How Do You Respond to Project Conflicts?


  •  Minute Read

Project managers, team members, and other stakeholders have disagreements. Some are heated, some not. Let's look at the top reasons for conflict and five ways to resolve conflict. 

conflict with team members

Successful project managers do not run away from conflict; they run toward it. And they quickly engage the appropriate stakeholders in order to discuss and resolve the issues.

Furthermore, the best project managers are risk managers who look for practical ways to reduce conflict. How? First, these leaders communicate well—they tell the team where they are going, how they will get there, and when things will occur. Second, they clarify goals, priorities, and requirements. Third, these project managers work with their teams to break down the project and make activity assignments clear.

Top Reasons for Project Conflicts

In his book—Principles of Project Management—John R. Adams highlights a study by Thamhain and Wilemon where they studied categories of conflict issues. They found that schedules, project priorities, and manpower resources caused 50 percent of all conflict in the seven categories. But conflict exists in all seven areas:

  1. Conflict of schedules
  2. Conflict over project priorities
  3. Conflict over manpower resources
  4. Conflict over technical opinions
  5. Conflict over administrative procedure
  6. Conflict over cost objectives
  7. Personality conflict

With this knowledge, wise project managers give their attention to the schedules, priorities, and human resources first. Reducing conflict in these areas will help project managers deliver projects with fewer problems and greater value.

Five Ways to Resolve Project Conflicts

Whenever you face strong differences in opinions, determine how you will manage the conflict. Here are five common techniques:

  1. Withdrawing. Some project managers hate conflict and avoid it as much as possible. Withdrawing from the conflict does not make it go away. The issues will surely surface later in the project and will likely cause more damage than if addressed early.
  2. Smoothing. Other project managers are as smooth as silk. These project managers emphasize the areas of agreement and fail to address the differences of opinion, thus, kicking the can down the road.
  3. Compromising. Another method of dealing with conflict is to search for solutions where the stakeholders will compromise.
  4. Forcing. Project managers may be given authority and power. These individuals are prone to “lay down the law.” Team members may comply, but typically these same members find a way to undermine the project manager later.
  5. Problem-Solving. Turn the difference in opinions into a problem to be solved mutually by the stakeholders by careful examination of the alternatives.

Of these techniques, withdrawing and smoothing are easiest and least effective. Sooner or later the stakeholders will make their opinions known. Compromising is certainly better and can bring about positive results. Forcing may move things forward quickly, but it can be risky.

My personal favorite is problem-solving if time permits. Why? Problem-solving, a collaborative effort—often results in a better understanding of everyone’s opinions, analysis of the solutions, and long-term buy-in and support. There’s less likelihood of stakeholders undermining the decisions later.

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"Intelligent leadership, creative communication and depth of technical skill all describe Harry Hall." –John Bartuska, Director of HR–ONUG Communications

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