The phrase "taking the high road" is often mentioned when two people have an argument and one is saying negative things or being emotionally hurtful. If the other person does not engage in the same behavior back, that person is said to be taking the high road.
While it might seem logical that when you either have an argument with a friend or end a friendship all together you'd show kindness in the way you speak about your pal, in reality it doesn't always work that way. One person may be angry (or just not understand the benefits in moving on with forgiveness), and as a result will "go for the jugular" in how they talk about the other friend.
Why Do People Verbally Attack?
Part of why people behave this way is because they can't get beyond their own anger and hurt, and do not think ahead to see that talking badly about someone else will only make them look bad in the long run and damage their relationship permanently.
People that do this have perhaps not mastered their emotions, and this is their way of having a "temper tantrum" as an adult. They might not throw themselves on the ground like children do, but they behave poorly without regard for the other person. What's more, they think they are justified in saying negative things (that are true, partially true and twisted, or complete lies) because someone hurt them.
What Does Failure to Take the High Road Look Like?
The high road is the response to how someone else is treating you. Part of the challenge in taking the high road is that you might not want to attack another person but instead defend yourself against lies or hurtful words. Your natural instinct if someone is lying would be to try and correct the facts.
The trouble is, the very act of you responding can pull you into an argument where you and the other person go back and forth. Your friend will purposely say things they know get to the heart of your character or what you value the most.
How Do You Take the High Road?
It's better to ignore people who either make your argument public (a bad friend tactic if ever there was one) or purposely say mean things about you. Responding very often means saying the very same nasty things in an effort to correct them or get them to leave you alone.
Sometimes, a seemingly innocent response such as, "I didn't do that" can prompt more taunting or verbal bullying. People who attack in this manner rarely keep things private, either. They need to "get people on their side" by explaining the argument to mutual friends, telling others that you've ignored their calls or unfriended them, or even making up events that happened between the two of you. It's hard not to respond in these cases.
Benefits of Taking the High Road
You might think that you should explain your side of things or even defend yourself against people who are attacking you, but use caution. Taking the high road often has more benefits than in getting others to see things from your perspective. These can include:
- Sense of pride at not stooping to the level of others.
- Demonstration that you are someone who will not bad-mouth someone else, even one who is doing it to you.
- Greater peace in avoiding people who cause you pain.
- Moving on quicker from a bad friendship breakup.
- Better reputation as a friend. Others will see that you aren't going to share any arguments publicly and friends will view you as someone who will keep your relationship a safe place.
How to Take the High Road
If someone is trying to goad you into responding to their negativity, you can respond and still take the high road, but be very cautious about what you say and how you say it. As an alternative, you can choose to move on without explanation. If someone has gone to others and talked about an argument you've had, this is bad form and probably the end of your friendship anyways, so why respond?
If you do, keep these things in mind:
- Take some time before responding to make sure you are in a calm place of mind.
- Don't use curse words or name calling.
- Stick to the facts only.
- Be cognizant of the things you're saying and how it could make your friend look bad. In short, don't "attack back" with your words, but respond only to the things you wish to clarify. For example, "No, I certainly did not cheat on my wife, nor would I ever do that. John is lying about that, and the way this disagreement has been made public makes me very sad." Then leave it at that.
- Be mindful of what you want out of the relationship. Do you still want to be friends at some point? It will be very difficult to do that if you choose to respond.
One example of how to take the high road was Jon Cryer's response to the name calling Charlie Sheen did about him after Sheen was fired from Two and a Half Men. Sheen said Cryer was a "turncoat, a traitor, a troll."
Even with that, Cryer didn't respond. What's more, he made a joke out of being called a troll. Later, of course, Sheen regretted those words, saying, "I need to repair that relationship, and I will. I will reach out and do whatever is necessary."
People who attack you will probably do the same thing to someone else, and eventually others will see exactly what kind of friend they really are. In the meantime, if you take the high road you can be certain that your reputation as a friend will fare much better in the end than if you had responded.