Like To Debate? 10 “Fighting Fair” Rules

At work, home, or online, how do we effectively collaborate and communicate with people when we don’t see eye-to-eye?

By learning to “fight fair.” ?

Let’s discover how to argue, debate, discuss, and disagree at a higher level. Doing this will make us better people. ??

10 Rules For Fighting Fair

1. No Name-Calling.

Want to shut communication down in a nano-second? Call the other person “Hitler,” “Nazi,” “liar,” “idiot,” “stupid”—or simply a “jerk.” Idea: Since name-calling is a grade-school thing and we’re all beyond that age, let’s be beyond personal attacks.

2. Avoid Extreme Examples. 

I witnessed a Facebook debate on the controversial topic of healthcare. One fella asserted it should be “free for all” because a friend with no insurance suffers from a rare, life-threatening illness. Sad, for sure. Yet when others tried to discuss the economic pros and cons of such a plan, he only focused on his ill friend. It’s my view that a nation’s laws (of any kind) affecting millions of citizens cannot be based on individual and extreme scenarios, no matter how heart-wrenching. You may disagree with that. But, do we agree “fair fighting” does not involve extreme examples?

3. Facts Over Feelings. 

The 1960’s TV police show “Dragnet” is famous for this line: “Just the facts, Ma’am.” Whether arguing in the conference room or the living room, stick to what you know, not what you feel. Our emotions can be wrong. The 1990’s mantra “feelings just are” has led many to attempt to win a debate using intense emotion. Just because I feel a certain way does not make me right.

4. No Spiraling. 

To “spiral” means when debating, say, the best bread to buy for your family, you suddenly attack your spouse with, “How would you know?! You never help with the grocery shopping!” Ouch. Now you’re arguing about who contributes most to the family while bread brands have been forgotten. One minute a food-selection conversation, the next minute hurt feelings. No spiraling. Stay focused, stay on topic.

5. Know Your Biases. 

Oxymoron: “unbiased opinion.” We each have prejudices, usually ones we don’t know we possess. Bias stems from what we’re comfortable with—so am I most comfortable interacting with a certain personality type, race, gender, heritage, or educational background? Do my biases influence my views and how I talk with people? Ascertain, acknowledge, admit, and abolish your prejudices.

6. Stay With Today. 

No one really forgets the past, but we can set the past aside. The moment I depart from the problem/topic at hand to return to last week, last month, or last year, I’m no longer contributing positively to the discussion. At best, I’ve muddled it. At worst, I’ve ended it. It’s best to stay with today. It’s only fair.

7. Assume Nothing. 

We all know bad stuff happens when we, ahem, ASSume. ?

Don’t assume you know what people are referring to, thinking, or picturing on the “screen of their mind.” Only they know. If you’re not sure, ask questions to clarify. Being clear always beats guessing. So, no ASSuming allowed!

8. Pinpoint The Disagreement.

Radio-show host and author, Dennis Praeger, says (paraphrased), “Only when we know what we’re disagreeing about can there be progress.” So keep peeling the topic onion till you know exactly where and what the true conflict is. Who knows, maybe there isn’t one.

9. Listen, Don’t Lecture. 

There are many reasons to listen and no reasons to lecture. “Lecture” drips with condescension. When we put ourselves in the lecture mode, we place ourselves in an expert role that rarely goes over well. We want to draw people toward us, not push them away. Humility beats haughtiness every time.

10. Employ Six Magic Words. 

Use these words when it’s true: “You are right, I am wrong.” Period.


These 10 Rules for Fighting Fair can bring peace, productivity, and progress to any relationship—at work and at home, in person and online. Our final recommendation is this:

Use them today!

Which one of our 10 rules do you need to employ more often?


2 Responses

  1. Timing is everything. I know this truth, however could have used the reminder yesterday and avoided having to apologize.

    Thanks for sharing. Appreciate it!

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