Loading...
Quick Links

Do’s and Don’ts of Dealing with Conflict

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.

Share This Post
2 Comments
  1. Excellent article! We, as project managers, sometimes forget that we are dealing with people where everything is not black and white. Sometimes the conflict that arises can point out flaws in parts of the project plan. I have been guilty of that in the past. Other times it can be work or personal life stress that can come out in unexpected ways. A good project manager listens, not just “communicates”. There have been times in my past where I wonder if instead of an Information Systems and business degrees if I should have majored in Psychology. As project managers we need to remember projects will fail if we do not constantly monitor and have two-way communications with everyone involved with the project from the executive sponsors to the people performing the various tasks, to consultants and subcontractors you may have on the project. I strongly agree that you should never, ever let anything fester. You need to make rapid decisions but you also need to be constantly resolving issues. I see my role as a project manager to include removing and roadblocks from the critical paths and to keep the people on the project as satisfied as possible.

    Reply
  2. In my first class at the inaugural Master of Science in Project Management Program at GW, the head of the program began his lecture saying “If you don’t thrive on conflict, this program is not for you.”

    Most people are conflict adverse – this is human nature. But conflict within the project team will hurt the project more than missing requirements.

    My personal process is that I don’t let the sun go down on inter-team conflict, with few exceptions. The Communications Plan includes the process to address conflict. In minor cases, it might be having the teams create an issue in the Issue Log. Writing it out tends to give them more focus and clarity and it gives the PM some extra time to become better informed about the root of the conflict.

    If the conflict is about the technical approach to the project, then I will seek the opinion of more experienced personnel on which technical approach makes the most sense.

    Sometimes it is just a clash of personalities and those are the most difficult, I think, to resolve. But the bottom line is that the conflicting parties must learn to work together productively and keep tension out of the workplace, or changes will need to be made.

    I have seen people removed from projects (and fired) for not being able to play well with others. It’s a harsh choice, but if the team can’t focus on being successful because of conflict, the PM will have to decisively address the issue.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Please complete this equation so we know you’re not a robot. *

+ 63 = 69

Thanks for submitting your comment!
You must be logged in to comment.