Reducing Conflict Management for Project Managers

There’s no getting around it: when you’re managing a group of people, you will inevitably find yourself in the midst of conflict of one type or another. As project manager, you are expected to have the ability to resolve the conflict as quickly and efficiently as possible, and to make sure that the project does not suffer. Before you jump into a new role, think about how these 4 steps can help you get ahead of conflict powerfully.

Set the project standards and expectations early and clearly: Conflict often arises due to misunderstandings about the project and tasks at hand. Setting specific guidelines early and clearly is an easy way to prevent some conflicts from ever starting. Take the time early on in the project to validate your assumptions about the project with stakeholders and sponsors, and make any necessary changes early in the project. Make sure every team member understands the goals of the project and that they are always updated if/when changes to tasks, deadlines, or goals occur. Keeping everyone on the same page is a simple but important step in eliminating conflict due to misinformation.

Clearly define tasks and deadlines: This is another easy but important step to take to prevent conflicts in the first place. Let every team member know what his/her role is, and clearly define each member’s tasks in your approved project plan. Refer to the approved project plan during status meetings to keep the team focused on completing the project instead of bickering about who should perform certain tasks.

Set the standard for appropriate conduct: Even when you do your best to minimize conflict, some issues will arise. Make a point to handle any conflict or inappropriate conduct effectively and early. Don’t let a conduct issue go unnoticed or un-discussed, especially if it includes harassment or aggressive behavior. On the flip side, make a point to acknowledge appropriate conduct. Positive reinforcement can be a powerful motivator. And of course, model appropriate conduct yourself, both in and out of the office.

Mediate conflicts when necessary: When two or more of your team members are in conflict, take the time to understand the conflict and come to an agreement about how to handle it. Discuss the issue privately to minimize the damage that the conflict can cause among other team members. Listen to each party, and work with the individuals in conflict to define the problem. Often the root problem is different than the petty argument at hand. Once you know the problem you will be able to decide how to handle it.

Conflict is a part of life, and as a project manager it is up to you to handle conflict among your team members. Taking time early in the project to make sure everyone knows and understands your expectations can eliminate several conflict situations that can arise from misunderstandings. When you do find yourself in the middle of a conflict, work with the individuals to reach a compromising solution. Don’t take sides, and don’t try to focus the blame. Instead, identify the problem and develop a solution so that you and the conflicting team members can move forward with the project and with the team. Reducing conflict among team members is an important way to achieve your goals efficiently and effectively.

Happy project management!