stressed that doing right by the customer even when nobody’s watching is a big secret to success. Money follows when you honor your values, live with integrity, and end conversations that aren’t going anywhere. Listening to Anya reminded me you don’t (often) need to make things work with people who aren’t making the same effort, and Last-word Leslies tend to fall into this category.
Dealing with these conversations in your personal life can be tricky, so I try to follow the same process I would in a business environment. Ask yourself: Is this relationship worth maintaining? What would that look like? What boundaries do I need to create? How do I gracefully end this conversation and send the right message?
For some, this may provide the answers you need; however, you may need to dig a little with close friends and family.
Disarm Last-word Leslies With Emotional Intelligence
Choosing when to speak, when to stop, and when to change topics is genuinely an art form and can be tricky when you feel upset or cornered in a conversation. It’s best to give yourself a moment to collect your thoughts. Fortunately, at a holiday gathering, you have plenty of opportunities to do so: you can excuse yourself to go to the restroom, check on the food, refill your drink or drop a fork or napkin and come back with a new conversation topic.
In situations where there is a profound disagreement that you need to address, you can take some cues from the study of emotional intelligence, which is “the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognize and influence the emotions of those around you.” Emotional intelligence is about caring for yourself and others as human beings.
The four core skill sets of emotional intelligence, as conceived by psychologist Daniel Goleman: are self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and relationship management. Each one can help you redirect conversations that aren’t going to lead somewhere productive.
Try these emotionally intelligent responses next time you’re in a conversation with a Last-word Leslie:
- Self-awareness can help you identify when you’re feeling stressed. So notice this and give yourself a break.
- Self-regulation comes in handy if you’re flustered and don’t want to say anything you may regret. Instead, let the situation go and find something else to do.
- Social awareness helps you recognize that this person isn’t going to change their mind at this point; it’s best to change the subject.
- Relationship management considers the future of the relationship. So, for example, if you want to get along with Leslie at the next family gathering, it’s likely best to ask the other person if they can agree to disagree.
While it can be tempting to avoid conversations, it’s not always possible, and the hurt won’t go away if you have a long relationship and a history of feeling railroaded. Behavior tolerated implies it is accepted. Since there’s no point in continuing down the same path time and time again, it may be best to call a break or time out. In my experience, the other party might behave like a child who is testing the limits and expects me to draw my boundaries. Once the boundary is drawn, life is good for you and them.
Choose Your Battles
I’m not proposing you arm yourself for a drag-out debate, “choosing your battles” means choosing how you want to resolve the situation and move on so you can enjoy the rest of your event. If you’re okay with walking away or changing the subject, that’s probably the best thing to do. Still, there will be times when your principles compel you to do something more.
Susan David made a brilliant post on LinkedIn about using silence to your advantage: she wrote, “People can be silent in a constructive way—as when you decide to disengage from an argument that just isn’t that important, or when you refrain from telling a colleague that you think his off-the-cuff idea is absurd.” Listen to your gut to determine how you want to move forward. If you have a falling out and don’t hear from that person again, it’s okay to put the relationship in park until they come around. Don’t forget you can lean on your wolfpack to get through tough conversations during the holiday season!
The world isn’t black and white, and there’s a vast spectrum of human experience. I like to remind myself there is more than one way to eat a plate of food: you can use your hands, forks, or chopsticks and likely choose based on what you’re eating and where. So, If you run into a Last-word Leslie this holiday season, the best approach is to keep an open mind, use some of the tactics above, and enjoy the festivities with your family and friends knowing you’re at peace not having the last word.
Want more inspiration for building a solid support system in your work and personal life? Then, follow my Women’s Million-Dollar Conversations series on YouTube!