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Conflict Resolution in Project Management: Complete Guide

Conflict Resolution Techniques in Project Management

Projects involve multiple people with different opinions, expectations, values, and ways of working, coming together to manage and execute tasks. Hence at some point, conflicts are bound to arise.

Conflicts in project management are unavoidable. While different people bring new ideas to the table, they also get caught in disagreements, clashes, personal issues, and cultural differences. 

When such conflicts go out of hand, they can ruin promising projects, stopping them in their tracks. 

As project managers, you have the power to prevent conflicts from amplifying before the entire project suffers. 

Go through this guide to learn about conflict resolution in project management and explore powerful strategies to resolve conflicts right when they arise. 

What is Project Conflict?

Project conflicts can arise between multiple stakeholders in a project. The reasons can be anything – opposing ideas, project stress, unforeseen requirements, budgetary constraints, lack of commitment, or personal ego clashes.

When a conflict arises, it negatively impacts all the people involved from the top-level management to those working in the lower echelon. Because of this, projects get stalled temporarily, leading to time and cost overruns.

If not addressed on time, conflicts can hamper project progress and employee productivity, leading to delayed and poor quality deliverables. 

Read more: A Step By Step Guide to Project Planning

Types of Conflicts In Project Management

Conflicts are inevitable. They show up in various forms and never fail to disbalance projects. Project teams have multiple people with different personalities, ways of working, communication styles, and emotional levels.

Based on these aspects, there can arise different conflicts such as: 

Conflicts Due to Unclear Task Expectations

In some scenarios, team members do not have clarity on how to proceed with the project tasks. In the absence of a clear roadmap, task management takes a haphazard path. Some team members work in a certain direction, while others proceed in a totally opposite direction. This leads to conflicts within the team, with the team manager and affects the overall task progress.

To handle this type of project conflict, it is advisable to lay clear and measurable goals before the team. Let each member know what they are supposed to do, the tasks they need to work on and the timelines that should be followed. With a definite project workflow, each team member knows what exactly is expected out of them.

A project management software like ProProfs Project comes with a feature to assign tasks to each member, set due dates, and track their progress. There are workflows that give a bird’s-eye view of open, completed, and pending tasks so that everyone is on the same page.

Read more: What is Task Management and How Does a Software Help

Conflicts Due to Poor Leadership

As a team manager, you need to guide your team on the right track by setting measurable goals, distributing tasks, and monitoring the progress of the tasks. Your constant encouragement and motivation can bring out the best in every team member. This ensures that the project tasks are completed on time without any issues.

In contrast, poor decision-making by a project manager leads to long-drawn conflicts. If they are clueless about task distribution and project tracking, the entire focus of the team gets disturbed. The employees’ problems get unattended and there is confusion in handling responsibilities, which negatively impacts and delays the final deliverable.

Read more: What Are the Skills Required for a Project Leader?

Lack of Communication

Many times it so happens that team members work in silos and are not aware of the progress of each other’s tasks. This lack of communication can stall the progress of projects. 

Clear communication is a must to avoid confusion and to keep everyone on the same page. With each individual clear about his tasks, the chances of task duplication are reduced to a minimum. 

A powerful project management software like ProProfs Project comes with communication features like task discussions, comments, and more to help you communicate with your team members easily.

Read more: How to Create a Project Management Communication Plan

Varied Working Styles

Any project is a combination of multiple tasks. Usually, each team member is assigned a distinct task. Hence, to ensure that the task is completed on time, there needs to be proper coordination amongst the team members. But, different team members have different styles of working. 

Some are quick learners and they take individual responsibility soon, while others require more guidance and work at a slower pace. The different working styles can hamper the flow of the project and slow it down considerably. When the project does not progress as planned and the road seems endless, conflicts are bound to occur. You can experience accusations, misunderstandings, and confusion all around.

Personality Conflicts

A project team can have members with diverse personalities. You have the slow learners and the innovators. Some might be introverts while others are extroverts. There could be people from different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, and many more. Everyone has different beliefs, attitudes, and modes of interaction. These differences can at some point in time lead to misunderstandings, misconceptions, and escalate into conflicts.

For example, a team member can find a personal remark of his peer disrespectful or arrogant. He may feel uncomfortable interacting with the concerned person. Even seeing the person every day can be distressing. This eventually leads to unproductive work and unwanted confrontations, leading to project failures.

