The need for conflict resolution skills is inevitable in any management or leadership role.
As a project manager, you will likely face difficult situations and conflict with team members or stakeholders, sometimes on a regular basis.
It’s important for anyone in a leadership or management position, including project managers, to possess the basic skills necessary to handle conflict effectively.
Otherwise your projects, your work environment, and your team morale can suffer greatly.
In this blog post, we will discuss some tips for handling conflict in project management. We will also provide links to some resources that can help you improve your conflict management skills.
Types of Conflict
In order to minimize the negative effects of conflict, it’s important to understand what types of conflict can occur and how to handle them effectively.
Let’s take a look at the four most common types of project management conflict.
1. Task Conflict
Task conflict occurs when team members disagree on the best way to complete a project task.
In order to resolve this type of conflict, it’s important to have a clear project plan in place.
By outlining the steps needed to complete each task, team members will be able to see exactly what needs to be done and how they can contribute.
If there is still disagreement, a project manager can facilitate a discussion between the team members involved and help them come to a consensus.
2. Relationship Conflict
Relationship conflict involves team members having personal disagreements with one another.
Relationship conflicts can often be resolved by simply having an open and honest conversation with the person you’re disagreeing with.
However, if the conflict is more serious, it may be necessary to involve a project manager or human resources department.
3. Process Conflict
Process conflict occurs when team members disagree on the best way to complete a project or the methods that will be used.
Like task conflict, process conflict can often be resolved by creating a clear and concise project plan up front. Declare how things will be done, and ensure the team is on board before the project kicks into high gear.
4. Resource Conflict
Resource conflict occurs when team members compete for limited resources (i.e., budget, personnel, physical resources or tools).
Once again, clear plans that have been established and agreed upon in the planning stages are the ideal way to mitigate resource conflict later in the project.
Noticing a pattern here?
The moral of the story is: it is much more efficient to establish up front how issues will be handled once the project is underway than it is to just make it up as you go.
Tips for Managing Conflict
There are many conflict management styles, and the key is to find what works best for you, based on your personality and the situation itself.
For example, sometimes you may need to be more assertive, other times more cooperative.
Sometimes you just need to keep your mouth closed and your ears open.
You also need to be able to read other people’s conflict management styles so that you can adjust your own accordingly.
The tips below are relevant for project managers and leaders in many different professions.
Flex Your Listening Skills
As with most things related to communication, effective conflict management starts with listening. This is an excellent time to put your active listening skills to work.
Communicate Openly and Honestly With Everyone Involved
You’ll need a degree of emotional intelligence to effectively handle conflict. Put in the effort to empathize with both sides and truly understand where each is coming from.
Be Willing to Compromise
This doesn’t mean giving in, or forcing someone else to give in, but it does mean working to find a middle ground that everyone can live with.
Keep Your Cool
Getting angry or defensive will only make the situation worse. If you or anyone else involved in the conflict needs time to calm down, suggest a break and come back later.
Consider Involving Your Human Resources Department
If you’re unable to resolve the conflict yourself, consider bringing it to your organization’s HR department. HR professionals are often well-training in conflict resolution.
More Tips for Managing Conflict
- Be aware of your own conflict management style and triggers.
- Understand the conflict styles of your team members.
- Address conflict early, before it has a chance to escalate.
- Communicate openly and honestly with all parties involved in the conflict.
- Seek resolution, not victory. Compromise if necessary.
- Follow up after the conflict has been resolved to ensure that everyone is still on board with the agreed upon solution.
Conflict Management Resources
Resources that can help you improve your conflict management skills include:
- The Conflict Management Skills Workbook, by Ester R.A. Leutenberg and John J. Liptak.
- Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, by Kerry Patterson, Emily Gregory, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler.
- The PM Happy Hour Podcast has a 3-part series on conflict, based around the Crucial Conversations book listed above. It’s a fantastic podcast, in general, well worth checking out.
- Understanding and Managing Conflict in a Project Environment, a paper on The Project Management Institute’s website.
Final Thoughts on Conflict in Project Management
Conflict is inevitable, but with the right attitude and mindset, you can work to manage it effectively so that it doesn’t get out of hand.
Conflict management can be difficult, even for the most seasoned of leaders. For one thing, it can often feel quite uncomfortable, even if it doesn’t directly involve you.
For another, unresolved conflict can have a negative impact on your team’s morale and performance, which in turn can negatively affect your entire project.
However, it is important to remember that conflict is not always negative.
In fact, some conflict can be healthy and lead to better solutions.
So the next time you’re faced with a conflict, remember the tips above, and remember that like many challenges, conflict can present opportunities for growth.