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The Art of Fighting: 7 Ways to Resolve Conflict

As a family therapist, one of the major concerns families have is the amount of arguing that occurs in the home. Sessions tend to focus on how family members get into disagreements which then rapidly escalate into verbal fighting. Mainly, families report that a simple disagreement over either an idea or action tends to follow a particular path: disagreement à anger à shouting à complete disregard for finishing the conversation. I argue that this path leads to neither cooperation nor resolution. How then, do we express our difference of opinion without getting into shouting matches while at the same time getting our point across? Below is a list, with explanations, of how to handle the art of fighting.

1.)    Stay in control.

No matter how hot the issue gets, stay calm. Mindfulness, your ability to focus on the present and be in control of your actions, plays a key role here. You have very little, if any, control over other peoples actions, but you have complete control over your own. Understanding that concept will enable you to remain cool, calm, and collected. Do not allow emotions to take control of your actions, no matter how upset you become.

2.)    Be Respectful.

Whether or not you like, or even respect, the person you are in conflict with, be respectful. This is not only a good practice to maintain a level of civility and organization within the moment, but will also make you feel better about how you handled the situation later on. It is easy to say, “I said what I said because that person pushed me to it,” or, “I said it because I don’t respect the person, so why should I care.” This may make sense to you in the moment, but what about after? Telling someone off or degrading them simply because you are in conflict may appease the instinctive Id inside us all, but does little for our sense of morals and sense of self. If you treat the other person with respect, you will respect yourself later on for taking the high road.

3.)    Don’t Yell!!!

Easy to say, but difficult to accomplish. I begin this section by asking a question (a question I pose to all families I work with when discussing argument behaviors); why yell? Why is it that when we get into conflict we feel we need to yell at the other person? From a biological standpoint, yelling can release tension and excess energy. Yelling can also be a good stress reliever. When angry, sometimes we just want to scream. I’m not arguing against yelling, in fact, I believe it to be a good coping skill when used appropriately (maybe the topic of another article). However, when fighting with another person, yelling at that person has the adverse effect. If yelling to release stress, do it in an environment that is safe and give others fair warning (so as not to panic them). If yelling at someone, only one thing can happen, that person’s defenses go up. With defenses comes the opposition both intentional and unintentional and reciprocal yelling ensues. However, yelling from a behavioral standpoint suggests that the person is simply trying to be heard. We yell because we feel the other person is not listening to us. Therefore, subconsciously we feel that the louder we yell the more likely the person will be forced to listen to what we have to say; also a misconception.

Understanding why we yell is only a piece to the puzzle, however. Next is taking that knowledge and applying it to the art of fighting to understand why we SHOULD NOT yell. If we do not yell, we force ourselves to remain in control and mindful rather than be ruled by emotions. Second, if there is no yelling there is no reason for a person’s guards to go up, which then translates into more openness for discussion. Thirdly, if there is no yelling it forces you to listen to one another and be heard. If you feel your side is being listened to then you don’t have to get loud to make others hear you.

4.)    Listen to what the other person is saying.

If you are in conflict with someone, it’s probably because you disagree, at least somewhat, with what that other person is saying or doing. However, there is a reason behind why the other person feels or acts in a particular way. Listen to that “why.” Validate the person and where they are coming from, which may be difficult depending on the subject matter of the conflict. Staying strength based and looking for meaning within the language of their behavior is a healthier perspective to take. Perhaps there is an angle that you have overlooked that may put some sense to their thoughts or actions. Just because they think or act differently than you doesn’t mean they’re inherently wrong.

5.)    Keep the argument in the present

What you are arguing about is reflective of the current issue in the current moment. There is nothing worse than arguing about an issue just to have past conflicts thrown in your face, so why do it to the person you are fighting with? Making a reference to past issues is used as a means of one-upping a person to prove how right you are and how wrong the other person is, collectively. By using historical ammunition against the person you are fighting with you are simply trying to prove that you are overall “more right” than that person. This distracts from the current argument and blurs the conflict. Keep the argument focused on the current issue. If you find that you are using past arguments and conflicts as a means of proving your righteousness in the current conflict, maybe it’s because you have unresolved issues that need to be handled at a later time.


6.)    Do not use “YOU Statements”

“You Statements” are another way of throwing blame at another person and cause the person you are having conflict with to raise their defenses. “You Statements” equal blaming and make the person feel in the wrong. They are a way for the individual to not take any ownership of their part in the argument. As stated in a previous article, “5 Ways to Get Your Ideal Family,” every person in every argument has to take some type of responsibility for the argument. As a means of doing this drop the “You Statements” and replace them with “I Statements.” Instead of telling the person what they have done wrong, discuss how the incident or conflict makes YOU feel. Take out anything from the argument that even uses the word “You.” In doing so, the person you are in conflict with does not have their defenses raised because they are not feeling entirely blamed for the conflict.


7.)    Commit to resolve the issue

This final piece can be the hardest to commit to because sometimes it is harder to resolve a conflict when people feel strongly about their position. However, make a personal commitment to resolve the issue, and let the other person know this, both verbally and through your behaviors. This may mean that you win the debate, but it also may mean that you both agree to disagree. The key, however, is to not let the issue linger by not finishing and defining the end of the discussion or walking away. Walking away is easy because it provides a behavioral statement that says, “I’m done with this conversation,” but it also communicates that the other person is no longer worthy of your time. Also, by not finishing the conversation it adds to the historical ammunition for later arguments. Commit to resolve the conflict so both parties know where they stand and can move forward in a healthy manner.

In conclusion, fighting is something we all do. Fighting is inherent in relationships and at some point you will find yourself in a heated argument. If used properly, the points above can help you remain in control and ensure that a healthy relationship remains intact when all the smoke clears.

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