Monthly Archives: January 2016

Conflict Management Always Begins With Myself

Think quick! How many people does it take to create a conflict???

Serious Reflection

Serious Reflection

One.

We are always torn inside, “of two minds” about our own differing values, needs, interests, approaches.

No wonder so much that is written about conflict on project teams feels so mechanistic. The helpful suggestions and techniques seem cast inside a framework that implies the project manager is the wise overseer who must reconcile these “kids” who can’t sort out their differences; when, in fact, the manager – and everyone of us – lives with the continuing awareness that often we are not really sure of the best way forward.

Engage

Engage

So, the best ways to prepare for and deal with conflict start with myself.

  1. Invest early and often in building trust, respect and connection. Conflict will come. Don’t skimp on the basics.

  2. Cultivate a healthy doubt about your own certainty. Openly question, analyze and evaluate your own assumptions.

  3. Whether or not you are the project manager, pay close attention to ongoing team work to identify – early – and resolve conflicts before they become serious.

  4. Encourage and support the exploration of alternatives.

  5. Focus on actionable solutions. Don’t belabor what can’t be changed.

  6. Make clear decisions with the rest of the team about what path and priorities are being chosen.

Security / Insecurity

Security / Insecurity

Since about a quarter of managers’ time is spent resolving conflicts, seize this opportunity to do and to model constructive, productive work. The six points listed above are a great recipe for just-plain gluten-free management.

So, why don’t we do this more often?

  1. We have a natural aversion to tension, disagreements, pain and polarization.

  2. This “people stuff,” the risk of getting entangled in others’ emotions, seems like tumbling into a bottomless pit without a bungee cord.

  3. Managers and consultants are often counseled never to show uncertainty or doubt.

  4. Today’s conflict may ultimately be rooted in a history of disappointments, betrayals and losses – which can seem overwhelming and way beyond our reach.

  5. Discussion in a conflict will often shoot off unpredictably into unforeseen, unknowable directions.

  6. Aggression and hostility are infectious, heightening feelings of aggression and hostility even among bystanders.

We have to acknowledge, but question, all these assumptions, too.

Habits - Feelings - Beliefs

Habits Feelings Beliefs

Basic psychological needs are at the root of almost all conflict. It takes courage to manage people respectfully. And what does “courage” mean here? The determination to step into the fire, to get singed – but not consumed – to feel a sense of accomplishment and to step back in the next time.

For more depth on this topic, I recommend several excellent articles: