How [Not] to Fight & Resolve Conflict

How [Not] to Fight & Resolve Conflict

The majority of fights between two people take place in the same form. At some point, it doesn’t matter what the fight is about. The form is more important than the content. The fights will look alike because they end up in the same form and form precedes content.

The basic pattern is attack, blame, defence.

First, Ask Yourself...

Was there a misunderstanding? Have you explored the situation enough to know for certain? Misunderstandings, and misinterpretations, can be attributed to many arguments, and there is no point proceeding on false assumptions or conclusions, so first make sure you are both on the same page and aren't about to embark on a complete waste of time and a disagreement which is really no disagreement at all.

"But they're not really fights, it's just bickering"

No. Bickering is low-intensity chronic warfare. It is constant negative friction, negative heat. It is the notion that every time one person says something, the other person has a reaction to it. Conflict creates contraction. It stiffens. It is the antithesis of flexibility. It speaks not of possibility and openness, but of certainy and resistance.

Identify Whether You (and the other person) Maximize or Minimize

Some people are maximizers – they explode. Their communication is external and they amplify, broadcasting out their feelings and frustrations. Some are minimizers – they implode. They wait and wait and wait, and then explode, on something that seems to have nothing to do with the current situation at hand. The energy of one person activates the energy of the other. Each person is contributing to the version the other becomes.

Let's Talk About Criticism

One of the most pivotal elements in the demise of a relationship is constant criticism.

Criticisms make people feel devalued, inadequate, and inept. It is contentious. Ongoing hyper-criticism produces the opposite effect of what we seek. Behind anger there is hurt. Behind criticism there is a wish - something that we need or want.

When in critical mode, we are rarely reflecting. We are reacting. Reflecting requires time and space, a moment to think about what the other person thinks, instead of being on automatic pilot and assuming we know. Generally, in critical mode, assumptions are negative. You do not have assumptions that what the other person meant was good. You imagine it to be hurtful.

What is important to understand about criticism is that it actually sits on top of a mountain of disappointment, of unmet needs, of unmet longing. It is actually an attempt to tell the other person what they wish they would do, but many people do not want to put themselves out there that this is what they want, expose this vulnerability, because they are worried that the other person will disregard the request and ultimately disappoint them. They prefer to launch into anger than to experience hurt. And yet, the more they go for anger, the more they’re going to get anger back, and this continues on a cycle of negative escalation.

Do Men and Women Fight Differently?

There have been many studies that have researched the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system in men during times of stress. In continued times of stress, such as in an intense conversation, men will attempt to regulate themselves and lower their physiological response. They will look up and move their bodies back and away, in an attempt to create some space from the emotional intensity and 'heat.'

Women, by comparison, stay in a conversation much longer, without their system deregulating to the same extent.

Besides this, conflict and tension and stress presents very similarly and has similar causes and reactions. Such as:

A. Temperament

B. What was reinforced when growing up through childhood and young adulthood

C. What the culture tells us (Ex: a man who is angry is in charge. A woman who is angry is hysterical. The cultural valence on assertiveness and aggression is not the same for men and women, and this persists all over the world.

So there are layers to this, but in general, the way people argue is not intrinsic to gender.

The [Detrimental] Power of Confirmation Bias

The setup: The person who is angry has decided that the other person is doing [this activity] on purpose. “You know how much this upsets me, and yet you’re doing it again, so obviously you don’t care about me or respect me.”

You the receiver need to ask yourself, why would they rather persist in thinking of you as not caring about them, even as you try to convince them that you do? Why would they rather think that the other person doesn’t care, instead of being relieved in learning that that is not the case? Why would they would rather continue to be angry? A: Because there is something in the way that we organize reality and it is called Confirmation Bias.

