Why we fight

Most conflicts are between two well meaning people who love each other:

Usually there is a misunderstanding when one person says something that hurts they other unintentionally. The first reaction comes from a place of anger or feeling disrespected.

That reaction usually overstates the hurt, and comes in 3 forms:

  1. Hurting back
  2. accusing the offender of either intentionally doing it or
  3. An attack on the offender's character.

Then the offender is shocked with the accusation and defends themselves, focusing on the offended person's response instead of the original thing.  They do this since to them the original offense wasn't intentional and isn't seen as even a big deal. This goes on forever if you let it.

Each thing said in response is like a new car pulling into an intersection. Eventually it's gridlock.  But each new argument adds a new car trying to pull though.  Now, the only way out is to reverse each car one by one by hearing the hurt feeling and acknowledging it (at least).  Someone has to go first. Unfortunately, the only available traffic cops are also the drunk drivers.

When I go first, say sorry, and back up my car, I expect you to do the same.  If you don't, and instead pull forward, I get pissed and drive mine back in the fray.  It's not about who is right, but there was offense taken, and that offense needs to be understood and acknowledged.  

You don't necessarily have to say you were wrong, but if I feel like you don't even know what I'm upset about, I feel like you don't even care, and if I feel like you don't even care, I'm not going to make two moves in a row.

This is how we can manage to stay in unproductive conflict with people we care about over things we don't.

Jacob Singh
CTO in residence at Sequoia Capital. Independent product and Engineering Coach Mediocre guitarist, singer, rock climber, point guard and baker Dedicated dad. American in New Delhi.
New Delhi