By: Adam Dachis
How to Choose Your Battles and Fight for What Actually Matters
Any moment in life can turn into a heated argument, but most shouldn’t. Conversely, you may not have the energy or confidence to stand up for yourself when it matters. Whether you fight too much or too little, you have a problem choosing your battles. Here’s how to choose your battles and get what you want when it actually matters.
I was raised by a devil’s advocate father and a mother who likes to stand up for the little guy, so I’m naturally inclined to take the opposite side of most points…whether I agree with them or not. While it’s good to see things from other perspectives, it’s horrible to argue them all. You can forego stress for yourself and others by approaching conflict both at the right times and more effectively. While I’ve learned a few things from my experience of changing my ways as a conflict-seeking individual, I’m no expert. I spoke with relationship and family therapist Roger S. Gil to find the best approaches to better conflict. In this post we’ll discuss how it’s done.
Learn Where Your Line of Conflict Should Lie
We all feel anger, but whether or not we act on it depends on a number of factors. Among them, confidence and forethought play a large role. Sometimes our anger gets the best of us, and we argue without thinking it through. Other times, we don’t feel confident enough to argue effectively when we should. To start solving this problem, you need to find where you draw the line between letting something go and engaging in conflict.
Finding your “line” means considering how others will react to your choices and how you feel about those results. For example, if you avoid most battles and you’re perfectly happy with that, your line may be fine just where it is. If you fight too many battles and upset a lot of people in the process, however, you probably need a behavioral shift. Roger suggests keeping track and analyzing what happened to figure out what’s problematic and what isn’t:
I have often had clients use journals or log sheets as ways of doing a “post-game analysis” of days where battles (or potential battles) occurred. Each entry should say what happened, how they did/didn’t deal with the situation, the outcome of how they dealt with it, and whether or not they liked the outcome. More often than not, similarities emerge across the various sections of each entry after about seven to 10 of them (e.g. they may notice that they tend to pick battles more often with family members instead of colleagues). There are usually patterns among the type of situations we ignore/confront, the people that push our buttons, and how we chose to deal with the situations. Desired changes to our style of choosing battles can then be identified after we have our behavioral baseline.
When figuring out where you need to adjust, look for patterns. When you start to see yours emerge, you’ll find it much easier to make the necessary behavioral changes and feel better about the battles you pick.
What You Need to Consider When Choosing Your Battles
Finding your line of conflict makes the largest difference, and your style of conflict is a personal decision. However, a few commonalities exist in most approaches. Roger suggests you should ask yourself this question every time: “is the situation so distressing that it needs to be addressed?” Your answer will help you avoid undesirable reactions:
Whether you’re avoidant or aggressive, it’s important to have an answer to this question before deciding how to act upon the situation. Taking the time to answer the question should also help us avoid knee-jerk reactions that usually contain more emotion than rational thinking.
Asking yourself a question, in general, works well because it makes you think. This is especially important when you’re feeling emotional. If your emotions get in the way of logic, questions will help draw you back to reality. However, your emotions aren’t the only part of the equation. Roger stresses that you ought to consider your relationship with the other party as well:
Is it a relative, employer, friend, etc.? We may have to put up with some stuff if the person is an authority figure (as long as we aren’t being abused, that is). With people that are close to us, the decision to act or ignore isn’t so simple. One has to develop a sense for when choosing a battle with that person is healthy versus harmful and a sense for when ignoring it is acceptable versus enabling negative behavior. Unfortunately developing both senses takes trial and error since only experience can teach each one of us how to get along in our respective worlds.
When you think about your approach and consider the other party, you’ll have a much easier time deciding whether to fight or whether to just let something go.
You shouldn’t fight any battle if you can’t do so constructively. If your goal is to hurt or just express your anger, you’re fighting for the wrong reasons. Every single argument you have ought to aim to improve an undesirable situation. Roger explains how to do this:
Another thing I tell my clients when helping them learn how to choose their battles is to remain “solution-focused”. In other words, “don’t pick a battle or ignore a situation until you know what outcome you’d like.” Keeping your eyes on the solution can help you avoid becoming embroiled in an emotional conflict and it can help avoidant people push toward change instead of listening to their fears. When focusing on solutions, a person should consider whether or not their desired solution is fair to all parties involved and the points where they are willing to make concessions.
Focusing on an ideal outcome for all parties turns a battle into more of a productive debate, and that’s exactly the goal you ought to have for each and every argument.
Practice Makes Perfect
Most skills require practice before you’re any good. The importance of practice in choosing your battles cannot be understated: it is exceptionally important. While we can offer up tips and suggestions, changing your behavior and understanding the behavior of others requires effort. You’ll need to try and fail a lot, then learn from your experiences. You can’t walk away after reading this post and expect your conflict aptitude to rise to genius levels. That said, these tips should give you a starting point to choosing your battles better. Use them as a starting point, track your behavior, and practice. When things start getting better and you feel less stress, you’ll know you’re on the right path.
Most of the pixel art by Sean Warton.