What exactly is conflict?
According to Thomas and Kilmann, “conflict is any situation in which your concerns or desires differ from those of another person” (1974). A high level of hostility is no longer included in this modern definition of conflict. Conflict can range in emotional intensity from friendly discussion to uncontrollable fighting. The term “conflict” is used interchangeably with many other terms. Exhibit 1 distinguishes these terms.
Exhibit 2 illustrates each term for three project management domains.
Conflict’s Costs and Benefits
Conflict is no longer regarded as an anomaly. It is now considered a natural byproduct of human interaction.
Unmanaged conflict can harm relationships between groups and between individuals. Lines are drawn, and assumptions are made about future actions and intentions. It degrades current project performance and contaminates the environment for future projects.
The beneficial conflict
Conflict management can help your project team reach its full potential. It can boost the team’s problem-solving creativity while reaping the benefits of good business relationships with the rest of the organization.
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“What’s wrong with harmony and tranquillity?” you may wonder. The project team may become static or apathetic without disagreement or conflict. They are more likely to be unresponsive to the pressure for necessary change or innovation because they are unwilling to encourage competition. It is simple for a group that insists on harmony to exclude alternatives that contradict their accepted convictions.
When actions and expectations diverge, conflict arises. Actions are the result of a combination of:
• Inherited life assumptions—both group and individual
• Advocated values that reflected our ideals—both group and individual
• The immediate situation, as perceived by each individual.
Based on their track record of success, groups form values and assumptions. When we see an action, we tend to attribute beliefs and importance to the actor. We see the immediate situation through our own eyes and cannot see it through the eyes of others. We frequently attribute disagreements to personalities without considering the impact of cultures.
Exhibit 2 consists of images.
What Is Conflict Resolution?
The traditional conflict resolution approach concentrates on resolving the immediate issue. This method, however, rarely gets to the heart of the conflict. The complaint may be the most convenient way to express a much more profound and extensive set of concerns accumulated over time.
The conflict that has been managed has been redirected from hostility to beneficial problem-solving. The conflict that has been collected is not conflict that has been suppressed. Suppressed conflict usually resurfaces later in more aggressive forms.
Your Skill + The Situation + Your Preferences determine your ability to manage conflict.
Project Conflict Management Principles
The nine principles listed below demonstrate conflict resolution’s impact on a project.
1. Unmanaged conflict can lead to the failure of your project.
2. Unmanaged conflict can consume all of your time and energy.
3. Unmanaged conflict can destroy business relationships, dooming future projects.
4. In the project environment, conflict is unavoidable.
5. Managed conflict, on the other hand, has the potential to introduce better methods and products.
6. Conflicts are managed proactively by effective project managers.
7. There are numerous approaches to conflict resolution.
8. Collaboration has the most significant potential to improve products, processes, and business relationships.
9. Managing conflict necessitates the standard project management process of concept, planning, implementation, and closeout.
Consider the following scenario. The project’s sponsor has approved the project’s requirements and plan. The next day, you learn that he has been fired. He and his boss, a corporate vice president, don’t agree on much. You’ve heard that the vice president has chosen someone from a completely different operational area to temporarily replace the fired employee until a permanent replacement can be found.
The potential conflicts that may arise due to this change are far-reaching. Funding, deadlines, resources, and the project’s continuation may now be questioned. As the project manager, you must respond to these conflicts as they arise, or you can mitigate their effects by anticipating and managing them before they occur. You may have to spend most of your time compensating for this change. According to the project sponsor, this change in your project’s validity could significantly impact other projects already planned for future implementation. Of course, much of this diversion could have been avoided if you had noticed the background conflict between your sponsor and his superior.
Balance in Conflict Management
Conflict management in projects necessitates striking a balance between the project’s commitment and its environment.
1. Making and carrying out project commitments:
• Budgets—the allocation and release of funds
• Timelines for deliverables and milestones
• Resources—assignment and completion
• Quality—features and worthiness (“sufficient”).
2. Understanding the project environment:
• Interactions—how individuals/groups communicate
• Culture refers to what groups value and how they behave.
• Trust—the strength of personal and group relationships
• Expectations—what individuals/groups believe they are entitled to.
The Conflict Resolution Procedure
The conflict resolution process is a series of actions that can be performed in any order to anticipate or mitigate a specific conflict situation.
Plan for Conflict
The first step in conflict preparation is identifying the key players in the project whose expectations or concerns may differ from those of other key players. The next step is determining the motivations and significance of their disparate expectations or circumstances. Every issue discovered that might have ramifications for the project must be researched and comprehended.
Figure 3: Major Commitment Points
If conflict is unavoidable, the time and place for resolution must be mutually agreed upon. The sooner a conflict is addressed, the less likely it will escalate into harmful hostility. Throughout this process, the project’s overall goals must be reconfirmed regularly.
