Explain 5 Conflict Management Techniques In The Workplace

As per the PMBOK, there are 5 conflict management techniques to resolve team conflicts. In this blog post we will go through each of these 5 conflict management techniques in detail.

Just to emphasize, the 5 conflict management techniques are part of human resources management knowledge area of PMBOK guide.

I am sure each one of us might have had conflicts at some point in time in our professional or personal life.  Though you may not be familiar with the terminology used in project management or PMBOK, but some of us might have already used the conflict management techniques in the workplace within your teams.

So, let me start with a basic question.

What Is A Conflict?

Eventually a conflict is a situation, where two people or parties does not agree on a common opinion.  In other words, conflict primarily arises because of the differences in opinions or perspectives.

Got it. Is the conflict good or bad?

In a very simpler terms a conflict can be defined as difference of opinions or diversity of opinions. Sometimes, it is good have different perspectives in the team. But at the same time, it will have drastic damages to the project, if they are not handled properly.

What Are The Reasons Or Sources For Conflicts?

The primary reasons for the conflict may be one of the following, but not limited to…

  • Resource conflicts – People may need the same resource
  • Priority Conflicts – Conflicting priorities between people or parties.
  • Schedules – Similar to priorities. But this arises, when some question about schedules and why a deliverable is not completed in time, etc.
  • Other causes – Personalities, cost and technical opinions also causes conflict sometimes.

What Are Conflict Management Techniques In Project Management?

Explain 5 Conflict Management Techniques

Conflict resolution techniques or conflict management techniques in project management are there to resolve conflicts between the parties. As mentioned above in the blog post, any one or more of the 5 conflict management techniques can be used by the project manager to resolve the conflicts in the project team.

Hold down! What are conflict resolution techniques? Are the conflict resolution techniques same as conflict management techniques?

Are The Conflict Management And Conflict Resolution Same?

Though the terms, conflict management and conflict resolution are used as synonyms quite often, there is small difference.

Let me explain with an example to simplify it.

Say for example, you have a conflict with, one of your peer member in the team, and you approached your project manager for help to resolve the conflict. Project manager intervenes to understand the root cause of the problem thoroughly and compromised both the parties and finally resolved the conflict between the team members.

In the above example, the project manager used a conflict resolution technique called as “compromise”. And the whole process, starting from identifying conflict till the resolution of conflict is referred to conflict management.

So in a nutshell, the whole process of resolving the conflict is called as conflict management. But for the purpose of PMP exam and also for simplifying the concepts, I used both these terms conflict management  and conflict resolution interchangeably in this blog post to mean the same.

Till now we have not started talking about the 5 conflict management techniques. So without any further delay, let me jump and explain you the 5 conflict management techniques.

5 Conflict Management Techniques To Resolve Team Conflicts

PMBOK guide specifies the following 5 conflict management techniques or conflict resolution techniques.

  1. Collaborating or Problem Solving (Confronting the problem)
  2. Compromising
  3. Smoothing
  4. Forcing
  5. Withdraw

Let us look into each of these 5 conflict management techniques one after the other.

Collaborating or Problem Solving

This is the most preferred method of resolving the conflict, when the team is working like a well-oiled machine. Meaning that the team is already in performing or adjourning stages of team development.

Collaborating or problem solving is the most productive conflict management technique, when the team members trust each other and they knew that they need to work together to achieve a common goal.

As a project manager, along with team you need to understand the root cause of the problem by taking different perspectives and viewpoints of the team members, with respect to the conflict.

Coming up with an innovative solution for the conflict and getting consensus from the team is the key to this conflict resolution technique.

As problem solving requires taking multiple viewpoints into consideration, this techniques generally takes good amount of time and efforts compared to the others. But however this is the most productive technique, where feasible to apply.

In PMBOK4, confronting the problem or problem solving is isolated as a separate conflict resolution technique. However in PMBOK5, confronting conflict resolution is merged into the other conflict management technique called collaborating or problem solving. In PMBOK5 guide you won’t see “confronting” as  a conflict management technique anymore.

