Conflict is inevitable, combat is optional

Submitted by Alex Smith on Wed, 07/10/2015 - 11:42

Questions I am commonly asked include, ‘When are you going to finally get round to sorting out the patch of damp in the hallway?’, ‘Why do you keep buying 10% fat mince when you know I don’t like it?’ and ‘What rubbish have you bought off eBay now?’

In work, however, in my capacity as a project management trainer I am often asked why in PRINCE2, there is little focus on personnel management issues.

Well, in simple terms, this is not the point of PRINCE2. PRINCE2's aim is to provide a best practice framework around which to structure projects with accompanying documentation. For the tools and techniques (including personnel management skills) you may employ within such a framework to ensure it works effectively, I invariably point people in the direction of APMP.

For example, one skill essential to any successful project manager (and indeed, to anyone who sits in a managerial position), is the ability to handle conflict effectively.

Conflict within a project environment is inevitable. Disagreements could ensue over any number of situations; the prioritisation of user requirements, the results of quality testing, resource availability and allocation or even personality clashes within the team. Bearing this in mind, it is important that project team members have a variety of approaches at their disposal to deal with conflict constructively.

I should point out, however, that conflict doesn’t necessarily have negative consequences, although it is often perceived in this manner. It can be a powerful motivator – for example, healthy competition between team members. That said, if conflict is not managed properly this can seriously undermine your project.

Conflict management is one of the personnel management syllabus topics of APMP (these account for about a third of the total syllabus), and as well as providing an interesting source of debate between course attendees, advocates a number of different ways in which conflict can be handled, neatly illustrated by the Thomas-Kilmann model.



This model outlines 5 ways in which you might resolve a conflict.

  • You may choose to avoid conflict. This may be because the issue is trivial, or might cause disruption should you get involved. Initially avoiding may give you time to go away and think of a potential solution, or counter-argument. Obviously it doesn’t do much for your standing amongst your peers to employ this approach exclusively.
  • When you are competing you are in it to win it. This may be because you are confident you have a strong hand, or when you're positive you are right, so decisive action needs to be taken. Again, if this is your sole approach to conflict, the drawbacks are that you may be perceived as being aggressive or antagonistic.
  • Accommodating means giving way, letting the other party win. You may choose to do this as whatever is being discussed is of little importance to you. Or, you might be considering the big picture, and using your accommodating stance to build credit for later situations. Again, accommodating all the time has its downsides, as you could be viewed as a pushover.
  • Collaborating is about achieving a win-win, in which both parties are fully satisfied. Being clear and honest about your objectives is crucial here, as is encouraging the other party to do the same. This is the ideal, though few people achieve this, but it makes it more likely that you will achieve a collaborative solution if you start out with this intention.

In a compromise neither side gets all they want, but some of it, partial satisfaction. This may be the next best alternative if a collaborative solution can’t be reached.

We can adapt our approach depending on the nature of the conflict and who it is we are in debate with, but we each have a natural tendency towards one of these areas, which will be individual to us. APMP encourages debate and discussion in this and a variety of other subjects related to project management, not only helping you gain a useful and widely-recognised qualification, but also providing some food for thought regarding how you can make yourself more effective when working on projects. Discover APMP at Quanta.

In the meantime, I’m going to accommodate my other half by going to the shops to buy some 5% mince.


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