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Author: George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.

Objectivity in Conflicts – Moving from Win-Lose to Win-Win

Conflict, whether you call it difference of opinion, or disagreement, is an inevitable part of project life. Managing it well is critical to short-range project success and long-term healthy relationships. Organizational success relies on both project success and healthy ongoing relationships.


While not all conflicts or disagreements can be settled to satisfy all parties (win-win), there can be many more of them if the disagreeing parties put their efforts towards addressing the conflict and the decision that will end it rather than competing with one another.

Even when there is a win-lose conflict, cultivating long term relationships better enables follow through and future collaboration. Take for example two people vying for the same job. Imagine what might happen a year or two later when the one who lost is interviewing his opponent for a position in the ‘losers’ new company.

The way the conflict was managed will make a big difference. If they perceived a fair process and there was a cordial closure, it is more likely that they will consider their experience with one another without letting emotions overwhelm objectivity.


Passionate Objectivity

Decisions resolve conflicts and set up the action that will influence the future. Objectivity is a key to effective conflict resolution because it leads to rational and practical decisions and effective action to carry them out.

We are living in a time when beliefs are confused with reality, when ideologies and emotions drive decision making, often without considering longer term outcomes. To come to an effective decision to resolve a conflict it is necessary to suspend beliefs and attachments long enough to assess their usefulness.

Are you willing to question and validate your beliefs? Are you willing to collaborate with your opponents to confront the conflict rather than one another?

“When you see.., how belief, prejudice, conclusions, and ideals divide people and therefore breed conflict, you see that such activity is obviously not intelligence. Will you drop all your prejudices, all your opinions … so that you have a free, uncluttered mind?


“If you say it is impossible, you will never find out for yourself what it is to be intelligent.” – J. Krishnamurti


Krishnamurti pulls no punches. He says that to be well, happy, and able to take care of business, you need to stop being driven by beliefs and biases, you need to see things as they are, objectively.

Objectivity is the quality of being unbiased, relying on facts rather than opinions and personal feelings when making decisions. Objectivity does not mean ignoring the role of opinions, emotions, and gutfeel. It means taking them into consideration and making sure that the decision being made is the right decision.

If we overemphasize rational analysis, we end up with solutions that are brittle and hard to implement because they ignore the human element. If we under emphasize analysis, caught up in emotions, we get poor outcomes and ongoing strife.


Confronting the Issue

Objectivity leads to the idea of confronting the issue rather than the opponent. This is far easier to act upon in projects and organizations as opposed to the socio-political realm of ethnic groups, nations, and governments.

Here, in projects we have the advantage of relatively clear mutual objectives among stakeholders. For the most part, everyone is after a quality outcome, at a reasonable price, within time constraints. There may be differences of opinions about just about everything – objectives, designs, estimates, plans, resources, etc. But if the parties take a step back and remember what they are all after, there is a good chance that they will make good decisions to achieve it.




Taking a long view

Often, when there is conflict the tendency is to think about the short-term consequences of the decision. Objectivity requires a long-term view.

Will the design option enable easy maintenance? Will the people who are on the “losing” side take an active role in implementing the decision, even though it was not their first choice? Will ongoing relationships be healthy?


What Does it Take to be Objective

It seems so simple, objectively address the issue to come up with resolution, a decision to act, that satisfies as many participants as possible and leads to successful project completion and healthy long-term relationships. Simple, yes. But not easy.

Emotions, beliefs, and biases get in the way. If the parties are unwilling or unable to step back and objectively assess the situation and make a decision based on identified decision criteria, they will struggle to justify their position, often relying on hierarchical authority, rhetoric, and distortion rather than good sense.

Two things are required: emotional and social intelligence and an effective decision-making process.


The process is a starting point for optimizing conflict resolution. A process that includes identifying decision criteria and that uses analytical methods, opens the door to improved self-awareness and self-management. An effective process makes it less likely that strong willed, assertive people will be able to have their way regardless of the facts and what is best for the organization and project. It forces people to step back and assess things objectively.

Emotional and social intelligence promote the ability to disengage from feelings long enough to be rational and to respect the needs of others. But even when there are parties who lack the ability to exercise self-management and recognize the power of objectivity, an effective process will influence the outcome.

As you make the decisions that resolve conflicts, make the effort to step back and drop your prejudices and opinions so that you have a free, uncluttered mind? Will you take the time and effort to validate your feelings with facts and consideration of alternative views?


It takes effort and awareness to bring objectivity to bear when you feel strongly about your position. It takes skill, courage, and patience to question your beliefs, validate them, and accept that your way is not the only right way and may even be the wrong way.


Doing What You Can to Change the Unacceptable

Don’t underestimate your power to make positive change. Angela Davis, a passionate activist, is quoted as saying:

“I have given up on accepting the things I cannot change.

