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10 things I learnt by getting into other people’s fights

February 22, 2011

I recall it was Mr Miyagi in the original Karate Kid movie (the one before Jackie Chan) who said “The best way to avoid a punch is to no be there!”

Not being one to live my life according to philosophies espoused by movies (Dead Poets Society being the obvious and reasonable exception) there was a time when I made a habit of spending some time getting into the middle of other people’s fights.

You could find me in between husbands and wives, ex-husbands and ex-wives, brothers and sisters, neighbours fighting over fences or leaves or noise. A builder and their client. Hospital administrators and their staff. Friends (well ex-friends really). Two software companies. Even an old lady and a Government Department.

I learned a lot by getting involved in other people’s fights.  When it is not your fight and you don’t know the people who are doing the fighting you have a different perspective on things. There was rarely a day that I didn’t come home grateful for the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.

So here is my  list:

1. Always put it in writing/ keep records – this was also advice given to me by a senior engineer when I was on my first work placement. Keep notes in a diary of everything you say and do and those notes might just save you.  Send letters or email to confirm your understanding – you may have gotten it wrong so give the other party a chance to correct you.

2. Always get legal advice – especially if the other party says you can’t or you don’t need to. If you don’t like your legal advice then get a second opinion. Just remember getting everything you have a right to receive might not result in getting what you deserve or what you need.

3. Never say “I understand just how you feel” – you don’t.  (See my previous post on this)

4. Ask clarifying questions – always. If that is not clear enough for you, let me know.

5. Always have an agenda but don’t come with one. From my point of view the agenda you need is the one that sets out the process for resolving the conflict. It is the first thing you agree on. Your rules of engagement. Without an agenda you may as well just hang a sign that says “Abandon all hope ye who enter!:

6. Communication is about listening not telling. Easy to say. Hard to do.

7. Once it becomes “a matter of principle” it is too late. Give your car, your house and anything else you value to the person you most hate in the world. Chances are you will end up doing it in the end so save yourself the time and energy and give it all away.

8. Always remember that it might cost more than you want to make it go away but getting your life back might be worth it.

9. Never put too much store in a person’s opening position. You need to take the time to find their interests. My opening position was 10 things but I only have 9. If you focus on having me deliver my opening position (which I will not do) you will miss the opportunities that discovering my interests provides.


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Gavin miley permalink
    February 22, 2011 10:41 pm

    Hi P,
    I understand just how you feel!
    Woops -sorry I really don’t. Some of these principles seem a little “inhuman”. Thank goodness for principles 4, 6 and 9. I’d hate to come up against someone well versed in principles 1 through 9.
    It appears that to fight, I need to pay attention to detail, have the cavalry behind me, remove all emotion (or at least some of it), open my ears and my mind! Even refer to Covey and seek first to understand before aiming to be understood.
    No 8 resonates with me. Deep down I see this as the priority. No matter whether you win or lose there is always a price to pay and the sooner this is acknowledged the better you understand the fight you are in.
    Where did this blog come from?

    • February 24, 2011 10:25 pm

      Thanks Gavin. I am not sure what you mean by ‘inhuman’. Some of them are designed to take the emotion out of a conflict so I suppose they could seem ‘cold’. Others can seem over the top – like writing everything down – but just today a friend was telling me her phone had been cut off “because you have failed to pay your bills”. Trouble was she had been calling every month for 5 months pointing out the ‘bill’ showed her to be in credit. The phone company claimed she had never called…

      7 is about when you lose sight of the possible price and 8 is required if you are going to be effective – you need to understand what you can ‘live with’.

      Where did it come from? From my experience as a mediator and as a barrister – I have seen them all ignored and/or broken and I have seen first hand the effect that has.

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