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As a project manager, I’ve had to deal with conflict: telling a difficult client “no” on requests that were out of scope, or dealing with a colleague who is not seeing eye-to-eye (and wants everyone else to know it).
It’s not unusual to have issues with projects. But every now and again, there is a problem that throws me off my feet. One time, a former manager of mine disconnected from the phone while on a conference call. He was essentially storming out during heated discussions. I can still remember the feeling: my stomach dropped and my palms were sweating. I was making the grimace emoji smile in real life.
The moment when a conflict is born.
This reaction not only threw me for a loop but also the entire project team. We all sat in stunned silence wondering how we got to this exact moment and what next. As a participant in that interaction, I realized there were steps I could take to help the team avoid the situation where someone was angry at us.
Even though the conflict is unfolding ‘in the moment,’ there are many things project managers can do to help their team. Instead of being bitter or angry, I managed the team to resolve the conflict.
We might see conflict in our project meetings, in our project teams, with our clients, or anywhere else. Although we don’t have all the answers to conflict, we can often benefit from a multi-faceted view of the situation that can help us be more effective in helping, if we have the right conflict resolution techniques.
Ten of the Most Effective Workplace Conflict Resolution Strategies
These are some tips to help you deal with conflict. They will keep you from reacting instinctively and stressing out.
#1. Take a deep breath, then decide on the next steps.
You just had a conflict-driven conversation in a meeting, via email, or between yourself and a client. Your first step should have been to take a deep breathe and reflect on your response to the situation. Is it reactive? Are you taking it personally? Are there any other people involved? What are their perspectives?
Deep breathing is proven to calm stress and give you a clearer outlook on the matter at hand. If you are in the middle of a stressful or heated conflict, take at least one deep breathe. We can avoid reacting emotionally and making things worse by forcing ourselves to pause and breath.
Next, decide how you want to proceed. Next, decide how to proceed.
If the conflict is causing problems, the team or communication should continue to communicate. Recognize that something happened, but that it will need attention later. Then, guide the next topic. It is important to continue the conversation in this instance. Although it is likely that someone involved is still processing their reactions, it is important to not be emotional. Continuing to push these issues in a group setting will only lead to more conflict and increase the likelihood of people becoming angry. This same tactic works in one-on-one situations.
Recognize that there is conflict at the table and that it should be resolved after a time. Then move on.
Breathe, then breathe again, and then figure out how to solve the conflict.
#2. 2.) Discuss the matter privately
It doesn’t matter if the conflict was over email.