Methods of Conflict Resolution
As described later in this paper, there are five different modes of conflict resolution. Choosing the best mode should not be a one-sided process. All key participants must be involved in recognizing their automatic conflict response and selecting the method that will benefit the project and the participants’ relationships the most.
Carry it out
Like any other project management practice, planning and preparation need to be revised. Because full participation of all key players is required for successful conflict resolution, everyone involved must be motivated to share responsibility for conflict resolution. The actions necessary as a result of ongoing conflict management must also be monitored and evaluated. Any deficiencies in performance or outcomes of these actions must be addressed.
Because of the complexities and long-term consequences of project conflicts, conflict is rarely rigidly controlled. Although conflict management planning is essential, it must also be flexible enough to adapt to changing perceptions and relationships throughout the conflict’s life cycle.
Preparing for Conflict
Managing conflict requires the project manager to work on it continuously throughout the project’s lifespan. The project manager must understand that conflicts are not discrete points on the project timeline. They may appear as isolated issues or problems initially, but they usually began much earlier due to miscommunication and missed opportunities.
Damage may have already been done when visible problems emerge. To avoid being caught off guard by conflict, the project manager must ensure that the methods for conflict resolution will be documented during project communication planning. Having project stakeholders agree to these methods early on in the project helps to kickstart the culture change required to shift from blame to acclaim.
In their rush to meet project deadlines, project managers can become fixated on the project plans and miss subtle cues that indicate impending conflict. To avoid this, “look sideways” at the project regularly. Changing your perspective increases your chances of seeing what is usually hidden. For example, when collecting estimates, you should be aware of any significant differences between estimates, mainly if the optimistic-pessimistic-most-likely method is used. If participants are not at least mildly enthusiastic early in the project, it may indicate an underlying conflict. Similarly, a reluctance to commit to project responsibilities is frequently caused by inconsistencies in expectations or concerns. Excessive review of any work product is another sign of impending conflict.
You will be able to learn about changes in the project’s environment sooner if you stay in touch with the project participants. One technique for accomplishing this is “MBWA,” or “Management by Wandering Around.” If this is not possible, enlisting the assistance of a “circuit rider” may provide you with the information you require. A circuit rider is an independent confidant who makes the rounds within any group, inside and outside the project, to identify problems early.
Exhibit 4: Five Conflict Resolution Modes
Points of Commitment
Major project commitment points frequently result in conflicts. It’s human nature to second-guess significant decisions at the last minute. Commitment points typically involve project releases such as funding, personnel, resources, distribution authority, production authority, etc. Commitment points can occur at any time during the project, but they are most common at the end of phases, as shown in Exhibit 3.
Commitment Points Preparation
Once you’ve identified the critical commitment points in your project, you’ll need to get the approval of those responsible for the change on the specific procedures they’ll use to commit. These procedures define the actions that will be taken, not just the criteria that will be applied. They must identify all participants who will be involved, as well as what information and in what form they will require to commit. You can avoid last-minute surprises like extra reviewers, extra paperwork, and unplanned inspections this way.
All but one of the five classic methods for conflict resolution emphasize give-and-take problem-solving based on prior experience and power distribution. None of these methods has a direct impact on trust. Only collaboration forges a more robust relationship by utilizing the underlying conflict to improve the performance of the groups. Collaboration is a forward-thinking method for accomplishing this, in which participants commit to actions based on future payoffs rather than compensation for past wrongs. Shared action commitments help to rebuild trust.
Conflict Resolution Techniques
In the mid-1970s, a model for understanding individuals’ responses to a conflict was developed, still used today to create an appropriate response. The five modes are competing, accommodating, compromising, collaborating, and avoiding. As shown in Exhibit 4, each involves a level of assertiveness (interest in satisfying one’s desires) and an independent group of cooperativeness (interest in helping the wishes of others).
Competing = winning/losing (high assertiveness, low cooperativeness)
Competing is used when immediate action is required, such as in an emergency, or when unpopular decisions must be made involving critical issues that need a clear conclusion. Aggression by the other party may necessitate a competitive response as well. If the conflict needs to be more essential to warrant the time spent on compromise or collaboration, competing (in addition to accommodating or avoiding) may be more cost-effective. However, competing is frequently perceived as a noncooperative approach that undermines the trust of the other parties.
Loss/Win = accommodating (low assertiveness, high cooperativeness)
When dealing with a new and unfamiliar area of conflict, accommodating is used to demonstrate reasonableness, create goodwill, and keep the peace. To save time, adjusting, like competing and avoiding, can be used for minor conflicts. However, accommodating is frequently misinterpreted as a retreat rather than a proactive strategy.
Avoidance =?/? (low assertiveness, low cooperativeness)
Avoiding is used to buy time for tensions to dissipate and to prepare a better strategy. Avoiding, like competing and accommodating, can be used for minor conflicts to save time, especially when dealing with more significant issues. However, avoiding is frequently interpreted as arrogance or fear, implying that either the party does not believe the conflict is worth their time or trouble or they wish to prevent an unavoidable loss. Avoiding conflict resolution does not always imply avoiding responsibility. You may end up with too much responsibility and not enough authority.
