Managing Conflicts For Better Collaboration

Whenever you're in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.

Conflicts between people are inevitable in any organization, just as it is in any relationship. Conflict that is due to lack of understanding of the other person or other group or intolerance should be avoided.

It is quite natural and usually stems from the honest disagreement on priorities and optimal resource management when resources are scarce.

To be honest, I personally had a lot in my work life. I was always curious to understand is there a good way to manage this. As a first step to manage something I went behind figuring out sources. I found that professor of Management Hans J. Thamhain at Bentley University, Boston had actually discovered a brilliant way to classify the sources of Conflicts in a Product Development life cycle.

  1. Conflict over schedules
  2. Conflict over project priorities, including conflict over the sequencing of activities and tasks to be undertaken.
  3. Conflict over work-force resources, especialy in obtaining the desired quality and quantity of personnel from other functional and staff support areas.
  4. Conflict over technical opinions and performance trade-offs
  5. Conflict over administrative procedures that define how the project will be managed, for eg .. it might be reporting, responsibilities, authority etc ..
  6. Personality Conflict
  7. Conflict over cost, and the budget allocated to the team and other related teams.

The relative importance of these seven conflict sources varies over the product development life cycle. A common pattern with in product development teams which I have noticed is more of these sources of conflicts usually takes its birth from early phases of Product development. Usually all those conflicts from various sources which were born in the various phases of development life cycle will get a lingering Death in the final phase of the development life cycle.

Methods of Conflict Management

One obvious method of resolving conflict between two individuals is to appeal the matter up the chain of command to the level having authority over both individuals.

It is nothing but corporate equivalent of saying “Lets go to Daddy” :)

In some cases this will be necessary. Unfortunately higher level management simply do not have the time to solve everyone’s discords, and they expect their subordinates and professionals to be mature enough to solve their own problems by doing what ever needed to clear the air.

Let’s say that won’t happen, in that case to help people like us who are in that situation, management theoreticians Robert R. Blake and Jane Mouton have created Managerial grid model where they have identified five interesting methods for dealing with conflicts and achieve leadership excellence.

  1. Withdrawal, or retreat from actual or potential conflict.
  2. Forcing one’s viewpoint at the potential expense of other party.
  3. Smoothing, or emphasizing the points of agreement and de-emphasizing areas of conflict.
  4. Compromising or negotiating, in which each party must give up something but each walks away partly satisfied.
  5. Confronting or problem solving, in which the parties focus on the issues, consider alternatives, and look for the best overall solution.

Out of all Confrontation is usually preferred, followed by compromise and then emphasizing. Forcing one’s point of view might leave a residue of resentment that may backfire in the future, so we should be very careful if we take that approach. Withdrawal is usually least effective, and it is just like a pain killer, it will come again usually.