Breath of Clarity

Environmental Project Management Discussion #4

To manage conflict, it is important to understand its definition. Conflict is the process which begins when one party perceives that the other has frustrated some concern of the former person. Some categories of conflict happen when the stakeholders have different goals and expectations, uncertainty about authority, and/or interpersonal conflict. Specifically, conflict can center around starting a new project because precedent has not yet formed and the sub-goals are not yet clarified. At this point, the PM needs to set priority and show commitment to the project. Since conflict is technical in nature, much of it is contained between the PM and functional department managers in the beginning relative to the phase-out phase. Other areas of conflict revolve around schedule and deriving conflict source. Negotiation is a set of resolution skills. Three typical situations asking for negotiation skills are use of subcontractors, recommendations from two or more functional units, and change. Some general negotiation skills are get and confirm stakeholder commitment, maintain healthy communication, proactively address concerns in a timely style. The context where conflicts may arise fall under certain categories.

The five main types of conflict resolution are confronting, withdrawal, compromise, smoothing, and forcing. The range on the spectrum of competing versus avoiding, collaborating versus accommodating, cooperative versus uncooperative, and assertive versus unassertive. A PM practices confronting for the purpose of addressing issues in a straight forward manner to be proactive in the situation. The technique functions under the premise handling potential problems early helps bring success. The communication is clear and transparent to prevent persistent conflict. The PM is aiming to serve both the self and other member/s of the conflict and is particularly ethical and ultimately decides on the outcome based upon the raw facts and principles. It could end up being a win-lose situation; however, all parties have closure. Another type of conflict resolution is withdrawal. The technique entails the PM swerving around the problems just hoping the parties involved can independently handle it or the issues are going to fade as time goes on. A PM exhibits compromise when all parties agree upon the same outcome even though neither party walks away with complete satisfaction. Its benefit is having a win-win outcome, and everybody can live with it. On the other hand, smoothing entails the PM searching for aspects of the problem all the parties can agree upon and crafts a solution based upon those elements to reach a win-win outcome. Lastly, forcing involves the PM not being open as he emphasizes conducting activity his way and completely orchestrates the resolution. All parties involved feel at a loss which may result in the issue arising again at a later time down the road. It may even impact entire relationship dynamics of involved parties in the future. Being aware of the varying types of techniques is the first step of applying them.

One example of a conflict resolution technique application happens between a residential solar panel system project manager, subcontracted installation team, and a sponsor. At certain installations dealing with Spanish tile roofs, there is a risk a tile may break from a work person stepping on it and cracking it. One time, it happened with one of my loyal clients who was part of a referral chain. When the installation company told me a tile was broken, I notified the client right away to schedule a time to replace the tile. The installation company paid for the tile. In this case, I used confronting to face the issue for the purpose of ensuring the customer would not be surprised. It handled the issues early and emphasized to the client I was not hiding anything. I served myself by displaying myself as ethical which helped my business and ultimately decided the outcome based upon morality. Although it was a lost situation for the installation company, despite inconvenience, it was a win situation for the sponsor. Although it was not so smooth, everybody has closure. The conflict was resolved successfully in terms of quality being assured and nothing lingering. Although everyone did not get exactly all they wanted, there is no longer conflict present.

Comment by Professor Pasquini:

Good example of “confronting”, that is address the issue don’t neglect or hide the issue.

Comment by Jennie Horton:


I like the personal example of conflict you provided. I wonder if it could be considered a win-win situation? The installer could also be viewed as confronting the problem by contacting you and telling you the tile was broken. As a result of being up-front and also paying to replace the tile, they preserved their own reputation and may be more likely to continue to do work with the company.

My Response to Jennie Horton:

Hi Jennie,

It is a win-win situation, so true. That’s an awesome perspective considering the installer is also a key component of the conflict resolution. All team members contribute to effective conflict resolution aside from the PM. It just goes to show the importance of having a solid relationship between the PM and functional managers. In cases all team members are in the mindset of effectively handling conflict, the remainder of the project is smooth. Further, it provides a quality experience for the sponsor.

Comment by Janice Lauria:


Great discussion post. Very detailed and well thought out. I also agree with Jennie. This is a great example of conflict resolution and the technique used. Not only did you confront the issue head on, but you (ahead of schedule) used win-win and compromise too in a way. You wanted to ensure that the customer was happy and that no one was upset, which means that your company gets no complaints and people continue to work. Great quality, great response, great company. Nice job!

Comment #1:

Original Post by JoAnn Rizkallah:

(1) The supplemental readings have an excellent document prepared that covers conflict resolution. It summarizes each technique in detail. The first technique discussed is confronting. This is where the PM addresses the conflict early on in the process. As soon as the conflict arises the PM will try to confront the parties and aim for a win win scenario. This may not be possible but that is the goal. The second technique is a compromise. The PM will try to resolve the conflict in the best interest of each party and where each party has at least a partial win. They may not get exactly what they want or but the goal is equal positive wins that can be agreed upon. The third technique is withdrawal. The PM here will avoid the issue and chose not to deal with it. Either the issue will fester and get worse, will resolve over time on its own, or the parties will be able to resolve it without the PM’s help. The fourth technique is smoothing. Here the PM will try to reach a win win for each party by emphasizing those positive aspects. The final techniques is forcing. Here the PM will make the decision his or her way and direct the outcome without focusing on the parties. This may leave the parties feeling as if they’ve lost and may create hostility at later dates (All listed summarized from supplemental reading on conflict resolution).

