Fair Fighting Foibles-Part I

As adolescent residential program providers, we see young people mishandle communication every day. We shake our heads at the silly misunderstandings and hurt feelings turned aggressive that “could have been handled differently”. WHS programs teach teen’s better and more effective ways to interact and communicate with others. All of the WHS residential programs engage in anger management skill building and provide clients with expanded emotion language skills inherent to our CBT treatment model.

It’s not just the teens that are guilty of breaking some basic “rules of fair fighting” either. In my outpatient work with adults I am struck by how frequently grown people (not just adolescents) struggle to get their points across. As a society, we are reared to avoid and/or bull doze through conflict. We think ‘winning’ and ‘giving in’ are to only natural conclusions to conflict, and very rarely do participants agree, or even reach compromise, at the end of the fight. We even believe that to discuss or problem solve an issue means an inevitable fight or painful argument.

Fighting is necessary, normal, and human behavior. Fighting can be heart-breaking and soul-wrenching or it can lead to higher outcomes and resolution. With some effort and mindfulness, FAIR fighting can add to the quality of one’s life and relationships. A FAIR fight with a productive outcome (productive prohibits ideas of ‘winning’ or ‘losing’) will add to ones relationships, intensify understanding where there was little, and end the likelihood that more, similar arguments will recur. (Important Note: all reference to fighting within this blog refers only to non-violent, non-physical verbal altercations, and not to physical violence or intimidation. Violence or physical aggression is never normal, necessary or productive. Professional and legal help should be sought in violent situations.)

Listed here are some FAIR FIGHTING FOIBLES to avoid. These are communication dynamics sure to turn a conflict (or a problem solving opportunity) bad. These foibles will enflame, ensnare and encapsulate participants into an unproductive and toxic fight versus a FAIR fight:

Interrupting An obvious faux paus during conflict. It demonstrates a lack of respect and a refusal to really actively listen. Wait your turn and hear what the other is trying to communicate to you. It saves time in the long run.

Displacing Putting responsibility for your own actions/choices onto another. Often sounds like ‘If you hadn’t ____, I wouldn’t have _____!”

“You” Wonderful when used in “I love you”, unproductive when used to blame or shame. Own your feelings and actions and start your statements using “I feel hurt when _________”.

Re-hashing Stay focused on the here on now and the issue to be resolved. We all have history and baggage that has nothing to do with the problem at hand. Old arguments and issues must stay in the past. Bury them or resolve them by FAIR fighting, but don’t harbor them as weapons.

Time (too much/too little/wrong time) Timing is everything. Very little get effectively resolved when timing if off. Giving an issue too much time to sit unresolved can lead to a slow simmer versus a cool off. If your partner in problem solving is tired, rushed, worried, or distracted then it won’t be a FAIR fight.

Excuse Making The immortal words of Yoda say it best, “Try not, do or do not.” Excuses don’t get the job done and your partner likely will be more upset by excuses. If you commit to something, you must do. If you dropped a ball, own it, pick it up and start again. It often doesn’t matter much why it dropped in the first place-don’t waste the time.

Stop listening Just like interrupting, giving body or verbal messages that you quit listening is disrespectful and unproductive. This leads to louder and louder conflict (yelling) or total withdrawal and surrender.

Turns out, there are SO many foibles that I will have to continue my topic and list next month… I don’t want to overwhelm readers and this turned out to be an overflowing topic. More next time….meanwhile, good luck with your new FAIR fighting dos and don’ts!


Katrina Brock, LMSW, CAADC, CCS, is Director of Clinical & Quality Services at Wolverine Human Services. Katrina has over 16 years of direct clinical as well as administrative experience. She leads WHS’ Quality & Performance Improvement Department and is the agency lead consultant for accreditation with the Council on Accreditation. She is very proud of WHS’ new programs and evidence-based practice initiatives. On the side, Katrina enjoys doing outpatient therapy directly with clients and working with diverse populations of clients.