Compromising

Both parties give up something to resolve the conflict. This conflict resolution is only possible, when both the parties has some mindset to agree and want to keep the relationship alive.

Compromise conflict resolution is a lose-lose situation, because both parties are giving up something in order to resolve the conflict.

Usually as a project manager first you would need to work on the solving the root cause of the problem and try to resolve the conflict through collaborate or problem solving conflict resolution technique.

Compromise conflict resolution technique may of help only when you are not able to solve the conflict through collaborating or problem solving.

Smoothing

Smoothing is when the arguments flare up between the parties, then you play down the problem to make it seem like the problem is not so bad or does exist at all.

Then each of the party step back, cool down and take time to think about what is going on.

Smoothing is a temporary work around and will not resolve the actual issue.

Forcing

As a project manager you make a decision in favor of one party. So one party wins and the other party loose. Hence this is called win-lose situation.

There may negative consequences to this conflict resolution, as the losing party may get demotivated. So this conflict resolution technique need to apply carefully by looking at the impact to the project.

This is definitely not the best option when you have opportunity to use other conflict resolution techniques.

Withdraw OR Avoid

When people frustrate more they walk away from the problem or they just skip it for the time being.

Here the actual problem still persists. And It may come back in future.

It is just that people withdrawn from the situation

Sometimes, the problem may also get resolved by itself. Usually as a project manager when the problem is not on your priority list for the project or the stake is not high, you would apply this conflict management technique.

How To Prevent Conflicts In The Workplace

Conflicts are potential threats to any project. And hence once occurred they need to treated carefully.

Hold on! Can’t we prevent the conflicts?

Yes you can. In fact As a project manager your job is to first enrich the environment to prevent any potential conflicts between the team members.  In order to do this, you may first perform the following steps.

  • Establish the ground rules – Establish the ground rules for the team members to work together. Eventually when the team strictly follows these rules pertaining to discipline, then you may prevent some of the conflicts from occurring.
  • Ways of working – As a project manager you need to get buy in to the common ways of working agreement with in the team.
  • Planning things ahead – You plan things ahead so as to avoid any conflicts for the resources.
  • Effective communication plan – How the communication should happen within the team, with you as a project manager and with other stakeholders of the project.

Above are some common steps to prevent the conflicts in the team, but are not limited to.

Although the project manager does all the ground work to prevent the conflicts from occurring, sometimes it is unfortunate that the conflicts do occur in the team.

As a project manager, you should be well knowledgeable to apply one of the above 5 conflict management techniques to resolve the conflict.

Which Are The Best Or Most Effective Conflict Management Techniques In The Workplace?

The best or effective conflict management technique depends on the conflict at hand most of the time. In general collaborating and compromise are the effective conflict management techniques to use in the workplace in the same order of preference, if they suite to the situation at hand.

Smoothing helps to temper down the environment.

Withdraw and forcing are the last options, the project manager should use, if all other options are ruled out. Withdraw does not resolve the conflict permanently. It is a temporary work around.

As I said, it all depends on the situation at hand. For example, when there are time constraints in the project, and the project is running behind the schedule, it may be worth for the project manager to use forcing technique to resolve the conflict.

So the above mentioned order of preference is only to generalize the usage by definition and not considering the situation at hand.

Conclusion

To conclude with, we traversed through each of the 5 conflict management techniques to resolve team conflicts. Also which are the effective conflict management techniques among others.

Alongside the conflict resolution, as a project manager you may also need to understand the 5 types of powers that project manager can use to get the situation on track.

Always try to resolve the root cause of the problem by using your problem solving and interpersonal skills.

If this does not work, then try compromising, smoothing in the same order of preference according to the situation at hand.

Forcing or withdraw are the last conflict resolution techniques to apply. Meaning that when project manager do not have any other option, then only he should try withdraw or forcing options.

 

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