(2 & 3) I conduct conflict resolution almost daily in my job and have witnessed superiors and other officers use techniques. Often the goal is to diffuse a situation and create peace that will prevent violence. This type of conflict resolution often has to be done by skilled communicators who can adapt and overcome challenges. Sometimes this translates into separating the parties and making one leave the area, hoping they do not return and make to conflict violent. More frequently conflict resolution in the administrative realm turns into a phone call where the moderator tries to get common ground and diffuse tempers. In one particular example a colleague was upset with me because he thought I was trying to push an agenda that precluded him from participation. Our head leader had a call with the both of us and gave us time to explain our sides. She employed a compromise technique with principled negotiation where we each got part of what we wanted and were able to see the other sides agenda. It was successful and after each side licked their wounds. In the long term we were able to become friends and see that conflict was unnecessary.

My Comment:

Hi JoAnn,

The conflict resolution document was definitely useful in terms of this discussion. Along with the general theme of being proactive in the whole process, confronting seems to be the optimal way for a PM to handle conflict. I wonder the degree to which achieving successful confronting is possible. In the case of confronting, it is definitely crucial to maintain a gentle approach. I can see a gentle approach coupled with confronting ending up sound. Compromise is strategic, as well, as long as the PM is accurately reading the sponsor’s perspective. Keeping the sponsor calm and collected is indispensable in terms of running the project smoothly. Great job noting that in comprise there is a partial win for both parties. The characteristic of it being agreed upon also contributes to my support of the tactic. I see implementation of confronting into compromise as useful. Confronting is important to clarify there is no outstanding animosity towards the given situation in the conflict. I am not, in any way, supporting the withdrawal strategy. Avoiding the issues leads to sponsor dissatisfaction and lacking referrals to assist the next project’s proposal.

Comment #2:

Original Post by Janice Lauria:

PM’s have to manage many conflict situations during the course of their assigned projects.

(1) List the types or areas or situations were conflicts may arise. Refer to the “Supplemental Reading Material” for a description of conflict resolution techniques in the posting “Leadership Skills and Techniques”, and the power point presentation on negotiations.

Answer: The different types/areas or situations where conflicts may arise include the three categories of conflict which are different goals and expectations, uncertainty about authority, and interpersonal conflict. Conflict is different to each person individually and PMs are going to run into constantly due to the dynamics of the project and the diversity of people that are involved on the project and the differing levels of authority as well. Examples of this would include things such as designers and the GC not agreeing with who is at fault for a flaw on the project, laborers arguing with each other over taking orders from someone who they believe is not in charge, and the GC arguing with the owner about when the project was supposed to be completed based on contractual requirements. Conflict will always occur, it is in how individuals handle the situations that will make the difference.

(2) Have you ever been involved in or witnessed any of the conflict resolution techniques being applied?

The five main types of conflict resolution are confronting, withdrawal, compromise, smoothing, and forcing. As a risk manager, we consistently have to work with attorneys, litigated claims, and insurance carriers. I have been involved in numerous situations where myself and the risk management team has/have used the compromise and confronting techniques based on the situation.

(3) If so, briefly describe the situation and the technique(s) used. Was the conflict resolved successfully? Why or why not?

A claimant had filed a lawsuit against claiming false things had happened against the company. I cannot disclose those things due to confidentiality. However, in this situation, we used compromise to draft up a settlement agreement to come to an amicable agreement to pay a “nuisance” agreement to basically go away. Not enough to financially hurt the company but enough to make him happy. Obviously we would have preferred to pay nothing, but that is not always the best route in conflict resolution.

My Comment:

Hi Janice,

The emphasis on the early aspect of the project is important because it helps reduce conflict in goals and expectations. It is also difficult to proceed with quality going forward insofar as the goals are not clear. Inability to have clear goals also leads to discrepancy between the functional managers and the PM. It is difficult for the functional managers to act aligned with the common good if it seems disorganized. Having a plan together helps people be increasingly engaged which results in quality results. Uncertainty about authority is a great point. Interpersonal conflict leads to people feeling disconnected which does not help with worker satisfaction. Keeping employee satisfaction at an upbeat level is a feature I admire in any sort of project manager. It is crucial to take care of staff so they exhibit quality customer service to the sponsor. For example, in the residential solar panel industry, it was important to ensure the surveyors and installers were doing well so they would keep the energy thriving for the customer. I also appreciate how you noted it is important to acknowledge the uniqueness in personnel. The phrase “dynamics of the project” is interesting, what do you mean by that? I see it as any unforeseen circumstances coming to fruition.

Response by Janice Lauria:


I agree with you that clear goals and alignment make better teams and more functional managers. Interpersonal conflicts always leads to more tension, more problems, and less work getting done overall. When I mention the “dynamics of the project”, it is exactly what you say which is all of the different people, their personalities, the project and its unforeseen risks and circumstances and navigating all of that. Great discussion.