The way that it works is this: I am going to pick up evidence along the way of everything that will confirm to me that what I believe is true, and I’m going to disregard any evidence that would make me want to reconsider. The multiple times that the other person has not done this are all thrown out and conveniently forgotten because they would challenge the belief. It is like a radar looking to confirm the bias that we have. We scan for proof and disregard all other evidence to the contrary. Why? Because it gives us order. It provides a sense of “I know what is true, and even if it is bad, I prefer it because at least it organizes my reality."

Much of what is presented as fact is actually an intensification of someone’s experience. “I feel like you never show up” is not the same as the person actually never showing up. One must learn not to shift their feelings into pseudo-factual talk. If you say to someone, “You never...” the first thing they are going to do is give you an example of the last time they did, just to prove you wrong, and to dismantle your argument against them.

The thinking goes like this: If I am late it’s because there was traffic. If you are late it’s because you are a disorganized mess of a person. If I’m in a bad mood it’s because I had a bad day. If you’re in a bad mood it’s because you’re a cranky human being. This is called Fundamental Attribution Error.

This notion attributes our flaws to a general context, but the flaws of others to their internal structure and personality. “Mine is excusable, yours is not. Mine is explainable, yours is not. Mine is situational, yours is character illogical.” Our flaws and mistakes are circumstantial, yet we do not afford this justification of convenience to others.

So how do you deal with this?

You must therefore avoid using those inflammatory key words of ‘always’ and ‘never’ and instead say in this moment, “It feels like you are always late, and it is so annoying” without claiming, inaccurately, that it does always happen. You’re allowed to be angry and you’re allowed to express this, but you are not allowed to think that your experience is therefore the reality or truth. It is the truth of your experience, but not the truth of what happens. So...

A. Acknowledgement that you, yourself, also does this (everyone does), and

B. A good dose of humour when it happens (and it absolutely will)

The Keys to Resolution

In a conflict situation, when tension is rising, we have the ability to listen to 10 seconds, and 10 seconds is three sentences, at which point we stop listening and are preparing a rebuttal.

What can you do differently? How do you turn a negative escalation into a different pattern?

1. Cease the attack and regain perspective. Negative emotions are felt strongly, but keeping a clear head in spite of this temporary intensity, is paramount. Remember, 'This too shall pass.'

2. Switch from conflict to empathy. Validate their feelings and experience. Turn from a reacting posture to a reflecting posture. Say “I totally understand why you are upset.” Give them the space to be angry, while still staying connected. “I don’t think I have done this, but I can see that’s how you have experienced it. I see how you would feel that way.” This reversal, from a Negative Escalation into a Reflective Listening mode is crucial to find resolution, and especially for the long term health of the relationship.

3. Talk about what you feel, and your experience, rather than what the other person did or did not do. It is a way of saying, “I can disagree with you but still hear you.” Hearing does not mean agreeing. If you make this clear, there should be no resistance to listening.

4. Recognize that the other person has a completely different experience of what just happened. This is an extremely challenging aspect of relationships, because it appears to you that the other person is the sole cause of how upset or angry or hurt you feel. “How can I feel so [neglected/undermined/disrespected/etc.], when you say that you were doing none of those things?” Judging situations from only your own point of view is detrimental. A willingness to reconcile must accompany the intention and ability to put yourself in their shoes, and accept that this is their experience, even if it is not yours.

5. Focus on the behaviour and not on the character. Do not launch into a full blown critique of who they are as a person, and making a list of character flaws. Focus on what they did, not on who they are, or how what they did is proof of the kind of person they are (which is implied to be bad). Recognize that whatever thing they did does not encapsulate the entire identity of who the person is.

6. At the moment you are about to make the list of all the things that they do wrong, is the moment that you actually need to think about all the things that they do right, so that you hold a bigger picture of the good of that person, of what you actually like and appreciate, because it is that which will buttress you against the onslaught of negativity. Hold a more complex and more holistic view that will prevent you from bringing all sorts of past indiscretions into the mix (aka 'kitchen sinking it.') Stick to the issue at hand.

7. Convey that you like the person, even though you don’t like the behaviour. This gives them something dignified to hold on to, from which they can then take responsibility for what they have done.

