Learn to Empathize When Dealing with Conflict: An Interview with Tricia Broderick


Tricia Broderick is an agile learning facilitator at Santeon Group and has more than six years of experience focusing on agile principles. In this interview, Tricia talks about conflict resolution, the importance of empathy, and the misalignment between one's perceptions and intentions.

Tricia Broderick is an agile learning facilitator at Santeon Group and has over six years of experience focussing on agile principles. In this interview, Tricia talks about conflict resolution, the importance of empathy, and the misalignment between one's perceptions and intentions.

Jonathan Vanian: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to chat with us, Tricia.

Tricia Broderick: Absolutely. No problem.

JV: So let's start off with having you talk a little bit about yourself—what you do, your occupation, and your experience.

TB: That's always a hard question to answer. There's somebody who once that answered with, "being a human being." I want to steal that answer.

JV: I like the human being answer, but let's think about our readers, testers, and developers, and such.

TB: Yeah. I've done a multitude of different roles. I started off as a developer, moved into a lot of project management, scrum master roles. Then I headed into a director of development position and role. I recently joined back into consulting where I'm doing coaching and training on agile and software development, specifically in the industry focusing a little bit more on project management and leadership as a whole.

JV: With some of the people we've talked to, they've had similar experiences. They started out as developers and they went into team management. What got yourself interested in that route?

TB: To be honest, I kind of went in kicking and screaming. I've had great mentors and coaches myself and leaders that saw the potential in me and kept trying to find opportunities where I could explore it. I was one of those developers that was terrified of losing my developer cred and what made me actually valuable. I fought it for a very long time.

I actually—which is a whole other side topic—but I actually now advocate for people that by the time you have to choose between management and technical, you already have. You already know where you're excelling and where you find rewards. For me, helping people was always bigger and more rewarding to me than any line of code I ever wrote. It was an easy transition at the end towards management, but not at the beginning.

JV: What got you interested in conflict? This idea of conflict resolution? 

TB: I'm not exactly one to shy away from conflict personally. Then suddenly when you become leader people really struggle with conflicts. That and public speaking are way up there in the areas that really hold teams back from high performance. It was a topic that I really struggled with as a leader helping other people, because for me it was just go have the conversation. It's not a big deal.

JV: Sure.

TB: That just didn't seem to resonate with a lot of people, so I really started exploring how I was going to open people up to wanting to own their conflict, and then how they could go about resolving it in a healthy way.

JV: Can you explain what is conflict in a team? 

TB: Conflicts can be so many different things. It can be behavioral challenges—what one person does and another person perceives. It can be actual words that hurt somebody's feelings. It can be actions. I actually had a conflict where I had somebody in my office once because they believed somebody else ate a candy bar out of their drawer. Anything can form in terms of conflict. At the end of the day, we are human beings, and people are not the same, which lends itself to conflict—whether it's word-based, behavior-based, or just in general judgments and perception-based.

JV: Your sessions involve you delving into conflict. What goes on in your sessions?

TB: I came out of this with a little bit of a different perspective. There are tons of sessions out there about how to frame a conflict conversation. Those are hugely beneficial. I personally have used a lot of different techniques. Crucial Conversations is a great book.

I'm actually coming at this session a little bit differently. I'm coming at it from a leader's perspective and saying, "How do you get others not just to use a framework to resolve conflict, but actually want to use a framework? How do you get them to actually want to figure out what's going on and solve the problem?" As we know in the agile community, ownership is such a powerful thing in getting a valid and awesome result. How do you actually take a step before the conflict resolution and prime people for conflict resolution? This session is much more a lead-in to conflict resolution, more so than the actual conflict resolution itself.

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Jonathan Vanian's picture Jonathan Vanian

Jonathan Vanian is an online editor who edits, writes, interviews, and helps turn the many cranks at StickyMinds, TechWell, AgileConnection, and CMCrossroads. He has worked for newspapers, websites, and a magazine, and is not as scared of the demise of the written word as others may appear to be. Software and high technology never cease to amaze him.

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