I aim to change the things I can’t accept.”


As project managers we are often faced with unacceptable realities that get in the way of project and career success.


Take for example the situation in which meeting a deadline relies on resources promised by a functional manager to be available at a specified date. The resources do not show up because they are assigned to another project and won’t be available for weeks. To make matters worse, the situation is often repeated, and functional managers are never held accountable. The organization holds the PM responsible for getting the project done on time, no matter what. But in reality, most projects are late, and no-one is ever fired for it. Everyone accepts the fact that schedules cannot be trusted. Clearly there is some dysfunction.


There are other examples of unacceptable situations, your boss or co-worker is abusive or incompetent, your sponsor or client chronically has irrational expectations and will not listen to reason, etc.

With a fixed mindset, you can believe that nothing can be done about it. You might be thinking “It’s always been like this and it always will be.” or “I can’t do anything about it, its above my pay grade.” If everyone is thinking that way the situation won’t change. If everyone misunderstands the advice to accept things as they are, things will not change.

Change is possible with a shift to a realistic understanding and a growth mindset that realizes that learning and change are possible. Accepting things as they are does not mean keeping them that way.  It simply means that since you can’t change the present moment or the past, the best you can do is to accept what is and what was. The future is subject to change if you apply the courage and skill to act effectively.


Passion and Equanimity

When we aim to change the things we can’t accept, we are faced with the paradox of equanimity and passion. They are both required.

Equanimity is mental calmness and balance regardless of external circumstances. It is accepting that passionate action and unphased acceptance coexist. With equanimity we have the presence of mind to accept what is, analyze what got it that way, plan to do something about it, act, and accept what happens. Whatever happens, we repeat the process – accept, plan, act, accept. Progress is an ongoing process.

In our example, let’s say the analysis uncovers that functional managers want to honor their commitments but are faced with demands from multiple projects and their sponsors that cause them to over commit. A rational plan to correct the situation would be to establish an effective portfolio management process which moderates the flow of projects, recognizing the interrelationships between functional resource availability across multiple projects. To project management professionals, it seems a no-brainer. But creating and sustaining a portfolio management process in an immature PM environment is not easy.


If formal portfolio management doesn’t happen there is still hope. There is always something to do, including doing nothing. Your options range from accepting the status quo to changing jobs. In between are options like grass roots cooperation among managers as resource demands change, multi-project monitoring at a PMO level, patiently and skillfully petitioning executives for portfolio management, and more.

This is where passion comes into play. Passion is a strong feeling of enthusiasm about something. If there is a passionate desire to correct the situation, then it is more likely to happen. And equanimity provides the best platform for making the change you want.




Set and Setting

An often-overlooked aspect of making and managing change in our work environment is personal feelings. On a practical, analytical, unemotional level we can come up with the means to make change. If we do nothing or if what we do doesn’t improve the situation, there are feelings – anger, frustration, fear, despair, a loss of passion, etc.

On a personal level self-awareness and self-management, the two principal parts of emotional intelligence must be applied to enable you to change the things you cannot accept. On one extreme of the practical options is doing nothing, accepting the status quo.

If you do absolutely nothing, your feelings will not change. They will get stronger. Your anger might turn to depression. Your performance might suffer. So, you do something, you change your mindset. Environment (setting) and mindset (the way we think, our beliefs and mental models) determine the way we feel and our behavior.


We Can Change Our Mind

While we can change our environment – the organization culture, stakeholders, etc. – our ability to do so is limited. On the other hand, we have far more control of our mindset (though sometimes it doesn’t seem so). Changing the mindset begins with adopting an attitude of acceptance and letting go.

If we accept that we are in an unacceptable situation and we can’t change it, we can leave – ask for a transfer, find a new job, retire. If we choose to stay, for whatever reason, we have the difficult task of avoiding letting the situation lead to debilitating emotional reactions, like the anger and despair mentioned earlier. That is where a mindset that includes the belief that it is possible to be equanimous and optimally well in any situation is essential.

Apply mindfulness and emotional intelligence to remind yourself that you can change the way you think and feel, that everything changes, and that you can accept the status quo and do what you can to change your setting. This approach leads to a sense of personal control and hope for improvement. It is the theme of my latest book – The Peaceful Warrior’s Path: Optimal Wellness through Self-Aware Living and my first book, The Zen Approach to Project Management.


Related articles:

Learn from the Past to Perfect Performance

Making the Impossible Possible

Practical Perfectionism and Continuous Improvement

Achieving Quality Performance and Results

Know When to Give Up

Learn from the Past to Perfect Performance

To optimize performance, learn from experience. Set aside time for reflection, learning, and making the intention to perfect the way you live and work.

