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Conflict management tips for project managers

Conflicts are an all-too-common occurrence in the workplace. These are the situations where the needs, interests, values or goals of the stakeholders in the project interfere with each other. A project manager needs to see these conflicts as opportunities for growth and ways in which they might be able to move a project forward to a successful conclusion. Conflict management offers the opportunity for anyone involved in the project to address any problems whilst highlighting those issues that are unforeseen. This can help people learn how to recognise and then benefit from differences.

One thing you will learn during any project manager course, such as the well-respected APM PFQ – the Project Fundamentals Qualification from the Association for Project Management – is that a project manager will also need to be a conflict manager. This means it is a good idea to identify your conflict management style.

The five personality types

Identified in the 1970s, there are five main personality types:

The Accommodator – this individual neglects their own concerns to satisfy those of others. They are not a particularly assertive person but are very cooperative. Essential is project success is more important than internal team arguments.

The Competitor – this individual follows their own concerns at the expense of other team members. They operate from a position of power and are often assertive. This is a useful style in an emergency when fast decisions are needed. With misuse, this style can create resentment.

The Avoider – this individual prolongs or evades situations and doesn’t address conflict. The style sees the delegation of controversial decisions and the acceptance of default decisions, preferably with no feelings hurt. If victory is impossible, this is a good approach, but it is weak and ineffective when the stakes are high.

The Compromiser – this individual gives less than the accommodator but more than the competitor. They expect everyone to give something up. This can be useful when there is a looming deadline and a standstill.

The Collaborator – this individual looks for solutions that satisfy everyone. They are assertive but take everyone’s viewpoint into consideration. They want win-win situations. This is a good style for managing conflicts.

Once you have identified your conflict resolution style then, you need to analyse the issue in order to approach it effectively. Training for project managers will help you to understand that you will then need to discuss possible solutions and then build the necessary consensus in order to resolve any conflicts. It is also important that whilst issues are being discussed and consensus built a project manager takes into account different biases and perceptions. For a number of reasons people have different biases and perceptions. These factors help to create the filters that people experience conflict through.

It is also important to think about the “impressions of the messenger,” the way in which those involved in the project see the project manager as the person who will have a significant impact on the conflict. Before you begin to look at a conflict and how you might resolve it, you need to know not only your style but also other people’s biases, perceptions and also any past experiences that you have had.

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