33 Conflict Management Resources For Project Managers

Conflict Management ResourcesIn September, I published 51 Training Resources For Project Managers, one of the most popular articles on this website. To finish off this month’s series on conflict management, I thought I would present a similar list resources with a focus on conflict management resources. You will find resources across the spectrum here, so you can use this guide whether you are a novice or seeking advanced education. Remember – conflict is inevitable in projects and you are the manager!

Conflict Management Resources: Books

Books are an excellent way to start your educational journey of learning how to manage and respond to conflict situations. Consider the following titles to begin your studies in the topic. Note that I have not read these books. They are listed to provide a variety of perspectives on the topic.

1) The eight essential steps to conflict resolution : preserving relationships at work, at home, and in the community by Dudley Weeks (1994)

This book focuses on working through conflict to create fruitful outcomes. The author has a PhD

2) Conflict 101 : a manager’s guide to resolving problems so everyone can get back to work by Susan H Shearouse. (2011)

For some professionals, the “soft” nature of interpersonal skills is a turn-off. Shearouse’s books promises to help you solve conflict, handle negative emotions and get back to work.

3) Perfect phrases for conflict resolution : hundreds of ready-to-use phrases for encouraging a more productive and efficient work environment by Lawrence Polsky and Antoine Gerschel (2011)

The right word at the right time can make all the difference. Take a look at this book if you are searching for ways to express your thoughts and feelings in conflict situations.

4) Making conflict work : harnessing the power of disagreement by Peter T Coleman and Robert Ferguson (2014)

At first glance, disagreements are frustrating in projects. You’re working hard to finish a complex change request or get agreement from a sponsor – disagreements are all around you. This new book shows how to understand and use power dynamics to your advantage.

5) Why great leaders don’t take yes for an answer: managing for conflict and consensus by Michael A Roberto (Second edition, 2013).

Group think is a major problem in the corporate world (and in the public sector). If you are tired of easy answers, consider picking up this book. You will be reminded of the importance of conflict for testing assumptions and more.

6) The mediator’s handbook by Jennifer E Beer, Caroline C. Packard and Eileen Stief (Rev. & expanded 4th ed, 2012)

Mediators are called in to solve particularly challenging conflicts. If your project is facing a serious conflict, this handbook will provide an introduction on how mediators approach conflicts. If you are already working with a mediator (e.g. over a disputed contract), this book can help you to understand how a mediator would approach the situation.

7) Managing risk in communication encounters: strategies for the workplace by Vincent R Waldron and Jeffrey W Kassing (2011)

Similar to resource three, this book focuses on the importance of communication in conflict. Topics covered include responding to privacy related matters and offering criticism. I`ve read research suggesting that project managers spend over 50% of their time on communication so it pays to get better.

8) Difficult conversations: how to discuss what matters most by Douglas Stone, Sheila Heen and Bruce Patton. (10th anniversary edition, 2010).

Based on the work of the Harvard Negotiation Project, this classic book is a staple of leadership and management courses. The book presents a model that can be applied to handling many types of conflict. The capability to handle difficult conversations will also improve your ability to negotiate.

9) Everything Is Workable: A Zen Approach to Conflict Resolution by Diane Musho Hamilton (2013)

Mindfulness is becoming more and more popular as a way to manage stress and solve other problems. This book introduces the reader to common conflict management styles.

10) Everyone can win: responding to conflict constructively by Helena Cornelius, Estella Cornelius and Shoshana Faire (2006)

This widely translated book has been become a standard textbook for handling conflict. The book emphasizes emotional intelligence and seeking good outcomes for everyone involved. Out of habit, many approach conflict as a zero-sum situation – this book points out a different path.

11) Emotional intelligence for project managers : the people skills you need to achieve outstanding results by Anthony Mersino (2013)

As I quoted from this book heavily in my article Recovering From Project Conflict, it is no surprise to see Mersino’s book featured here. Improved emotional intelligence can help project managers to prevent conflict from occurring in the first place.

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Recovering From Project Conflict

What happens when conflict management techniques still leave you feeling stress and frustration? You need to take care of yourself proactively. If you ignore these self-management methods, you are more likely to cause more conflict. Once you gain mastery of these methods, you can share your experience with your project team.

Note: I am indebted to “Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers: The People Skills You Need to Achieve Outstanding Results” by Anthony Mersino for many of the concepts explored in this article. Anthony’s book is an excellent resource for project managers seeking a better understanding of the people side of project work.

Stress Is A By-Product of Conflict: Manage It

“PMs should be familiar with the need to reduce stress and have at least one method that they employ. There are a multitude of stress reduction methods starting with easy things like exercise and self-care all the way through more radical approaches like getting a new job or leaving an abusive relationship. Previously discussed techniques include prayer and meditation. My coach is a big believer in using breathing techniques. The point is that there are a lot of different ways to reduce stress and I encourage you to experiment until you find one that works for you. On the other hand, if you are one of those people who thrive on stress and intentionally create it in your life, what I write here won’t matter much to you anyway.”

