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5 Conflict Resolution Techniques in Project Management

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Today we will discuss the five conflict resolution techniques that we use in project management to resolve conflict.

These techniques are universal to any type of workplace.

Read More: PMI Certifications

However, in project management, the work environment is dynamic and stressful, unlike the functional environment. Conflicts are common occurrences. If you are managing projects, you know how important it is to manage conflicts, and that is why you should understand the conflict resolution techniques. 

Conflict Resolution Techniques

When two or more stakeholders have different opinions or interests, conflict can occur. 

Schedule priorities, scarce resources, technical reasons, and personal issues can all cause clashes. According to the American Management Association, managers spend 24% of their time managing conflicts.

Don’t panic; the situation is usually not as bad as you think. Resolving conflicts appropriately can build trust and sometimes bring new ideas and opportunities. This can make the difference between a positive and negative outcome.

If you don’t solve the conflict, your team members will lose trust. It will weaken your position as a project manager and the ability of your team to bond, which may affect your project’s success. You must deal with conflict before it is beyond resolution.

The following are a few consequences of improper conflict management:

◉ Low team morale

◉ Negative impact on the project manager’s authority

◉ Increased number of personal clashes

◉ Low productivity and efficiency

◉ Low-quality work

If required, project managers must monitor and resolve conflicts as quickly as possible to keep them from becoming bigger issues.

Now, we will talk about conflict resolution techniques.

This blog follows the PMI guidelines and PMBOK Guide. Here are the five techniques:

1. Withdraw/Avoid

2. Smooth/Accommodate

3. Compromise/Reconcile

4. Force/Direct

5. Collaborate/Problem Solve

These conflict management strategies are also known as Thomas-Kilmann’s five approaches to resolving conflict.

Let’s discuss each technique in detail.

#1. Withdraw of Avoid

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In this conflict resolution technique, you avoid the conflict or retreat and allow conflict to resolve itself. This is for when stakes are low, and the conflict is likely to disappear on its own.
Use this technique in the following cases:
◉ Individuals involved in the conflict are not influential stakeholders.
◉ The issue does not require a time investment.
◉ An intense argument has already happened, and the individuals need time to cool off.
◉ You do not have enough information to pursue other techniques.

Advantages
This technique saves time that you can invest elsewhere. It is a good conflict management strategy to apply to low-level disagreements and gives you enough time to prepare if the conflict re-emerges.
Disadvantages
Withdrawing or avoiding is not really a resolution, does not resolve a conflict, and may weaken your position because parties may assume you have an unfair bias. Team members may think you are lacking skills or are not authoritative.
Many experts don’t consider this technique as a conflict management strategy, that avoiding and escaping is not a solution.

#2. Smooth or Accommodate

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In this conflict resolution strategy, you find areas of agreement and try to smooth out the situation and circumvent tough discussions.
The smoothing technique gives more consideration to one party than the other. You downplay the seriousness and behave as the conflict never existed.
This technique is helpful in the following cases:
◉ You don’t have time to deal with it.
◉ You require a temporary solution to the problem.
◉ The conflict is minor and involves less influential stakeholders.

Advantages
This conflict resolution strategy does not require much effort. You can focus on essential issues by ignoring unimportant arguments. Situations can be potentially handled simply while bringing harmony, creating goodwill, and providing enough time to find a permanent solution.
Disadvantages
If you fail to bring a balanced approach, one party may take advantage since you are giving them more consideration. Other parties not being accommodated may question your authority or stop reporting conflicts.
This conflict resolution strategy is not recommended as it often weakens the project manager’s authority.

#3. Compromise or Reconcile

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In this conflict management strategy, you take suggestions from both sides and partially satisfy them. This technique is useful when the stakeholders involved hold equal power.
You may use this technique in the following cases:
◉ All parties involved need to win
◉ When you have an equal relationship with both parties
◉ Collaborative and forcing techniques have failed
◉ When you need a temporary solution 

Advantages
This technique brings quick results, lowers stress, and keeps all parties placated until you can find a permanent solution. You can cool off and revisit the situation later.
Disadvantages
This conflict management technique does not generate trust in the long run; all parties remain unsatisfied, and the conflict could resurface at any time. Morals are not being strengthened. You may have to ensure all parties abide by the agreement.

#4. Force or Direct

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In this conflict management strategy, you agree with one party’s viewpoint and enforce their wishes. This is a win-lose situation and risks demoralizing the team.
You can use this conflict resolution technique in the following cases:
◉ When you need a quick solution
◉ When you know that one party is right
◉ You do not have time to investigate
◉ When the conflict is not very important
◉ When the relationship with stakeholders is not essential

Advantages
This technique provides a quick solution. It requires almost no effort from the project manager and it may help establish their authority.
Disadvantages
Using this technique may cause a negative impression on you. You may lose opportunities gained from the opposing party’s viewpoint. You cannot apply this technique with powerful stakeholders. It may backfire and worsen the conflict.

#5. Collaborate or Problem Solve

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In a collaborative conflict resolution strategy, you discuss the issue with all parties and agree on a solution while considering multiple viewpoints.
You may use this technique in the following cases:
◉ When incorporating multiple views
◉ If influential stakeholders are involved
◉ When a consensus is required
◉ If you want to distribute responsibility 

Advantages
This is a real problem-solving technique that provides a solution to the conflict. It brings consensus, commitment, and shared responsibility for the outcome. This technique creates a win-win situation, builds your team’s confidence, earns respect, and establishes your authority.
Disadvantages
You cannot use this technique when you need a quick solution because it takes time and effort. It is generally used for conflicts that may affect your project, not all issues

Which Conflict Resolution Technique Should I Use?

The PMI does not recommend using any specific technique for all conflicts; it all depends on the situation and the stakeholders involved.
For example, if two ground-level laborers have a conflict, what should you do?
You may ignore it.
However, if you see that some important stakeholders have a conflict, you will intervene, solve the conflict, and spare your project from harm.
Although no single technique can be used for all conflicts, generally, it is thought that the “Collaborate or Problem Solve” method brings the most consensus and commitment.

How to Prevent Conflict 

You cannot keep all conflict from happening, but following a few rules can minimize it. These guidelines are:

◉ Establish Strict Ground Rules: These help discipline team members which result in less conflict.
◉ Have an Effective Communication Plan: This can help you avoid many conflicts. Define how much and how often you will communicate with your stakeholders.
◉ Have a Better Stakeholder Management Plan: Your project is successful if your stakeholders are happy. Project management is all about managing stakeholders’ requirements. 
◉ Solve Conflict Early: This takes less time and effort. Make sure an unresolved conflict doesn’t resurface again later.

The Role of the Project Manager in Conflict Resolution

I have explained all strategies to resolve conflicts and how you can use them. As a project manager, you have to respond rationally and reach a solution that best serves your objective.
While resolving a conflict, keep the following points in mind:
◉ Each participant deserves respect
◉ Be calm, and rational.
◉ People are separate from problems
◉ Each participant should be listened to patiently
◉ There are always areas of agreement and disagreement
◉ You should explore all possible solutions.
◉ Mind your biases and don’t pick sides
◉ Don’t force or pressure participants
◉ Postponed conflicts may fester. 
◉ Focus on the conflict, don’t let escalate the issue or generalize it.
Source: pmstudycircle.com
Updated: August 21, 2021 — 3:03 pm

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