8. You must also acknowledge fault. Fault is not failure. The fundamental definition of self-esteem is the ability to see yourself as a flawed person and still hold yourself in high regard. Accountability is the ability to take responsibility for the things you’ve done, but without being mired in shame. Complacency is what is more detrimental to a relationship, and to oneself, not admission of fault.

Successfully do these things and you will turn the situation around.

And When No Resolution is at That Moment Possible, Yes, You Can Walk Away (Temporarily)

What Is the Best Way to End a Fight?

The person who leaves does have the right to go, but they then also have to be the one to come back.

This shows that you recognize that either you get very angry in these situations, and you do not want to regret something you’re going to say, or you know that the other person continues to escalate and no good will come.

You: "You know what, I don’t think at this moment I am doing this conversation justice. I’m going to go cool off, but I will come back.” Let me go for now because otherwise I’m going to regret what I’m going to say, and I don’t want to do that.” Then the other person must not follow. They must let you go and trust that you will come back.

How to Apologize

* Simply ask the question: “Is this worth it? After all we’ve gone through, is this worth it?” Sometimes this is enough to change the pattern of destructiveness.

* Physical touch: A kiss, a hug, a touch. What you do specifically matters less than the overture itself. Reach out.

* Verbal: “You know what, apologies are important. [Yesterday], what I did, I was out of line. I was angry, I felt attacked, I wanted to hurt, I lashed out, and I really regret this. I’m really sorry.”

* Letter writing: Being alone, sitting with yourself, allows one to think calmly, in a different way. This is the time to include other associations, experiences, instances, that were at play during the argument. “When you said/did this to me, it reminded me of when... and it made me angry, felt small, etc. I just wanted you to know that, and that that fight was about more than just you and me in that moment.”

In Conclusion

I'll end on the words of the iconic 'The Karate Kid' Mr. Miyagi. He's wise but loveable.

"Fighting always last answer to problem."

"Win, lose, no matter. You make good fight, and respect."

Written by AmandaYVR. Concepts by Esther Perel, MA, LMFT.

How [Not] to Fight & Resolve Conflict
Add Opinion

Most Helpful Guy

  • Lliam
    A most wise MyTake, Amanda. Every word was good advice.

    Something I tend to react to is criticism that is based on false assumptions and conclusions. Criticism often includes name calling. This almost never happens between my wife and me, but often happens on social media.
    "That was the stupidest thing I ever heard." "You're an idiot." "Okay Boomer." "You must be a libtard, a Trump apologist, a socialist, a Nazi, an antisemite, ... "
    It really bothers me when people resort to that sort of thing rather than writing a reasoned rebuttal, sharing information, or asking questions to clarify what they thought I meant. My initial inclination is to react to personal attacks in kind because the attacker no longer has my respect.

    Another trigger for me is feeling that I am not being heard. It's like being dismissed or turned invisible. I know that stems from the way I was raised, from very early childhood through adolescence. I get extremely frustrated, my volume goes up and I might say things that I didn't think through properly because I am trying to get my point across quickly before being interrupted. My autonomic system kicks in with something that is similar to defensiveness - increased blood pressure and adrenaline. I might not be angry, but my body feels the way it would if I was angry and my appearance looks angry. Rather than anger, I am probably experiencing hurt feelings.

    Hurt feelings often manifest in what looks like anger to the outside observer. Guys aren't supposed to cry or show weakness, so they train themselves to hide such outward displays. The emotions are still there, but they get concealed by something that looks like toughness, petulance, defiance or anger. Scratch the surface, and beneath is pain.

    Your advice on how to apologize was right on the mark. You mentioned that it is sometimes wise to take a break, take time to cool off and reflect. It's important tell the person with whom you are arguing that that's what you need to do. Promise to come back to the subject at a certain time. I would add that you should part with a word or gesture of regard for that person, especially if they are your partner or spouse. Say "I love you" and or give them a sincere hug, even if you are both angry at the moment. It's important to let each other know that you care about them no matter what.

