I know at least a dozen people who need to have the last word. And I have no problem allowing them to have it because it isn’t important to me. Why isn’t it important to me? Why is it important to them?
I decided to do some research and, not surprisingly, there are scads of opinions on this subject. There are also many reasons why, according to mental health professionals, having the last word matters. Spoiler alert: their conclusions aren’t exactly glowing or favorable.
The general consensus among psychologists and psychiatrists about people who need to have the last word is that they’re either arrogant, or insecure, or angry, or egotistical. Couple those traits with a need to show dominance or power, and a not-so-pretty picture emerges. Since I’m not a licensed therapist, I’ve decided to bundle all those terms into one label, “Last-Worder.”
I used to be married to a Last-Worder, and one of the reasons why we’re no longer together is that he always assumed he would win the argument because his voice got louder and louder with each statement he made. My reaction was to be a condescending brat, and I would whisper, “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you. Will you speak a little louder?” That usually resulted in either a slammed door or a broken plate (not by me). To be clear, the last word does not have to be an actual word.
As I’ve matured, I’ve become better at dealing with a Last-Worder. In a divorce mediation where one party clearly wants out and the other wants to reconcile, a shift in power may be occurring. And when that happens, the Last-Worder might try to regain power by yelling and arguing, and attempting to get me to agree that he or she was wronged by the other party. It can get ugly unless and until I intervene.
If you think you are living with or working with a Last-Worder, I can offer some help.
The first lesson, and maybe the most important one, is to step away from the debate. When you’re dealing with a Last-Worder, remember that you don’t have to continue the conversation in that moment. In fact, there’s always the outside chance that taking a break from the dispute might give the other person an opportunity to think about what was said, and maybe even grant you a concession or two when (or if) you resume the conversation at another time.
The next lesson I’ve learned is that it’s unnecessary to point out that the other person is wrong. Last-Worders almost never admit that you’re right, nor are they generally willing to apologize for their tone.
And finally, the old adage that silence is golden is certainly applicable when dealing with a Last-Worder. When you initiate the silence by walking away and refusing to engage, you are most assuredly maintaining your dignity and poise.
Hopefully, at some later point, you can agree to disagree and move on.