How to Argue Fairly

In our previous blog post, Five Tools to Help with Anger Management, we reviewed a few techniques to try if you struggle to tame your temper.  Here, we’ll outline strategies on managing conflicts effectively.

Disagreements are an inevitable and natural part of all interpersonal relationships.  When conflicts are approached in an unhealthy way, arguments tend to gravitate towards each person trying to get the other party to conform to their own point of view.  This leads to several undesirable consequences, including screaming, flared anger, bitterness, and resentment.  However, when conflicts are approached fairly and with respect, issues can be addressed by mutual agreement, creating a stronger bond between two individuals.  Instead of being hurt, this generally creates feelings of relief and satisfaction. The following are guidelines to set you up for success when navigating conflict or disagreements:

Identifying the issue:

Make it a point to deal with small, but significant issues as they occur rather than bottling up your hurts and hostilities and then dumping them onto the other person. That said, it is also helpful to identify when anger is generated by a trivial issue, and to let more minor grievances go.  Choose a time to communicate when both partners are rested and ready to discuss the problem at hand. Be as clear as possible on what you are arguing about, to increase the chances that everyone is on the same page. 

Communicating your position:

Report your anger using “I” statements, such as “I felt hurt when you…” This softens communication, and it helps clarify to the other person that you are expressing your perspective rather than attempting to impose your view of reality on them.  Be specific, concise, honest, state current examples, and focus on the person’s behaviour rather than their personality.  Avoid using generalized statements, such as “you always” or “you never” or dwelling on past disagreements that muddy the water on the issue at hand.

Listening and responding to the other person:

Make every effort to actively listen to your partner through expressing their statements back to them, thereby confirming that you have understood the other person correctly.  In order to take another’s anger less personally, try to understand where the emotion is coming from.  This can be accomplished by understanding their feelings, values, perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs.  


Resist the urge to view the argument as having a clear winner and loser.  Instead, express your interest in arriving at a solution that is satisfactory to both parties.  This can be facilitated by asking questions about what each person wishes the outcome to be, discussing and considering several options that have mutually beneficial outcomes, and being prepared to make changes and allowances for the other person.  It is also useful to focus on resolving one issue before moving onto another. 


Arguments can be emotionally draining.  Make it a point to have a leathy release following the event, such as going for a jog or listening to music. Not all conflicts can be resolved in one sitting. If necessary, take a break, and make a concrete plan to continue the discussion at a later time.  If possible, attempt to finish the argument with a positive feeling, such as a smile or a hug.