Conflict is normal in relationships, and perfect compatibility only happens in fairytales. But knowing how to fight fair can lead us to a happy ending.
The first requirement is a supportive environment. So we need to make two agreements right up front. First, that a conflict exists and it’s affecting both of us – so it’s not just the other person’s fault. “Do you agree that we have a problem?” And second, that we’ll do whatever it takes. “Are you willing to do whatever it takes, with me, to fix this?”
We also need to respect each other. “I won’t tell you how you should behave. And I want you to let me do what I need to do.” Criticizing, blaming and shoulding on each other are off limits. Then we can focus on finding a win-win answer by asking solution-oriented questions: “What can I do to help? What do you expect from me? What can I expect from you? What’s the best solution that will serve both of us?”
It may be possible to agree on an action to take at this point. Then it’s all about keeping the agreement. But if there’s still more to work out, here are 5 steps that should bring a fair resolution.
Step 1: Name the real issue. “Why am I choosing to be upset?” Saying, “I’m angry because you did this!” is just a way to manipulate the other person. In most cases, we have a need that we’ve made the other person responsible for filling, and we believe we have the right to get upset about it.
Step 2: Make it safe for everyone. We need to agree that anything can be said without being punished for it, now or later. It means arguing without making anyone wrong.
Step 3: Take turns talking and listening. Before speaking, ask: “What am I willing to give, and what would I like to receive in exchange?” When listening, avoid applying personal meaning and beliefs to what’s said. Hearing the other person’s reasons for saying what he or she says allows us to grasp the intentions without being sidetracked by the words.
Step 4: Drop resistance. Force doesn’t equal strength, and pushing against others won’t get our needs met. In the end, our efforts work against us, and we miss out on finding our real power. How do we drop resistance? By letting people be who they are without wanting them to be different. Don’t be afraid to think, “How can I change?” because as we change in relation to a conflict, others change along with us.
Step 5: Find common ground. We need to find something that we can agree on about the issue, even if it’s just to say Yes to the other person. Fighting fair is not about who’s right because everyone is right from his or her perspective. And if our goal is to win, we’ve already lost.
When we feel safe and connected, we remember that solutions are more important than the other person’s behavior – and understanding his or her perspective matters more than what we’re arguing about. And in that case, we can’t lose.