Conflict is unfortunately something no one can avoid. Conflicts arise in organizations, among personal and professional relationships, and in all areas of life. As professional project managers, we probably do whatever it takes to avoid conflict, whether it occurs among teams or with customers. But does conflict necessarily have to be a bad thing?
Most human beings avoid conflicts because they often lead to heated debates and puts individuals in uncomfortable situations. However, conflict can actually be a good thing. Conflicts allow team members to share their thoughts and feelings on particular projects, customers, or department or company policies or events. Conflict also encourages team members to make suggestions to improve work flows or working structures, or even organizational policies or procedures.
Most conflicts are brought up and dealt with in meeting situations. However, if conflict arises in a group setting or meeting, this doesn’t mean that organizations are detracting from set meeting or project goals, or that a meeting is unsuccessful. A complete lack of conflict could indicate that team members aren’t expressing their thoughts or opinions.
Healthy organizations use conflict to clarify strengths and weaknesses and to maintain creativity and ingenuity. If individuals don’t feel like they can truly express their thoughts or opinions or make creative suggestions, then they don’t feel valued as team members and their jobs become boring and they do not feel like they are being challenged enough.
While dealing with conflict can be beneficial to teams and organizations, it can also be a little tricky…for the reasons why we try to avoid conflict from the beginning. It’s important to manage conflict in a positive and efficient way that benefits and respects all involved. There, of course, shouldn’t be any personal or hurtful comments or “put-downs”, the use of offensive language, and voice levels should be kept at a minimum. Project mangers should keep these areas in check and should immediately bring meetings back into focus should they veer in this direction.
Again, conflicts do not have to be negative in any way. Project mangers should stress and remind team members of the best ways to discuss and resolve conflict as well as the importance of being respectful to others’ opinions and suggestions and encourage the importance of working together in dealing with sticky situations. Project managers can work with team members so that everyone’s feelings are properly addressed. For example, this could include discussing one topic of a team member’s choice per week, and each team member gets a turn each week.
Of course, conflicts can involve sensitive subjects and can even involve emotions and feelings, but the way they are handled is crucial. Team members should feel valued and that their project manager or team lead has an “open door policy”. Team member should also feel open and comfortable in bringing up conflicting situations in meetings. However, both project managers and team members have to understand that when bringing up conflict, there also must be room and willingness for compromise. While not every conflict will have an immediate resolution—some may take research whereas others may require authority or executive-level permission—project managers and team members need to be open to compromise and must offer their own suggestions or solutions. Even professional relationships are two-way streets.
Finally, it’s almost impossible to avoid conflict on some level in professional situations or within organizations. In situations when human beings work or collaborate with other human beings, there is bound to be conflict. Rather than avoiding it or not addressing it at all, view conflict as a positive element to working within a team.