Conflict within projects can manifest itself in many different ways.
At the highest level, disagreements can lead to the pursuit of remedies through legal channels and cost organisations large amounts of money. A good project manager knows when to intervene and take action when conflict occurs.
At a lower level, conflict within a team may need to be dealt with by the leader or manager using softer skills and techniques. They must recognise that the pressures associated with achieving quality objectives will inevitably lead to conflict. It is people who achieve these objectives for you, but people are complex and will require motivation and support. The detrimental aspects of conflict can be minimised, if the project manager anticipates the potential conflicts and understands their determinants.
Conflict can arise from any of the following players: managers, senior management, client, team members and subcontractors.
Potential causes of conflict are:
A very common cause of conflict in a project environment can occur in the relationship between project manager and functional manager. This relationship needs to be open, communicative and focused (a relationship based upon negotiation and understanding).
The Conflict Cycle
The cycle of conflict can be an unbroken loop that is fuelled by a disputant’s sense of being wronged. However the cycle can be broken at two key places: beliefs and response (behaviour). These places serve as ‘gateways’ to break destructive attitudes and behaviours
The skills required for dealing with conflict will depend on the conflict-handling mode that is most appropriate for the situation.
Ideally we should deal with conflict by understanding beliefs/attitudes. This in effect is trying to understand the other party’s point of view and coming to resolution before a conflict has effectively started.
The problem solving strategies of conflict management address needs, and create opportunities for those needs to be satisfied. When individuals choose to continue conflict, no one’s basic needs are fulfilled. Basic psychological needs are the root of almost all conflict. The impulse to meet these needs during a conflict are so strong that we can act irrationally, even violently, if they are not satisfied.
Conflict Resolution Approaches
If conflict cannot be dealt with at the belief stage, then it may be necessary to try and break the cycle at response/behaviour stage. To reach a resolution that is amenable to both parties a balance of assertiveness and cooperation is required.
There is no single best approach that will help a project manager deal with every conflict situation. It is up to each project manager to develop a situational style which incorporates many different ways of dealing with conflict. Effective project leadership is leadership which is adaptive.
Conflict Resolution Summary