Fighting well is an important life skill. They are seldom pretty, but fights can be very valuable. My wife Iris and I don’t fight often, but when we do it’s pretty intense!
Going through these experiences with the person I love most has taught me these invaluable leadership lessons.
Here are 7 leadership lessons from fighting with my wife:
1. Realize friction moves you forward.
Healthy friction is necessary for progress. If my tires don’t grip the road and form friction, I won’t go anywhere no matter how hard I hit the gas. Friction stemming from injustice, defense, or healthy dissatisfaction is necessary and reveals an area of life valuable to you.
This doesn’t excuse a short temper, but anger is as human an emotion as joy or happiness. Keeping peace at all costs can mean that you are giving up ground to your own detriment at home or work. That can be more costly than not dealing with conflict!
2. Empty your emotional tank.
Sometimes venting requires a few minutes, other times it takes days. Emptying your emotional tank (in a healthy way) is vital to process what went wrong later.
Iris and I have an agreement not to let the sun go down while we’re angry. This means we’ve had to learn to empty the emotional tank within a day! This also means we try to keep the emotional tank empty.
If there’s an issue that bothers me at home or work, failing to address it fills my tank with annoyance which then becomes frustration, anger, and potentially a blow up.
3. Assume it’s you.
Generally, the people around me are emotionally mature. Anyone can have a bad day, but when someone has an issue my first step is to see if I did something wrong.
In business they say “the customer is always right.” That’s not always true, but I agree with the posture that statement models.
If an issue is my fault, I have the opportunity to apologize, show honor, and model humility. If the other party’s offense was unjustified or an overreaction, they will usually know it after they’ve cooled down anyways. But it never hurts to ask yourself first.
4. Stay in bounds.
When arguing it’s important to keep the main thing the main thing. There’s no better way to escalate an argument than by pulling in another unresolved or unrelated issue.
There are times we’ve had to list what we were fighting about to keep the issues straight. At work, meetings can get intense but we make it a point not to go out of bounds or change the rules in the middle of the game.
5. Value the other person.
The more you know about someone, the more ammo you have to fight dirty. Those weapons are off-limits when you’re in an argument.
Iris has never done this, but I can’t imagine how terrible I’d feel if I was fighting with her about laundry and she blasted me with, “You’re such a stupid loser and will never be successful!”
Devaluing the other party creates an entirely separate problem that needs to be resolved. Good leaders know how to deal with conflicts without creating a separate mess to deal with later.
6. Be the first to express remorse.
Merely saying sorry doesn’t go far; it’s the posture of remorse that counts. Continued fighting won’t solve anything; someone has to take the first step towards reconciliation.
(Ongoing conflicts result in tons of collateral damage. Just ask nations that have been warring for generations and can’t remember why.)
I’ve had to become good at swallowing my pride and expressing remorse, even if I didn’t feel at fault. The result of humbling myself has always been positive. I’m serving the needs of my marriage or organization by allowing peace to come quickly into a conflict.
7. Mature in your commitment.
Iris and I are committed to being married the rest of our lives. We’ll have plenty of time for future fights! Commitment isn’t always fun or easy but conflicts among the committed lead to maturity: puppy love becomes tenacious Rottweiler devotion. Maturity keeps people locked on a common goal whether it’s a marriage, project, or organization.
One of our former pastors, Fred Hsu shared a Chinese proverb with us: “You never truly know a person until you fight with them.” It’s very hard to build significant things over long periods of time with people you don’t know.
Iris and I don’t enjoy fighting, but one key to our marriage has been the ability to fight well. Every fight has always brought us to a better understanding of each other and also kept us regularly fed with healthy doses of humble pie.
In turn, this has helped me treat people with respect and patience when conflicts arise elsewhere.
Question: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from a difficult conflict?
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