Sun Tzu, one of the greatest Chinese generals, strategists and philosophers believed that the supreme art of war was to subdue the enemy without even fighting. He said “To fight and conquer in all our battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”
Most of us would be lousy generals. If we charged into battles the way we engage in verbal fights, equipped with nothing but our swelling pride and cunning, we would lose every single time.
Even if we conquered the “Hill of Righteousness” and pushed out our opponent, most likely we would have done it by sheer force and brutality.
Isn’t it true that when we fight we want the truth to win? However, by trying to bridge the gap in understanding we ironically create an even bigger divide.
Upon surveying a parched and bloodied landscape of a battle, one is left to wonder whether there is a winner here at all. It all seems so foolish and pointless.
Most of the times, neither yours nor mine truth is any “better”; it’s just that our “truths” never have a chance to meet. Problem is, when we lack fighting skills the real truth doesn’t even have a chance to surface. There’s too much ego in between.
Noble generals and masters of ancient wisdom believe that if we have to fight we must practice skillful means and always take the high road. What follows is a summary of the top five favorite rules on how to fight fair and win, against all odds.
1. Manage Resources Like a General
“The enlightened ruler lays his plans well ahead; the good general cultivates his resources.” – Sun Tzu
You should be absolutely obsessed about managing your physical and mental resources. Personally, when I feel an argument brewing, a simple question sufficiently determines my further direction, “Is this issue worth losing my balance and the subsequent detox time?” If I feel the fight is worth a shot of cortisol because it has a long term implications then I put on some boxing gloves and arm myself with patience. But if I feel this would be just hamster circle type of habitual arguing just to prove something trivial then I bow out immediately. By doing that makes me feel more a winner than having argued extensively and scored some philosophical points.
2. Only Fight When You Can Win
“Your road to freedom begins the moment you start being silent about the things that don’t matter.” – paraphrased by me from original MLK quote.
I truly live by “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus (which sounds lovely but it’s a real hot hell there). What I mean by that is that people and sexes can be very different so it makes sense to evaluate your opponent before you jump in the ring.
If I argue with a male colleague, I can whip out some scientific study, present some facts, statistics, make a very logical argument and bam, we’re good to go, he’s buying me lunch. But if I argue with my wife, I know I better not to even try my “rational” arguments when she is emotional. I cannot change her mind with reason so what I need to do is change how she feels. Now that’s real blooming work if you ask me!
In any case what works best is keeping calm, being very specific about the nature of my protest and dealing with one issue at a time. Remember, the goal is not to win but to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution to the problem.
Conceding an argument can feel awful at first. You walk away with your tail between the legs, sore looser! But isn’t it true, that just a while later it feels absolutely awesome!? After a relaxed moment, you realize maybe that point you were so set on is not even that important in the big scheme of things. You haven’t flooded your body with stress hormones, your mind is clear, your conscience is clean and you’re ready to rock your day! As an additional benefit that was mentioned in the previous post – your friendship is preserved.
3. Control Aggression Without Injury
“To injure an opponent is to injure yourself. To control aggression without inflicting injury is Aikido.” – Morihei Ueshiba
What do soldiers do before attacking a fort? They ram the gate and force their way in, correct? Isn’t this how we approach arguments too? However, there are many times that we just need to simply knock at the gate and we’ll be let in.
When faced by an enormous force, the opponent will most likely surrender and open the gates to avoid blood shed. But if there is no knock, and all one sees is fire balls landing on one’s castle then one will take up whatever arms and go die for his honor.
Isn’t it true that when we use foul language and lash out with personal attacks not only we instantly lose an argument but also annihilate our credibility and any sense of justice behind our cause? Socrates said, “When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the looser.” It’s best not let this happen to you.
If you really want to win the argument you must control the argument! That means:
- Know exactly what’s bothering you or the other person, express it very clearly by avoiding generalizations (you always, never, etc.)