Conflicts Over Budget

Every project comes with definite requirements like manpower, tools, software, etc. These require a clear-cut budgetary allocation throughout the project execution phase. But, many organizations resort to cost-cutting thereby hampering the project flow. 

The equipment purchase is delayed, there is no hiring of a new resource, and the client bill remains unpaid. Further, some teams get more budget while others receive a meager part of the overall budgetary allocation leading to conflicts among project managers. In such a scenario, it is necessary to plan the budget before commencing your project. Also, keep a track of unnecessary expenses to avoid budgetary overruns.

Read more: How to Manage Project Costs

Conflict Arising Out of Project Scope Creep

Project scope creep is a situation in project management where requirements crop up at the last minute. You might have already planned the project and the project may be flowing smoothly. But when more features get added, the budget shoots up and responsibilities increase it creates disorder in the team. 

This unforeseen requirement can break the flow of the project and take your team members by surprise. Many of them might be unwilling to work on extra requirements that require more time and effort. Few others may not be clear about the new additions and work haphazardly. With unclear responsibilities and chaotic working conditions, the team morale comes down, leading to mistrust and conflicts.

 Let’s take a look at some effective conflict resolution techniques that you can adopt to address conflicts right when they arise. 

Top 10 Conflict Resolution Strategies

If you know the root causes of a conflict, consider half of the battle won. The success of the other half depends on how you resolve these conflicts. 

Here are the top 10 strategies you can adopt to effectively resolve conflicts on time.

1. Set Guidelines  

This strategy for resolving conflicts is useful to lower the chances of occurrences of project conflicts. Here, your team members need to be given clear guidelines regarding the ideal behavior expected from them.

For example, your team members can be well trained on the team hierarchy, who to approach when, meeting guidelines, how to work in alignment with the organizational goals, and more. When all the guidelines are clear right from the start,  there are less chances of miscommunication. Hence, the probability of conflicts reduces.

2. Active Listening

With active listening, you get to learn the viewpoints of all the parties involved in the conflict. Different stakeholders face multiple concerns that make them behave in a certain way. Hence, getting to the root of their conflicting emotions is essential for unbiased problem-solving.

For example, imagine that a project gets stalled due to ego clashes between two team members. Instead of directly confronting them, you can actively listen to their problems. Understand the source of their misunderstanding. Did it happen all of a sudden or were the emotions built up from a long time? 

Also, ask questions to ensure that you got the facts of the matter right and do not fall prey to negative assumptions. Finally, rephrase or sum up what both of them said. In this way, you make sure that you clearly understand their challenges before taking a final decision. 

Read more: 6 Ways Managers Can Become Better Listeners

3. Avoid Force & Intimidation

Intimidation involves the use of authority as a leader to force people to follow your orders. This strict approach may not always yield the desired results. Your team members may follow you temporarily out of fear but they might feel uncomfortable interacting with you later. Unexpressed emotions, anger, frustration can boil up and resurface again and again.

Hence, make sure that you remain calm while resolving conflicts. Patiently listen to the concerns of all the team members. Do not accuse anyone or pass around the blame. Or, do not side with anyone either. Instead, see this as an opportunity to put in place an effective communication system at the workplace.

Explore more: Master Leadership Skills Training Course

4. Embrace Conflicts & Learn from Them

Sometimes, conflicts are unavoidable at the workplace. Employees have different viewpoints with respect to the nature of work, pay scale, project scope creep, and budgets. Instead of perceiving conflicts as problems, see them as an opportunity to bring positive changes to your organization.

For example, when a conflict occurs take it head-on and encourage each team member to speak their minds freely. Listen closely to their concerns. Probably your entire team can learn more from this situation and not repeat the same mistake in the future. In fact, embracing conflicts helps you expand your team skills and foster innovation in the long run.

5. Encourage Team Collaboration

The collaborative technique is an important technique of conflict resolution in project management. Here, the parties involved in the conflict come to a solution that is satisfactory to all. Everyone has something to gain in this approach as a solution is arrived at by taking multiple opinions.

For example, there could be immense disagreements in a team with respect to work distribution. A collaborative technique ensures that the work is distributed equally and no single individual is unduly burdened. With this, the team members feel a sense of satisfaction and the team morale goes up.

