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Communication: Fair Fighting

Updated: May 8, 2021

Life has its highs and lows. The highs are fantastic, and the lows can slow the best among us. Conflicts happen, and when they do, we have a responsibility to protect ourselves from being mistreated. According to author Judy Murphy, our self-perception may make us reluctant to assert ourselves in conflict situations. She suggests we need to become assertive communicators to deal effectively with conflicts. We need to recognize we have rights and also work to improve our self-perception.

Additionally, Davis et al. put forward, assumptions we grew up with may affect our willingness to act assertively. Below are a few of these assumptions:

  • Prioritizing your needs make you selfish

  • Attaching shame to making mistakes

  • Thinking things could be worse than they are, so don't rock the boat

  • Others do not want to hear about your problems keep them to yourself

  • Stay on others good side

  • When someone gives you advice, you should take it

Davis et al. propose that to overcome these assumptions, we must recognize that we are best suited to express our thoughts, feelings, communicate our needs, and self-advocate.

  1. Do you avoid conflicts at all costs?

  2. Are you too passive when dealing with conflicts?

  3. Are you too accommodating when dealing with conflicts?

  4. Do you believe you have a right to speak up for yourself?

  5. Do you find it necessary to sacrifice your needs to appease others?

  6. Do you have difficulty saying no?

  7. Are you able to clearly communicate your needs?

The ability to communicate assertively goes along way in conflict resolution. Another skill necessary to have in your conflict resolution toolbox is self-advocacy. What is self-advocacy? Van Reusen and colleagues define self-advocacy as "an individual's ability to effectively communicate, convey, negotiate, or assert his or her interests, desires, needs and rights. It involves making informed decisions and taking responsibility for those decisions."

A combination of skills may be effective when addressing conflicts. Therefore, you can combine your assertive communication skills along with the fair fighting rules. You may also use your ability to self-advocate with the fair fighting rules to resolve a conflict. In this context, fair fighting rules are about communication and not physical violence.

Fair Fighting Rules:

  • Know the reason you are frustrated.

  • Discuss one topic at a time - this may be a difficult task to accomplish if your preferred method of dealing with issues is gunny sacking. Gunny sacking involves storing up your frustrations until you reach your breaking point rather than addressing them as they occur.

  • Stonewalling - choosing to be passive or clamming up during a conflict, thinking if you don't speak, the other person will stop talking. This strategy only offers temporary relief since there is likely no resolution to the problem that led to the conflict. You are likely to resolve the dispute through two-way communication.

  • Take turn speaking - this approach requires listening to another person without interrupting or planning your rebuttal. It is essential to understand the other person's perspective even if you disagree with them.

  • Discuss the cause of the conflict, not the person - this may be difficult when emotions are raw. You feel the best course of action is to use derogatory language toward the person you are frustrated with. Effective communication requires reasonable self-control and self-regulation.

  • Avoid making threats and giving ultimatums - this may lead to an escalation of tension.

  • Be specific about your frustration - vague, non-specific responses are challenging to address and challenging for the other party to understand. If the other person has to infer what you mean or the reason you are upset, the person may misinterpret you.

  • Responding vs. Reacting - both are an acknowledgment but responding is measured with an intended outcome. At the same time, the reaction is an unplanned action in the heat of the moment. Reacting at the moment is not meant to suggest your response will be negative. An immediate reaction can yield a positive outcome if done assertively and include proper self-advocacy.

There are several ways to address conflicts; included in this blog post are only a few suggestions. Sometimes, conflicts are inevitable, despite our best efforts to be reasonable and rational in our interactions with other people. It is not if disputes will arise. It's how you deal with them that will make a difference.

N. B. The contents of this blog post are not prescriptive. The intent is to provide information.

Stay Naturally Curious


Davis, M., Eshelman, R. E., & McKay, M. (2000). The relaxation & stress reduction workbook (5th, ed). New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Murphy, J. (2011). Assertiveness: How to stand up for yourself and still win the respect of others.

Van Reusen, A. K., Bos, C. S., Schumaker, J. B., & Deshler, D. D. (1994). The self-advocacy strategy for education and transition planning. Lawrence, KS: Edge Enterprises.

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This article brought me back to Transfornational leadership course I did. Eventually realising how personal mastery was so integral in the great success of a team had more to with how each individual mastered their own self efficacy.

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