Managing the Dreaded Project Conflicts

managing project conflictsConflict. A word we usually all try to avoid. Our regular project management work keeps us busy enough without trying to manage the various kinds of conflict that can arise on our projects. Conflicts between team members. Conflicts between our organization and a third party vendor. Conflicts between our organization and our customer. The list can go on and on. The reality, of course, is that we encounter conflict on nearly every project – dare I say EVERY project – that we manage. A project manager who says they never have conflict to deal with on their projects just isn’t paying close enough attention to what’s going on. Or they’re in denial. There is no burying your head in the sand either….when conflict arises it must be dealt with before it threatens to take the entire project engagement down with it.

As I think I made my case above, conflict rears its ugly head on just about every project we oversee or work on. The project manager must always be working proactively with all staff to avoid possible conflicts that may arise. In the event of a conflict, the project manager should be aware that talking can only resolve so much. For situations where conflict cannot be resolved through negotiations or arbitration, it is recommended that the identified individuals be separated or be removed from the project.

It is important to understand that project staff react differently to daily situations and that during the project life cycle, these members all experience various emotions such as joy, sadness, jealousy, anger, frustration, and stress – to name but a few. Many conflicts can be reduced or eliminated by constantly communicating the project objectives to the project team members. Some of the most common conflicts are:

  • Conflict over staffing resources
  • Conflict over project priorities
  • Conflict over schedules
  • Personality conflicts
  • Conflict over administrative procedures
  • Lack of respect for one another
  • Conflict over cost
  • Conflict over technical opinions and performance

When conflicts do arise, there are several methods to try to resolve them. Let’s examine a personal popular list of five that I use…

  • Compromise. The conflicting parties come to some sort of agreement – each giving and taking somewhat.
  • Confrontation. The conflicting parties push through to try to work out an overall solution to the problem – this can take a while.
  • Forcing. Power and influence is used to force a solution. Not always a great way to build relationships, but in the end…if managed right…both parties will likely see the benefit in just moving forward.
  • Smoothing. The smoothing process focuses on the positives to enable some sort of agreement/resolution. Avoid focus on the negatives/losses to either party.
  • Withdrawal. This can sometimes work – where one party completely removes themselves from the conflict. Could also be called the “white flag approach.”


No one likes conflict. Period. Well, some people do but it’s best they don’t serve in positions of authority too often. In general, good leaders look for the best ways to avoid – or at least mitigate conflict, not find it. But it is inevitable that conflict will arise, conflict will happen, and conflict must be dealt with. What ways do you deal with conflict on the projects you manage or work on? What methods work best? Which ones have been utter failures and should be avoided at all costs? Please feel free to share your experiences and opinions so we can all learn – since we will all experience this at some time or another. Thanks!

Brad Egeland
Brad Egeland

Noteworthy accomplishments:
*20 year provider of successful technical project management leadership for clients across nearly every industry imaginable
*Author of more than 4,000 expert professional project management and business strategy articles, eBooks and videos over the past decade
*Articles/professional content receives over 40,000 page views monthly
*Named #1 in the 100 Most Inspiring People in Project Management
*Named a Top 10 Project Management Influencer to Follow in 2016
*The most read author of expert project management content on Project Times/BA Times for 2015
*Named most prolific provider of project management content over the past 5 years
*Noted for successful project management and financial oversight for $50 million Dept. of Education financial contract/program
*Chosen by the Dept of Defense as a subject matter expert (SME) to help select IWMS software provider for the largest IWMS implementation ever awarded

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