How to Start a Good Fight

First, watch “Fight Club.” Just kidding. You can if you want, but I don’t recommend those strategies for resolving issues:) If you want someone to change their behaviour, or do something for you, or stop doing something, you may need to ask them directly. Here’s a short guide to doing this. It does not guarantee the response of the other person, but it is designed to help you cover your bases as best as you are able.

1. Start by reviewing the Rules of engagement.

Prepare yourself for how you are going to interact with the other person. If the other person is willing, you might show the rules to them and see if they are willing to try and follow them during the conversation.

2. Set a time with the other person to talk about the issue.

Ensure that it is an ideal time for both of you (not when you’ll both be exhausted, hungry or likely to be interrupted).

3. Think about what you want to talk about.

What words or actions/or lack of action impacted you and how? Imagine that the other person had the best of intentions when this happened. What could those intentions be? Is there any possibility that you could have misconstrued what they said/did or didn’t do? Any confounding factors (ie. you or the other person had not had any sleep, traffic was bad, bad day at work, the event/ words reminded you of a previous event/words, you got bad news, etc.)

4. Start the conversation by outlining what the offending statement, action, or lack of action was.

Describe it as if you were a video camera, without adding imitating tones, or assumed underlying meanings or intentions.

5. Assume good intentions on the part of the other person.

Present those as viable options, eg. “I know you probably didn’t mean it that way, but that’s how I took it.”

6. Take responsibility for your own feelings.

No one can make you feel one way or another. You can not help your feelings, but you can control and change your perception of things, which will likely change your feeling about something. Do not assume or accuse the other person of intentions or feelings that they have not confirmed themselves.

7. Describe the impact of the words/actions/lack of action on you.

Again, take responsibility for what belongs to you.  For example: “I know I was also tired, at the time, so I might have responded harshly.”

8. Describe what type of change you would like to see from the other person.

Describe what you might need or think could be done to help restore/resolve the current situation, and what you would like to see happen differently the next time this situation arises. Describe anything that you wish you had done differently, and what you will likely do differently the next time.

9. Check if the other person is clear about what the problem was.

Check to see if they understood the impact it had on you. Clarify as needed. Set a time (preferably the next day to give them time to formulate their response) for the other person to voice their response to what you’ve said.

NOTE: At no point do you need to continue the conversation if the person you are talking to begins to yell, call you names, swear at you, or become threatening or physically aggressive. If you are worried this might happen, arrange to have the meeting in a public place or have someone with you when you meet. If you feel at risk of being harmed at any point, do not hesitate to call 911. Please do not use any of these negative behaviours yourself.

For more on conversations like these, check out Difficult Conversations – How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton & Sheila Heen (of the Harvard Negotiation Project)*

*Please note: I have signed on as an affiliate sales person for McNally Robinson which means that if you click on the above link, and decide to purchase the book I’ve recommended, I will receive an affiliate’s fee. I only recommend books I have read and believe to be worth recommending.

For more on communication strategies see “I’m Sorry” 8 Steps to a Good Apology

Also check out ‘Forgiveness,’ A Dirty Word? 

And Boundaries- Where Do I Draw the Line?

And Responding to Passive Aggressive Communication

19 thoughts on “How to Start a Good Fight

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