Because humans make up teams, it is expected that they will clash on issues, responsibilities, and many other potential matters that will inevitably arise. So it is important for the project manager to envisage conflicts and set up processes that will manage them when they arise.
Conflict resolution or management is the application of techniques or processes to quell misunderstandings or disagreements when they appear on the project. Conflict resolution involves setting goals, solving problems, settling differences among personalities, and many others.
An effective conflict resolution will lead to enhanced performance and improvement in work just like a failed conflict resolution can lead to disaster and unproductive behavior which will definitely have an effect on the project.
It is imperative that conflict is managed as soon as it occurs to prevent it from having a negative impact on the project and the productivity of the team. An unresolved conflict can also stall the project’s progress which will lead to delayed scheduled and cost overrun.
Conflict comes in different forms and they never fail to negatively impact the project when they occur. The following are some of the reasons why conflict happens:
- Leadership: Leaders are integral members of every organization and in the case of a project, the project manager is the leader of the project team and the project itself. He is the one the team looks up to for direction and guidance. When the leader makes good decisions and judgments, it will have a good and positive impact on the project team. Likewise, poor leadership skills can lead the team to chaos and conflicts. If the leader becomes clueless and pays less attention to the team, tasks, and goals of the project, it will definitely turn the project upside down and a free-for-fall kind of leadership is a recipe for disaster.
- Communication: It has been said that the project manager spends 90% of the time communicating on the project. This simply means if anything goes wrong with the communication channels or model on the project, it will lead to conflict. Clear-cut communication is a must to avoid conflict and ensure everyone is on the same page on the project. Good communication skill will ensure every team members know what is expected of him or her and that every stakeholder is also carried along.
- Disagreement in roles and work activities: When team members do not have clear roles and activities expected of them on the project, it will pointer that conflict will ensue sooner or later. Also when some team members are working on the progress of the project while others are working to see it ruin, it will be haphazard, and such can make the project end in disarray.
- Budgetary Allocations: When budgets are cut at the expense of the project, it can also cause conflict because team members will have to manage available resources thereby causing them to overwork. This also includes the inability to buy or lease project equipment that will enhance productivity, unpaid wages, or meager payment. All of these have the potential of causing conflicts in the project.
And because conflict comes in different forms, there are also different ways to handle different conflicts that happen on a project or even in an organization.
In the 1970s, Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Killmann proposed five (5) strategies for managing conflicts.
- Withdraw/Avoid: You are retreating from or avoiding the potential conflict situation altogether. It can also be in form of ignoring the conflict or postponing the issue to be better prepared when it will be handled. Although the withdrawal is a passive method of solving conflicts because it’s more like ‘postponing the evil day’. This strategy is used when the issue of conflict is not of immediate concern and does not need urgent attention.
- Smooth/Accommodate: The accommodating is also like the appeasing approach in which a party concedes its position for peace to reign. It emphasizes the areas of agreement than the areas of difference. Smoothing is helpful in keeping harmony and avoiding conflict situations. Although just like avoiding, accommodating is also a delay tactic as it does not address the full problem, it only does temporarily. Project managers must remember that if the conflict is not handled and resolved in a timely manner it will likely lead to more severe and intense conflict in the future.
- Compromise/Reconcile: In compromising, both parties search for solutions that will bring satisfaction to them both. In this strategy, each party gives up something so that they can achieve something else. Temporarily, both parties may feel hurt because they had to give up something that was important to them, but compromising usually provides acceptable solutions. A definitive resolution to the conflict is achieved when a compromise is reached and accepted as a just solution by both parties involved in the conflict.
- Force/Direct: This is a win-and-lose strategy. One party will gain and the other party will lose. So a party pursues its interest at the expense of the other. This method is not the best for solving conflict because, after the negotiation, one party will leave victorious while the other will be the loser. Forcing usually takes less time than compromise and negotiation but it leaves hard feelings because people dislike having others’ views imposed on them. This approach is appropriate when quick decisions are required or when unpopular issues such as budget cuts, fast-tracking or staff cutbacks are essential in a project.
- Collaborate/Problem-solving: This technique enjoins corporations from all parties involved to reach a consensus. All parties agree to a solution after weighing the pros and cons, so everyone leaves the negotiation table happy. With this technique, a resolution is easier to reach due because both parties are actively involved in looking for solution. It also allows each party to learn from themselves and gives them a wide range of options to choose from.
Other methods that can be used to resolve conflicts include;
- Active Listening
- Clear and unambiguous communication
- Effective decision making
- Unbiased mediator