Conflict: The Art of Fighting Fair

Sep 17, 2010

As the grand finale of my recent series on conflict, I’ve compiled hours of reading and research into this one post. Maybe you’re like me–dealing with difficult relationship situations seems almost unnatural and beyond figuring out. The more I’ve read and studied recently, the more I realize we are not alone! Conflict resolution doesn’t come natural for most of us.

Which is a major bummer since conflict is unavoidable.

Conflict is going to happen, in your job, your church, your neighborhood, your marriage, with your children, friends and extended family. Conflict is a product of relationships. When imperfect people with different personalities and needs rub up against each other, friction results. When it does–WHEN it does–how do you get through it with the relationship still intact?

Conflict resolution is an art form, a skill that takes time, practice, determination and a commitment to some basic rules for fighting fair. I’ve compiled a go-to list, something to keep close by in hopes that I’ll find the courage to face conflict and the savvy to handle it well. With all my heart, I hope you find it helpful and it changes the way we all do conflict.

  • Go into a conflict looking for a resolution.
  • Focus on your needs, not your positions.
  • Plan a time to discuss the issue (avoid times when you are tired, stress or distracted with other issues).
  • Set a time limit, often 30 minutes. If time runs out, set another time to resume the discussion within 24 hours.
  • Define the problem, and stick to the issue.
  • Engage in active listening.
  • Listen to what isn’t being said.
  • Resist the urge to interrupt or object, regardless of how unfounded the other person’s complaint may seem.
  • You don’t have to agree, but refrain from immediately stating that fact. Instead, show awareness and understanding of the other person’s expressed perspective by either restating what you heard or asking a question (“It sounds like what you’re saying is … Is that accurate?”)
  • It’s not as necessary for you to understand as for the other person to feel understood.
  • Affirm the relationship.
  • Use “I” statements (“I feel frustrated” or “I feel afraid”)
  • Avoid absolutes (always, never)
  • Avoid loaded words (words that push buttons, act like gasoline on a fire).
  • Avoid blaming.
  • Be careful of non-verbal cues (rolling eyes, arms folded, preoccupation with other tasks, etc.).
  • Acknowledge the existence of different perceptions.
  • Admit when you’re wrong and ask for forgiveness. Pride is a major roadblock in restoring relationship.
  • Don’t bring up past history.
  • Keep it between the two of you (no references to third parties, i.e. mother-in-law, best friend, children, etc.).
  • No screaming, name calling, threats, bullying, sarcasm or character assassinations.
  • No martyrdom. Keep it real.
  • No mind-reading.
  • Recognize when an olive branch is being extended, and acknowledge/reciprocate.
  • Don’t fight to win; fight for the relationship.

Family Life, “Fighting Fair”

University of California, Berkeley, Conflict Management Skills

Ohio Commission on Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management

Focus on the Family, Tips and Tools for Healthy Conflict Resolution

Bob and Sherri Stritoff, Fight Fair

Dr. Phil, How to Fight Fair, Fair-Fighting Rules

HappyLists, Rules to Fighting Fair

(Picture courtesy of philipn, stock.xchng)


  1. Rhonda

    Hey Michele–really great skills and tips! Thank you….

    • Michele Cushatt

      Much easier to compile than to apply … ;o)

  2. Susan

    Bookmarked so I can got back to this again … and again … and again.

    • Michele Cushatt

      Glad to know it's a useful resource, Susan. I printed the list off for myself. I need the regular reminder!

  3. Deana

    Great post Michele. I can remember a time when Jeff and I were learning how to talk through conflicts we had a token that marked who had the floor. As long as the person talking was holding onto that token they had the floor. Good things to remember up here. I especially like your last statement, "Dont' fight to win, fight for the relationship." great point.

    • Michele Cushatt

      Thanks, Deana. I love the token idea. I've heard of couples using a hairbrush, pen, teddy bear … but I like the token. Regardless of what is used, the idea of allowing the other person to talk without interruption is a an important one.

  4. Michele Cushatt

    I avoid it too, except at home with my family. Then I'm like a bulldog, determined to get it done and over with as fast as possible. 🙂 Glad this list is helpful!

  5. Jerolyn

    Great solutions Michele. Think I will print these out and keep them in plain sight for our family

    • Michele Cushatt

      I did the same thing. Took me forever to get through all the material, but there's so much good info out there! I'm glad it's helpful for you, too, Jerolyn.


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