Every project is planned with key long-term objectives and short-term goals, and we execute those projects with the best intentions to meet those goals. However, to drive a project to success, the project team and environment must have a strong foundation of people and processes, which includes diversity, trust, accountability, cohesion, resilience, and the ability to address and resolve conflict effectively.
However, none of that happens magically.
In fact, according to a global study conducted by the Project Management Institute (PMI®), on average, talent management ranked 58% or lower in the somewhat high or high priority to an organization.
So what does this mean? Many organizations still underemphasize talent management, which means they likely lack the necessary skills and effective collaboration structures and models to not only retain human capital but also ensure sustainably productive problem-solving and more consistent successful project outcomes.
In this article, we will discuss one crucial element of nurturing talent —conflict management. We will dive into what conflict management is as well as some different conflict models you can implement as soon as your next team meeting.
What is a Conflict Management Model?
When a group of two or more people—with different work habits, viewpoints, opinions, personalities, and experiences—come together, there will likely be conflict.
Like change, conflict is inevitable. And like change, we naturally want to avoid conflict. Why? Because it can be uncomfortable, create tension and negative feelings, such as bitterness or resentment, and even stifle creativity. Or at least that’s what most of us think.
Conflict is actually created when there is disagreement or differing ideas and opinions. This means conflict can be a very healthy thing, and a necessary driver of growth. But we must set up a workable understanding of how to utilize conflict for our, and our customer’s, competitive advantage.
Therefore, a conflict management model is necessary. But what is a conflict management model exactly? According to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide, Sixth Edition, with a conflict management model, teams can manage conflicts productively, allowing team members to express themselves freely and openly without judgment and harsh remarks and retorts. Additionally, establishing team ground rules, group norms, and communication planning can promote productive working relationships.
When conflict is managed properly, differing opinions and viewpoints can boost creativity and lead to better decision-making. Successful conflict management results in greater productivity and positive working relationships. Before we dive into the different types of conflict management models, let’s first review the different types of conflicts:
- Interpersonal conflict (different working styles and behaviors, personalities, ethics, cultural backgrounds, and experiences)
- Goal-oriented conflict (different goals, desired outcomes, performance expectations, and so on)
- Administrative conflict (organizational and leadership structure, team structure, roles and responsibilities, etc)
By understanding the different types of conflict and the different sources of conflict, you are in a better position to choose the right model to manage, mitigate, and diffuse conflict.
6 Different Types of Conflict Models (Methods)
According to Ken Thomas and Ralph Kilmann, there are six ways to address conflict by focusing on relative power between individuals and the desire to maintain healthy working relationships.
These six ways include the following:
1. Confronting and Problem-solving: This process is utilized when the parties in the conflict value their relationships and are solutions-focused. They tackle the conflict head-on together, intending to find a solution. It’s important to note we confront the problem, not the person. Many of us experienced in business and projects might recall the term “confrontation” being used in terms of conflict management, with some of those new to the idea thinking it meant confronting the person, instead of confronting the problem to the point of resolution. This is why more frequently we hear others refer to it as “problem-solving” instead.
2. Collaborating: The goal is to listen actively to multiple viewpoints related to the particular conflict with the goal of understanding and considering the conflict from different angles and mitigating the negative risk of bias. This particular approach is effective when teams and groups trust one another and have time to deliberate on a particular issue. This means in Agile projects, collaboration is an excellent model of conflict management, since teams of experts collectively self-manage and therefore “own” (answer directly to the customer) their work results.
3. Compromising: This approach is best when not all parties agree on or are satisfied with the solution or outcome. This may also be useful when the requirements of stakeholders are problematic, overlap, or are counterproductive. This approach involves a level of “give and take,” in an attempt to satisfy all parties involved without further escalating the conflict to senior management. After all, anything that can be satisfactorily handled at the tactical level generally should be.
4. Smoothing and Accommodating: This approach to conflict is best for goal-oriented and focused teams, and when reaching the goal is more important than the conflict itself. This approach also creates harmony in relationships. Harmony generally refers to widespread agreement or cooperation.
5. Forcing: Although it sounds negative, force can be an effective way to resolve a short-term or intense conflict when used correctly. For example, a leader could use force when there is a health and safety conflict to resolve immediately. It’s important to caution against using this frequently or without emotional intelligence, as stakeholders involved could feel disparaged, disrespected, or even demeaned.
6. Withdrawal and Avoiding: This approach to conflict is best when the conflict escalates to a heated debate or when parties need a “cooling off” period. This approach is also best in no-win scenarios, when teams or groups have little to no control over a conflict or a decision, such as a new regulatory requirement or law is put into force. It may also be necessary if a conflict becomes too personalized.
Leaders can determine which conflict model to implement. Some may also use more than one method in an attempt to resolve conflicts, especially multi-faceted ones. Here are some factors that influence and help managers and leaders determine the best conflict management models to use:
- IntensityTime constraints
- Stakeholders involved (interest and impact)
- Needs (long-term and short-term)
You Have Permission To Make Mistakes
Conflict management is a skill, and like any skill it must be worked at consciously. Make a concerted effort to use the six different methods of conflict resolution we’ve discussed here and you will find yourself improving markedly in a reasonably short time. Experiment, ask questions, think for yourself, and dare to be better. And perhaps most importantly, allow yourself to learn from your own mistakes, but especially from those of others. After all, as Winston Churchill said,” success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”
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