The basic rules of family therapist Luree Nicholson's "fair fight for change":

* Ask permission to use a particular ritual.

* Think clearly about what specific change in behavior (not thoughts or feelings) you want.

* State your beef succinctly and explicitly without overloading it.

* Give correct feedback (without editing or reinterpreting what the other person said).

* Meditate on options for change, even small ones, and ask for what you want and can live with.

* Show appreciation for being heard and understood, and for coming to an agreement.

In the following exchange, enacted at a Family Powwow, mother and daughter sit face to face, holding hands and maintaining eye contact. They repeat what the other has said not only to ensure that they have heard correctly, but also to slow things down and reduce the natural defensiveness when we are being criticized.

MOTHER: I would like to have a fair fight for a change.

DAUGHTER: Okay. What's your beef?

MOTHER: My beef is that your room is a mess.

DAUGHTER: Your beef is that my room is a mess.

MOTHER: There is so much junk under your bed and in your closet that I couldn't vacuum there if I wanted to.

DAUGHTER: There is so much junk under my bed that you can't vacuum . . . why would you be vacuuming in my closet?

MOTHER: Don't argue. Just listen. My request for change is and here you have to be very specific that there be no food or dishes in your room, that you empty your trash once a week, and your room be clean Friday evenings before you go anywhere. How about it?

DAUGHTER after repeating what mother has said : I can't do it on Friday. I get home and go out with friends and I always have just an hour to do everything. She offers a counterproposal. I will have my room clean the way you like it to be clean on Sunday.

MOTHER: You can't do it Fridays because you get home and go out with friends and you have only an hour to do everything. You propose having your room clean the way I like it on Sunday. But somehow people come over on the weekend, and when I am having company I like your room to be in viewing order.

DAUGHTER: People tend to come over on the weekend, and when you are having company, you like my room to be in viewing order. Okay, if you tell me by Thursday that people are coming over on the weekend, I will have my room clean by Friday.

MOTHER: If I tell you by Thursday that people will be coming over on the weekend, you will have your room clean by Friday. Otherwise, you will have it clean by Sunday. I can live with that. Let's try it for a month, and at the end of a month let's sit down and discuss any problems.

DAUGHTER: Okay, we'll try it for a month, and then we'll talk about any problems.

At this point mother and daughter exchange some gesture of goodwill: a handshake or a hug.