Hopefully, we are always reflecting and paying attention to intentions, performance, and goals. Though it is skillful to give full attention regularly and intentionally to deep introspection, both as an individual and team.

It might be during a retreat, retrospectives, or lessons learned activities, and performance reviews. It might be for an hour, a day, or longer.

As individuals, we can use meditation and contemplation techniques to cultivate self-awareness, reflect on past errors and successes, and to identify values and commit to positive action going forward. As teams, we can come together to review performance and find ways to improve – candidly and meaningfully.

Acknowledge errors, celebrate successes, and commit to skillful behavior going forward into the next cycle, phase, or project. Keep in mind that imperfections and uncertainty are facts of life. How we handle them makes all the difference.


Simple But Not Easy

So simple and logical. Reflect and learn. But we find that it is not that easy. Egos get in the way.

Egos get in the way when there is a criticism-averse mindset. Fear of being fired or disrespected and the need to be perfect lead to avoiding candid feedback from others and even from oneself. Without open self-awareness and intention to continuously improve, to optimize performance, there is a common tendency to avoid criticism, particularly negative feedback.

In a 2016 article on project performance review[1] and in my new book, The Warrior’s Path[2], I refer to warriorship and the need to confront resistance to looking at yourself and your team candidly and compassionately.



“Warriorship here does not refer to making war on others. Aggression is the source of our problems, not the solution. Here the word “warrior” … literally means, “one who is brave.”[3]

A warrior is dedicated to a cause, a struggle. The peaceful warrior is dedicated to the cultivation of clarity and compassion, with the goal of personal wellness, group wellness, effective performance, and being of service.

It takes courage and skill to confront one’s own and one’s team process and behavior, particularly the imperfections. It takes more than a formal performance review procedure.


In one case a software development organization “lost” the video recording of a project performance review that became too “negative” with some members of the team “attacking” members of a functional group who “defended” themselves.

This is not the kind of struggle the Peaceful warrior engages in. Seeking optimal performance is not about attacking and defending. It is about bringing issues to light and discovering causes by confronting the issues collaboratively.

Doing that requires disengaging from one’s identification with one’s role to take on the role of an objective assessor.


Not Easy

Taking on the role of objective assessor of your own performance is not so easy. Aversion to negative criticism is deeply embedded in culture and psychology.

To first acknowledge and then do something about the resistance to confrontation begins with oneself as an individual.  If you can’t face your own shortfalls, how can you expect others to face theirs? When you identify with your team and its performance you transfer your resistance to criticism to the team. Criticism of the team becomes personal. If you are on the attack or are defensive, you are not being objective.

But not all aversion to criticism is based on mental habits. Much of it comes from organizational cultures that seek to blame rather than understand and improve. It comes from leadership that is conflict averse, often because they don’t know how to handle conflict or have their own personal issues with criticism.


Emotional intelligence

Can you simply be present with the uncomfortable emotions you feel when confronted with your shortfalls? Being present with emotions means feeling them fully without reacting to them by trying to throw them off through ignoring, making excuses, blaming others, or disparaging yourself and your own competencies. This is emotional intelligence in action.

You and the team get nowhere without objectively addressing issues and their causes. Unmanaged emotions get in the way.


Facilitating Organizational Awareness

Facilitating the quest for optimal performance starts with self-aware individuals who can manage their emotions and who value criticism of any kind to avoid repeating unskillful behavior while promoting effective performance and healthy relationships.

Not everyone is self-aware and motivated. Embedding performance improvement in the organization or the team is enhanced by training individuals to recognize their aversion to criticism and value the opportunity to improve. At the same time, regular anonymous micro-assessments provide objective data to cut through subjective opinions.

Effective facilitation is another vital factor. The facilitator promotes objectivity and awareness of participants’ ability to give and take feedback in a positive, non-attacking and non-defensive way.


The facilitator prepares the team by promoting the understanding that:

  • Negative criticism is valuable to the end of improvement
  • It is normal to be averse to it
  • Whether averse to it or not, it is necessary to invite, accept and thrive on criticism
  • In most cases, the process and not the individual performer is at the root of errors and omissions. Take performance seriously but not personally.
  • Blaming and defensiveness are emotional reactions that get in the way of cause analysis and improvement.




Next Steps

Assess where you, your team, and your organization are when it comes to using critical analysis in performance review to improve performance.

At what level of the organization does aversion to criticism exist? Is there lip service but no follow-through? Are training and facilitation needed?

How can you best promote candid useful reviews of team and individual performance so you and your team can learn from experience?


