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Throwing the Keyboard is Not the Answer

by Deborah Hartmann Preuss on Aug 08, 2006 |
It happens on every project, at some point or another, even on collaborative teams: there is stress and someone behaves badly - perhaps retreating to "command-and-control" mode rather than seeking team-member input.  There is anger or hurt feelings, or both, and teamwork is impacted. 

Esther Derby, a well known facilitator in the software domain, reminds us that we have choices when dealing with conflict, that we can take responsible actions that are more constructive all around.  She says that approaches to conflict tend to fall into five common behavioural patterns:
  • Collaborative Problem Solving -- trying to find options that will work for both.  
  • Competition -- one aim in mind: being right, not willing to explore other options.
  • Yielding -- accommodating the other person’s wishes without addressing one's own concerns.  
  • Avoidance -- pretend the difference doesn't exist.
  • Compromise -- trying to meet halfway.
Derby says that most of us tend toward a preferred style for approaching conflict.  Sometimes it works for us—and sometimes it doesn't. 

When we approach every conflict with the same style, regardless of what's at stake and without consideration for maintaining important relationships, we may win in the short term but lose in the long term.  Or we may avoid a difficult conversation but build up resentment. We're all more effective when we develop our ability to approach conflict with the style that suits the situation.  Consciously choosing which approach fits best, given the stakes and the relationships, is a winning strategy every time.

In the StickyMinds article Approaching Conflict in Style, Derby examines when each of these responses to conflict is helpful, and when they are problematic.  Throwing the keyboard isn't mentioned: perhaps one should consider these other strategies first.

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