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Five Conflict Management Approaches in Project Management


Conflict Management is the practice of recognizing and dealing with disputes in a rational, balanced and effective way. Conflict management implemented within a business environment usually involves effective communication, problem resolving abilities and good negotiating skills to restore the focus to the company’s overall goals.

Where applied ?


Knowledge area

Process group

Develop Team

Resource Management


Manage Team

Resource Management


Develop Project Charter

Integration Management


Develop Project Management Plan

Integration Management


Manage Stakeholder Engagement

Stakeholder Management


Manage Communications

Communication Management


The following are few examples of the sources of conflict in project situations

Sources of Conflict


Conflict over project priorities

View of project participants will differ over sequence of activities and tasks

Conflict over administrative procedures

Managerial and Administrative oriented conflict over how the project will be managed

Conflict over technical options and
Performance trade-offs

Disagreements over the technical issues, performance specifications and trade-offs

Conflict over man power resources

Conflicts concerning staffing of project team with personnel from other areas

Conflict over cost

Conflict over cost estimates from support areas regarding work breakdown structures

Conflict over schedules

Disagreements about the timing, sequencing, and scheduling of project related tasks

Personality conflict

Disagreements on interpersonal issues

Techniques/Modes of Conflict Resolution

Cooperativeness implies

There are five general techniques for resolving conflict. Each technique has its place and use:

1)Withdraw/avoid. Retreating from an actual or potential conflict situation; postponing the issue to be better prepared or to be resolved by others.

2)Smooth/accommodate. Emphasizing areas of agreement rather than areas of difference; conceding one’s position to the needs of others to maintain harmony and relationships.

3)Compromise/reconcile. Searching for solutions that bring some degree of satisfaction to all parties in to temporarily or partially resolve the conflict. This approach occasionally results in a lose-lose situation.

4)Force/direct. Pushing one’s viewpoint at the expense of others; offering only win-lose solutions, usually enforced through a power position to resolve an emergency. This approach often results to a win-lose situation.

5)Collaborate/problem solve. Incorporating multiple viewpoints and insights from differing perspectives; requires a cooperative attitude and open dialogue that typically leads to consensus and commitment. This approach can result in a win-win situation.

Each of the above five methods are further explained below :

Forcing (using power or dominance) implies the use of position power to resolve the conflict. It involves imposing one viewpoint at the expense of another and is characterized by a win-lose outcome in which one party overwhelms the other.

It is used when there is no common ground on which to bargain or negotiate, and when both parties are uncooperative and strong-willed. Project managers may use it when time is of the essence, an issue is vital to the well-being of the project, and they feel they are right based on the information available. Under such circumstances project managers take the risk and simply dictate the action to move things forward.

This approach is appropriate when quick decisions are required or when unpopular issues such as budget cuts, fast-tracking or staff cutbacks are essential in a project.

Forcing usually takes less time than compromise and negotiation but it leaves hard feelings because people dislike having others’ views imposed on them. Conflict resolved by force may develop again and haunt the enforcers at a later date. Although forcing definitely resolves the conflict quickly, it should be used only as a late resort.

Withdrawing (avoidance, denial or retreat) involves giving up, pulling out or retreating. It also refers to refusal to deal with the conflict. It involves ignoring conflict as much as possible.

This style is appropriate when a “cooling off” period is needed to gain better understanding of the conflict situation and also when the others party involved in the conflicts is both unassertive and uncooperative.

Withdrawal is a passive, stopgap way of handling conflict and generally fails to solve the problem. Therefore, this style should not be used if the conflicts deals with an issue that is of immediate concern or is important to the successful completion of the project.

Smoothing, or accommodating, is an appeasing approach. It involves emphasizing areas of agreement while avoiding points of disagreement.

Smoothing is appropriate to keep harmony and avoid outwardly conflictive situations. It works when the issues are more important than personal positions and aspirations of the parties involved. Since smoothing tends to keep peace only in the short terms, it fails to provide a permanent tends to keep peace only in the short term, it fails to provide a permanent long-term solution to the underlying conflicts. Generally, conflict reappears again in another form.

Both smoothing and withdrawing styles incline towards ignoring or delaying tactics, which do not resolves conflict but will temporarily slow down the situation. Project managers must remember that if the conflict is not handled and the resolved in a timely manner it will likely leads to more severe and intense conflict in the future.

