Project Managers: Understand Your Conflict Resolution Mode

Filed under Communication, Leadership | Posted by MMeloni

Here is a simple scenario to help you understand your conflict resolution mode. If you’re not able to take the full Thomas Keller instrument or TKI, here is a scenario to help you identify your conflict resolution mode.

You are a project manager. You and another project manager both need the same subject matter expert, and you both need the same subject matter expert on the same day. You have a resource conflict. You’re both equals. In other words, the other project manager isn’t higher than you on the organizational chart. You are not senior to the other project manager. Both your projects are of equal priority.

I’m setting up the scenario in that way so that this isn’t a choice about somebody being officially more powerful or outranking someone or having a more important project. You are equal in this situation. You are on your way to go talk to the other project manager about what you’re going to do about this resource conflict.

You are going to go see this other project manager. As you’re walking to go see this other project manager, what thoughts are running through your head? Are you thinking about how you can win and how you can make this other project manager see that you should have the subject matter expert and you should come first? Perhaps, you’re thinking about how to win this like it’s a debate to win. If that is what you’re thinking, then your mode is competing mode.

If you are thinking that you don’t want to go at all, in fact, maybe you aren’t going to go see the other project manager, you’re just going to wait and see what happens. You’re not going to say anything. You’re not going to do anything. Then you are avoiding.

If you are on the way and you’re looking forward to this challenge and you’re looking forward to sitting down together and working something out and really figuring out how together you can solve this resource allocation problem, you are collaborating.

Now, if you are thinking about terms of the agreement that you’re hoping to reach and you are thinking about what you are willing to give and what you expect that other project manager to give in return, then you are compromising. In a compromise, we come up with an approach that’s not really completely satisfying to either one of us, but it’s what we are willing to do. If you’re thinking , “Okay, well, I’m willing to let that other project manager have the subject matter expert for four hours, even though I really need him for eight, but I’m willing to give up four hours. If the other project manager is willing to give up four hours,” then you have reached a compromise.

What does that leave us with? It leaves us with accommodating.  If on your way to see the other project manager, you are thinking about what you can do to make that project manager happy, what you are willing to give, especially in terms of to keep this relationship in a good place,  you’re coming from a place of accommodating. Anytime that we are thinking, “What am I willing to give up to make the other party happy? That’s accommodating.”

There can be  confusion between compromising and accommodating. Compromising, we both give up something or give something and we come up with this solution that isn’t really good for anyone, but it’s an okay enough solution, no one is 100% happy and that’s why often in this discussion, you’ll hear compromising being called a lose-lose. But Compromising is called a lose-lose because we’re both a little bit unhappy.

Whereas collaborating will be called a win-win because we came up with something together. Accommodating, you’re not asking the other side to give anything up. You are really coming from a place of how can I back down? What can I do? If you’re in a disagreement with your boss’s boss and it’s not an ethical issue, it’s not a regulatory or compliance issue, it’s not a health or safety issue. Do you keep pushing your way? Do you keep engaging in the conflict? The best thing to do, depending on your organizational culture is to accommodate. Another word sometimes we might use is appease. Most of us are not going to successfully argue with our boss’s boss and you only want to keep that argument going if you really know something difficult, dangerous, unethical, etc. is going to happen.

The scenario described above, and what you are thinking as you’re walking to talk to the other project manager helps you define the approach you use in conflict resolution.