6. Use the Power of Compromise 

In a compromise approach, both the parties sacrifice some beliefs or ideas for the greater good of the team. This approach requires the concerned parties to collaborate and work towards a common team goal rather than being fixated on one’s individual issues. Usually, the compromise technique leads to amicable conflict resolution as the parties sit through to discuss, negotiate, and exchange ideas.

For example, if one member of the team wants performance feedback every two weeks and the other wants it every four weeks, you can achieve a middle-ground by making it every three weeks. Here, both parties may not have got what they actually desired. But, it satisfies them to some degree.

7. Constructive Criticism

Constructive criticism is a technique that involves giving encouraging feedback to everyone involved in a conflict. Here, the aim is to put forth a frank and straightforward opinion to solve the problem, but at the same, be supportive and point out the good work done by your team members. They must not feel resentful and walk out of the conflict resolution process. You may have to continue working with the same people on different projects and you cannot afford bitterness to linger on.

Hence, make sure that while resolving a conflict constructively, use a polite and calm tone. Make them understand the mistakes, but also give them the opportunity to work upon their shortcomings. Over time, you will see that your colleagues will even appreciate your negative feedback with good intentions.

8. Pragmatic Decision Making

Pragmatic leaders adapt their decisions based on the changing needs of their team. They make sure that their decisions are balanced in both emotions and reasoning. In doing so, they take an empathetic approach to solving team conflicts.

For example, when a conflict arises, they analyze both sides of the issue clearly. All the parties to a conflict get a fair chance to speak out and add their inputs. With everybody’s feedback, a pragmatic leader tends to take an unbiased view of the situation. Not just solving the immediate problem, they also learn from the conflict and put in place effective preventive measures for the future.

Read more: What is Decision Making in Project Management

9. Appoint a Mediator

Mediation is a conflict resolution technique where you bring a third person to resolve project conflicts. A mediator acts as a bridge between two conflicting individuals and listens to each of their concerns carefully. They ensure that the team members don’t get stuck up in arguments and help the members reach mutual agreements.

Research shows that people tend to be more satisfied with the outcome of mediation than other formal methods. You can use mediation to tackle disputes that could turn out to be more damaging in the future. As opposed to a formal dispute resolution mechanism, mediation is faster, less time-consuming, and barely stressful. 

Convert Conflicts Into Growth Channels

Conflicts are inevitable when you are working in a diverse team. While it tests the team dynamics as a whole, it is also an opportunity to debate and come out with innovative solutions. Conflicts are borne out of factors like unclear project requirements, non-accommodative leadership styles, ego clashes, lack of communication, and more.

However, you can adopt various techniques for conflict resolution in project management. These time-tested strategies take the form of active listening, constructive criticism, the appointment of a mediator, and so on. At the end of the day, make sure that you learn from the conflicts and grow stronger as a team.

Combine the above-mentioned strategies with a powerful project management tool like ProProfs Project and reduce the scope of conflicts arising due to overlapping tasks or lack of collaboration. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Which conflict resolution technique is most effective?

The mediation technique is the most effective conflict resolution technique. Here, all the stakeholders feel a sense of achievement and satisfaction. The mediator resolves the dispute after duly considering everyone’s viewpoints.

Q. How to achieve excellence in project management during the conflicts within workers?

To resolve conflicts in project management, you can adopt a number of techniques like: active listening, not avoiding the problem, appointing a mediator, active collaboration, constructive criticism, pragmatic decision making, and so on.

Q. How do you avoid conflict in a project team?

To avoid conflicts in a team, you can put in place a basic code of conduct for your organization. Here, the employees must have a clear understanding of their work expectations, company mission, organizational hierarchy, and more. With a thorough knowledge of the work culture, there would be better communication and collaboration between the team members, which will help in avoiding conflicts. 

Q. What is the effect of conflict?

A conflict stalls the project’s progress, thereby bringing in cost and time overruns. There is distrust between the team members and they may be uncomfortable working together. This hampers organizational growth in the long run.

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About the author

David is a Project Management expert. He has been published in elearningindustry.com, simpleprogrammer.com. As a project planning and execution expert at ProProfs, he has offered a unique outlook on improving workflows and team efficiency. Connect with David for more engaging conversations on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.