Faculty/Staff Assistance Program
How to Fight Fair So That Everyone Wins
Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right
person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in
the right way--that is not easy.
Rules for Fair Fighting
- The goal of any fight should be to resolve a conflict rather than to win or
"come out on top". If one person feels like a loser that will create
resentment and distance. Rather everybody should feel like they've won.
- Express your resentments as soon as you are aware of them rather than
letting them build up into an explosion.
- Nothing is more important in conflict resolution than the ability to
compromise. Are you really standing on principle or are you just being
- Communication should be as clear, direct and as open as possible. Make sure
you aren't expecting people to read your mind.
- Be sure to ask for feedback and reflect on what you think the other person
is saying. Often people will be fighting about different issues without being
aware of it.
- Argue only one point at a time. Resist temptations to get off the subject.
Even issues that seem related can be distracting.
- Don't "hit below the belt", that is don't hurt or overwhelm your
partner beyond his or her ability to take it.
- Make sure you're fighting about what you really want to fight about. You
may be discussing "you're home late" when you're feeling "you
don't love me anymore".
- Are you overreacting and making a big deal about a trivial issue? If you
do this frequently it might mean that there is a more important issue that is
not being talked about.
- Avoid ganging up. Fights are best fought between two people at a time.
- Don't get in the middle of a fight you don't belong in.
- A sense of humor is important. Don't let your fights be any more deadly
than necessary. On the other hand, don't make light of a subject that should be
taken seriously, or use jokes to put your partner down.
- Never fight after drinking.
- Never ridicule or make light of your partner's feelings. Instead, respond
as much as possible with "I feel..." or "I want..."
statements of your own.
- Be sure to admit when you are in the wrong. Sometimes an apology is all
that is necessary to end an argument.
- If one person is tired, preoccupied with another subject or not ready to
fight, it may be best to put off the fight until a more opportune time. But
make sure the postponement is not indefinite. Agree on a specific day and
time. A couple of days or less may be a maximum if that issue is really
- Everyone fights dirty or says things that they don't mean at least
occasionally. Learn to forgive, forget and start over.
A Sample of Nonproductive and Destructive Fights.
- Gunnysacking. Holding resentments until they explode and you fight
about everything that has gone wrong in the past six months.
- Sniping and nagging. Anger comes out in dribs and drabs instead of
facing reasons for anger squarely.
- Kitchen sink fights. The fighters bring up any issue they can think
of just so they can "score points".
- World War III. Expressing more anger than you really feel just so
you can intimidate the other person.
- Scapegoating. Fighting about an issue as a way of avoiding a more
painful issue. Example: fighting about the kids to avoid discussing sex.
- Pseudoaccommodation. Giving up before the issues are resolved just
to keep the peace.
- Round Robin. Continuing to argue about the same issues even though
nothing has changed and you know the results are going to be the same.
- Duologues. Everybody talks and nobody listens. Opposite of dialogue
where there is true communica-tion.
- Sneak attack. Jumping on your partner without giving him or her a
chance to defend him/herself.
- Hitting below the belt. Hurting or overwhelming your partner beyond
his/her ability to take it.
- Gotcha' fights. Creating a phony issue to give you a chance to
- Doublebind. Damned if you do and damned if you don't.
- Tit-for-Tat. Your partner does or says something unfair during a
fight so you respond by fighting just as dirty (or even dirtier).
A Guide to Fighting Skills.
- Constructive (closeness producing) messages.
- "I want" statements.
- "I feel" statements
- "I like/don't like" statements.
- Giving feedback.
- Asking for feedback.
- Agreeing with criticism or part of a criticism.
- Asking for more specific criticism.
- Bargaining and compromising.
- Expressing ambivalence.
- Nonverbal supportive messages.
- Destructive (distance producing) messages.
- Communication cutoff.
- Overlong statements.
- Put downs.
- You should/shouldn't statements.
- Unfair comparisons.
- Reacting defensively.
- Unnecessary apologizing or self-effacing.
- Unclear, overly general and nonspecific statements.
- Double messages.
- Ignoring important messages or feelings of the other person.
- Unnecessary interruptions.
- Giving in.
- An Outline of Problem Solving
- Define the Problem
- Make sure the problem is clear, concise and specific. Can it be defined in
terms of specific behaviors?
- Does everyone agree what the nature of the problem is?
- Express facts and feelings regarding the problem.
- Make sure that everyone has an equal chance to speak.
- All feelings are appropriate if expressed constructively (see "Rules
for Fair Fighting").
- List possible solutions.
- Be as creative as possible in coming up with possibilities.
- All solutions should be considered even if they sound silly.
- Everyone should have an equal opportunity to contribute.
- Evaluate each proposed solution individually.
- Can the solution be realistically implemented?
- Will it solve the problem that has been defined in step #1?
- Will it be fair to everyone concerned?
- Will implementing the solution create new problems?
- Decide on a mutually acceptable solution.
- Make specific plans to implement the solution. Decide WHO, WHEN, HOW,
- Evaluate the solution. Is everyone satisfied with the outcome?
- If the problem remains unsolved, decide on the reason.
- Perhaps you were trying to solve the wrong problem. (Example: you were
trying to establish a fair distribution of household chores when the real
problem was feelings about being treated unfairly in other areas of family
life.) If so, go back to step #1 and start over.
- Perhaps a different solution would have worked better. If so, go back to
step #2 or step #3 and start from there.
- Perhaps the solution was inadequately implemented. If so, go back to step