In every project, workplace, office, and team, conflict will occur. It’s not possible to avoid it, but what you do to manage it can define the success of your engineering or architectural firm. To truly define your success, consider these simple-to-implement conflict management strategies.
#1: Focus on productivity
When managing conflict on the spot, aim for a solution that improves productivity rather than one that focuses on drawing out the conclusion. In short, stop the problem, and set a time to discuss it thoroughly after the task at hand is complete.
#2: Realize conflict stems from perceived misunderstandings
In nearly all situations, conflict starts and builds from the perceived incompatibilities of individuals. This isn’t necessarily an actual incompatibility but rather one that one or both individuals believe. By communicating this, you, as the project manager or team leader can stop the misunderstanding taking place.
#2: It’s often about feelings
Many people are passionate about the way they feel and what they believe. When someone else has an opposing view, a conflict can easily arise. However, you can often use team building exercises to show that, even if two people don’t seem to have the same view, they can work together.
#3: Acknowledge the conflict
The biggest mistake you can make is in not acknowledging there is a problem. Don’t avoid it, push it to the side, or just “let it alone.” State that you understand a conflict is present.
#4: Watch for the first signs of struggle
It’s easier to fix a problem when you can spot the conflict early on. Address the first bickering or communication undertones right away. If it seems like there’s a problem, or could be one, address it.
#5: Sometimes, people need to talk it out
Bring two parties into the office for a frank discussion. Provide them both with the opportunity to state their opinion and concerns. Don’t favor either. Just listen and let them work through it.
#6: Discuss the impact
Every conflict in any project will have an impact. Discuss what that is with the team. Make it clear that it is the conflict (not the individuals) which is putting the project on the line.
#7: Get people to agree that a solution is necessary
To manage the conflict with your team, you initially do not need them to agree on a solution. First, they need to agree that a resolution is necessary.
#8: Then, agree to communicate
Once they agree that a solution is necessary, everyone involved needs to agree to communicate respectfully to find a solution.
#9: Find some common ground
Discussions start when people let their guard down. To do this, find some common ground for the two or more people to agree on.
#10: Talk about the issue in a formal discussion
Level heads are important here. Talking through conflicts is critical, though rarely easy to do when everyone is angry or frustrated. Those are valid feelings. Recognize the need for a calm conversation.
#11: Make a list
When individuals cannot see eye-to-eye, sometimes it takes making a list. Write down the facts of the situation. Write down assumptions and beliefs as well. Clarify each position with each person.
#12: What can we agree on?
Asking open-ended conversations instead of offering a decision on your own is important. The goal here is to get people to come to an agreement together. Questions like this can help to get people thinking about the solution rather than the problem.
#13: Should we continue this conversation?
It’s a valid question and one that you need all parties to agree to in order to move on. Allowing people to voice all of their thoughts and opinions is important. Only once they do this will they agree to move on.
#14: Determine what each person wants to occur
Conflict management often comes down to you, as the manager, making a decision about the outcome. However, for that to happen, you need to know what everyone involved believes as the best solution – at this point, after having a thorough conversation.
#15: Make key decisions as the leader
Ultimately, the project manager needs to make a decision to resolve the conflict. Everyone at the table needs to agree to your decision. And, you need to document what occurs and what the end result was for later reference.
In many cases, conflict management is all about structuring and overseeing a conversation. Eventually, people can vent, listen, and overcome the communication problem or other areas of concern. Your job is to organize and manage the conflict resolution.