The Project Manager’s Guide to Conflict Resolution
The success of any construction project relies strongly on the project manager. Skills such as management, leadership, technical knowledge and customer relationships are part of the diverse roles a project manager plays. Conflict resolution is also a special skill required for the job as approximately 42% of a manager’s time is spent reaching an agreement with others when conflict occurs.
Assertiveness is possibly the most important skill when handling conflict. You need to be able to express your views clearly and firmly without aggression. You also need to practice active listening to fully understand the dynamics of the conflict. Through active listening, respect for individual differences is demonstrated and an environment of understanding is fostered. It is also helpful to have an understanding of emotional responses so you are able to recognise and explain when emotions are inappropriate and when it is beneficial to express them. When a manager is able to understand the needs, interests and emotions of individuals, trust, and relationship bonds are established and the chances of satisfactorily resolving the conflict are increased.
Conflict is not always a bad thing….conflict can be constructive and healthy for an organization. It can expose underlying issues and force people to confront problems. People can change and grow personally from conflict and cohesiveness among team members can be the result when a problem has been resolved.
Destructive conflict has a predictable pattern and many individuals fall into roles when conflict occurs. A persecutor is a person who uses aggressive behaviour against another person, a victim refers to a person who uses non-assertive behavior and views themselves as being persecuted; a rescuer is a person who is neither aggressive nor non-assertive but assumes the responsibility for solving the victim’s problems. These roles are usually learned in childhood and many people fall into them based on past history. When conflict occurs and these roles are triggered, win-lose outcomes are inevitable and do not provide an opportunity for win-win resolution.
Dealing with conflict in the workplace is common and finding resolution is essential. The role of a manager involves creating strategies to promote positive teamwork. The American Management Association outlines some simple steps that are a guideline for establishing effective conflict resolution:
- Identify the source of the conflict. Give both parties the chance to share their story and be impartial to each story. Ask questions to clarify how, when and why the incident occurred.
- Look beyond the incident. The source of the conflict may have occurred previously and the level of stress has increased over time. Looking beyond the trigger incident can reveal the true cause of the conflict.
- Request solutions. After you have heard both parties explain their side of the story, ask them how the situation could be changed. As a mediator, be an active listener. Your goal is to stop the fighting and steer the conflict away from blaming and towards resolution.
- Identify solutions that disputants can support. Point out the merits of various ideas, not only in terms of each individual’s point of view but from the point of view of the organization.
- Reach an agreement. Once an agreement has been reached, get the participants to acknowledge the plan; if necessary have a contract written up outlining time frames and actions. Ask them what they plan to do if problems arise in the future.