- State your facts and feelings about them. Instead of accusing the other person, “You make me so angry when…”, you own up to your feeling, and instead say” I feel so angry when you…” This way your opponent wont shut down the communication bridge between you. Not only your message won’t be discarded as spam, it will be delivered to the correct “folder,” so to speak.
- Now invite your opponent to express his or her angle on the whole situation. They key here is to shut up and hold any sort of outburst of defensiveness. Just listen to them no matter how long it takes. Meanwhile, as an anger management technique, deep breathe into your belly area to reset the emotions.
- Finally, if you want them to respect your perspective, then take the first step and articulate how you see the problem through his or her eyes. “If I hear what you are saying, you feel I did this because…” This works like magic because now they feel they were heard and will take your problem much more seriously, maybe even concede right away if you’re willing to compromise just a bit.
4. Fight Fire with Fire Hose
“Opponents confront us continually, but actually there is no opponent there. Enter deeply into an attack and neutralize it as you draw that misdirected force into your own sphere.” – Morihei Ueshiba
Most people think there are only two ways to fight. One is to fight fire with fire by pouring more misery into an already heated situation. Second, is to fight fire with water, which is better but extremely annoying. This is the type of fight: “I hate you! You always disrespect me in front of people!”, in return, “Calm down, everything is OK, there is no harm done, let me buy you an ice-cream.” And what follows is, “Screw your ice-cream, I don’t want to calm down!”
But there is a third option too – you fight fire with fire hose – that is you address the reason for conflict in a direct, reasonable and firm way. You feel their emotion with them, you acknowledge it and you take steps to rectify it, “Honey this was so stupid, it must have been so embarrassing to you! I’m so sorry, I’ll apologize to all of our friends after I sober up from all this beer.”
If you want to fight a fair fight, avoid personal attacks and punching below the waist line. This way you’ll come out honorable and even more respected. Personally, I have an extreme admiration for those sales people who, even when faced with personal attacks, can fend off an insane amount of negativity and address your problem with friendly composure and professionalism.
Honestly, the times in my life that I lashed out at some product or service representative and they treated me fairly in return, I felt embarrassed and plain stupid for acting in such a way. Most of the times, I was disarmed and ready to forgive for whatever grievance that I approached them with.
During my real estate career, there were many heated moments when I was accused of things that weren’t accurate. However, those times when I kept my sense of humor, addressed the issue in a sincere but firm manner, and explained the situation properly and calmly, really forged me into a mature and very likable professional. Many people recommended me to their friends for my character, which ironically, was forged out of a pure need to survive!
5. Accept the Attack with Wide Spread Hands
“If your heart is large enough to envelop your adversaries, you can see right through them and avoid their attacks. And once you envelop them, you will be able to guide them along the path indicated to you by heaven and earth.“ – Morihei Ueshiba
I won’t BS you, this is the most effective but the most difficult one to pull off! It requires a healthy amount of emotional surplus, compassion, and courage. Gandhi’s biography tells a story when he was walking through a Muslim village to try and calm sectarian tensions when one of the men jumped out from the crowd and started strangling him. Ghandi didn’t even lift a finger to defend him. He just stood there defenseless starring at his attacker. Then the protagonist dropped to Ghandi’s feet and started weeping. A clear example of how love and unconditional acceptance transformed attacker into a devout protector.
It is obvious that some arguments are simply not resolvable. People and values can be too different and too personal to compromise even a bit. Unsolvable problems require different strategies for dealing with than solvable ones, but in any case we can enter into conflict with a different mindset. When we follow the rules for fighting fair we will inevitably win – every single time.
At the end of the day and on the path to conquering anger and mastering conflict our biggest prize is patience. Hence, difficult people, situations, and fights can be our most valuable teachers who give us a chance to practice it.
“Be grateful even for hardship, setbacks, and bad people. Dealing with such obstacles is an essential part of training in Aikido. Your spirit is the true shield. ” – Morihei Ueshiba