Conflict is a fundamental part of communication, and one by which we reaffirm our boundaries, beliefs and sense of self. We grow through disagreements, but they can be uncomfortable and hard to manage. A critical part of becoming a successful, and well-rounded adult is learning how to fight fairly, and do it in a way that allows everyone to win.
When we learn how to drop the petty tactics and start fighting fair, we unlock a secret power within ourselves which empowers us to form stronger relationships and move more easily through both our personal and professional spheres. Learning how to fight as equals is a critical skill, but it only comes through practice, understanding and a few simple but reliable techniques. Master your conflict style and start forming better bonds with your friends, business partners and even your spouses and partners.
If we’re going to fight, we have to fight fair.
Every relationship has its low points, and conflict is an unavoidable part of life. Since we can’t avoid disagreements, the best thing we can do for ourselves (and our loved ones) is learn how to handle those disagreements with integrity and respect. Through these means, we can find the common ground we need to compromise without giving away too much of who we are or what we need to find fulfillment. Fighting fair matters, and when we don’t fight fair, our relationships suffer.
Failing to give one another the space we need to express ourselves maturely can undermine not only our happiness and confidence, but the confidence of our spouses, friends and family members in ways that can be hard to overcome. When we engage in underhanded or belittling conflict styles, we actually caused our loved ones to disengage and that’s something that hurts on a number of levels.
Disengagement most often manifests in the form of lower intimacy levels, more neuroticism and poorer communication and a deterioration of relationship satisfaction. Rather than opening up about what’s hurt us or caused our emotions to hit a high — we fight both defensively and offensively, resorting to the techniques that best allow us to avoid the discomfort of honest confrontation. The problem with this, however, is that the only way out of the discomfort of a disagreement is through it. Fighting fair is the best way to manage these conflicts and the best way to grow through the things that injure us and threaten our relationships.
The common ways we injure our relationships through conflict.
Fighting dirty isn’t anything new. As a species, we’ve been fighting dirty for centuries and it’s gone a long way to undermine our happiness and our personal and professional relationships. From red herrings to the classic straw men argument, fighting unfair is one of the quickest ways to destroy the things that mean the most to us.
A red herring is a distraction, that detracts from the actual issue at hand while forcing you to focus on something relatively unrelated. For example, when you confront a friend or partner about the way they blow you off, they turn the conversation around and bring up that one time you did something different to them a few weeks (or months) earlier. It conveniently distracts from the subject at hand, while shifting blame squarely (and fully) on your shoulders, rather than theirs.
Dismissive blanket statements
There are certain types of blanket statements and dismissals which severely damage our relationships and affect our conflict styles. Statements like, “You’re crazy” are dismissive and toxic, leaning into the territory of gaslighting and placing all the blame on one party, rather than on both. These types of statements can often be signs that an argument is becoming illogical and impossible to resolve in the current moment.
The veiled threat is a classic staple of dysfunctional conflict. Veiled threats most commonly sound something like, “Agree with me, or else”. While nothing specific is ever mentioned, the threat of an emotional conflict hangs always in the air. It’s a sign that something is amiss in your communication styles and that one side has wrangled all the power from the other. Partners who are subjected to continual threats will only distance themselves over time, leading to further breakdown.
Appealing to heavy hitters
While our friends and family can be important support systems, there are certain aspects of our relationships they should take no part in. Appealing to an authority figure, and then using their decisions to dictate the course of your conflict (or the other party’s part in it) undermines your power. It is also likely to leave the other party feeling aggravated, shut out or unheard.
The straw man technique is used frequently by malicious partners who want to discredit an argument by distorting it. This type of arguing also pushes the conflict out into the bounds of illogical, by placing it in the realm of ridiculous with statements like, “Oh, you think I’m doing x? What’s next? I’m not allowed to breathe?”.
False dichotomies are all about extremes and fallacies like, “You’re right. I’m the devil and you’re just an innocent angel!” It gives only two options — neither one accurate — which are diametrically opposed and exagerrated. It’s a falsely vindicated argument, and one that can turn sinister in nature the longer it’s allowed room to operate in our conflicts.