6 Tricks on How To Talk to Knuckleheads

During the dawn of my adulthood, I spent 4 years learning how to talk to knuckleheads.  At Arizona State University they called it “majoring in Communcation.”

In theory, learning how to talk to knuckleheads was fun.  In real life during my work as a Phoenix divorce lawyer, talking to knuckleheads often makes me want to pummel someone.  (And NO, I AM NOT referring to my clients because I have NEVER taken a case for someone I thought was a knucklehead.)

Anyway, in ASU’s College of Public Programs, much of my coursework involved studying real human communication behavior. What this meant was that I had to design, administer and score hundreds of surveys, looking for patterns so I could write reports and make recommendations. So…for purposes of starting our conversation this week, I have a little (non-scored) survey for you to take.

In your life, have you ever come across someone who does one or more of the following?

Want to know how to talk to a knucklehead?
Want to know how to talk to a knucklehead?

  • speaks down to you

  • interrupts you

  • personally attacks you

  • bullies you

  • ignores what you are saying

  • always makes you feel like you are wrong

  • always makes it about him or her

  • diverts the conversation away from what you want to discuss

  • twists your words

Me, too.  And it really ticks me off.  What ticks me off even more is when I get sucked into that knucklehead’s lack of (a) common sense; (b) human courtesy and (c) basic communication skills.

In fact, this just happened to me within the last couple of weeks with another Phoenix child support lawyer. Grrrr…..

SO.  TODAY, I’m writing this post on how to talk to knuckleheads for BOTH of us.  I need a refresher, AND I want to shortcut you through the money and time I spent at ASU.  Whether the knucklehead you are talking to is your husband, your wife, your ex, your ex’s new partner, your ex’s mother, your boss, your customer, or the kid taking your order at the drive through, I hope this helps.


Read the bullet point list above.  If you are doing any of those things, you might be acting like a knucklehead even if you really aren’t a knucklehead.  It’s OK.  Sometimes Arizona divorce lawyers with the initials WH who have bachelor’s degrees in Communication from Arizona State University act like knuckleheads, too.

Just STOP acting like one.  RIGHT NOW.


If the knucklehead is on a rant, let him or her go on and on without saying one word.  Don’t respond.  Don’t react. Eventually that person will run out of breath, wondering why you haven’t said a thing.  The knucklehead might even look at you hoping for a response.  In fact, the knucklehead might go so far as to ASK you to respond because it feels pretty damn weird sitting there having a conversation (or argument) with yourself.

I know, I know.  It is hard to sit there silently when the knucklehead is acting dramatic, over-exaggerating, misrepresenting the facts, or just flat out lying.  You feel like you want to come out of your skin, don’t you?  (In my case, it sometimes makes me want to reach through the phone line, grab the other Phoenix family law attorney by the neck and start choking.  Seriously.  This just happened to me two weeks ago, remember?)

Just be quiet.



Listen.  Really try to get what the knucklehead is attempting to say during the tirade. Communication is about more than just the mechanics of actually talking and listening.  <—Tweet this!  It is about digging deep into the psyche of the other person to see the world from his or her viewpoint.  This is called empathy.

Trying to empathize doesn’t mean you have to agree with the other person’s position.  The worst thing that can happen is that you might have a better understanding of the knucklehead’s line of thinking.  With this understanding, you might be able to come up with a solution that will meet both of your needs.

YES…I am asking you to empathize with a knucklehead.  If it might help resolve a conflict, why not? Go ahead. Empathize.


Stand up for yourself.  Ask for what you want.  Once the knucklehead has finally shut up, request that person talk to you with respect.  Your request can be as simple as this:  “Please don’t talk to me that way.”

When the knucklehead asks “What way?”, say this:

“I would appreciate it if you would let me finish what I’m saying before you start talking again.  Please try to understand my point of view.  Please give me the respect I have given you by hearing me out.”

Insist on being treated with dignity.  <—Tweet this one, too!


It is the mantra of all tennis and golf coaches that you must “keep your eye on the ball.”  This is also the mantra of any divorce lawyer worth her salt.  For this divorce lawyer in Phoenix, though, keeping your eye on the ball means STICKING TO THE QUESTION AT HAND.

If you have requested an answer to a question, the knucklehead might sandbag.  The knucklehead could bring up every time you didn’t do this or didn’t do that.  The knucklehead very well may insult you and try to turn things around on you.  The knucklehead might answer your question with a question.

What to do? Well, KEEP THE QUESTION at issue at the top of your mind.  Re-focus the knucklehead by asking for an answer to the question.  Again.  And again.  And again.

At some point, you may realize the knucklehead will NEVER give you an answer.  Chances are the knucklehead will never give you the answer he or she SHOULD give you.  Why?  Well…because that person is a knucklehead.

However, by limiting the conversation to the question at hand (and ONLY the question at hand), you reduce the risk that the interaction will explode into a knock-down, drag-out fight about everything that has ever gone wrong in the relationship.  This is never a good thing.

Keep your focus.  Keep the knucklehead focused.  Keep your eye on the ball.


Before I get to the sixth and BEST trick about how to talk to knuckleheads, I want to remind you to take a look at this week’s featured Hernandez Family Law post.  If you have a case and expect to testify in it at any time, the communication skills I have shared today will be a perfect complement to The Do’s and Don’ts of Trial Testimony.


Sigh.  Now it’s time for us to end today.  And that is the perfect chance for me to talk about the final and last idea I have on the topic of how to talk to knuckleheads.


Know when to end the conversation.

Sometimes you can turn things around, even with a knucklehead.  Sometimes you can’t.  If the conversation devolves into a situation where you are being called names or cursed at, hang up the phone.  Leave the restaurant.  Walk away.  Go home. Or, if the situation demands it, call the police.

You are a person.  You deserve respect.  <—-Tweet this!  By hanging around so a knucklehead can continue to mistreat you, you are reinforcing that bad behavior in the knucklehead.  Nothing feels better than to just hang up the phone on a knucklehead.

I did it two weeks ago.

I’ll tell ya something, too.

It was better than my favorite ice cream.

Sending you wishes for a week filled with people who have brains larger than the size of knuckles!

All my best,


P.S. Leave a comment below and tell me YOUR tricks on how to talk to knuckleheads.  Don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook and +1 us on Google+, too!

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