Several years ago, I lived in a home adjacent to a private golf club. My telephone number was similar to that of the golf club’s clubhouse.

One afternoon, I received a call from an unknown man who asked me if he could reserve a tee- time for golf.  I told him he dialed the wrong number and he hung up.  Sure enough, a few minutes later, he called again and asked for a tee-time reservation.  Again, I informed him that he had dialed an incorrect number.  He hung up.

Then, a few minutes later, he called again. When I once again informed him that he had dialed the wrong number for the third time, he insisted that he had dialed the correct number and could not understand why I was making it difficult for him. So, I asked him what time he wanted rather than argue with him. He said his foursome wanted to play tomorrow morning at 7:00 AM. I asked him for his name and told him he was confirmed.

I never knew what happened to him after that. I assume that some accommodation was made for him when he showed up. (I regret not going the next morning and watching his encounter with the staff.)

Are people in denial, ordinary people, or do they have some mental illness? I am not qualified to answer that.  Many live amongst ourselves and seem to have normal, everyday lives. And we need to be able to get along with them, even if we cannot relate to the world they live in.

So, the first rule in dealing with people in denial is not to argue with them—it wastes your time and energy. They deny reality, and you are not going to get them there. You may say something to them like this: “Marsha, you know that if you touch a hot pot on a stove, you will burn your fingers.”  Their response might be, “No, that won’t happen.” Or “What pot?” or “What stove?”  Or maybe, “Then why don’t you do it for me?”

Coaching Mavericks sales guru Jay Izso notes that another personality attribute of these people is that they are convinced they are always correct.  In fact, they are sure of it.  But often, they are not.  And they will not admit it.  We have all met these people. Some call them the “flat earthers.”  But they deny undeniable facts and spread others that are false.

And these people seek confrontations, increasing your stress levels and testing your patience.

So, how do we deal with them?  Here are some ideas:

  1. Avoid them. Step away. Withdraw from the conversation. Minimize your contact with them unless you must contact them because they are relatives, friends, or business associates. That will lower your stress level.
  2. Don’t argue with them. As I noted above, it will never result in them agreeing with you. They are correct; you are incorrect in their mind, so what is the point of wasting your valuable time and oxygen trying to convince them otherwise?  You cannot cure their mental illness or clear up their mistaken ideas.
  3. Ask them to explain themselves to you. Perhaps you misunderstood them, and maybe they didn’t really tell you that Philadelphia has the greatest population of any city in the U.S. Maybe they meant to tell you it is the largest in Pennsylvania.
  4. Try to support them. A social scientist would advise this. These people need our help. Be an active listener. Offer your kindness and time to them. Let them know you are there for them. And then be very patient.  (Count to 10 before responding to them.)
  5. Humor them. Agree with them. “Yes, Calvin, I agree that the Sun is closer to Earth than the moon, because it is larger in the sky.” This may not be worthwhile entertainment, but sometimes it is the easiest way to avoid a prolonged argument.

Above all, try to stay calm.  It is better for your health and probably for theirs as well.