Rules of engagement: Design your fight plan

In a world full of diverse people, make that a HOME full of diverse people, conflict is inevitable. Our needs often conflict with the available resources; be it time in front of the bathroom mirror, squeezing or rolling the toothpaste, or who should feed the dog this morning. Whether the source of conflict is large or small, it could be helpful to establish some ground rules and design a fight plan that everybody in your household agrees on.

Notice the non-verbal

Tone and volume of your voice communicates as much if not more than the actual words you are saying. Make an agreement to speak calmly as much as possible. Don’t be afraid to take a time out to reschedule if needed. Remember to say sorry.

Choose a good time

Set aside enough time to speak through a conflict. This may mean that you need to schedule a time where both parties can meet. In an ideal world such a meeting should be at a time when everybody can fully engage (e.g. John is not rushing out to a meeting). Many decide to not argue after a certain time at night because their rational functioning is not at optimal levels.

Affirm the relationship

Before and after an argument, it is valuable to affirm the person and remind them that you are addressing this issue because this relationship really matters to you. If the relationship didn’t matter, it wouldn’t be such a big deal, would it? You would bulldoze and bully to get what you want.

Listen for longer

Take turns to speak. If the one is rambling, don’t interrupt. Rather make notes of all the things you would like to say in response. You may find that if you listen for longer the motives will become clearer and actually pacify the situation. The use of attentive silence can be very helpful in drawing out additional information. Note that passive aggressive silence, however, will do quite the opposite!

Be clear

It is not helpful to exaggerate, name call, cuss, or generalize. Beware of words like always, never, should, etc. Rather focus on specifics. Whatever you are addressing needs to be visible and measurable behaviours. In this way you protect your relationship from personal attacks. Here are a few examples.

Unclear and personal Clear and behavioural
You are so disrespectful This week I have noticed that you rolled your eyes at me every time I spoke about doing the dishes
You never greet me I would feel loved if you could come into my personal bubble, stand still, look me in the eye, and greet me every morning and every night rather than shouting a greeting in passing
Nobody ever helps around here Over the last few days the dishes have not been washed and the house is not at its cleanest. I understand you have been busy. When will you have a chance to do your chores? How can we negotiate this?

Every family has their own conflict resolution strategies. As with all teamwork it is ideal if everybody agrees on the plan so that each person can feel safe and take ownership. Remember that having a fight plan means nothing if you don’t stick to it!