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Fighting Clean

By KSU Counseling Services Staff

Preview Points

  • Fighting "clean" means preserving the relationship while being able to express disagreement with the other person.
  • It means avoiding hurtful and extreme commentary that may harm relationships.
  • There are clear rules for engagement for "fighting clean."



  • State the problem clearly and honestly with an "I" message (which shows ownership of the emotions and the ideas that will follow). Make sure that everyone involved in the conflict knows what the conflict is about.
  • Give the other person a chance to express his or her feelings and opinions by active listening.
  • Have as your problem solving goal that both parties win and have their needs met, so there are no losers. Do not assume that someone must win and someone must lose.
  • Deal with one issue at a time. Do not bring up an old problem.
  • Do not blame the other person for causing the problem.
  • Do not mention past mistakes that the other person has made.
  • Do not try to tell the person you are fighting with what he or she knows or feels. (That is his or her responsibility.)
  • Do not be sarcastic or call each other names.
  • Be willing to make changes yourself. Consider compromise.
  • Choose the time and the place for the conflict carefully. Do not fight when anyone who is involved in the conflict is tired or busy with other things. Fight in a place you will not be interrupted or distracted.
  • Be open to your feelings and the feelings of others.
  • Do not be in a hurry to resolve conflict. Be patient. Managing conflict is not easy, and it takes time.
  • Do not assume the conflict has been fully resolved until you check with the other person.
  • Think about how you feel before speaking. If you feel like saying something nasty, take time, and think about sending an "I-message" or an active listening response. Saying mean things to the other person makes the conflict worse.
  • Identify the similarities you have with the other person (i.e., you may both be expressing love in different ways, or both believe that it is important to win). Often, in a conflict, people seem to only see the differences.

Knowing how to fight fairly and cleanly will enhance problem-solving and protect the quality of the relationship between the two individuals.

Concluding Points

  • Resolving conflict involves respectful rules of engagement for effective long-term solutions.
  • Fighting fairly involves respect for the ideas and emotions and concerns of those on the other side.

© All staff articles are used by permission of the respective author(s). Copyright belongs to the University Life Café. No part of this may be used without authorization.

Fighting Clean (pdf)