How To Fight Fair With Unfair People

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Recently, a friend of mine was asked to go on a national reality show and face her angry, disfunctional siblings about the book she wrote describing their family. The title of the show was, “My Sister Wrote A Book Of Lies.”  The night before filming my friend called for advice on dealing with these impossible family members with a producer baiting a cat fight on national T.V.

Using the tips from Elizabeth Brown’s book, Living Successfully With Screwed-Up People, I recommended the following objective: 

 Center on the goal of healthy resolution; don’t give into a dogfight.


Jimmy Carter’s wife, Rosalynn, was interviewed on the Phil Donahue television show.  Donahue was famous for his direct no nonsense interviewing style—he like to make people squirm because it was good television.  Donahue grilled Rosalynn about 5 minutes for a decision her husband supported.  Donahue waxed eloquently on and on in a philosophical debate against Carter’s decision.  When he was finished he looked Rosalynn directly in the eye and asked, “Now, what do you think?”

Rosalynn looked at him brightly and said, “I don’t have any idea what you are talking about.  I just know Jimmy always tries to do the right thing.”  The audience burst our laughing and Donahue was speechless.  Rosalynn ended the debate in that moment because she refused to get into a dogfight with Donahue.

4 Helpful Strategies 

1.    Visualize the worst possible scenario and then decide how you will deal with it.

2.    Desensitize yourself by saying out loud what the other person would likely say.  Think through what may happen so you can defuse the power of the harmful words or actions.

3.    Detach from the power of their words and keep on topic as Rosalynn illustrated.  Detachment is an aerial view; it keeps you objective.  Ask yourself, “How would a stranger viewing this conversation respond?”  Use phrases like “I can see you are really upset over this BUT and then pivot the conversation back to healthy resolution.  Don’t become trapped in their emotion.

4.    Practice what you intend to say until you can say it without sarcasm or anger.  Practice being in control and not controlled by the other person. 

Key Responses:

·     I am sorry you do not understand my point, let me state it again.

·     You agreed to hear me out.

·     There must be a problem, or I wouldn’t be here and you wouldn’t be so defensive.                

·   I care, or I wouldn’t talk to you about this.

·     I know you are a caring person, and I am sure your goal is the same as mine—to support each other.

·     Please let’s keep to topic.

·     I am not ok with you talking to me that way.

·     I don’t accept the way you have labeled my behavior.

·     Let me state this again, because I do not believe you heard me.

·     Why are you responding with rage?

Very Important:

Saying, “I care about you, and “I am sorry” keeps differences from becoming irreconcilable.  If it is a family member, begin and end the conversation with “I love you.”  

Practice listening for understanding

Echoing back what you hear is important for these reasons:

  •      You show you are listening.    
  •   Your perceived respect will open the door for you to express your thoughts—-maybe.
  •    Misinterpreted statements can be corrected.
  •    Options may be explored.
  •    It keeps blame games from occurring.
  •    Listening and echoing encourages compromise.
  •    It keeps down the friction and wall-building.  

It would be great if no one in family, work or neighborhood were difficult but that is just not possible. Often people have different agendas, see the world differently than us, or they don’t want to share power because they are unfair.  

Using these some of these tools mentioned previously, my friend confidently marched into the studio. Unfortunately, for the sake of drama, the show responses were cut and edited in an unflattering manner to all involved. But she maintained her emotional composure and left with her dignity.  

Using these strategies, it is possible to fight successfully with unfair people and either find common ground or maintain your integrity and self esteem. 

Other articles on this subject from me:

SourceLiving Successfully With Screwed-Up People by Elizabeth Brown

A great novel written about living with a difficult person (on the surface) is called A Man Called Ove ,written by Fredrik Backman.

Camille Curtis Foster


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