All projects involve some conflict from the lighter end defined by a “difference of opinion” through to fundamental disagreement on the best approach, way of working, roles and technical solution. This article lists five methods for conflict resolution and is also handy for anyone looking to undertake the APM Project Management Qualification (PMQ) examination.

A well-managed conflict can be constructive in building better relationships and ways of working for the longer term. A poorly managed conflict can disrupt work and cause a risk to team members’ health. Conflict management is a learnable skill, so even if most people have a natural style or preference for how to handle conflict we can all learn to do it better!

The Thomas Kilman model

This model defines different approaches to resolving conflict, considering two dimensions:

  • Cooperativeness (concerns with the needs and wants of others)
  • Assertiveness (concerns with our own needs and wants)

The Thomas Kilman Model for Conflict Resolution

The five approaches to resolving conflict are:

  • Competing
  • Avoiding
  • Compromising
  • Accommodating
  • Collaborating

Competing: I win, they lose

Use when the situation is urgent/critical (quick resolution is vital) or it is vital that you get your way.

Beware it might cost you the relationship with the other party!

Avoiding: No one wins

Use when the issue is not very important, or at least when the relationship with the other party is more important than the issue.

Beware this does not make the disagreement go away so it might pop up again later.

Compromising: No one loses… but no one really wins

Use it when you need a temporary solution to a complex issue, or when the issue is less important than other mutual goals you have with the other party. Beware this might be suitable in the short term but it is not sustainable in the long term.

Accommodating: I lose, they win.

Use when the issue is not as critical to you as to others.

When it can be important to show flexibility or be reasonable. Can help maintain cooperation.

Beware that this might strengthen the relationship with the other party but it might also make you seem like a “pushover” so a similar situation might occur again.

Collaborating: We both win

Use when a long term solution and lasting relationship are key.

When both parties’ issues are important.

All five methods are legitimate. When faced with conflict it is worthwhile to consider the parties involved and your preferred outcome ahead of negotiation.  Consider the end-game(s) you are willing to accept and determine the best approach to take to achieve your preferred end game. Good luck… oh, and chocolate biscuits help too.

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