Related articles:



[1] Pitagorsky, George, Project Performance Review: The Power of Recognizing What’s Going On
[2] Pitagorsky, George, The Peaceful Warrior’s Path: Optimal Wellness through Self-Aware Living, to be available in late October 2023
[3] Trungpa, Chogyam, True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art, Shambhala, November 11, 2008, ISBN 1-59030-588-4 [3]


Manage Your Opinions for Optimal Decisions

If you are ready to improve your team decision making “Do not search for the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.”[1]

When you cease to cherish opinions you avoid unnecessary conflict and achieve optimal decisions by allowing the “truth” to reveal itself through analysis, intuition, and dialog.

There is nothing wrong with opinions. Just don’t cherish them. To cherish them is to be attached to and identified with your opinions. Avoid this because it gets in the way of finding optimal decisions and it fuels unnecessary conflict and division.


What are opinions?

Everyone has opinions. They are the result of our experience, beliefs, knowledge, and training. They express our intelligence. They can be useful, and they can also get in the way.

Opinions are beliefs, points of view, assumptions, or judgements. They are not conclusive, not facts.

Often, we do not have the luxury of making fact-based decisions. Our issues may be too complex. Data may not be available. We may act on an opinion and gut feel, but if we do, it is best to do it with objectivity and self-awareness.


Objectivity and Self-awareness

Objectivity knows the difference between fact, certainty, and opinion. It values facts and realizes that subjectivity is also valuable. Self-awareness tells you when your attachment to your opinion is causing emotions to surface and you to resist questioning your opinion.

Together these two, objectivity and self-awareness, are key to effective relationships. And effective relationships are critical success factors. They are displayed in decision making, conflict management, planning, problem solving, change management – just about every aspect of project work or any kind of collaborative effort.


Managing Opinions

We are living in a time when beliefs and opinions are confused with facts and reality. People have lost the distinction between objectivity and subjectivity.

Are you willing to question and validate your beliefs and assumptions?


“When you see …, how belief, prejudice, conclusions, and ideals divide people and therefore breed conflict, you see that such activity is obviously not intelligence.

  Will you drop all your prejudices, all your opinions … so that you have a free, uncluttered mind?

If you say it is impossible, you will never find out for yourself what it is to be intelligent.” — J. Krishnamurti Excerpt from Can Conflict End?


Opinions Drive Action

Manage opinions well because they drive action. We hold opinions about team values, what vendor to use, how best to perform some tasks, who to hire, promote, or fire, and more. Opinions directly affect performance because they influence decisions.

Clearly, we want to make sure we understand the need to put opinions under the microscope and see their source and why we have them. Our approach is to balance opinions and fact-based analysis to make decisions that consider opinions and seek optimal results.



Being attached to and identified with opinions gets in the way. What does it mean to be attached to and identified with your opinions?

It means that you are so convinced that your opinion is “right” that you reject or suppress alternative opinions and refuse to question and validate your own. You are cherishing your opinion as if it were a part of your body. When you see it as an idea, a concept, you can value your opinion without being attached to it. This allows you to be open and respectful of other opinions.

Valuing is different than cherishing. You value your opinion because you think it is well founded on a strong belief, experience, data, theory, etc. You value it enough to state it and argue for it. And you also value the learning you get from exploring and validating your opinion.



Learning may strengthen your conviction that your opinion is worthy of being acted upon. Or it may show you that your opinion is not worth holding onto.

Learning comes out of dialog with opinions being shared and supported by the reasoning behind them. Be open to changing opinions to reach win-win outcomes and the actionable decisions that resolve issues most effectively.





When opinions are based on strong beliefs, for example the belief that agile project management is always better than alternatives, there is a need to explore and question the underlying belief.

Fortunately, in project work we are less likely to find strong underlying beliefs driving decisions. When they do present themselves, we can justify confronting them because it is part of our best practices.

With beliefs regarding social and political issues it is not so easy. While these beliefs and the opinions that grow out of them is important, it is best to address them outside of business decision making.


Exploring Opinions

Should the sponsor of a project express her opinion, for example, “AI is too immature to waste our time looking at it”? Even if she isn’t convinced about her opinion, it will influence the team. As a leader, it is wise to hold back and open the space for opinions to be shared easily.

Other team members may have the opinion that there is something to be gained and that it won’t take much to explore how an available tool might be used to make the project go more smoothly with less effort and higher quality.

Wise leaders ask questions that lead the team (including the leader) to identify opinions and explore them to find the best outcome.

Are assertions backed by facts? For example, is AI not mature enough? Would it be too costly to explore? What biases are at work? What does ‘too costly’ mean?


Decision Making

Managing opinions is one part of decision making — the process that settles conflicts, underpins planning, vendor selection, and every aspect of team performance. It is a mission critical capability, no matter what the mission.


In the following articles I have explored decision-making from different perspectives:


[1] Seng-ts’an The Third Zen Patriarch,  Hsin Hsin Ming (Verses on Faith in Mind).