Sometimes I wonder:
Why do we fight, argue or disagree?
We want our way.
We want to be right.
We want to get something.
Are we willing to get it at any cost? For most of us, the answer is: no. In any relationship of worth, we want the relationship to prosper more than we want to “win”.
However, in most relationships – with friends, lovers, coworkers – we have disagreements that we want to resolve. How can we do this so that all parties feel good (or, at least, pretty good) about the final result?
We fight fair.
Let’s look at three aspects of a good, fair fight/argument/discussion:
Part I: The Set-up
Ask yourself: “What exactly is bothering me? What do I want the other person to do or not do?” Write this down.
Know what your goals are before you begin. What are the possible outcomes that could be acceptable to you? Write this down too.
No surprise attacks. Set a time for a discussion with your partner(s)-in-conflict, hopefully as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the mood is “perfect” (it never will be).
Set boundaries together, e.g., “This (behavior) is acceptable, but this (behavior) is not. If it happens, we will (appropriate action).” Good, clear boundaries make everyone feel safer and provide an “emergency safety valve” if things start to get too intense.
Watch your mouth: the words you speak have great power to harm. Things said in anger can linger for years and are impossible to “erase”.
Part II: The Process
Throughout the whole process, monitor your anger level. No one but you can know how close you are to losing it (or not). If you know you are going to lose self-control, take action before you say or do something you will later regret.
State the problem clearly. State the facts; then, state your feelings.
Use “I” messages to describe feelings of anger, hurt, or disappointment. Avoid “you” messages such as, “You do make me angry….”.
Avoid all-or-nothing terms like “always” or “never”.
When you’re listening: really listen. Don’t rehearse your response and don’t interrupt.
If you and your partner have a history of misunderstandings, it’s usually helpful to restate what you heard so your partner knows you got it. Ask your partner to do the same for you.
Be specific about what is bothering you. Vague complaints are hard to work with.
No playing dirty and attacking your partner where you know he/she is super-vulnerable. This can destroy trust that has taken years to build.
Don’t machine gun: storing up lots of grievances and then letting someone have it by verbally throwing them at her/him all- at-once doesn’t work. If you’ve got a list of shit that’s unresolved, stick to two or three things MAX at any given discussion.
Avoid PowerPouting mode: you’ve both gotta talk and listen. If one person gets pissed off and goes silent, nothing will get resolved.
Come up with more than one (possible) solution: allowing the other person only one option will make it difficult to resolve the concern.
Part III: Afterwards
When you reach an agreement on a way forward, give yourselves credit (and a hug or something pleasant).
Decide together on a future time to check-in and see how things are working. You can always modify any previous decision.
If no solution has been reached regarding the original problem, schedule a time to revisit the issue (usually in a few days, after you both cool down) and continue your discussion.
Sometimes, despite our best fair-fighting efforts, a disagreement or conflict seems insurmountable. Working with a trained psychotherapist can help both of you communicate more effectively and work through intense emotional reactions that often sabotage the process.
Ironically, fighting Fair is good for you.
Conflict is an inevitable part of life; we can’t avoid it (no matter how much we try). When we have the courage to resolve problems with people in our lives, we build more trust in the strength of our relationships and feel better about ourselves (and those we love). It makes us more confident, knowing that we can – if we need to – go through the process again.
Like any skill set, fighting fair gets easier with practice. So don’t avoid it, instead, accept it as an inevitable part of life and get good at it.