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How to Manage Team Conflict for the PMP Certification Exam

Conflict is an inevitable part of any project, so you will need to know how to deal with it for the PMP Certification Exam. Observing team member interaction with each other and with customers gives you a good idea of the team member attitude and team work. One-on-one conversations (even casual ones) can tell you a lot about morale, motivation, points of pride, and sources of conflict.

How to resolve conflict

Conflict is a natural event on projects. Many stakeholders have differing needs that can lead to conflict. If you add tight time frames and the pressure of working on a critical project, tempers can flare.

Many people shy away from conflict. However, when handled appropriately, conflict can be constructive. You can actually reach a better understanding of the project and find better ways of performing work. The key is involving the team in problem-solving techniques. Three behaviors will help the team stay focused on resolution instead of escalation:

  • Keep the conversation open. Make sure to foster open communication. Team members need to state their positions and why they feel that way. Withholding information is counterproductive.

  • Focus on the issues. To keep things constructive, people need to focus on the facts surrounding the conflict. Blame, conjecture, and assumptions are contrary to good problem-solving. Don’t let people focus on personalities or “he said, she said” type of behavior.

  • Focus on the present. Sometimes people bring baggage with them. Treat each conflict and situation separately. Resolving a conflict is not the time to rehash past problems.

Causes of conflict

With so much uncertainty on projects, there is ample opportunity for conflict. In reality, though, you can group most conflicts into the following seven categories:

  1. Schedule

  2. Priorities between the objectives

  3. Scarce resources

  4. Technical approach

  5. Administrative procedures

  6. Cost

  7. Personality

Sometimes personality is the main problem, but if you look deeper, you will see the underlying cause is usually one of the other six issues, and the personality issues just exacerbate the problem.

How to manage conflict

For the exam, you will need to know the following six approaches to resolve conflict. The Approach column has the name or label you will see on the exam. The Description column is a brief definition. The Situation column describes when the approach is most useful.

Some conflict management approaches have multiple labels, so be prepared to respond to either label on the exam.

Approach Description Situation
Confronting/
Problem-solving
Confronting the conflict together as a problem to be solved When you have confidence in the other party’s ability to problem-solve
When the relationship is important
When you need a win-win solution
Collaborating Win-win through collaborating and meeting to resolve issues When there is time and trust
When the objective is to learn
When you want to incorporate multiple views
When there is time to come to consensus
Compromising Looking for some degree of satisfaction for both parties When there is a willingness to give and take
When both parties need to win
When you can’t win
When an equal relationship exists between the parties in conflict
When the stakes are moderate
To avoid a fight
Smoothing/
Accommodating
Emphasizing areas of agreement and de-emphasizing areas of conflict To reach an overarching goal
To maintain harmony
When any solution will be adequate
When you will lose anyway
To create goodwill
Forcing Win-lose; imposing the resolution When you are right
In a do-or-die situation
When the stakes are high
To gain power
If the relationship is not important
When time is of the essence
Withdrawal/
Avoiding
Retreating from the situation; having a cooling-off period When you can’t win
When the stakes are low
To preserve neutrality or reputation
If the problem will go away on its own

In general, the best approaches are the collaborating and confronting/problem-solving. Forcing is usually considered the least desirable approach. Confronting doesn’t mean being confrontational: Rather, it means confronting the problem rather than avoiding it.

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