“In critical and baffling situations, it is always best to return to first principle and simple action.” Winston Churchill
Some people may believe that conflict is bad for the project team and try to avoid or hide them. Practically and to the contrary, conflict could be good for the team, be it personal or professional. It brings to the open the hidden issues, which if not discussed and resolved, could have devastating implications for the project.
Conflicts could take different forms. In projects, the most common conflict categories are personal and professional. All conflicts, be it personal (could be due to personal ego or personality clash) or professional (due to differed opinions or ideas), need to be confronted and addressed timely and decisively, before rumours and misinformation take control over the facts.
In a personal conflict, two or more team members may have past grudges which could affect their relationships and conducts on the project. For a professional conflict, there could be strong debate on alternate solutions being passionately and aggressively pursued by individuals or groups within the project team. Personal conflicts may take longer time to resolve than the professional conflict. One of the reasons is the fact that personal conflict causes are usually hidden and may take longer time to discover. In project management, conflicts can be resolved through negotiation, instruction, arbitration and diplomacy, among other techniques.
Tip to remember: Avoid resolving conflict via e-mail and fax, as they may be recorded, recalled or referenced inappropriately and used in ways you never anticipated. Preferred conflict resolution method is face-to-face discussion, combining effective and honest communication, counselling and negotiation or mediation.
In resolving conflicts, adopt or encourage debate rather than argument. Debate or respectful discussion leads to agreement (win-win outcome). Argument or destructive discussion leads to deadlock (loose-loose outcome) or mediocre solution (win-loose or loose-win outcome) at best. When you move from debate about issues to proposal of options or solutions to resolve identified issues, further discussions of the options lead to acceptable resolution, albeit not completely sometimes but could lead to shift in previously rigid positions. Debate approach shows that fair and honest resolution is desired, and it, usually, encourages the parties involved to co-operatively work together to resolve conflicts.
Depending on the nature of the conflict, you may have to resort to other conflict resolution methods such as dictate based on positional power (usually the last resort, but not recommended) or instruct, particularly in a situation whereby the cost of doing nothing outweigh the viable conflict resolution method.