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Project Management: Dealing With Conflict and Confrontation
By Michelle Symonds

In high pressure environments there will always be situations where people disagree or get worked up. As the project manager it is your job to resolve these issues as quickly, and effectively as possible.

Grasping an understanding of your own anger will help you to effectively deal with situations as they arise.

Many people believe because something makes them angry or on edge, it always will. This is largely because they externalise the anger and blame the outside influence. In reality it is often more down to our perception and associations than the event itself.
Understanding that our anger is quite often a result of old associations, past failures, and other frustrations, helps us to gain perspective in the moment. It helps us to recognise what aspects of the moment triggered our anger, and lets us establish whether our reaction is justified.

  1. Be selective

    Don’t try to solve every problem at the first sign of disagreement. Your team should be able to resolve most minor issues by themself, and getting involved in everything devalues your contribution. Being selective in this way will mean when things escalate, or the issues are creating a more pressing problem and you do get involved, it’s for a good reason.

  2. Learn to empathise

    When dealing with the mistakes of others the main goals should include not victimising or isolating the person, and helping them to see it as an opportunity to not only improve themselves, but the company processes and procedures that allowed it to happen.
    By being sympathetic but honest in your approach you will strengthen relationships, improve team morale and recover quicker. This will help to set a positive president for dealing with mistakes and bad decisions, which you will appreciate greatly when one of them is yours.

  3. Make people the priority

    When you’re dealing with a situation involving a dispute or disagreement you should always try to make the personal relationships the first priority. Sooner or later the problem will be resolved, but colleagues will have to continue working together.
    Remain flexible and honest. It is very hard to keep everyone happy, so instead you must understand sometimes an agreement will not be met, and need to amicably agree to disagree.
    Ensure the focus remains on the current situation. Often in situations like this people will bring up past situations and old resentments. Dredging up old arguments will not help to resolve this one.

  4. Definitely avoid…

    When a colleague or team member is angry it is crucial you do not react in a like manner. Meeting anger with anger escalates the situation quickly. Instead validate their concerns by listening to why the person is angry.

    Don’t deal with the anger deal with the problem. By maintaining focus on the problem it shows empathy and a desire to help.

Top tip

Remaining calm is of the utmost importance if you are to be a successful project manager, but you can also use words to calm other people down. Did you know using the words ‘Thank you’ or ‘I’m sorry’ reduces anger in people? It doesn’t have to be about the situation, it may be because you bumped their leg etc. but hearing the words will help to diffuse their anger and getting everyone on your side is one of the best ways of motivating the project team.

Michelle Symonds is a qualified PRINCE2 Project Manager and believes that the right project management training can transform a good project manager into a great project manager and is essential for a successful outcome to any project.

There is a wide range of formal and informal training courses now available that include online learning and podcasts as well as more traditional classroom courses from organizations such as Parallel Project Training.

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