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How to Manage Conflict as a Project Manager

Conflict is Coming.

Having had experience at managing projects in the past, let me tell you that no matter how hard you try to avoid it, conflict within most project management teams is inevitable. Effectively managing it is arguably one of the hardest things a project manager has to do. However, regardless of what the subject is , the way a project manager resolves it will make the difference between creating a better team, or creating a bigger problem within the team dynamics. As annoying and time consuming as it is, it’s an important part of being a Project Manager. Don’t waste energy worrying about it, just accept it comes with the territory.

conflict resolution

Looking back now over my own career, I can recall conflicts with many people I managed over just about everything: other team members, being managed too much, not being managed enough, projects that were too tough, projects that were too easy. Sometimes it feels like you can’t win. I never liked conflict but I realized early on that it came with the job and trying my best to deal with conflict fairly and directly was a crucial part of the role.

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Conflict Management: The Basics

Here’s what I have learned.

  • Conflicts can be constructive– so long as they don’t develop into something personal. It is important to distinguish where “the line” is and do not cross it or allow anyone else to either.
  • Stay calm – As a Scouser, I have been constantly reminded that we are an excitable race full of passion, and “stay calm, stay calm” has become somewhat of a recognized war cry of mine. However, it is imperative that in business even when provoked, that you keep a close hold on your temper; stay as calm as you possibly can. Staying calm and balanced will prove to be a challenge, especially if there are strong personalities involved.
  • Act Quickly.If conflict arises, do not shirk from it or dismiss it. Don’t Avoid Conflict. The longer the conflict stews, the uglier it gets and the mole hills quickly become mountains to deal with, and “the line” can be crossed.
  • Identify things the conflicting parties agree with. Identify areas of common ground so that there is something to build on.
  • Keep the team focused on the ‘what’, not the ‘who’. Focusing on the problem rather than the person with the problem will keep personal biases quiet and maintain a professional environment.
  • Go for the ‘win-win’. Base your decision on a balanced review of the facts. Listen to the differing opinions so no one feels completely undermined and recognise that their view was considered. Get some closure and move on… the sooner, the better.
  • Make the difficult call if you need to. You’re the project manager; if one party is being completely unrealistic and disruptive, the responsibility of the success of the project rests on you…No one else.

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I don’t want to give the illusion that conflict resolution is easy because it isn’t. It never is. It is crucial that when conflict arises that you do not let it fester or grow, as this can have a detrimental impact on so many other areas of your business and personal life; business partnerships, employee morale, interpersonal relationships and so on. However, if you can develop a consistent, rational approach to managing conflict. It can make your difficult job much less stressful than it would be without it.