Tuesday, 26 June 2012 07:00

Conflict Management

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Many of the questions on the PMI Professional Project Management (PMP) exam will be situational and will deal with handling conflict because this is such an important and challenging topic.

Most of the time, conflicts on projects occur over the following issues:        

  • Schedules
  • Priorities
  • Manpower
  • Technical issues
  • Administration
  • Personality conflict
  • Cost
Many perceive conflict as negative and believe that it should be avoided or eliminated whenever possible. While conflict may be unpleasant, it is inevitable. And not all conflict is bad.

Conflict presents opportunities for improvement and as such must be dealt with. According to Amy Ohlendorf in her article entitled Conflict Resolution in Project Management (2001), “Conflict can be constructive and healthy for an organization. It can aid in developing individuals and improving the organization by building on the individual assets of its members. Conflict can bring about underlying issues. It can force people to confront possible defects in a solution and choose a better one.”

Conflict is best resolved by those involved in the conflict as illustrated by Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver and Violet Rutherford in the Black Eye episode of “Leave It to Beaver” which aired in 1957.
       

June27thPatti1 "You wanna be 'gressive?"   "'Gressive?"

" 'Cause if you wanna be 'gressive, I can be just as 'gressive as you can."  "I don't know how to play. What's 'gressive?"

"That means do you wanna fight?" "No. I don't wanna fight."

"Okay. what else do you wanna do?" "I don't know. Let's go spit off the bridge."

"Uh-uh. I did that on the way over here."  "Let's go look at the lady in the jiggle belt." 

However, in real life situations, not all conflict is resolved this easily. And in some cases the project manager may need to get involved and possibly escalate to resolve.

The key is learning how to deal with conflict by using appropriate conflict resolution techniques. 

Amy Ohlendorf  also distinguishes types of conflict. Although some conflict is beneficial, destructive conflict is not. She defines 3 unproductive roles in her article: 

  1. Persecutor refers to a person who uses aggressive behavior against another person, attacking the intended victim. An attack can be direct or indirect and be physical, verbal, or both. The persecutor's actions deliver a message that "you are not okay" while making the persecutor feel righteous and superior.
  2. Victim refers to a person who uses nonassertive behavior so others view them as "I'm not okay." This behavior encourages others to either rescue or persecute the victim. Victims will feel helpless, inadequate, sad, scared, or guilty. The victim role is often used because the individual is feeling stressed, has low self-esteem, or is being persecuted by another.
  3. Rescuer refers to a person who uses either nonassertive or aggressive behavior. Individuals become rescuers because they will not say "no" and unwillingly assume the responsibility of solving the victim's problem. In contrast, others will assume the rescuer role to demonstrate superiority over the victim.

And according to Amy, “learning how to identify these unproductive roles and how to effectively handle each role player, managers can prevent some conflicts from occurring and resolve those that do.”

Below are some conflict resolution techniques that a project manager can also use to handle and resolve potential issues and conflicts as they arise:

  • Withdrawal (Avoidance): retreating from a potential disagreement or postponing a decision on an issue.
  • Smoothing: de-emphasizing or avoiding areas of difference and emphasizing areas of agreement.
  • Compromising: bargaining and searching for solutions that bring some degree of satisfaction to the parties in a dispute. Characterized by a “give and take” attitude.
  • Forcing: exerting one’s viewpoint at the expense of another. Often characterized by competitiveness and a win-lose situation.
  • Confrontation: facing the conflict directly, which involves a problem- solving approach, whereby affected parties work out their disagreements.
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Patti Gilchrist

Patti Gilchrist is a Sr. Technical Manager with extensive experience in the field of IT Project Management. Patti has more than 20 years of IT experience and a reputation for effectively implementing strategic enterprise initiatives, with a proven track record of delivering simultaneous large-scale, mission-critical projects on time and budget. Her experience includes ERP implementations, data conversions, business software application development aligned with critical business requirements, IT infrastructure delivery, and process implementation in existing and startup organizations. Patti currently manages a team of project managers and is dedicated to the continued development of her team and knowledge sharing within the project management community. Patti has worked and consulted at many large corporations such as Westinghouse Electric, Progress Energy, Alcoa, Bank of America, and UPMC Health Plan. Industry experience includes Manufacturing, Energy/Distribution, Banking/Finance, and Health Care.

Patti is originally from Pittsburgh, PA, the "City of Champions." It is the home of the Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates. Patti now resides in the Southeastern US.

Patti has a BA from Temple University and holds PMP and Six Sigma Black Belt certifications.

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