Some of the Conflict Resolution Strategies Project Managers Can Apply

Conflict at workplace is inevitable. At one point or another, you probably have disagreed with a co-worker, or you have been called to solve some conflict between employees.

Conflict is a common occurrence in the workplace; there exist very few offices where all the staff get along very well. Due to this, conflict resolution is a critical component in any workplace set up, and project managers must possess relevant skills in conflict resolution strategies.

There are different ways workplace conflict can occur: it can occur either between two employees, among the whole teams, or between the supervisors and members of the team they manage.

Generally, the cause of conflict in the workplace can be attributed to differences in attitudes, values, needs, expectations, personalities, and resources.

And while conflict at the workplace can be viewed as a creative stimulus that assists teams to compete and become more productive at work, it can also erupt and bring the project to a standstill.

What kind of workplace conflict requires intervention? You may ask. Whatever causing disruption in the office, posing a threat to employees, or affect the productivity needs to be addressed. The level of tolerance to certain situations before intercession may vary.

It might not be necessary to intercede when a small exchange of words happens between you team members unless the matter extends as a daily occurrence and moves beyond the initial parties involved.

Effective conflict resolution strategies can help project managers and other team members to constructively resolve conflicts, leading to a more productive team hence a successful project.

 Understanding conflict

Conflict is defined as a serious misunderstanding and argument over something important or a clash of interests. Though the basis of conflict may be different, it is always part of society. The origin of conflict can be personal, caste, class, intentional or political.

To further understand conflict, the condition must include emotions, interdependence, perceptions, and behaviors.

For instance, conflict can erupt between two project teams whose duties are interdependent, who are furious with each other, who sees the other party as being at fault, and whose acts can bring a problem to the project.

 Dynamics of conflicts

Project managers must acknowledge the dynamics of conflict so as to be able to resolve it constructively. The internal elements of conflict include perception of the goal, perception of the others, communication, definition of the problem, view of the other’s actions, and internal team dynamics.

These traits can significantly affect the behavior style of the team members and influence the potential result of the conflict. In some cases, the problem can be the project manager’s lack of effective conflict resolution strategies.

`The conflict resolution strategies

There are different methods that people apply when dealing with conflict, and how a project manager handles a conflict can significantly impact the entire team.

In the early seventies, Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann came up with five conflict resolution strategies that can be used to handle conflicts. The strategies are based on the assumption that individuals choose how assertive or cooperative to be in a conflict; however, we all apply the methods differ in conflict situations.

As a project manager, it is useful to understand these five conflict resolution strategies, especially if you have a team or a group to move forward.

Let’s get started;

  1.  Avoidance or withdrawal

Avoidance is when conflicting parties ignore or withdraw from the conflict. This strategy is always applied when the discomfort of engagement surpasses the potential benefit of resolving the conflict. By neglecting a conflict, you practically pretend it never happened, or the conflict does not exist.

Whereas it might look easy for the facilitator to accommodate, the parties involved do not contribute anything valuable to the discussion and maybe keeping useful ideas. Some examples of avoidance include pretending there is no conflict, stonewalling, and completely shutting down. Nothing is resolved when conflict is avoided.

  1.  Accommodation

This is a strategy where one side gives in to the wants and demands of the other party; they are acting cooperatively but not assertive.

Though it may seem to be a gracious way to surrender when one realizes he’s been wrong about an argument, it’s not helpful when a party yields to another just to maintain harmony or avoid disruptions.

Too much application of this strategy can lead to categories where most assertive parties command and control most discussions. Similar to avoidance, accommodation can also lead to unsettled issues.

  1.  Competing

Competing strategy is always used by those who have the intention of winning. These groups of people are assertive and not cooperative.

This strategy is characterized by the presumption that only one party wins and all the rest loses. It does not give room for various perspectives to be discussed in a well-informed picture.

The competing strategy might only apply to wars or sports. Still, it is not an ideal strategy for a team conflict resolution approach.

According to an article on how conflict resolution failure can lead to a revolution when parties are not listened to, they become assertive and lead to revolt leading to a project failure.

  1.  Collaborating 

This is one of the widely used strategies by project or team managers. Collaboration plays a vital role in conflict resolution and needs an act of exceptional courage and consideration.

Collaborating with the opposite group requires listening to their side of the argument, debating the common areas of agreement and objectives, and making sure that both groups accept each other.

Collaboration needs creative thinking to settle out the conflict without concessions. The principal aim of this strategy is to allow each participant to give contributions to the matter to create a solution that is accepted by both parties together. Usually, collaborators are admired and command a lot of respect.

  1.  Compromise

Deciding to compromise is making a considerable step towards conflict resolution. It takes both courage and consideration when both parties decide to look for a common consensus. Both groups agree to negotiate on primary points and relinquish small ones; this method speeds up the conflict resolution process.

In most cases, compromise is seen as being a fair method, even though not everyone is pleased with the result.

It is important to note that the party compromising might use a passive-aggressive method to mislead the other, so be aware.

After understanding the different conflict resolution styles, you can apply them to create an ideal conflict resolution strategy or a mixture of them for the condition you are in. it is also important to think of an instinctive approach and know how you want to change the approach if necessary.

Preferably, you should adopt a conflict resolution strategy that meets the situation, respects people interests, resolve problems and fixes destroyed work relationships.


In any given work environment, conflict is bound to arise at any given time. As a project manager, applying these conflict resolution strategies hangs on both your conflict resolution skills and the conflict style.

As team manager, you are always tasked with taking the facing the conflicts arising at work proactively.

Fortunately, with correct management toolkit, you can handle any conflict without tense environment, develop a comfortable environment for team members and improve communication lines.

This way when conflict arises, you have a well prepared and versed team on conflict resolution techniques.

There are various methods to counter conflict situations; some styles of conflict require a considerate or cooperative approach, while some need a competitive or passive approach.

It is significant that whenever a conflict arises, it is dealt with in a quick and professional manner to avoid matters that can affect the morale and productivity of the team members. And to make sure there are no delays in project completion.

When managed correctly, differences in ideas can result in increased creativity and better decision-making skills.

If a disorderly conflict proceeds, legal procedures may be applied, including disciplinary actions.

Groups’ norms, team’s ground-rule, and effective project management practices such as planning, communication, and role definition can minimize workplace conflict.

The following are factors that influence the conflict resolution approach.

  1. Time pressure for settling the conflict.
  2. Intensity and importance of the conflict.
  3. Importance of maintaining a good relationship.
  4. Relative power of the parties involved in the conflict.
  5. The drive to solve the conflict on a short term or long term basis.

Your work as a project manager is to oversee the project from initiation, planning, monitoring, and make sure it is executed and completed successfully.

Take note also, as a person handling conflict between two people, it is best to meet the parties separately. Provide both the chance to vent a little, take emotional inventory, and make them feel listened to.