In project management, there are many opportunities for conflict to surface — whether it be over deadlines, resources, or conflicting goals. As a project manager, it’s important to be able to identify and understand the root of these problems to plan effective conflict resolution strategies.
In some cases, conflict can be constructive, as it allows people to air their differences and come up with better solutions. However, when conflict becomes destructive, research shows that it can lead to gridlock and stalled projects, as well as poor performance over time.
In order to make the most out of a project and to maintain a positive work environment, it is important for team members to have effective conflict resolution strategies. The five strategies that will be discussed in this article are:
- Finding clarity in the conflict
- Actively listening to the other person
- Reaching a common goal
- Using “I” statements
- Dealing with emotions
Each of these strategies will be explained in detail, along with explanations of how they can be applied in the workplace.
Ready? Let’s get started!
1. Finding clarity in the conflict
In the absence of clarity, conflict will almost always arise. Ambiguity can come in many forms, such as vague instructions from a supervisor, or team members working on different parts of the project without clearly understanding the end goal.
In many cases, conflicts can be resolved by simply clarifying expectations and removing any ambiguity. This can be done by having regular meetings to discuss the progress of the project and any potential roadblocks, as well as by using clear and concise communication tools such as task lists and project management software.
If necessary, you can also use a technique known as “parking” to temporarily remove a conflict from the table until a later time. This can be helpful when two team members are unable to come to a resolution, as it allows them to continue working on other aspects of the project while they continue to discuss the issue.
To clarify a conflict, you can ask the following questions:
- What are the specific issues or concerns?
- What are each of our goals?
- What are potential solutions?
- What are the potential risks and benefits of each solution?
- Who makes the final decision?
By taking the time to answer these questions, you can often find a resolution that everyone is happy with.
2. Actively listening
It’s a widely known and accepted fact that listening needs to be active, not passive. Oftentimes, people think that if they’re just quiet and not saying anything, they’re being good listeners.
In order to really listen and understand someone, you need to be engaged. You need to give them your full attention and make eye contact. You also need to refrain from interrupting them, even if you think you know what they’re going to say.
Interrupting someone not only shows that you’re not interested in what they have to say, but it can also stop them from being able to fully express themselves. This can lead to misunderstandings and more conflict. If you’re truly interested in resolving the conflict, then you need to be a good listener.
To switch on and begin actively listening, you can use some simple techniques such as:
- Nodding your head to show that you’re following along
- Paraphrasing what the person has said to ensure you’ve understood them correctly
- Acknowledging the other person’s feelings by saying things like “I can see why you might feel that way” or “I understand how you could feel upset about that”
These techniques will help the other person feel heard and understood, which is essential for resolving any conflict. Remember that this strategy isn’t just to put on a guise and pretend to be interested in what the other person has to say — it’s actually about understanding their perspective and empathizing with them.
If you can do this, it will go a long way in resolving the conflict.
3. Reaching a common goal
Conflict will often arise in project management because two or more people are geared toward different goals. It’s essential to remember that all team members are working together on the same project and should have the same end goal in mind. But how can you ensure that all team members are on the same page?
There are a few things you can do:
1. Define the goal of the project at the outset and make sure all team members understand it. This means everyone understands what they’re working toward and why.
2. Create a team charter or mission statement. This document will outline the team’s goals, values, and procedures.
3. Hold team meetings regularly and go over the project goal and how everyone is progressing toward it. This will help keep everyone on track and remind them of why they’re working on the project in the first place.
4. Make sure everyone has the same tools and resources they need to do their job. This includes things like access to the project files, communication tools, and so on.
5. Celebrate team successes together. Acknowledge everyone’s contributions and celebrate when the team reaches its goals. This will help keep everyone on board and working together toward the same goal.
When team members are all working together and have the same goal in mind, conflict is less likely to arise. However, if it does happen, it’s important to have a strategy for resolving it.
4. Using “I” statements
This strategy is more focused on the way in which you communicate with other people during conflicts. It involves using the word “I” more often, instead of using accusatory statements. For example, “I didn’t like the way you handled that situation” is better than “You always do things wrong.”
The use of “I” statements can help to avoid the escalation of conflicts, and it can also make it easier for the other person to understand your point of view. It can also help to build a more positive relationship with the other person.
Here’s an example of how “you” statements can make conflicts worse:
Person 1 — “You’re always so lazy! You never do any work!”
Person 2 — “Why are you always picking on me? I do as much work as everyone else!”
Here’s how “I” statements can diffuse the conflict:
Person 1 — “I feel like I’m doing more work than everyone else.”
Person 2 — “Maybe we can all try to do a little more work so that it’s more evenly distributed.”
As you can see, the use of “I” statements can help to resolve conflicts in a more efficient and positive manner.
5. Dealing with emotions
Even if conflict arises in a professional setting, such as within your project management team, the conflict can still be traced back to personal emotions.
It is very important to remember that we all have different backgrounds, upbringings, and personalities which will contribute to how we react when faced with conflict. The key to dealing with emotions in a constructive way is understanding yourself and the other person involved in the conflict.
When you understand your own triggers and how you react to conflict, you can start to develop strategies for dealing with the situation. For example, if you know that you tend to get defensive when someone challenges your ideas, you can make a point to listen more carefully and not jump to conclusions.
Similarly, when trying to understand the other person involved in the conflict, it is important to consider their background and personality. For example, if you know that the other person is very analytical, they may need more time to process information before making a decision.
Here are a few tips for dealing with emotions in a constructive way:
- Take a step back and try to understand why you are feeling the way you are.
- Identify your triggers and be prepared to deal with them.
- Be patient and understanding when interacting with someone who has a different reaction than you.
- Consider the other person’s background and personality when trying to understand their reaction.
- Try to stay calm and be prepared to compromise.
With these tips, you can start to develop better strategies for dealing with the emotions that arise during conflict. This will help you to resolve the conflict in a more efficient and productive way.
Conflict Resolution Strategies: Final Thoughts
When you’re regularly working in a professional setting, it can be easy to forget that the people around you are emotional beings and that they can and will get frustrated. The more people you have in a room, the higher the chance for conflict.
Conflict resolution is important, especially so in project management. Inefficient resolution of conflict can lead to team members feeling unheard, ignored, and undervalued. This can lead to a decrease in morale, motivation, and productivity.
Not only that, but studies have proven time and time again that happy employees lead to successful businesses. In order to maintain a cohesive team and promote productivity, it’s important to have effective conflict resolution strategies in place.
Hopefully, the tips in this article have given you a few new ideas on how to handle conflict in your workplace. Remember: when conflict arises, you need to clarify the situation, communicate clearly, use empathy, and change those “you” statements to “I” statements. You’ve got this!