From – “Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers”

Mersino’s explanation is right on. If you see yourself as someone who thrives on stress, I would question that view. Is it the stress of long hours or exertion that you like or achievement? In all likelihood, achievement is more important than working extra hours.

In order to keep achieving and delivering results on your projects, you need to monitor your stress levels thoughtfully (otherwise you may have a workplace meltdown!). As I wrote in Stress Management Techniques For Project Managers, you can use a variety of techniques to reduce stress.

Consider the following stress reduction methods:

  • Go window shopping during lunch (you could call this “retail therapy lite”)
  • Read a book that has nothing to do with your work (I’m currently reading “Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller Sr” by Ron Chernow) for a few minutes during lunch
  • Take the stairs if you have a task on another floor to get the blood flowing

If you have a good relationship with your project team members, consider recommending the above proactive stress management after you use these methods. You may even raise the topic of wellness and stress management for a few minutes at the end of a status meeting to reiterate its importance.

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Conflict Management Techniques From the PMBOK Guide

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last week, I covered the ten sources of project management conflict. Now that we realize conflict can appear at any time, what are we supposed to do about it?

As with any other challenge, we approach this situation with a process. At first glance, applying a process to a conflict may seem cold. I take a different view. Responding to a conflict without any kind of framework is less likely to be successful.

Conflict Management From The PMBOK Guide

According to the PMBOK Guide, “conflict is inevitable in a project environment.” After defining the problem, the PMBOK Guide suggests five techniques for project management. Let’s review these techniques and consider when to use them in managing conflicts.

Note: by experience, you may have a strong preference for one of these techniques. Remember that there is a time and place for each approach.

Withdraw/Avoid Conflict Management

Definition: “Retreating from an actual or potential conflict situation; postponing the issue to be better prepared or to be resolved by others.”

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Conflict Management For Project Managers: 10 Sources of Project Conflict

Conflict Resolution for Project Managers
When Meetings Go Wrong!

Conflict is a reality that we face every day in projects. The constant nature of conflict was brought home to me by Mark Horstman, co-founder of Manager Tools, who stated, “the definition of conflict is two human beings in the same COUNTY.” This month, I will be exploring conflict in projects, the PMBOK’s conflict resolution techniques and the psychology of conflicts.

We all have to face conflict at the office and elsewhere. How well we manage that conflict will have a major impact on the success or failure of our projects. For purposes of this article,

Defining Conflict In War, Sports And Beyond

As a long time student of history, war and violence are the first concepts that come to mind when I think about conflict. For most of us, direct physical violence is unlikely to be a major problem. There are many types of conflict to consider.

  • War: Conflict over territory, resources, ideas and also conflict within (i.e. different strategies on how to win the war)
  • Politics: Elections have an element of conflict because demand (candidates) exceeds supply (elected offices)
  • Sports: In the sports world, we can see two types of conflict: productive, rule-based conflict within the accepted boundaries of the game and destructive (e.g. riots or player fights)
  • Literature: Thinking back to an English class, I remember covering several types of conflict: man against man, man against himself and man against nature. Some commentators have even suggested that literature must have conflict in order engage readers.
  • Business: Conflict abounds in the commercial realm whether it takes the form of legitimate competition, law suits, and corporate espionage.

Conflict In The Workplace: A Few Statistics To Consider

Workplace conflict has significant costs that embark our wellbeing, performance and results. Consider these findings about the impact of conflict around the world:

  • 24% of employees in New Zealand “experienced at least one disagreement or argument at work that distracted or prevented them from doing their job.” (source: NZ Business, October 2014)
  • 60% of human resource management time is spent on managing and resolving workplace conflict. (source: WealthWise, March 2014)
  • S. employees spent 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict. This amounts to approximately $359 billion in paid hours (based on average hourly earnings of $17.95), or the equivalent of 385 million working days in 2008 (source: The Real Cost of Workplace Conflict, Entrepreneur)
  • One third of aggressive workplace behaviours were initiated by the supervisor (How to Reduce Workplace Conflict and Stress by Anna Maravelas).

The final finding suggests that project managers may be responsible for causing conflict. Given that conflict has considerable destructive potential, we need to be cautious about the development of conflict.

Ten Sources of Project Management Conflict

A well run project can be positively inspiring, especially for staff who have an interest in new challenges. However, the added pressure of project constraints such as multiple deadlines and scope changes mean greater likelihood for conflict. Before we can explore conflict management for project managers, we need to understand the causes of conflict.

Which of these sources of project management conflict have you faced?

1) Different Stakeholder Interests

The manufacturing stakeholder advocates for a simple, standardized product that will be easy to manufacture reliably. The marketing stakeholder advocates for a complex product that allows for extensive customization by customers. At first glance, these stakeholders appear locked in conflict.

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