Project Management Professional (PMP)® Articles - Tips

7 Manager Tips for Resolving Conflict

By Christopher Scordo PMP, ITIL

Every good project manager will tell you that conflict is part and parcel of the job. Whether it’s an issue within the team, or whether an external source is disrupting your progress, conflict happens. Dealing with the conflict will determine whether your project succeeds or ends up as a failure.

Here are seven tips to addressing and resolving conflict in project management and on the job.

1. Keep your cool As a project manager, you will find yourself at the center of the cross fire. You need to make sure that you stay calm and you do not get worked up. In environments with lots of stress, everyone else is already angry; getting angry yourself will just make the situation worse. If you feel you are getting tense: step back mentally, breathe and relax. You need to remain rational and demonstrate your leadership. Think through your responses before reacting, whether it is verbally or sending an e-mail, and display a calm even demeanor.

2. Deal with conflict when it arises, don’t wait Conflict is part of everyday life. It happens all around us, in different forms, but it’s important to act on it as soon as you notice it’s there. Don’t let conflict fester, assuming it will “blow over”. In most cases, conflict will arise because of something which was said, or in the case of dealing with project stakeholders, something which was not said. Miscommunication among project stakeholders can be a nuclear bomb. If you suspect something is wrong, speak to your team; and if there is an issue, deal with it transparently.

3. Don’t play the blame game People get defensive when they are blamed for something, it’s a natural reaction. When you are sitting two people down to mitigate a conflict, encourage them to you use “I feel that” or “I think that” instead of pointing fingers and saying “You do” or “You are”. The latter is placing blame on somebody while the former is simply conveying a feeling, and this can greatly reduce defensive reactions among both parties.

4. Accept that somebody has to be wrong and it might be you People make mistakes, its part of life. It doesn’t make you a bad person, or a bad project manager (most of the time); and it doesn’t mean that your team is not suited for the job. It simply means that you are human. Once you have identified the cause of a problem, accept it if it is your fault. Apologize and correct it. If the problem rests with the other party, accept their mistake, forgive them and move on. Accepting that mistakes happen, and accepting responsibility for mistakes when they are yours, is the cornerstones of ensuring a project stays on track after it hits a wobble. It also demonstrates a high level of leadership maturity to those around you.

5. Compromise, but don’t limit yourself (SWOT) Conflict requires compromise, but don’t limit yourself to the options presented. Thinking creatively about a solution might be your best chance of saving a project, enforcing client expectations, or ensuring team members are not overworked. Similarly, the first solution you come up with might not be the best one. List all the solutions, as well as their pros and cons, using a “SWOT” format. Using the SWOT format, list the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) of critical project conflicts to mutually arrive at a compromise.

6. Keep the big picture in mind Whatever solutions you come up with, and whatever recourse you take to get there, keep in mind that you still have one ultimate goal: the success of your project. Don’t lose momentum, identify the source of the conflict and address it immediately.

7. Listen carefully, find the facts, ditch the rest As a project manager, it’s up to you to not only manage the project, but also the relationship between all involved. It’s therefore imperative that you are a good listener. If somebody has an issue, listen to them, but make sure you listen to the other side of the story, too. Gather the facts of the situation and discard any irrelevant personal agendas which might be making the situation worse. Confront the facts and resolve the issues that way.

Project managers must be expert diffusers. Think of your role as a bomb technician – somebody who has to very carefully get rid of a potentially explosive device. One wrong move and you could blow everything sky high. Communicating clearly, keeping calm, and sticking to a diplomatic approach is the best way to move forward and ensure the success of your project.