5 Things to Remember About Project Conflict

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Partner & Chief Creative Officer
Feb 3, 2015

Project conflict sucks.

Nothing can derail positive momentum faster than when a project team is misaligned with a client or internally. It can result in delays, wasted time, lost money and fractured professional relationships.

But the good news is there are ways to get through it and even keep it from happening in the first place. The next time you encounter conflict on a project, remember these five things:

5. It can happen to anyone.

When you’re in the thick of a particularly nasty project conflict, it can feel like your team is the only one in the world at odds with a client, or with itself.

But that’s just not true.

We’re all human beings. We’re bound to make mistakes and butt heads with each other. Remember fighting with a sibling or friend over a toy as a child? Guess what: we do it as adults, even when the toys turn into projects.

In short, when it comes to project conflict, you’re not alone.

4. Taking it personally accomplishes nothing.

Conflict is simply the result of missed expectations, usually due to one or more miscommunications. The project scope was poorly defined. The team assumed a deliverable was approved or a feature excluded when it wasn’t. These are usually business, not personal, issues.

Viewing conflict as an indictment of your character will only make you miserable and prevent you from taking steps to resolve it.

Similarly, it’s important not to dwell too long on the cause of the conflict before it’s actually resolved. Quickly assess the situation, identify where and why the miscommunication occurred and take the necessary steps to move forward as soon as possible.

Once the project concludes, schedule a retrospective with your team to revisit the good, the bad and the ugly. Use the time to discuss how to prevent project conflict in the future.

3. Address it ASAP.

You will never resolve project conflict by waiting it out.

As much as you may dread having a difficult conversation with a client or your team, letting conflict linger for days or weeks will only make matters worse. Precisely no one enjoys the surprise of bad news, especially when it's obvious the issue should've been elevated sooner.

Report conflict as soon as you discover it. Be honest, transparent and up-front.

2. Handle it face-to-face.

It may seem convenient to “send a quick email” to address conflict, but you'll likely open yourself up to more miscommunication and frustration. Even the most well-written email can still leave a lot open to interpretation.

Conference calls are better than email for resolving conflict but not by much. Tone of voice can be interpreted in many ways. No one knows for sure if everyone is taking the situation seriously.

Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting for sorting out project conflict. Nothing. Whether you meet over Skype or a cup of coffee, being able to see one another makes communicating your dedication to finding a speedy resolution so much easier.

1. You can prevent it.

There are steps you can take to mitigate and even prevent project conflict altogether. Establish a clear communication plan at the outset. Eliminate as many assumptions about a project as early as possible. Get verbal or written agreement on every decision from every client and project team member. Document that agreement for all to see.

One of the best ways to prevent conflict is to acknowledge the potential for it, even when there is none at the time. Take a few minutes when at the project kickoff to identify potential risk. What if there’s a change in the client point of approval, the project scope or the timeline? What steps can you take now to be prepared? Everyone involved with the project should accept the potential for conflict and agree on a game plan if it occurs.

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