3 Things To Do Before Picking A Fight

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Fight or Flight – Silence or Violence

When someone disappoints us, it isn’t always easy to stop and figure out what went wrong. We are far more likely to jump to conclusions, blame the other person, then either silently fume or angrily drag them over the coals. This is the beginning of conflict. To many of us, every possible confrontation has only two options: fight or flight.

Although we know better, many of us are often too afraid to speak up. We choose to sweep the issue under the carpet to avoid the threat of being embarrassed. We may resort to dropping subtle hits, changing the subject or becoming withdrawn. We default to silence rather than broach a topic we know to be of critical importance. We may be aware that if we say nothing the problem will get worse, but instead we agonize in our own private hell.

On the other hand, sometimes we’re amped up for an altercation. Bring on the battle, we say.  Desperate to prevent our thoughts from being overlooked, we attack. We cut others off, employing debate, insults, threats and sometimes even physical violence to get our point across. As a result, our position is resisted all the more vehemently.

People Who Know How to Fight Win

The ability or inability to handle conflict lies at the heart of success or failure in almost every relationship, whether personal or professional. The failure to manage confrontations effectively can lead to disaster. Businesses fail, family members become enemies and marriages end up in shreds because disputes were either conducted poorly or not at all. People who know how to fight, approach confrontations carefully, lead them skillfully and walk away with clear benefits over not having had the fight.  Those who don’t know how to fight bring the drama time and time again. Their actions become the kind of fodder that fuels the ridicule and cheap laughs we love to hate on reality TV.

The most influential, and well-respected people are those who approach conflict as an opportunity to hold others accountable in a respectful and well thought out manner. They skillfully execute confrontations with friends, family, colleagues and bosses knowing which fights to take on, which ones to delay and which ones are better left alone.

Here’s a three step process, to help you bridge the proverbial “fight or flight” impasse, and decide what to do before responding to any potential conflict that arises.

1. Identify the Problem Clearly

When someone disappoints you, emotions may run high. Quite often, allowing situations to fester is a risky proposition. In some circumstances, remaining silent can lead to disaster. If you are truly seeking to achieve a positive outcome and reverse a trend of bad behavior, you must start by clearly identifying what has gone wrong.

The goal of your interaction should never be for you to vent your anger or assert authority over the other person. ‘Crucial Confrontations‘ advises that you should first unbundle the problem, decide what about it is bothering you most, and finally distill it into a single clear sentence. This very simple technique will help you to focus on the real issue and prevent conversations from straying off topic.

If you know exactly what behavior you would like to address, there is little or no risk of taking cheap potshots once the session has started.

2. Decide Whether the Problem Requires A Confrontation

After expressing the issue as one clear thought, ask yourself whether it is really necessary to discuss the matter. Consider the possible consequences of an interaction before bringing it up.

Failure to meet performance indicators, missed deadlines and broken promises are all good opportunities to talk. If you feel inclined to be silent, ask yourself some questions. If you’re feeling inner tension, if your conscience is nagging you, if you are feeling afraid or if you are feeling helpless, then you probably need to speak up.

Downplaying the cost of not taking action, or exaggerating the consequences of broaching the topic are not valid reasons for backing away. One of the biggest considerations in deciding if to speak is evaluating the status quo. What would be the result if the  behavior in question were to continue indefinitely? It is often useful to differentiate yourself by clearly in advance by letting those around you know where you stand with regard to commitments and expectations. This way, your holding them accountable will not come as a surprise.

3. Put Yourself in the Other Person’s Shoes

You’ve zeroed in on the issue, and decided it is worth addressing, here is the last and probably the most important step. Before you broach the subject, put yourself in the others person’s shoes.

Force yourself to go through a detailed process of asking “Why?”. Ask why a reasonable, rational, decent person might do what you’ve just seen. Think about all the possible reasons why the person acted the way they did, or failed to act. Consider the facts and circumstances you know about, and the ones you may be unaware of.

What are all the possible influencing factors? Make a list: work load demands, school assignments, family obligations. Next, think of what might have influenced the person; look at carrot and stick motives within the contexts you’ve identified. Finally, think about limitations that may have been at play and the person’s ability to behave in the way you expected, before opening your mouth.



When someone acts badly or fails to live up to a commitment, your response options are not limited to silence or violence. You can choose whether to address the situation from the point of view of exploring expectations and clarifying accountability in three steps. First, pinpoint the core issue and express it in one sentence. Next, assess whether it is important enough to call for a discussion. Finally, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and explore all the possible motives and limitations that may have influenced their decision or behavior.


I’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts

In the coming months, I will continue to discuss how to handle conflict in a meaningful way. In the comments section below, let me know if you have any questions, and if this post has been helpful. Do you feel you can practically apply these suggestions in your life? Do you have any other tips to offer?