    If, upon returning to the subject after having had time to reflect and process, you realize that you made mistakes, apologize. There is no shame in admitting that you made a mistake.
    Is this still revelant?

Most Helpful Girl

  • Rapidash
    Oh wow... this is such a unique and amazing take!
    Is this still revelant?

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What Girls & Guys Said

  • SomeGuyCalledTom
    Good stuff. One strategy i picked up from Jordan Peterson was to summarise the other person's position, and to even go further and try to make their argument against you as strong as possible, so that you can respond to what they're ACTUALLY arguing in favour of. Rather than creating a strawman out of their argument, and attacking that bastardised, weakened version of their argument.
    • rose004b

      That piece of advice escaped me. Do you remember where you heard him say that?

    • @rose004b yes it's in his 2017 personality lectures in YouTube... Lesson 4 or 5 i think

    • rose004b

      Cool, thanks :)

    • Show All
  • 8owen8
    So basically men try to de-escalate the situation and don't want to have an argument but that little feisty woman just keeps pushing it and pushing and pushing and she's going to force that fight if she wants one. Cunning seductress.
    • AmandaYVR

      “Objection, Your Honour.”
      Judge: “Overruled. I’ll allow it.”

      Nice word choices there.

    • 8owen8

      😎 🐒

  • abc3643
    Great article during this past holiday...

    Your Angry Uncle Wants to Talk About Politics. What Do You Do?

    What's great about this short article is that it is actually one of those interactive story apps in which you get to have a political discussion with a "robot uncle" who is exactly opposite of you politically.

    So, first you choose:
    >>>> But what kind of Uncle Bot do you want to chat with?
    A. I’m more liberal, so I’ll chat with Conservative Uncle Bot.
    B. I’m more conservative, so I’ll chat with Liberal Uncle Bot.

    From there, you choose how you ask questions to Uncle Bot and how you reply to it's answers, then you get commented on your choice by experts.

    They end the article with this advice:

    You’ve completed the Uncle Bot and made it through a productive conversation. How does it feel?

    If you noticed a pattern while chatting with the Angry Uncle Bot, you’re right! The dialogue moves forward by responses that create a safe space for Uncle Bot to disagree. And Uncle Bot is angered by responses that directly challenge his beliefs or criticize him for holding different views.

    Although we pride ourselves on rationality, in reality, emotion drives our political opinions far more than reason. We see our politics as extensions of ourselves and defend our ideas as fervently and irrationally as we defend our egos. Ordinary political conversations become overheated when attacks on our beliefs feel like attacks on ourselves. Even facts and arguments offered respectfully are more likely to wound and antagonize than persuade.

    For common sense to prevail in the hot national debate over impeachment, Americans must actively cool these natural responses by showing that our feelings about one another as people are distinct from our feelings about one another’s beliefs. We can encourage more rational discussion and exercise more positive influence with compassionate engagement and storytelling.


    (1) Ask non-threatening questions about the other person’s point of view.
    (2) Listen & Reflect back what they say.
    (3) Agree where you can.
    (4) Connect with an agree story that shows you understand their perspective.
    (5) Persuade with a change story that shows how your views have evolved.

    Real change usually takes time, so don’t expect anyone’s opinions to be transformed by a single conversation. Instead, focus on building trust, improving rapport and deepening understanding. No matter what happens, you are investing in your relationships and the nation — and that’s something we can all give thanks for this holiday season.

    It's very entertaining to try this conversation "Uncle Bot" program to teach you how to deal with potential argument.
  • Smegskull
    The confirmation bias one is different for me. I don't tell them it's deliberate I give them a lose lose decision by asking things like "are you deliberately antagonising me or are you stupid" which is a choice of lose the argument or admit you can't win the argument.
    • AmandaYVR

      What's the point? To not have any relationships? Or do you think they'll stay with you and you can 'win' all arguments?

