Conflict Management in Project Management

Conflict management is a tool in project management which is widely used for team performance domain and for;

Conflict Management Techniques

There are many different types of conflict management techniques. Below are a few that are often used in project management: 

  • Withdrawing
  • Smoothing
  • Compromising
  • Forcing
  • Collaborating

It's important to know the five different techniques because you'll be asked about this, and it's also nice to know the different five techniques so that you can use the one that's most appropriate at the right time.

The five techniques are forcing: 'I'm more powerful than you, I do what I want, I don't care what you feel.' It's a win-lose situation. There's a compromising where we both give up something to get half of what we asked for. It's a considered lose-lose situation. There's withdrawing where two people are arguing about something, I just don't want to hear about it, I just walk away. This is smoothing where one person says, 'All right, I'll give up this time, but you give up next time.' And it's a lose-win situation. And finally, there's collaborating or problem-solving where we try to get to the root of the problem and forge a win-win solution.

To demonstrate the difference between all five of those techniques, we'll give a simple example. And each technique works in different scenarios, so the example I give you, you obviously wouldn't use in certain situations, especially the last one, but let's just use it for an analogy. So, I have an orange or there's an orange in the middle of the table. I want it, you want the orange, we both want the orange, so we're fighting over the orange. I could say I'm bigger than you, I'm taking the orange, what are you going to do about it? That's forcing, it's the win-lose situation, I win, you lose, you have resentment towards me that's going to cause problems later on. There may be times that that situation is appropriate, probably not in the case of the orange, though. Alright, then there's compromising. You want the orange, I want the orange, fine, cut it in half, we each get half an orange. That's kind of a lose-lose, I wanted a whole orange, you wanted a whole orange, you only get half. So, that's not great, but in the orange situation, maybe that is appropriate, we'll see. Then there's withdrawing. I want the orange, you want the orange, hey, there's our boss, hey boss, Kelly is trying to steal my orange, or John is trying to steal my orange, the boss walks away. That's probably the appropriate situation if we're fighting over the orange, don't waste your time as a PM getting involved. Then there's smoothing. Oh, you want the orange, I want the orange, do you like oranges? I like oranges, that's great, we have something in common. Tell you what, I'll give you the orange this time, next time there's an orange, I get it. Is that fair? So, it's a lose-win situation, we're feeling better about each other, we know we have something in common, maybe helps for long-term solutions, but I lost out, I didn't get the orange I wanted. Lastly, there's collaborating or problem-solving. In this case, we ask the boss, 'Hey, can you solve this problem? We're fighting over an orange.' Obviously, you wouldn't do this in the case of an orange, but let's assume it's something more important than an orange. He'll come in and say, 'Oh, you like oranges, Kelly and John like oranges, something you have in common, that's wonderful.' John, why do you like oranges? And I say, 'Well, I've got this dessert I'm making at home, I need to zest the peel and use that to sprinkle on my dessert because I'm making this dessert that really needs an orange, and I didn't feel like going to the store, and it saves me a huge trip.' And he says to you, Kelly, 'So why do you like the orange? Do you like the zest too?' She goes, 'No, no, I just want fresh orange juice, I was just going to squeeze this and get all the pulp out of it and have a nice glass of fresh juiced orange.' So, he says, 'Great, John, you zest it, give the remains to Kelly, you'll juice it, and we can throw what's left in the garbage.' So, that was a win-win situation, we both got exactly what we wanted because we bothered to go down and problem-solve this.

So bottom line, you don't want to use collaboration on every single problem that comes up, every single conflict because it's not appropriate, it takes too much time. There are times when withdrawing is most appropriate, there's times when forcing is most appropriate, there's times when smoothing or compromising is most appropriate, and we need to recognize that there's five different techniques to use and use the right one in the right situation.

Okay, so overall, use whatever method is appropriate for the situation, but it seems that collaborating offers the best long-term solution. Exactly. And you can check out the description below and sign up for class if you like


1-Pmrace: I just finished reading your blog post on conflict management, and I must say it hit home for me. In my previous job, I encountered a situation that perfectly illustrated the importance of effective conflict resolution.

Picture this: I was part of a diverse team working on a tight deadline for a critical project. As the pressure mounted, our communication started to falter, and misunderstandings began cropping up. One day, a disagreement between two coworkers escalated into a heated argument during a team meeting. The tension was palpable, and it was clear that if left unaddressed this conflict could seriously jeopardize our project's success.

Thankfully, our team lead stepped in and facilitated a conversation. She created a safe space for both parties to express their perspectives and feelings without judgment. It turned out that the root of the issue was miscommunication and differing expectations. Through open dialogue and active listening we were able to find common ground, clarify misunderstandings, and develop a plan to move forward collaboratively.

What are some effective strategies you recommend for initiating a conversation between conflicting parties, especially when emotions are running high?

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