How To Fight Fair

Illustration by Carolyn Ridsdale

Arguing gets a bad rap—but it’s actually one of life’s most crucial skills. Here’s how to stand up for how you feel without setting off World War III.

 

IMAGINE, FOR A SECOND, YOUR PERFECT WORLD. Aside from the free video games, abundant puppies, and pizza for every meal, there would be 100 percent peace on Earth. We’d all agree on the same political candidates. Opposing NBA coaches would share a banana split (not four-letter words) after a bad call. And Kanye West and Taylor Swift wouldn’t be engaged in a ridiculous on-again, off-again rivalry—they’d be inseparable BFFs about to drop the single of the century.

But the truth is, such a utopia could not exist! Actually, the world needs disagreements. Conflict is a totally natural, completely unavoidable part of life—and if done constructively, it can make you happier and more confident. “Disagreeing and standing up for what you feel is right in your heart is perfectly fine,” says Raychelle Lohmann, author of The Anger Workbook for Teens. “Conflict is how we grow—it challenges us to see someone else’s point of view.” 

Now, could we humans be better at it? You bet. We get too caught up in winning out over each other, experts say, when really we should be joining forces to defeat the problem at hand. So we asked our Choices Teen Advisory Board about the conflicts that they can’t seem to stop encountering, then took their most common clashes to our panel of experts. Read on for advice that will help you navigate your next disagreement like a Nobel Peace Prize-winning diplomat.

 

COMMON CLASH 1

FEELING LEFT OUT

Willow and Amy have been BFFs since preschool, but now Amy has been spending a lot of time with her drama club friends. When she hosts a sleepover and doesn’t invite Willow, it’s the final straw. Willow blocks her on Instagram and ignores her texts—until Amy starts snubbing her back.

THE FIGHT STYLE: Willow is employing a variation of the super-icy silent treatment—an age-old technique where you ignore the person or shut down.

THE PRO OPINION: It’s natural for Willow to feel hurt, but anytime you face down a fight, you have to ask: What do I want to achieve by doing this? Snubbing Amy actually goes against everything Willow wants (that is: more of her friend’s time and attention).

THE WINNING WAY: Rather than assume Amy meant to be hurtful, Willow should have gone to her and (1) stated her concern; (2) said how it made her feel; and (3) asked for Amy’s side. Last weekend, you had a sleepover without me, and I felt left out. I’m hoping it’s not because you don’t want to be friends anymore. This opens up a dialogue—instead of triggering an attack.

 


COMMON CLASH 2

PARENTS JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND!

Sam’s friends are going to a concert, but it starts at 9 p.m., an hour before his curfew. When he asks his parents for permission to stay out, they won’t budge. Sam explodes—yelling about everything they’ve ever made him miss. 

THE FIGHT STYLE: Sam is clearly exercising some red-hot hostility here. (You can almost hear his inner voice: Fight! Fight! Fight!)

THE PRO OPINION: It’s OK for Sam to feel frustrated. But once he enters attack mode, his parents will go on the defensive. This makes compromise unlikely—and escalates the argument.

THE WINNING WAY: Sam can’t necessarily change his parents’ minds, but he does have control over expressing how he feels and what he wants: I feel upset because I’m missing my favorite band, and I want you to trust me. What can I do to make you OK with me going? This not only shows maturity, but it also prompts his parents to reconsider (in a gentle way!).




COMMON CLASH 3

(NOT) FIGHTING THE POWER

Sophie has been a starter on the softball team for two years, but ever since her parents pulled her out for a vacation, she’s been benched. She knows she’s at the top of her game and senses her coach is mad, but she keeps her mouth shut. (Isn’t that what she’s been taught to do?) 

THE FIGHT STYLE: Call this the scared surrender. Even though Sophie’s gut is saying she’s being treated unfairly, it seems easier to stay quiet than assert herself. 

THE PRO OPINION: Challenging an authority figure like a coach or a teacher can be extremely tricky, but it may be worth it for Sophie to speak up. Bottling up her emotions can lead to a blowup that she’ll regret later. 

THE WINNING WAY: It will take courage, but Sophie needs to approach her coach after the next game: Hey Coach, I feel really bummed that I’m not playing. I wanted to ask you why, and what I can work on to regain my starting role? He may not admit to the secret grudge Sophie suspects, and that’s OK. Her goal isn’t to be right about why she’s benched; it’s to subtly suggest that she deserves more time—and figure out how to get it! 

 

 

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