Here\u2019s a really tough conflict case that I\u2019ve used over the past two decades with thousands of people attending my workshops on collaboration and conflict. The case is completely fictional: I wrote it years ago to help people explore complex conflict situations. Before you read any further, please follow the instructions and generate your personal ranking about the best and worst ways to respond to this complex situation. Ask others in your workplace to complete it too but don\u2019t copy from each other or talk about what to do. I assure you that there are no right or wrong answers\u2014so simply record your rankings based on all the theories and practical lessons you\u2019ve learned over the years. Your task is to rank the five alternative courses of action in the short conflict case scenario below from the most desirable or best way of dealing with the situation to the least desirable. Rank the most desirable course of action \u201c1,\u201d the next most desirable \u201c2\u201d and so on with least desirable\u2014the worst thing to do\u2014action getting a \u201c5.\u201d Enter your rank in the space next to each choice. Joan is the Head Nurse of a large department in a major Canadian teaching hospital. She coordinates the work of over 30 nurses and other staff members. In the past week, two of her most dedicated and effective nurses have come to her almost in tears, upset at the abusive and insensitive behaviour of a male doctor who has repeatedly berated them in public for their lack of \u201cprofessionalism.\u201d Both indicate that they are seriously considering finding another position to escape from the doctor, who is informally known as \u201cGod\u201d because of his tendency to treat nurses as \u201chandmaidens.\u201d If you were Joan, you would: \t Let it go for now as these events simply come with nursing \u201cturf.\u201d \t Spend time with the nurses discussing how to manage the doctor\u2019s temper tantrums. \t Speak directly to the doctor, requesting that he change his behaviour, or potentially face a harassment charge. \t After asking the nurses to remain calm for a few days, have a confidential talk with the Head of Department, asking him to speak directly with his colleague. \t Ask the doctor and nurses to join you for coffee to discuss concerns related to their work. As I mentioned previously, thousands of people from all walks of Canadian life have done their rankings; (that diversity includes head nurses, nursing students, doctors, firefighters, CEOs, and just about everyone in between.) The individual rankings are usually followed by small group discussions where people try to learn from each other and arrive at a consensus about the best and worst ways to handle this situation. Readers who have had some conflict training have probably recognized that the case and its choices are obviously linked to the Thomas-Kilmann model of conflict management\u2014the most widely used framework today. (An Internet search for \u201cThomas-Kilmann Conflict\u201d will generate about 15,000 entries, with loads of useful information and even free personal style questionnaires.) In fact, each of the action choices in the case deliberately represents one of the classic five ways of dealing with interpersonal tensions. Option A (Let it go for now\u2026) represents avoidance. Option B (Spend time with the nurses\u2026) reflects accommodation. Option C (Speak directly to the doctor\u2026) represents a competing assertive approach. Option D (Wait awhile and talk to the Head\u2026) captures the muddy ground of compromise. And finally, Option E (Get together for coffee\u2026) represents collaboration. The research suggests that there is a time and a place for each of these as the best way to respond to a situation. The results always amaze me. People clearly recognize that Joan has to do something, so that rules out Option A, avoidance, as a potential top choice. And they never choose Option B, accommodation, as the best alternative. That doesn\u2019t change anything and allows the doctor to continue with his abrasive career style. People almost always tell me that they really want to choose Option C as their first choice\u2014speaking directly to the doctor. (In many instances, they talk in graphic terms of doing some form of surgery with a chainsaw on the doctor.) And there\u2019s a compelling case for confronting the situation as soon as possible: your leadership credibility is on the line, and more importantly, our Human Rights legislation prohibits such toxic behaviour in any workplace. Personally, that\u2019s the response that I believe is the \u201cright\u201d answer here, but that doesn\u2019t mean it will happen. But the great majority of people actually pick Option D\u2014the muddy, messy ground of compromise. And they give all sorts of \u201creasons\u201d for their choice. But the bottom line is that they just don\u2019t feel confident and empowered by the policies and culture to deal directly with the doctor. So they enlist the help of a more powerful person, thus creating a more complicated web. A significant minority of people who have never worked in hospitals will often choose Option E (Getting together for coffee\u2026) as their first choice, but experienced nurses never do. Especially if they are experienced head nurses! Doctors like this one are not likely to collaborate with anyone over anything. And anyway, you would just be putting staff who feel they have been abused right back in close contact with the person who appears to have created their stress. A pleasant coffee chat is a nice idea in theory, but it seems unworkable in reality. In a truly healthy organization, I\u2019d like to think that the two nurses would do their own asserting, right there, on the spot while the original situation was happening. They would have been routinely trained in assertiveness, fully aware of their work\u00adplace rights to dignity, and confident of support from colleagues and senior leaders. Thus as the situation emerged, they would simply have asserted themselves by asking the doctor to communicate in a supportive and professional manner. But over the years, I have come to understand that we let powerful people with high status get away with intimidation and interpersonal mayhem because we lack confidence and especially don\u2019t feel supported by those at the top of organizations. Too often we pay lip service to notions of dignity and workplace civility, rather than having clear policies and leadership models that support it every day in our workplace. Personally, I think that\u2019s a shame and a recipe for cynicism and distrust. So what did you choose and what were your reasons? What personal life and organizational experiences shaped the way in which you responded? Why not discuss them with your colleagues. Oh, by the way, almost everyone picks Option A (Let it go for now\u2026) as the worst thing to do in this type of situation. And then I ask them what usually happens. It turns out that avoidance is what usually occurs. That, dear readers, is the real paradox. Most of us end up choosing what we recognize is the least desirable approach to conflict. Go figure.