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Personality Disorders

How to End a Hostile Conversation in 2 Steps

When someone is blaming you or verbally abusive, you can end the discussion.

Key points

  • These days more people seem dragged into hostile conversations that they would like to stop.
  • Two steps that can help are giving a warning and then following through with ending a conversation.
  • Setting such limits may actually help someone with a Cluster B personality disorder.
Studio Romantic/Shutterstock
Source: Studio Romantic/Shutterstock

It’s not unusual to end up in a conversation in which someone is preoccupied with blaming you completely for a minor or non-existent problem. “It’s all your fault!” they might say. Or someone may endlessly complain about someone else in a hostile manner that you don’t want to keep hearing: “So-and-so is such a jerk. I wish they would just leave the planet.”

In these situations, many people feel like they have to keep listening until the person finishes talking and gets it off their chest or changes the subject. After all, isn’t it rude to interrupt someone while they are speaking? The reality is that it’s not rude to interrupt someone who is being inappropriate or offensive. For the sake of your mental health, it may help to end the conversation.

How can you do this without getting into an argument? Trying to convince the other person that they are wrong, inappropriate, or offensive will not necessarily get them to stop; it's more likely to lead to a full-fledged argument. If you are dealing with a high-conflict person who is preoccupied with blaming others, then they will fight back against any perceived disagreement or insult. Telling the other person to change is beyond your control. However, you may be able to have a positive influence on them by trying the following two simple steps:

Step 1: Give a Warning

While you can’t control what the other person does, you can control what you will do. Simply give the person a warning, such as: “Hang on, Joe. If you keep talking this way, I’m going to have to end the conversation. It’s up to you.” If you want, be more specific and say something like: “If you keep swearing like this/complaining about Jane like this/blaming me like this...”

If they are a high-conflict person, there is a good chance that they will keep on saying whatever they were saying or will argue with you that they are not doing these things. Don’t get drawn into an argument. Just repeat what you said or say, “You heard me.”

Step 2: End the Conversation

If the person continues to speak in a swearing, blaming, or complaining manner, you can calmly say: “I can hear that you have chosen to have me end the conversation. Contact me when you are ready to talk civilly.” Then walk away or end the phone call.

If the person calls back or approaches you to talk again in person, be open to them. But if they start talking in the same offensive manner again, you can remind them: “Remember, if you keep talking this way, I’m going to have to end the conversation. It’s up to you.” Often, by the second time you give this warning, they get it and will speak to you more respectfully or civilly. If not, leave the conversation again. Don't give more than two warnings; otherwise, they won't believe you in the future.

Preparing Yourself

The two steps described here represent an assertive approach to being treated with respect. It may help to give yourself some words of encouragement beforehand, such as: “I’m a decent person and so I deserve to be treated decently.” “It’s simple, all I have to do is make this short warning statement.” Or, “I can speak up for myself. I’ve done it before.”

You can also practice saying the warning and then saying you’re ending the conversation. You can practice with a friend or family member who is supportive of you. Have them say some disrespectful words, then say your short statement of warning, have them argue with you, and then say: “I can hear that you have chosen to have me end the conversation. Contact me when you are ready to talk civilly.” Then, practice walking away or ending the phone call. Such practice is harder than just thinking about it, but it will give you confidence.

High-Conflict Behavior

You will probably get more opportunities to use this method, as it seems that more people are becoming rude and inappropriate. This is especially true of people who display high-conflict behavior that is often related to Cluster B personality disorders such as narcissistic, borderline, antisocial, and histrionic personality disorders—approximately 5% of the adult population. They tend to be “dramatic, emotional, or erratic,” according to the diagnostic manual for mental health professionals.[1] They can also be “domineering, vindictive, and intrusive,” according to a comprehensive survey of many studies.[2]

The more people who get used to setting limits by using strategies like this simple method, the less difficult behavior there will be in our families, workplaces, and communities. Setting limits may help a potentially high-conflict person learn to be less offensive and more respectful. Many are simply unaware of how they negatively impact other people. Promoting civil conversations will help us all.


1. American Psychiatric Association (APA): Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2022, 734.

2. Ibid.

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