The field of project management is a demanding one. It takes a great deal of training and experience to become an effective project manager, which is the reason why there’s such a high demand for them in the job market. Common skills needed to effectively manage projects include a clear vision of the goals to be achieved, excellent communication and an understanding of logistics. However, possibly the most important aspect of a project manager’s job is conflict resolution.
When working on projects that involve many people, the likelihood of conflict developing in some form increases exponentially with each party added. You may be lucky enough to manage a large-scale undertaking that runs smoothly throughout the entire process, but you shouldn’t count on it happening that way every time. As a project manager, the success or failure of a project falls squarely on your shoulders, which means you need to be able to effectively resolve any conflict that arises in the process. To help you with this responsibility, here are some tips on what you should do — and what to avoid — when facing conflict in your project.
Don’t Ignore the Existence of Conflict
If you’re working on a project with a tight deadline, you probably don’t have the time to settle a dispute between two parties, as conflict resolution can be a time-consuming process. To better illustrate this point, one survey conducted on accounting managers found that they commonly spend a full day’s amount of time every week just to dealing with conflicts. In situations where conflict is inconvenient, the impulse for some managers is to pretend it isn’t there and push forward with their projects anyway.
Force is usually involved in this process; one side of the dispute is supported outright, forcing those on the other side to comply with their demands without being able to address their grievances. While this may prevent the loss of work time that would otherwise be spent on finishing the project, it can also be extremely damaging to your team’s morale and the overall quality of the work the team produces.
Do Resolve to Address Conflict in the Future
The correct way to handle conflict when pressed for time is not to ignore it, but to put off the resolution process for a later date. You may still have to appease one side of the issue quickly in order to resume work on the project. But some clear and empathetic communication will make this process much easier for everyone involved. Inform the individuals on both sides of the issue that you are aware of the problems they are having and are willing to discuss them later.
If those involved feel as though they are being listened to and have a degree of professionalism, this should be a perfectly reasonable request. Then, once you’re finished with the project, you can devote more time and energy to properly addressing and resolving the conflict in question.
Don’t Assign Blame to Either Party
A big reason for the existence of conflict is the fact that everyone involved sees the situation differently. That’s why conflict isn’t always a bad thing. An individual on one side of the argument may feel as though someone on the other end of the argument is acting ridiculous for wanting to alter some aspect of a project drastically. Meanwhile, the individual on the other side of the argument may perceive the first person as ridiculous for his or her unwillingness to try something new. In both situations, there’s an assumption about what’s rational and what’s ridiculous, but the meanings of these two terms are drastically different for each party involved.
If you wish to find common ground and resolve the conflict in a manner that appeals to both individuals, you can’t deny one party’s perception of the situation. Even if one side’s perspective is seriously out of whack, you will not be able to convince them of that fact through brute force.
Do Figure Out What Roles They Play
While you shouldn’t outright declare one person involved in the conflict as the victim and the other as a hero, you should still try to determine what role each person fills. In theory, the roles people play in a conflict fall under one of three different categories: the hero, the villain, or the victim. The villain is perceived as someone who does something to hurt or otherwise negatively affect a victim, and the hero is someone who attempts to protect the victim by stopping the villain. By gathering information on the situation and discussing it with each party involved, you should see these archetypes in each person’s story.
Many times, both sides will see themselves as the hero and perceive the other side as being the villain, thereby justifying their role in the conflict. In other situations, one side will see themselves as a victim, believing that they are hopeless to change their situation. Once you’ve determined what archetypes each party falls into, you can work with them to move past these perceptions and find common ground.
Don’t Make Hasty Judgments
The suggestions I’ve listed above are broad guidelines, which means they can apply to just about every situation in which conflict arises during a project that you’re managing. The most important thing to take away from this article is that hasty decisions, even when you are pressed for time, aren’t a good idea. To avoid making hasty decisions in the face of conflict, consider setting time aside in your schedule just in case such a problem emerges.
Make sure that you give enough time to let all involved parties say their piece, absorb as much information as you can and facilitate a dialogue between those in conflict so that their inaccurate perceptions of the situation erode and eventually give way to rationality. Then you should be able to complete work on your project and still have all participants mostly satisfied that their issues are being heard and handled to the best of your ability.
What has worked for you in dealing with conflict? Share your insights with the MPUG community in comments below.