Here’s the Playbook for a Fair Fight

















Is there someone in your life that drives you crazy sometimes?

A business partner, employee, sibling or spouse that frustrates you? Makes you angry?

If not, you’re either robot or an inert object, and you can stop reading.

The fact is it’s impossible to have a relationship without conflict.

Instead of trying to avoid or manage conflict, let’s talk about what to do instead.

Where Conflict Comes From

Conflict arises when our needs, expectations and boundaries are not honored.

Newsflash: Two people’s needs, expectations and boundaries can never align perfectly.

Plus, the more we care — about a person, about a business — the more upset we get. In other words more caring leads to more anger. So we may as well embrace the anger and figure out what to do with it when it does arise.

See, conflict isn’t bad. When done right, conflict can be an accelerated growth period.

That’s why today we’re going to talk about fighting fair: how to respond productively to that anger.

Rules for Fighting Fair

Below are a few rules that I try to apply when conflict arises in my life or that of a client.

1. Don’t fight unless you’re ready to create a resolution

Conflict happens when we’re disappointed, frustrated or angry.

Sometimes when we experience these emotions for long enough without resolution we become resigned. Resignation is a way of protecting ourselves from further heartbreak by convincing ourselves we no longer care.

If you’re resigned, you’re not ready to create resolution.

To resolve conflict, you have to be willing to feel the anger, frustration and disappointment.

2. When you say your part, focus on yourself

When you’re fighting, you will inevitably need to talk about the other person. The goal is to avoid making that person defensive.

The way to minimize defensiveness is to focus on the facts of what that person did and what the impact was on you and your emotions.

Your emotions can’t be disputed. They can also help the other person empathize with you.

The Wrong Way: The situation as described by your interpretations, accusations and assumptions (example)

“You never listen when we make dinner plans and you never tell me when your plans change. You don’t think about how it will affect me.”

The Right Way: Fact + Impact and feelings (example)

“We talked about having dinner at 8pm and you got home at 9pm.
I feel disappointed because I worked so hard to have a great dinner ready for us to enjoy together. That made me feel lonely and unappreciated. It makes me feel like I shouldn’t even bother trying, which makes me sad.”

3. No name calling or generalizations

We all have our flaws and do dumb things sometimes. That doesn’t make us bad people.
So when you’re fighting, focus on specific events and actions. Avoid making negative generalizations about the other person.

The Wrong Way (example)

“You’re just lazy. You don’t think about anyone but yourself.”

The Right Way (example)

“You sent me the report on Thursday. That left me only a few hours to edit it and send it to the client on Friday. In order to do that I had to reschedule another meeting I had on Friday morning. I can’t work like that.”

4. No leaving

Words are an imperfect, inadequate tool to communicate how we feel. Sometimes we’re tempted to use action instead. One of the most obvious but also destructive actions we can take is leaving (or avoiding the conflict entirely).

Leaving is threatening because it suggests that you’re giving up. Leaving says “screw you and screw me.”

5. Give yourself a time out if you need to calm down

While leaving doesn’t work, sometimes we need a temporary reprieve. If you notice that you’re not ready to fight fair, give yourself a moment alone. Return to the conversation when you’re willing to play by the rules.

6. No interrupting

Listening doesn’t cost you anything, but it does make the other person feel heard and gives you the opportunity to learn something you didn’t know before.

Let the other person finish, then pause. If you’re not sure if they’re finished ask: “Is there anything else?”

7. Acknowledge what you heard and understood

Resolution comes from understanding.

Read that sentence again.

When we can’t resolve a conflict it’s because we think we’re right and we’re unwilling to consider another possibility.

Shift your focus away from being right and onto understanding. After you listen, acknowledge what you’ve heard as a way to deepen your understanding.

8. Don’t make it heavier than it already is

Have you noticed how exhausting it is to fight?

One of the reasons conflict is tiring is that we tighten up our whole bodies. We also take a grave tone.

A tight body and grave tone are not only unnecessary in order to have a difficult conversation — they actually make it harder.

While you don’t want to be flip, try to bring levity or at least a neutral tone. Breathe and relax your body. Conflict doesn’t need to feel so hard.

9. Don’t hurt yourself or others

When we get angry, we can’t always think straight. We can go a little caveman.

So if you can’t follow all of these rules all the time, that’s okay. If you only remember one rule, it’s this: don’t hurt yourself or others.

What Happens When You Fight Fair

Remember, conflict is just an accelerated period of growth. And the more you practice having these confronting conversations, the more smooth and continuous will be the growth in your relationships. So get out there and embrace conflict.

Share in the comments: What’s one of your favorite rules for healthy conflict?

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