Fighting Fairly

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PASWord Express, Volume 20, Issue 4

Conflict happens. It can happen in the workplace or at home. The reality is that everyone has their own perspective and opinions. Consequently, it is inevitable that there will be times when those differing perspectives lead to conflict. However, conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. Handled correctly, conflict can lead to new ideas, innovation, and stronger interpersonal relationships. The trick is learning the nuances and methods of handling that conflict.  We call it Fighting Fairly.

Fighting vs. Disagreement

Let’s start with the words we use. The word “fight” has strong connotations. It implies taking sides, a winner and loser, and even personal threat. Transitioning from the idea of having a “fight” to having a “disagreement” can lower the intensity of emotions from the start. “Disagreement” implies while the parties involved do not see eye-to-eye at the moment, they likely do have common ground and can find areas that they agree. Disagreements generally feel less threatening.


“You don’t have to attend every argument you are invited to.”
~Mandy Hale

Guidelines for Handling Disagreements

What is the GOAL? When differences arise, keep an eye on what the final goal or outcome should be. Is the purpose to be right? Or is the purpose to resolve the difference and move forward? At this stage, it can help to identify what you aren’t fighting about so both sides understand they do not have to be enemies.  For example, “I know we both agree that we want to improve this situation.”

Focus on the ISSUE. What exactly is the reason for the disagreement? Stay focused on that topic. Avoid bringing up past arguments or introducing other areas you disagree on. This technique helps remove personal attacks or vendettas from the conversation. It also allows for the opportunity to find points that both sides may already agree on, giving a foundation for building a solution.

“I” versus “You”. The statement “You made it impossible for me to…” elicits a completely different response than “I was unable to…”. Discuss your point of view by using “I statements”. Successful resolutions come when both parties avoid the blame game and keep focused on the cause and resolution of a situation.

Know when to take a TIME OUT. Emotions can run high when discussions get intense. In the heat of the moment there is a much higher chance of something being said that is inappropriate, hurtful, or detrimental to both parties. Time away can help. Maybe it is only a few minutes, maybe it is overnight. Calling a halt to a discussion that is deteriorating can avoid further damage and give both parties time to regain their composure and perspective. Solutions are often found much more quickly after a brief “time out” than by pushing blindly through a heated discussion.

CHOOSE your battles. William Jones said, “The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook.” Is the disagreement worth the investment if time, energy, and potential for conflict? If not, let it go. Save your energy for the times when the issues are really important. In the words of a famous Disney princess, “Let it go.”

Strive for Balance, not Fairness

In his article for, Tom Searcy, founder of Hunt Big Sales, talks about the idea that fairness is not always the right goal. “Fairness is a concept that seems to have a lot of emotional baggage,” says Searcy.  “I find that I get more reasonable responses by appealing instead to ‘balance’ than by asking for things to be fair.” By striving for balance, the needs and of both parties and validation of various perspectives is recognized. There is no need for a power struggle of one over another.

Disagreements are part of everyday life. They happen at work, at home, and at play. Disagreements don’t need to turn into fights and while conflict will never disappear entirely, developing the “fair fighting” skills will help you handle disagreements more effectively and lead to stronger relationships.

Your Employee Assistance Program is available to provide additional guidance on how to communicate assertively and fight fairly.

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