The conflict management guide for project managers
We will try to understand conflict in detail and learn how project managers should handle conflicts.


In one of our last blog posts last year we talked about the 5 causes of conflict in project management. A conflict is a common phenomenon in the workplace. A conflict is a situation when the interests, needs, goals or values of the project stakeholders interfere with one another. 

Project managers should see conflicts as opportunities to growth and as opportunities to move the project forward towards delivery. Conflicts allow project managers, project stakeholders or any team member to raise and address the problem and highlight unforeseen issues. It helps people be real and helps them learn how to recognize and benefit from differences.

The major causes of conflict are poor communication, inadequate leadership, irresponsible behavior, insufficient resources and limited budget. Conflicts during project management should be dealt seriously and professionally because it hinders productivity, lowers morale and leads to inappropriate behavior. To ensure the success of the projects the sooner the conflict is dealt the better.

Project managers are also conflict managers. So before dealing with a conflict it is important to be aware of your conflict management style.

In the 1970s Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann identified five main personality types having different styles of dealing with conflict that vary in their degrees of cooperativeness and assertiveness:

The Accommodator – The person who neglects his own concerns in order to satisfy the concerns of others. The accommodator is not necessarily assertive but is highly cooperative. This style is useful if the success of the project is more important than fighting with the ego of the other person.

The Competitor – The person who pursues his own concerns at the expense of another person. They are often assertive and operate form a position of power. This style is very useful when there is an emergency and a decision is needed to be made fast. But there is a risk of creating resentment if this style is misused.

The Avoider – The person who evades or prolongs the situation and never addresses the conflict. This style is typified by delegating controversial decisions, accepting default decisions and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings. It could be a good strategy if victory is impossible or the conflict is trivial. However, if the stakes are high this approach is weak and ineffective.

The Compromiser – The person who gives up more than the competitor but less than the accommodator. He expects himself and everyone else to give up something. This style is useful where all the opponents are on a standstill and the deadline is looming.

The Collaborator – The person who works and finds a solution that satisfies the concerns of all people involved. They are not only assertive but also take into considerations everyone’s view point. They try to seek win-win situations. This style is a very good way to handle and manage conflicts.

Once project managers have recognized their conflict resolution style, they should approach the conflict by analyzing the problem, discussing for a possible solution and build consensus to resolve the ensuing conflict.  While discussing issues and building consensus it is important for project managers to take into account different perceptions and biases. People have different perception and biases due to different factors-  culture, race, ethnicity and past project experiences. These factors conspire to form the perceptual filters through which we experience conflict.

Another important factor to take into account is the “impressions of the messenger.” In other words, as project managers, the way team members and project stakeholders perceive project managers as a person will have impact on the conflict.

So as project mangers you may want to understand your preferred style of handling conflict and then understand other people’s perceptions, biases and past experiences before trying to propose a solution to the conflict.