Compromising is primarily “bargaining” – receiving something in exchange for something else. It involves considering various issues, bargaining, using tradeoff negotiations and searching for solutions that bring some degree of satisfaction to both parties involved in the conflict. In this mode, neither party wins but both get some degree of satisfaction out of the situation.

Temporarily, both parties may feel hurt because they had to give up something that was important to them, but compromising usually provides acceptable solutions. A definitive resolution to the conflict is achieved when a compromise is reached and accepted as a just solution by both parties involved in the conflict. The only problem with compromising in a project situation is that, sometimes, important aspects of the project might be compromised in to achieve personal objectives.

Collaborating is an effective technique to manage conflict when a project situation is too important to be compromised. It involves incorporating multiple ideas and viewpoints from people with different perspectives. It offers a good opportunity to learn  from  others. Active collaboration by both parties in contributing to the resolution makes it easier to get their consensus and commitment. Collaboration is not very effective when more than a few players are involved and their viewpoints are mutually exclusive.

Confronting or problem solving(negotiating) implies a direct confrontation where disagreement is addressed directly. Conflict is treated as a problem in this process and both parties are interested in finding a mutually acceptable solution.

This approach requires a give-and-take attitude between the parties, meaning that both parties are somewhat assertive and somewhat cooperative. It involves pinpointing the issue and resolving it objectively by defining the problem, gathering necessary information, generating and analyzing alternatives and selecting the best alternative under the circumstances. Confrontation requires open dialogue between participants, who must be mature, understanding, and competent – both technically and managerially.

In most cases, confronting or problem solving may take longer than other techniques, but they provide final solutions by ultimately resolving the underlying problems. In most cases, confronting or problem solving may take longer than other techniques, but they provide final solutions by ultimately resolving the underlying problems.

Summarizes these six interpersonal conflict resolution techniques. However, a survey of management suggests some additional techniques for resolving conflict.




Withdrawing/ Avoiding

Retreats from an actual or potential conflict situation

Does not solve the problem

Smoothing/ Accommodating

Emphasizes areas of agreement rather than areas of difference

Provides only short-term solution


Searches for the bargains for solutions that bring some degree of satisfaction to all parties

Does provides definitive resolution


Pushes one view-point at the expense of others; offers only win-lose solutions

Hard feelings may come back in other forms


Incorporates multiple viewpoints and insights from differing perspectives; leads to consensus and commitment

Provides long-term resolution

Confronting/ Problem Solving

Treats conflicts as a problem to be solved by examining alternatives;

Provides ultimate resolution

The methods applied in the following processes of Project Management. The detailed application to each process is briefly presented below:

Develop Project Charter Conflict management can be used to help bring stakeholders into alignment on the objectives, success criteria, high-level requirements, project description, summary milestones, and other elements of the charter

Develop Project Management Conflict management may be necessary to bring diverse stakeholders into alignment on all aspects of the project management plan.

Develop Team The project manager needs to resolve conflicts in a timely manner and in a constructive way in to achieve a high-performing team.

Manage Team & Manage Communications Conflict is inevitable in a project environment. Sources of conflict include scarce resources, scheduling priorities, and personal work styles. Team ground rules, group norms, and solid project management practices, like communication planning and role definition, reduce the amount of conflict. Successful conflict management results in greater productivity and positive working relationships. When managed properly, differences of opinion can lead to increased creativity and better decision making. If the differences become a negative factor, project team members are initially responsible for their resolution. If conflict escalates, the project manager should help facilitate a satisfactory resolution. Conflict should be addressed early and usually in private, using a direct, collaborative approach. If disruptive conflict continues, formal procedures may be used, including disciplinary actions. The success of project managers in managing their project teams often depends on their ability to resolve conflict. Different project managers may use different conflict resolution methods. Factors that influence conflict resolution methods include:

  1. Importance and intensity of the conflict,
  2. Time pressure for resolving the conflict,
  3. Relative power of the people involved in the conflict,
  4. Importance of maintaining a good relationship, and
  5. Motivation to resolve conflict on a long-term or short-term basis.

Manage Stakeholder Engagement 

The project manager should ensure that conflicts are resolved in a timely manner.

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