7 Strategies for Resolving Workplace Conflict

ProjectManager.com

People don’t always get along, but when you’re leading a team at work, keeping conflicts at bay is essential to maintaining a healthy, productive workplace. Jennifer Bridges, PMP, shows you how.

Here’s a shot of the whiteboard for your reference!

 

how to resolve conflicts in projects

In Review – PM Challenges: Workplace Conflict

While conflict at work can mean any number of things, Jennifer’s video addresses the conflicts that occur specifically in organizations and within the project teams themselves, and strategies that you as a leader can resolve it. For the purposes of this training video, we’ll not be referring to the larger, human resources conflicts such as harassment or bias or discrimination. Rather, we’re talking about the inherent inter-personal conflicts that are the stuff of daily life in the workplace, and how to make sure those don’t erupt into larger issues.

Conflict can best be mitigated by effective communication, and you can plan ahead to make sure your workplace has effective communication plans in place. It’s better to be proactive, than reactive, for sure. But when issues do arise, follow Jennifer’s advice for resolving conflicts at work.

What Is Workplace Conflict?

For our purposes, conflict is when two parties are at odds about how to do something. It’s also called drama, or professional disagreement, or even spirited debate. All of which are normal and healthy in an office setting, as long as they’re leading towards the best outcome for the team and the project.

However, workplace conflict can often become unhealthy and can have the potential to derail your project. Projects are inherently going to create conflict, whether between team members or shareholders and yourself. Jennifer surmised that there are two types of personalities all people can be reduced to in a workplace: the yes people and the no people. When these two types meet, conflicts can and do ensue. Part of being a project leader is being able to hear the complaints and then resolve them by choosing the best path forward, and have the authority to make people follow.

Types of Professional Disagreements

Not all conflicts at work are the same, and not all conflicts are even a bad thing, as Jennifer said. Sometimes it takes that friction to ignite a new idea or approach.

Either way, it’s important to understand the ways a conflict can arise before you begin to work on resolving them. Here are a few examples.

  • Different Approaches: When people have different perspectives or different backgrounds, they can often irritate one another.
  • Unmet Expectations: If you expect something and don’t get it, you’re going to likely be upset.
  • Changing Priorities: When priorities change midstream in a project or on assigned tasks, the potential to ruffle some feathers can increase.
  • Another Time Zone: If people are not on the same schedule, but working on the same project, even if on different tasks, that can cause trouble.
  • Egos, Egos, Egos: Sometimes it can be as simple as a personality that expects more from you or creates unrealistic demands.

The challenge working on teams where there are frequent disagreement or where two people on the team are regularly in conflict is that often the work itself is impacted.

The Problem with Unresolved Conflict at Work

When teams are beset with conflicting personalities or frequent heated disagreements, there’s usually a leadership problem. And left unchecked, conflict can easily escalate so that the whole workplace has become a toxic atmosphere for the rest of the team.

When you have a toxic workplace, other people start to look for the exits, or they lose faith in the work itself. It can feel like no one is in charge, so what’s the point of doing one’s best, anyway? Morale suffers and then work suffers.

If you’re the one managing the team, be sure to reflect on areas where you can step in to mediate and keep the work on track. It’s not enough to sit back and blame the team members for poor conduct. You need to understand how the behavior is impacting the whole team and work collaboratively with the team to discuss ways to resolve the issues.

7 Basic Strategies to Resolve Conflict

There are tons of strategies that have been developed in the field of conflict resolution. Many are involved and complicated, yet it’s worth your time to learn different strategies, so you have them at your disposal at the time of conflict.

Jennifer wanted to start with the basics, which she outlined in these seven steps.

  1. Diffuse the Situation: This could be considered triage. You want to stop the bleeding, so to speak, and in so doing acknowledge each person involved in the conflict. Don’t pick sides, just listen, and bring the temperature down to a level that you can work with.
  2. Define the Conflict: You’re not going to solve something until you know what it is. Hear from all sides and determine what it is that is causing the problem.
  3. Identify the Root of the Conflict: This is like putting the problem in a crucible and bearing down on it until you’ve reached its elemental base. By peeling away what isn’t needed, you can now see the problem in historic context and note how it had been dealt with in the past.
  4. Find the Common Goal: If there is something to which all parties can carry upon, then you’re halfway there to resolving the problem. Use that common ground on which to build an equitable solution for all.
  5. Create a Common Vision: Once you have people agreeing on a goal, it’s your job to help them envision how they can all work together to achieve that goal.
  6. Define Options: How can they work through conflict? By offering them a set of options. When they have choice, they feel more in control of the situation, and that ownership is going to give them the strength to unite and succeed.
  7. Create a Path: Now that you’ve got the warring parties to make peace and get on board a common solution, you must plan out the way they’ll get there. Whether that’s just reverting to the old plan, now clear to everyone, or devising an alternative route, the path to peace requires clear goal-setting.

