Defending the Faith Part 13: The “Steamroller” Tactic

| Saturday, September 3, 2011 | |
by Greg Koukl

Let’s look at a defensive tactic called the Steamroller.

Steamrollers are people who overpower you. They have strong opinions, strong personalities, and big mouths. Steamrollers mean to keep you off balance and on the defensive by overwhelming you with interruptions, attitude and lots of noise. Their words come fast and furious, keeping you from collecting your wits and giving a thoughtful answer. Steamrollers have one defining characteristic: They interrupt constantly. As soon as we begin to answer, steamrollers find something they don’t like in our explanation, interrupt us, then pile on other challenges.

Steamrollers are insincere. They know it’s easier to ask hard questions than to listen to hard answers. In fact, Steamrollers are usually not interested in answers, but in winning through power and intimidation.

We should be generous with the truth unless we encounter someone who shows utter contempt for the precious gift he is being offered. If he’s the kind of person who will take what is holy, trample on it, and then turn on you, don’t waste your time. There’s plenty of ripe fruit waiting to be harvested!

Consider three steps to stop the steamroller and put you back in control of the conversation.

Step 1: Stop the interruption graciously, but firmly, then negotiate an agreement.

Many times all you need to do is simply hold up your hand and gently say, “I'm not quite finished yet.” If necessary, ask for adequate time by saying, “Hold on a minute, I need a little more time. You asked a good question, and you deserve a good answer. Are you interested in what I have to say?” If the steamroller is especially aggressive, calmly wait for a clear opening; don’t try to talk over him if he’s not cooperating.

To negotiate an agreement, ask him to give you something (patience) so that you can give him something in return (the opportunity to respond with an answer).

Step 2: Shame the steamroller. If the steamroller breaks trust with your first agreement, or maybe you can't succeed in stopping him to briefly negotiate, you need to be more aggressive. Shame him by taking the same tack you did in step #1, but be more direct. Ask very explicitly for courtesy in your conversation. Ignore his new challenges: Don’t follow the rabbit trail. Address the steamroller problem directly.

Step 3: When all else fails, leave the steamroller alone. If he won’t let you answer, listen politely until he’s finished, then drop it. Let him have the satisfaction of having the last word, then walk away. Wisdom dictates not wasting time with this kind of fool.

Jesus warns us, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6). How do we know when we have an obligation to speak and when we should keep our pearls to ourselves? The answer is easy when we consider the rest of the verse: “. . . lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Next time: Final reflections on how to use these tactics effectively and persuasively.

For more extensive tactics training go to and look for Tactics in Defending the Faith Mentoring Series or STRi DVD interactive training in our online store or call Stand to Reason at 1-800-2-REASON.


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