Typically when friends disagree, a calm conversation is all that is needed to find common ground and resolve the situation. But when a friend goes below the belt, that’s when a fight becomes dirty. Put the disagreement back on track by following some basic rules of successful negotiation.
Friends Do Disagree
I’m trying to think of a friend of mine with whom I’ve never disagreed. Hmm, no, nope—can’t think of a one. There’s not one single friend of mine who shares the exact same beliefs about every possible topic as I do. Not one. In fact, with every single one of my friends, I disagree about something.
And thus a truth of life—friends can disagree, and friends do disagree. Sometimes about silly things like whether mustard or ketchup is the proper condiment for a hotdog; and sometimes about really important things like which is the correct spelling for the proper hotdog condiment: ketchup or catsup.
Of course, I’m being flippant, but the point is that disputes can be, and often are, about silly things. So if you are having a bit of a spat with a friend, don’t sweat it—it happens and it can be resolved.
How to Fight Fairly
There are some very basic rules that can keep a disagreement to just that—a disagreement, and prevent it from escalating to an argument or even a fight.
1. Argue About Things that Matter
If you are going to spend the energy getting all hot under the collar about your friend’s latest transgression, at the very least try to do so only when it really matters. Spilt coffee on your favorite sweater doesn’t really matter in the scheme of life; spilt secrets about your recent (and private) decision to divorce may.
Not everything in life is a pressing matter that needs to be immediately and completely examined, explained, and argued about. Before approaching someone with a complaint, take the time to consider if the issue at hand really is all that significant, or if it is perhaps simply a bother or a symptom of a larger problem.
Broach issues when they matter, not when they are simply a bummer.
2. Argue About “The Thing” that Actually Matters
Sometimes problems aren’t small. And sometimes it isn’t fun to talk about a problem. So sometimes we talk about other, smaller problems instead.
Don’t do this. Don’t make an argument about something other than what it is. Sure you are bummed that your favorite sweater now has a permanent mocha-colored design. But when what you are really angry at is your friend’s betrayal of personal information, don’t confuse the two, or cover the deeper issue with a more immediate one. Address the real problem and avoid a series of mini-battles that are merely opening acts to the true issue.
We have a finite amount of time and energy to spend throughout our days. Spending either concerned about insignificant or trivial matters isn’t how the time management experts and spiritual leaders of our world would suggest you spend yours. Consider the things that truly matter to you—loyalty, trustworthiness, the latest trends in sweater art—and address them head on. Usually, the sooner you have these conversations, the easier the problem is to overcome. But when you layer them with a series of other nonsense, you’ve created much more work for yourself and your friend.
3. Argue About the Problem, Not About the Person
Although sometimes it is (sigh) … it is not always the case that when someone breaks your confidence, they have done so because they are horrible, insensitive, mean, lazy, jealous, backstabbing wenches. Sometimes friends do this because they have honestly made a mistake.
And one of the biggest and most common mistakes that we can then make when engaged in an argument, is making the problem about the person and not about the situation or the action. See, people can do stupid things, and still not be stupid. Only the action was stupid, not the person. We forget this a lot, and therefore we direct our anger at the person, and not at their one-time (albeit fumbled) behavior.
If in the heat of the moment, we can refocus on the problem, and not the person, we will save ourselves a ton of grief. Start with the statement, “I’m really upset that you disclosed my secret.” Don’t say, “I’m really upset that you are a horrible swine and can’t be trusted.” (No offense to the swine community)
4. Argue Only When You Absolutely Understand the Other Person’s Perspective
Wait, what? “Why would I argue with someone when I understood and was able to see things from their perspective,” you ask?
Exactly, you can’t. Which is why you should always seek to see a situation from your friend’s perspective. Would your irritation erode if you knew that your sweater was soiled when your friend’s new car was rear-ended on the way to work? Could you forgive a friend’s gossip if she thought it would explain to your boss why your performance at work had slipped?
Perspective, perception—call it what you will, but when you make a good faith effort to really see things from your friend’s point of view, a conflict can sometimes, easily and instantly, evaporate.
Fighting Dirty: Don’t Do It
The ultimate goal of conflict should be resolution. But when the ultimate goal of a disagreement seems instead to be “Winner” for one of your girlfriends, then you have a real problem. She isn’t about resolution; she’s about simply winning (and she doesn’t even care so much about being right).
Fighting dirty happens when you:
• Make the fight about something other than the real issue
• Use manipulation to win a fight
• Cast aspersions, criticize, insult or ridicule another
• Bring up other or private information that isn’t related to the conversation at hand
• Purposefully hurt the person’s feelings just to win the fight
Experts suggest that the best way to defend yourself from a dirty fighter is to ascertain the real motive. You can do this by asking a series of questions such as, “Why would you say that to me?” Bringing the “dirty” tactics out in the open may be all that is needed to help a friend see that they aren’t necessarily being very fair in their approach to the disagreement, and are actually escalating the situation in a negative way.
Wrapping It Up
At the end of the conflict, both parties mutually agree to how things are and how they will progress, and if they will progress. Sometimes this wrap up is easy, “Okay, we disagree on which are better, cats or dogs, but this has no impact on our friendship.”
Other times the parties decide that some better defined boundaries are necessary, “We just don’t agree on this, so let’s plan to not discuss condiments or cats in the future.”
Disputes with friends don’t need to be earth-shattering, and definitely don’t need to signal the end of a friendship. By taking the time to discuss those topics that are important, in a timely manner, and in a way that is fair and constructive, you’ll save yourself some time, some hurt feelings—and a great friendship!
And please always remember, nothing ends an argument faster, than a simple apology.