It sounds easy, right? Of course, it’s not. But with those simple methods, you can address the madness and get back to productive work.

Pro-Tip: Things are going to get heated, the worst thing you can do is allow yourself to lose your temper. Stay calm when you’re working on resolving a conflict, and eventually your steadiness will steer the project to a safe harbor where you can works on repairs.

Thanks for watching!

Transcription:

Well, welcome to the PM Challenges Series. Today we’re specifically talking about strategies for resolving workplace conflict. Specifically for us, we’re talking about projects and within an organization.

So on every project, you’re always gonna have the, “Yes,” people and the, “No,” people, or one group’s gonna wanna do it one way, one group’s gonna wanna do it the other, so conflict arises.

So what is conflict? It’s serious disagreements that can lead to disputes. And then sometimes, they’re normal, sometimes they’re healthy, and then sometimes they’re unhealthy.

So it’s important to note the difference. So, when would a dispute or conflict be normal? Well, many times when people come together for the first time on projects or maybe they’re starting a new project, there is a cycle that the team goes through, and part of that is to go through some type of conflict. And then once they stabilize, they start performing as a team. So, that’s normal.

Another time that it’s healthy is sometimes when you’re trying to generate new ideas, a breakthrough idea, people get passionate about their ideas and sometimes those ideas are different.

So, it’s healthy to let that go for a while and let that play out because, again, you’re trying to break through to maybe new ideas or new solutions. But at some point, sometimes it turns unhealthy, and that’s when we need to know when and how to stop it.

So, why do these conflicts occur? So, sometimes when people have different approaches or different perspectives, maybe they have a different background and they’re coming at things from a different angle that sometimes causes or generates conflict.

Another time is maybe they’re unmet expectations between groups of people. Sometimes they’re changing priorities, maybe there’re people who are on the project or the leadership of the project in those…their priorities change, and that causes conflict for some people.

And then because of that, maybe different people have different time frames for finishing things. And then sometimes, it can be just straight up ego or selfishness. So again, these are why, you know, the conflict arises. So, when things go unhealthy, it’s important to know when and how to do it.

Now, there are other complex strategies or more in-depth strategies or techniques for resolving conflict. But today what I wanna do is go back to some of the basics because when you find yourself in the throw of things, you need just some basic, simple techniques.

So, some of those strategies are, first of all, you wanna diffuse the situation before it gets outta hand. And one simple way to do that is to first stop and acknowledge each of the people on the team or in the situation that are in the conflict. Acknowledge them, acknowledge their position or their approach and let them know that they’ve been heard.

Number two is define the conflict. What is the conflict actually about? Sometimes people get into the conflict and things get so heated and they get off on a tangent, they throw in everything in the past, and people tend to forget what is the conflict about. So you want to define it and frame it.

Number three is to identify the root of the conflict. You know, you wanna find out, did this happen before, did it blow up, did somebody get burned, did somebody get fired or penalized? You know, sometimes people, if they get reprimanded for something or something negative happened, that could cause conflict for people because they don’t want that to, you know, repeat or happen again.

Number four is find the common goal. If you can find the common goal, that gets everybody thinking about something bigger than themselves, something larger or more important than their own perspective.

Then what you wanna do is create a common vision. What are we trying to create together? And once they get the common vision, people generally get on board with the vision.

But you wanna be sure to include all the members on the team or in that situation. Let them know that they’re important to this vision, to this goal. Let them see themselves in the picture, and let them know that they’re important.

Also, number six is to define options. What are some options to resolve this conflict? What are some options to put the goals together and make this vision? Ultimately, you want to create a path together to get there.

And those are some of the basics to begin resolving those conflicts. So if you need a tool that can help you resolve conflict in your workplace, then sign up for our software now at projectmanager.com.

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