02 Mar 2021

3 key elements of effective conflict management

Conflict management, Leadership
3 key elements of effective conflict management

As a project manager there are a range of skills required while leading and managing your project, one of them being conflict management.

On a daily basis, project managers interact with a variety of people, from team members and cross-functional teams to stakeholders and clients. In doing so, you often need to set and manage expectations, manage different ideas that come up and balance competing priorities.

 

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All of these interactions can be a trigger for conflicts to take shape. If not managed, it can all get out of control very quickly.

If conflict management is an area you would like to improve your skills, this article is for you, as consultant and author of A Servant's Heart-Leadership That Inspires, Arpan Roy looks at three key elements that are at the heart of resolving conflicts effectively.




1. DEVELOP A MINDSET THAT SERVES YOU

Even before you look at how to resolve conflicts, it’s important to develop a mindset that serves you. I recently had the opportunity to discuss this topic with a few leaders. One thing that stood out was how they felt their conflict resolution skills improved as they embraced a positive mindset.
 

A positive mindset influences your language and what you focus on. Both of which are instrumental in resolving conflicts.


With our mindset, there are two key things to focus on as we approach a conflict:

  • Think win-win: Conflicts don’t have to involve a win-lose scenario. A lot can be achieved when you shift your focus to think win-win. Conflicts are often perceived negatively because of the belief that one has to win, and others have to lose. If you approach this with an open mind, there can be an opportunity for everyone to benefit, and conflicts can actually turn out to be a constructive experience for all involved.

  • Prepare to listen to others: Stephen Covey in his famous book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People talks about a habit which is to first seek to understand then be understood. I think it’s a powerful habit to follow when resolving conflicts. Quite often, there is an urge to assert your point of view in a conflict. Here’s the thing, if everyone looks to assert their point without understanding someone else’s point of view, how can you reach consensus? Leaders who are great at resolving conflicts are great listeners, and they give others the time and space to express their opinions. This not only helps them understand others, but also makes them feel heard and valued.

 

2. IDENTIFY THE SOURCE

You will have greater clarity on resolving a conflict when you understand its source and type. Often, leaders struggle to resolve conflicts because they don’t comprehend the root cause.





Firstly, you look at identifying the source. What is the conflict about, what triggered it? Please note, the emphasis here needs to be on what, rather than who.

You then work out which of the below types the conflict is about.

  • Interpersonal or relational
  • Clash of interest: About different goals or objectives
  • Opinion-based: Clash of ideas, opinions or interest

Once you understand the type of conflict, you can address it accordingly. You might find it insightful that identifying the source of conflict can be linked to our mindset with which we approach a conflict. If you show curiosity, and are willing to listen to others, it greatly enhances your chances of identifying the source, and resolving a conflict effectively.

 

3. FOCUS ON WHAT'S RIGHT, RATHER THAN WHO'S RIGHT

As you look at resolving conflicts, or even put in processes to prevent them, this is an important aspect to focus on; what’s right rather than who’s right.

Why would this work well? Firstly, it takes the ego out of the equation. Think about it, in a tense environment, if someone were to call you wrong and the other person right, how would you process that?

In the heat of the moment, chances are, not very well. Conflicts escalate when we take things personally, when we start thinking that others are out to undermine our self-worth, even though this may not be the others’ intent at all.

 

Focusing on what’s right rather than who’s right is a great way for you to diffuse the tension in your space as it stops people from taking things personally.


The other advantage of doing this is to hold people to a common factor. It could be a specific result, a standard or benchmark, or maybe a criteria. This makes things more objective and creates greater alignment. It also becomes easier to hold people accountable to what guidelines have been established. Imagine bringing this approach to a project kick-off meeting. It would be a great way to set and manage expectations across the board.
 

 

TO SUMMARISE

Your ability to resolve conflicts can often be a make or break factor for your project’s success. By adopting a positive mindset, understanding the conflict better and focusing on what’s right can immensely help you stay on top of conflicts and manage them well. As the saying goes, “The quality of our lives depends on not whether we have conflicts or not, but how we respond to them”. In some ways, this applies to projects as well. So how would improved conflict management skills serve you and your project?


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