Feel like you’re in a fight? Play instead.

Sticking up for yourself will be frowned upon if you attack the other person in the process. When you can keep the other person's self-esteem intact, you'll be much more effective in allowing your own voice to be heard.

I never tire of watching our cats fight. Or play. I’m never really sure which it is. They mostly seem to enjoy the exchanges. There is the occasional snarly meow that has the distinct sound of being extremely annoyed. But the fighting (or playing) continues, on and on and on, it goes.

Co-workers can have this type of non-stop bickering. Ever been a part of it? It’s easy to get into a pattern and then hard to get out of it.

The big problem with the continuation of two people being frustrated with each other, without ever clearing the air, is that it builds on itself. It gets worse. Much worse. The tension escalates. The anger settles. Nothing becomes constructive and others get pulled into the battles.

It’s important to know that conflict is healthy. It’s the way you handle it that matters.

It requires a real commitment to become aware of the pattern and decide that you want to change it. The best thing you can do when you feel like you’re in a fight, is to play instead. Here are a few ways to lighten the mood:

1. Pause. If you catch yourself in a petty exchange, pause, then reflect on what you would say in the same situation if the person on the receiving end was someone else. Sometimes we agitate a situation solely because we’re irritated with the other person instead of the situation. When we can think more objectively, it’s easier to respond less emotionally.

2. Be kind. Think about how welcome it would be if the other person was kind to you; there is no reason why you shouldn’t be the first one to show that kindness. It may come back to you, but if it doesn’t, you can still feel good about it.

3. Be curious. When someone “starts a fight,” our first and natural inclination is to fight back, defending ourselves. But things can change immediately if you respond with curiosity. Asking a question, such as “Why do you think that?” or “What can we do together to change this?” will allow for more discussion and clarity as opposed to more argument. (Be careful about your tone of voice. If this is said with sarcasm, it will ruin your intention!)

All these ideas are ways to accomplish the real goal, which is to (truly) hear what the other person is trying to say. If you’re so busy trying to make the other person look bad, you will never (truly) be heard.

Oliver and Dodger seem to have this fighting / playing thing down. They don’t shy away from the fight, they just know how to do it well. I can’t even tell the difference they when go at it. One minute they attack, the next minute they walk away happy and calm. They communicate in ways that allows the other to be heard. That’s a lesson worth paying attention to.

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  1. Laurie Bartolo on June 3, 2012 at 7:06 am

    Another great post Robin! The whole concept of “play fighting” in the animal world has fascinated me. I love watching dogs engage in such play, and I know many other species do this too (including cats!). Wouldn’t it be great if humans learned from an early age how to “fight” productively? Animals learn how to deal with conflict by practicing it. Humans avoid conflict and many of us seem to have a really hard time dealing with it when it inevitably arises. You’ve offered some great advice here for learning how to “fight” more effectively.

    • Robin on June 4, 2012 at 1:43 pm

      Great point, Laurie, about how we humans work to avoid conflict instead of realizing that it’s healthy and productive, if handled right. Thanks for stopping by (I know how busy you’ve been with your Freshly Pressed post, so great of you to follow up with all the scores of people who are in touch with you!).

  2. Carol Richards on June 4, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    My gosh, Robin, you touched home for me again with this article. I am currently in a situation where a peer and I will be working together and our styles are on opposite ends of the spectrum. She is a risk-taker and willing to explore many new areas, while I’m definitely very conservative and avoid risks when possible. At first I resented having to feel like I was always negative because I was defending my conservative approach to things, but I’ve now come to realize that I’m comfortable with my style, and yet need to respect hers. We both have the same goal to have our organization succeed, so I realize I must learn how to “play fight” better. We can disagree and yet respect each other. I feel that this relationship may teach me to loosen up a bit and hopefully my peer will learn a little bit of caution so we can find that good place somewhere in the middle to reach our ultimate goal. Thank you for reminding me to Pause, Be Kind, and Be Curious.

    • Robin on June 4, 2012 at 1:47 pm

      Carol, thanks for this very lovely comment. The situation you shared is a wonderful example of putting this into action — thank you so much for being open about it (in terms of being aware and implementing ways to “play fight” but also sharing with us). I think you and your peer are on your way to grand things when you can put the benefits from each’s strengths to work. Good luck and thanks again for being here!

  3. LeeAnn on June 10, 2012 at 11:19 am

    Hey Robin!! Love the picture of the boys – am going through that now. Your three suggestions are so wise. I am writing those down to keep close as reminders. Your words – “there is no reason why you shouldn’t be the first to show that kindness” – really hit me. There have been times when I have been tempted to back down, but haven’t out of fear of showing weakness, and then when the other person is the first to be kind, the feeling of gratitude is so overwhelming and I feel such guilt that I didn’t go there first. Kindness can be so powerful. Thank you for that reminder!

    • Robin Eichert on June 11, 2012 at 7:46 am

      Thanks, LeeAnn. I know that these three suggestions sound easy but in the midst of a conflict, they are very difficult (at least for me). Good idea to keep them close by, reminders are a great help to me as well. Hope you are enjoying your new kitties!

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