Conflict Resolution Strategies
October 1, 2020

5 Conflict Resolution Strategies to Keep Your Projects on Track

By Brian McHale

Where there are people, there will be conflict.

And while conflict is a normal part of teamwork, it can be detrimental to project progress when left unchecked.

In this article, we’re going to show you 5 conflict resolution strategies that you can use to improve team collaboration, and get your project done on time!


The Importance of Conflict Management in Project Teams

As a project manager, one of your main roles is facilitating team collaboration.

But when conflict comes in, teamwork climbs up on the window ledge and gets ready to take off.

Some of the nastiest consequences of unresolved conflict include legal action.

At the very least, unresolved conflict can harm your productivity.

A team member focused on their conflict won’t be able to think about their work.

Conflict Resolution

Conversely, conflict management techniques come with numerous benefits:

  • Improved productivity
  • Reduced costs
  • Increase talent retention
  • Improved team collaboration.


And since the success of your project depends on team collaboration, it’s time to put some of the following conflict resolution strategies in practice:

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What Are the Methods for Managing Conflict?

1. Create a Culture that Handles Conflict Proactively

There’s no substitute to a team culture that accepts and resolves conflict naturally.

However, if you don’t have a lot of experience managing teams, or if you’re working with a new team, establishing a positive culture can be challenging.

The first step is emphasizing feedback and open discussions.

If your team members feel safe sharing their opinions, and you moderate the discussion to give everyone a moment to speak their mind, that will automatically inform your culture.

Additionally, it’s important to define acceptable behavior:

  • What behavior is appropriate?
  • What behavior is inappropriate?
  • What are the consequences of exhibiting unacceptable behavior?

You should define boundaries at the start of project work so that there are no gray areas.

Keep in mind that this should be a conversation, as well, to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Be careful to focus on behavior, and not traits.

Never tell your team members things like: “You like to gossip,” or “You are stubborn.”

Instead, define behaviors: “You gossiped,” or “You haven’t considered Joe’s point of view.”

Otherwise, team members could feel like they’re being vilified.


2. When Conflict Occurs, Accept It and Talk Together

It’s important to accept conflict for what it is.

Sometimes, it may be easy to brush conflicts aside (for example, gossip or minor disagreements).

However, if team members are emotionally invested, you have to embrace it and resolve it.

Mike Kappel says you should have a conversation with conflicting team members.

This is great advice, especially for first-time and occasional project managers.

It will allow you to understand how different team members think, and that is a prerequisite for shaping conflict resolution strategies.

Set up a meeting and understand what the root cause of the problem is.

It’s important to let every party speak their mind.

Don’t take sides before understanding what the problem is about.

Additionally, don’t be quick to play the judge and say who’s right, even if there is a party that really is right.

Instead, listen actively and repeat back your understanding in the format Kappel uses:

“Just to be clear, you are upset about ____ because ___.”

This will help them reexamine their needs, claims, and explanations:

  • What is the root cause of the conflict?
  • Which needs aren’t being met?
  • How does each party want to resolve the conflict? What kind of resolution do they find satisfactory?

Often, conflicting team members don’t pause to understand one another, so having this conversation can be beneficial on its own.

If the conversation isn’t helping, focus on compromise and agreement.

You can explain project-related compromise by detailing why you believe one course of action to be the best option for the project itself.

When it comes to personal conflicts (for example, gossip), you should clarify what the consequences of such actions are.

Resolving Conflict


3. Preventing Conflict Is One of the Most Important Conflict Resolution Strategies

Transparency nips conflict in the bud.

Before you start project work, make sure you’ve clarified responsibilities and ownership.

Assign tasks to specific team members, and make sure that only one team member “owns” the task. This will help you increase accountability.

Additionally, you can create a RACI matrix to quickly clarify responsibilities.

Conflict thrives in teams that aren’t sure what’s happening, with team members who aren’t getting the information they need. A staggering number of projects fail due to communication breakdowns.

A good project management tool goes a long way.

A system as simple like Project Central can help you increase visibility and transparency.

Project management tools streamline communication and reporting, ensuring that everyone is in the loop.

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4. Find Opportunities in Conflicts

While most of us shy away from conflicts and perceive them as something inherently negative, they can actually be a great way to improve your team’s performance.

Think about it: at the heart of every conflict, there is a need.

Some team members want to be taken more seriously. Others want less work.

Joe could have a great idea he feels is not being listened to. Mary wants more responsibility.

Conflicts help you understand your team.

As soon as you shift your mindset to thinking of conflicts as opportunities to improve everyone’s project experience, it’ll be much easier to manage them.

So when you’re approaching a conflict conversation, start it off on a positive note.

Understand the silver lining, and then explain it to your team members.

Strategies to Resolve Conflict

You can even schedule a one-on-one after resolving the conflict, to show your team members that you want to help them meet their needs on your team.

Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. In the long term, embracing conflicts as opportunities will help you improve team collaboration and your leadership skills.

Make action items for every need voiced in the conflict meeting.

Meet with the team members regularly to help them achieve their personal and professional goals through their work on the project.

For example, if Mary wants to have a bigger role on the team, you could work with her to find opportunities such as presenting to the stakeholders, executing team building activities, and so on.


5. Understand Your Own Approach to Conflict Resolution, and Avoid Prescribing Solutions

If you want to understand your team, you first have to understand yourself.

Do you think of conflict as a new, exciting challenge, or do you just want to bury your head in the sand until it passes?

Acknowledging your own perception helps you change your team’s perception.

Often, team managers want to avoid conflict so badly that they rush into prescribing solutions.

However, that won’t help your team deal with conflicts proactively.

Instead, be a mediator and steer the conversation, instead of monopolizing it.

Similarly, if you’re dealing with a conflict that doesn’t require strict repercussions, refrain from making threats.

If the conflict is out of your hands, accept it and notify top management.

But as long as you can control and resolve the conflict, be as understanding as possible, and help the team members create their own strategy.

Otherwise, they could revert to holding a grudge and agreeing to a solution just because they are afraid of your authority.

Conflict Resolved

Finally, when the conflict has been resolved, follow up on it to make sure that the team members are adhering to it.

Again, it’s important not to act like a judge. However, you should be decisive, especially if the conflict is threatening the team dynamic and the project.

You should also outline the lessons you have learned from this conflict:

  • Why did the conflict occur? (e.g. Because Mary didn’t send Joe the materials he needed to complete his tasks)
  • What can you do to prevent it in the future? (e.g. Improve knowledge sharing practices on your project team).


After all, as a manager, your goal isn’t only to manage the project progress.

It also involves anticipating the human element to and implementing the conflict resolution strategies when they’re needed.

Get started with Project Central

See how to make project management with Microsoft 365 easier.

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