5 Ways to Resolve Conflict on Projects

conflict pm pmo teams Sep 29, 2022
 5 Ways to Resolve Conflict on Projects

One of the more dubious rites of passage in high school is witnessing (and hopefully, not being a part of) a cafeteria fight. Somebody says something wrong, looks at someone side-eyed, or heaven forbid, disrespects someone else. That’s all it takes to trigger a melee and attract an instant crowd yelling, “Fight! Fight! Fight!”  

Really kind of disturbing when you think back on it. 

Everyone grows up and hopefully the physical fighting stops. But, sparring with others can continue in the form of subtle digs, smirks and guffaws, withholding information, or even setting people up for failure in front of their peers and bosses. Not everyone does it, but we all know people that operate this way. 

Really kind of disturbing when you think about it. 

This begs the question, “Why can’t we all just get along on our project teams?” 

What are Reasons for Conflict across an Organization? 

First, let’s consider some of the core reasons why conflict occurs on our projects.  

  • Priorities - Technically, there can only be ONE project that is prioritized as most important. People try to skirt this rule by tagging them as 1A, 1B, etc. Doesn’t work. Conflict can arise if your project is not considered as important as someone else’s, causing your project to suffer. 
  • Resource Contention - Resources can range anywhere from labs needed for product testing to the number of people necessary to complete a project. There are only so many resources to go around. Not getting what you need to finish your project successfully could lead to conflict in the organization.  
  • Technical Opinions - Everyone has an opinion about nearly everything. This becomes especially apparent if a technical direction has to be chosen to support a project. For example, which technology, software, or hardware is going to be used? There will be many opinions. Only one solution can be chosen. Those whose suggestions are not chosen will many times feel hurt or disappointment, which can lead to conflict on a project. 
  • Personality Conflicts - Then there’s just plain old personality conflict. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. a particular person opens their mouth, you just cringe! You know what they're going to say, you know how they’re going to say it, and you know you’re not going to like it. Face it, you just don’t like them and this can lead to conflict on projects. 

What’s the REAL Reason for Conflict? 

Nearly every time, the real reason for conflict is a misalignment of understanding. All of us should have the same goal: to increase the revenue and profitability of whatever company we work for. We may just be looking at how to go about it in different ways. 

For example, hold up the palm of your right hand to your face and describe what you see. Fingerprints, lines on your palm, and your thumb is on the right. Now, ask someone that is facing you to describe what they see. Fingernails, knuckles, and your thumb is on the left. That sounds very different from what you see. 

It’s the same hand, just being viewed from different perspectives.  

Keep that in mind the next time conflicts arise on projects. The goal is many times the same, but people have different perspectives on the way to solve it.  

5 Ways to Resolve Conflict 

How can you get everyone aligned on your projects? Below are some options at your disposal to resolve conflict and get everyone on the same page: 

  1. Throw Your Weight Around - Yep, you read that right. Let’s face it, power and authority works. There’s a point in time when someone needs to end the conflict, and if you have that power and authority, that’s one way to do it. 
  2. Compromise - Working to have both sides meet in the middle is another option. It works, but be careful to not end up with two losers and no winners in a compromise. 
  3. Appeal to a Higher Power - Nope, not talking about appealing to the gods of Project Management, but rather to a project sponsor or executive in the organization. Lay out the problem for them and the decision that needs to be made. Then, ask them to make the decision. 
  4. Solve the Underlying Problem - Is the same conflict occurring again and again? Maybe just the symptoms are being treated and not the underlying problem. If so, a tough decision may need to be made to move a person on the project team to another team or perhaps even out of the company.
  5. Avoid the Conflict Altogether - This is the least desirable way to resolve conflict, but, if it doesn’t mean that much to you, feel free to let things play out organically. For example, you don’t care if the technology chosen is X or Y. There’s a lot of debate about it, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. Let the majority rule and move on. 

It’s not unusual for conflict to occur on projects, and sometimes it’s even healthy. What is unusual is implementing a thoughtful and productive way of resolving conflicts so everyone can continue to work together. Try some of the suggestions above and we can all get back to finishing our lunch!