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Animal Instincts

Discovering your company's combat style can lead to more productive conflicts.

Fights are bad, right?

Not necessarily. According to Lynne Eisaguirre, author of The Power of a Good Fight (Alpha Books), fights can improve relationships and help you find innovative solutions to problems. For a good fight, you should understand the five different fighting styles within your company. Says Eisaguirre, "In conflict, step back from the situation and think 'What are the [reflexive] styles here? And which styles could be most useful?'"

The fighting styles are:

  • Pit Bulls like to argue and debate. Threatening, aggressive and sometimes very intimidating. Con: Not easy to resolve conflicts with them. Pro: Useful when waging a business "war." Tips: Remind them that not every situation requires all-out war. Ask them to act as devil's advocates-they're good at thinking up opposite viewpoints.
  • Golden Retrievers want to please everybody. Pro: Tend to be loyal; good for building team morale. Con: May not want to make a firm decision for fear of upsetting someone. Tips: Create an environment that encourages feedback. And because they tend to say yes to everything, be sure they don't work themselves to death.
  • Roadrunners avoid conflict at all costs and run from enquiries about conflict-it will be difficult for you to find out what their problems are. Pro: Avoid petty/meaningless conflicts. Con: Problems remain unresolved. Tips: They observe conflict from the outside-encourage them to share their sharp observations. Come to them beforehand with what you'll ask them in the meeting-give them time to prepare, so they're not tempted to flee.
  • Cobras don't directly approach the person they have a conflict with-instead, they go to other members of the group to discuss the problem. Pro: Good at getting a consensus. Con: Can be seen as manipulating and scheming. Tips: Remember they calculate because they're afraid to come to conflict directly. Set up specific times and places for direct communication with them.
  • Eagles understand how conflict can be valuable and use conflict management techniques (listening, repeating what's said to avoid misunderstandings, calmly stating opinions, being open to other solutions). Pro: Approach conflicts even-handedly. Con: None. Thank your stars you've hired them-eagles are flawless fighters. Tips: Use them as mediators and mentors for other members of the team.

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This article was originally published in the February 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Animal Instincts.

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