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Is Respectful Fighting Possible?

Choose your words carefully

two culturally different women stand chin to chin
Differences are part of life By Gemma Chua-Tran via Unsplash

Having conflicts is a part of life.

Just this morning I had a conflict with a guy who accused me of hitting and denting his van. Due to a gut-ache and being touchy around accusations, particularly false ones, I was a tad reactive. We definitely had conflicting views. BUT it didn’t need to be a fight.

A fight is a situation is where one defends oneself, attempts to subdue, defeat or destroy an adversary.

While I was most definitely defending myself, I had no desire or need to subdue, defeat or destroy the guy. It was the accusation I stood up to and was a tad reactive against. My reactivity didn’t help the situation and he ended up accusing me of being a miserable woman. As a consequence the interaction was not respectful.

Principles of being respectful were broken in at least three ways: my reaction, despite being natural was not respectful; his exaggeration or dramatising of the situation and name-calling were learnt disrespectful tactics.

Being human and having learnt many disrespectful communication tactics, from those around us, are the basic reasons why having respectful interactions, especially ones that are conflict based, is a challenge for so many of us.

However I want to address another core reason why respectful fighting is very problematic.

‘Fighting’ is a common term used for all sorts of situations. We ‘fight’ disease, ‘fight’ each other, and ‘fight’ to succeed. The use of the word ‘fight’ speaks of adversaries with a winner and loser.

While to ‘respect’ is to give proper attention, to consider everyone’s rights and act upon those in order to have the best possible out come for everyone.

Fern leaf, onside dead and brown, the other alive and green
Disrespected-Respected By Diogo Nunes Via Unsplash

The terms ‘respectful’ and ‘fighting’ are antithetical in nature and undermine each other when placed side by side. Respectful fighting is a paradoxical statement.

You can have respectful discussions, debates, and conflicts, but not respectful fights. The segregation of a ‘fight’ is oppositional to the inclusivity of ‘respect’.

When being respectful you can ‘stand up for’ individuals, principles, values and rights, you can hold ‘accountable’ for upholding agreements and ‘match’ for clarification if appropriate agreements can be made.

This might sound like silly semantics, however it is the words that we use that influence our attitudes and actions. Consider the difference of the two following statements; imagine someone saying each one to you.

Crossword tiles saying: Choice Your Words
By Brett Jordan via Unsplash

I am ready to fight you on the matter.

I am ready to stand up for myself on the matter.

The subtle differences in our choice of words can make a huge difference, even more so when we are in a situation of conflicting perspectives. The subtle difference is generally not conscious and yet impacts our interaction often setting us up for more difficult interactions than necessary.

I recommend doing your best to change the use of the word ‘fight’ if you want to experience more respectful conflict management interactions.

Two keys for respectful conflicts

1) Everyone’s rights, needs and preferences deserve consideration and inclusion in outcomes. Using ‘Stand up for’ allows the space for everyone’s rights and preferences to be heard.

2) Focus on the action rather than individual(s). In which case ‘accountability’ ‘appropriate’ and ‘match’ are more suitable words.

Stay away from the term ‘fight’

Use the word ‘fight’ only when you really do want to defeat or destroy an adversary. This is the meaning of the word. It is about segregation, me and you, and disrespect, I am more important.

When moving towards thinking and acting more respectfully, it is essential to understand the word ‘fight’ is disrespectful in its nature. Fighting is to disregard rights in order to defeat.

Sometimes it is necessary to ‘fight’, however more often it is beneficial to be respectful, curious and creative when conflict or apparent differences are at play. ‘Stand up’ for your and others rights, be curious and creative in finding potential solutions and pathway forward that considers all.

Such a process is not familiar for many of us, and thus challenging as we build a new skill. Yet it is a valuable approach and skill for when we want to unite and reduce exclusive practices, when we want to strengthen connection and relationships.

At the same time it is important to remember we are human and make mistakes, on occasion. So while changing the automatic word choice, from our previous learning, to a more respectful approach it is also wise to be kind, patient, willing to forgive and persistent in renewing the practice.

Being Respectful strengthen connects, relationships and the quality of life.

Everyone matters!

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