    • Smegskull

      Better to be right than liked. Popularity is worthless, knowledge has value.

    • AmandaYVR

      Let me guess, you're not married.

    • Show All
  • kespethdude
    If only I had the patience to do all this. It's really a good idea and very well written.
    • AmandaYVR

      Yep, I hear ya.
      In the moment, especially, you really just want to go, "Shut up!" and walk out of the room.

  • KingdomForAKiss
    I think so many times, there are misunderstandings and miscommunications.

    Great information, Miss Amanda.
    • AmandaYVR

      Yeppp. Had that one happen many times, myself.

  • simplelikeme
    That is easy, sit down like two grown adults and talk about the problem and come up with a solution by compromising on both sides.
    • AmandaYVR

      Ok, simplelikeme, that should solve everything then.

    • If everybody use their common sense and practiced communication life would be a hell of a lot easier. Matter of fact lol life is actually really easy there's just too many people that like drama and make it seem so bad LOL

    • AmandaYVR

      Most people are not about drama. They have differing ideologies, preferences, ways of doing things. To exist in the same space, same planet, is to have friction at times.

    • Show All
  • gabrial97
    Hell nah, i'm not going to read all of this where is the nutshell😡
    • gabrial97

      Your conclusion didn't go with the intro.

    • AmandaYVR

      Your claim is inaccurate.
      It cannot be shortened any more. It's a complex topic.

    • LOL "tl, dr, I'm a lazy idiot!111!1!11!!111"

  • This is fantastic stuff!!! I've got to write this down somewhere...
  • spartan55
    For me, as soon as I start getting bitched at she might as well be talking to the goldfish.
    • AmandaYVR

      Yeah we love getting yelled at too.

    • spartan55

      I never raise my voice during 'discussions'.

    • AmandaYVR

      So define "bitched at"

  • BeingAnzalKhan
    Instead of finding eachother mistake
    . Try and find out why U both love
    • AmandaYVR

      Disagreements happen. It's just part of life. With all people, not just lovers.

    • For all people..
      You have to be a good listener and need to understand..
      You have to be selective while choosing a point to discuss.
      You should go one by one and not all at one..

  • akihon
    Good take but have a much better way if dealing with an argument

  • crazy8000
    Probably a lot of good thing's.
    Little to much to read for me.

    One thing is to think on how frase thing's.
    Like "You always... " avoid always since we can't really know if someone always (most of the times) .

    An other is. Trigger words. like "you" "me" .
    Even fraser's "here we go again" .

    You can also avoid open up invites for the fight.
    Not saying yes to the invite.
    And yes. most human's gives them before and many say yes to it by default without being aware of it.

    How to defuse.
    There are a lot of ways and you need to be flexible and read the situation how to proceed.

    Bottom end is that some have a system to start fight in the first place and get some kick out of it just like dragging you down because you are in a good mood or better mood then them. (little to comon amongst females)

    Some other's will start the fight no matter what you do unless you run away and block them.
  • Avicenna
    Very good observations and advice here
    • AmandaYVR

      Thank you, Avicenna

    • Avicenna

      You're welcome, and thanks for the very useful Take

  • lolcraft
    This assumes agreement and compromise is a shared goal.
    • AmandaYVR

      True. This is not about taking a flamethrower to it. At least one person wants resolution. If these techniques don't work on the second person, ever, then it might be time to exit. Everyone can be off, and unreasonable, at times, though. One has to weigh how often.

  • ChefPapiChulo
    I see all opinion and what ifs. Not much fact.
    • AmandaYVR

      There you go again. Such a troll.
      This is psychology, and the human mind, not aeronautics.
      These are not my opinions. These are considered truths within the academic psychology world. Clearly not a world you inhabit.
      I really don't care if you have a problem with me, or all women, or all people. Simply being a hostile naysayer is not being clever, nor does it contribute anything real of value, other than your own amusement.