Compromise = loss/loss (medium assertiveness, medium cooperativeness)
Compromise is used when a conflict is significant enough to warrant the time required to negotiate an agreement. Unless the parties have equal power and skill, compromising can devolve into competing and accommodating. Unlike collaborative solutions, most compromised solutions are only temporary. Compromise, on the other hand, usually takes less time than collaboration.
Collaboration = win-win situation (high assertiveness, high cooperativeness)
Collaborating is used to resolve major conflicts, particularly those involving intergroup relationships. Collaborating primarily involves integrating solutions, marching perspectives, gaining commitments, and learning more about the other parties and the match itself.
Any of these modes, if misused, will eventually lead to increased conflict. Exhibit 5 shows how each of these modes requires different skills and attitudes to be successful.
According to one study, staff managers have less power than line managers and interpret openness as a willingness to be persuaded rather than an invitation to collaborate on problem-solving. They were regarded as uncooperative. Whatever mode you choose, summarize the agreements reached and consult with everyone before departing. Another study found that 80% of people misunderstood the agreements reached!
Project managers are essential in incorporating the collaborative process into their projects. Collaboration is a continuous process that requires a continuously engaged facilitator to move it step by step through the project phases; the project manager’s continued involvement meets this need. The project manager is also accountable for the project’s success for all stakeholders and is most motivated to pursue a cooperative, rather than adversarial, project environment.
The following are the primary tasks for successful collaboration:
• Obtaining participation from all affected parties’ appropriate representatives
• Establishing a shared set of desirable intermediate and long-term outcomes
• Reaffirming the power of collaboration in healthy relationships
• Reiterating the potential benefits of conflicts as catalysts for better product development and higher performance.
• Neutralizing avoidance, accommodation, or competition attempts
• Rather than dwelling on past injuries, focus on commitments to action and follow through.
Although project managers are in the best position to facilitate successful collaboration, they frequently fail due to several obstacles.
• Managers who come from occupations with low communication requirements, such as the technical fields, are prone to reluctance, particularly in the face of conflict.
• A project manager’s affiliation with their primary group can bias the project manager’s approach and alienate other parties.
• Acting more objectively and entertaining other people’s points of view can make the project manager appear to betray their primary group.
• The prospect of being outmanoeuvred by better negotiators or those with more authority can be discouraging for the project manager.
• Any party’s desire for vengeance may outweigh their desire for a continuing relationship.
• The widespread impact of any culture change can cast an unfavourable light on the project manager.
To overcome these obstacles, the project manager can employ any or all of the following tools:
• Conflict resolution and mediation methods training and “practice, practice, practice.”
• The help of a trained mediator or facilitator
• Sponsorship at a higher level than that of the participants
• A visible set of conflict resolution rules that all participants agree to and follow in every interaction
• A project progress chart of conflicts and resolutions to track the groups’ progress.
Many organizations have developed internal social systems that respond to conflict by avoiding resolution or displaying overwhelming force. In more dysfunctional organizations, the social system provokes conflicts without providing the necessary support to resolve them effectively. Project managers in either of these organizations face an uphill battle to improve relationships among project groups. The most effective strategy at the project manager level is to raise everyone’s expectations by gradually implementing new conflict resolution techniques, documenting the methods and outcomes, repeatedly promoting the benefits and explaining the processes to everyone within earshot, particularly executive management.
When introducing collaboration into the organization proves too difficult for the project manager, outside assistance may be required. There are several approaches to conflict resolution. The most typical are:
• Self-Resolution—All parties have received conflict resolution training, and their process is self-governing.
• Mediation—A qualified intermediary assists the parties in resolving their differences.
• Arbitration—An official judge analyzes the conflict and determines how it should be resolved.
• Hybrid—A combination of the above methods, typically delivered as a mediated workshop.
The project manager or an outside mediator can lead the mediation process. Unlike arbitration, parties in mediation retain control over resolving their disputes. Parts of the mediation process that are typically useful in any form of conflict resolution include:
• Agree on a mission, ground rules, an attainable goal, deadlines, and everyone’s roles and responsibilities.
• Early agreement on something with little contention.
• revealing and dispelling worst-case scenarios and greatest aspirations
• Allowing disagreement while requiring alternatives to agreement
• Reiterating what others have said to overcome selective hearing
• Promoting creativity, particularly in determining the sources of disagreement.
The most common form of project arbitration is escalating conflicts to the organization’s executive level. Arbitration, in any form, can result in resolutions that do not address the underlying causes of the competition and are thus superficial and fleeting. It can also discourage commitment to the solution if the parties involved do not believe their needs have been adequately met.
Helping resolve a conflict and promote collaboration with in the group