Recently I posted a sort-of attack on Jim Pensyl, who had posted a sort-of attack on my community. Then an interesting thing happened. He withdrew his blog post and called me on the phone. That was unexpected. Almost nobody de-escalates that way. The two normal responses are A) abandon the debate, or B) continue the debate until everyone is exhausted or a stable point of agreement or disagreement is achieved. Jim chose a third way C) transcend the debate by bidding for a better relationship with his opponent. I want to try C more often. C takes special skill and guts.

Jim and I talked on the phone for two hours about testing and context, and in that conversation I think we forged a collegial bond. I think I know what he’s trying to do, now, and I suspect I can be more a service to him than a hindrance; and he to me. Considering how I felt before the phone call, it’s a spectacular result.

Collegiality is much needed in our industry. And I’m not talking about mere politeness or live-and-let-live passive rivalry. I’m talking about people who do the hard work of creating connections with each other that allow for differences while also constructively questioning differences. This is a matter of chemistry, sometimes. There are people whom I have been completely unable to connect with, despite my best efforts. It’s also a matter of motivation, because best efforts take a lot of energy.

My favorite colleagues are the ones that know how to criticize me and aren’t afraid to do it. Steve Smith provides a great example. I’ve known Steve for 10 years.

This has been a pretty good year for me, in colleague recruiting terms. I’ve gotten to know two new systems thinkers, Ben Simo and Matthew Heusser. And two people I knew before, Karen Johnson and Antony Marcano, have revealed depths of wisdom and talent I had not expected.

One colleague whose ideas are beginning to command my attention is John McConda, who just wrote this wonderful post about collegiality. Check it out.

7 thoughts on “Collegiality

  1. I’m glad to hear stories like this. It is good for the industry as a whole when this type of maturity is displayed.

    I have a few simple rules that I (try) to use to encourage collegiality in the discussions I get involved in. They may or may not be helpful to others, but I thought I’d share them and let you decide.
    1) Know the difference between different and better.
    2) Anyone who can contribute is allowed to.
    3) Be title-blind.
    4) Have thick skin, shed no tears, and bear no grudges.

    Ironically, we sometimes debate the most when it matters the least, which is the reason for rule #1. There is not always a distinct advantage to one approach over an another, but our biases for repeating ourselves sometimes make us hold on to what we know a little too tightly. Being able to recognize that something is different but not better is a critical skill in being collegial.

    This was a good post for a Monday morning James. It’s an encouraging way to start a week. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for sharing that, I think it’s an important point for all forms of communication and interaction. Tech is great for aiding/increasing communication, but it definitely has its limitations that can be detrimental to the process if not worked around.

  3. Sometimes we should focus less on how correct we are, and focus more on how effective we can be. If you are right but no one listens to you, then you are not being effective at all, and you will get nothing done. Effective communication is the key to being productive (in a team environment or a community) in my book.

  4. Hi, James, thanks for sharing this. I’ve picked up the phone several times when tensions start to get heated, and though people seem to be surprised to hear their phone ring, it’s usually a much better medium for resolving conflict. In fact, I’m reminded of a recent interaction that I should really follow up with a phone call…

    Oddly enough, there have been a few cases where I’ve stopped a phone or face-to-face conversation and reverted to email, where I had time to organize and edit my message.

    [James’ Reply: At least twice, a voice conversation with you (I think both times you probably were the initiator) has helped me overcome a problem I’ve had with you. So, folks, Danny really does walk the talk of talking.]

  5. Hi,

    Nice post, but i want to know about which way (A,B or C) I should go if i have conflict with colleague seat next to me and
    who is also s/w tester.
    I have used way A.
    what you suggest?

    [James’ Reply: Just for you, I posted my advice for that as a full blog post by itself…] 

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