Project Management: What is Conflict?

January 12, 2009 | Author: PM Hut | Filed under: Conflict Management,People Issues,Project Management Definitions

Project Management: What is Conflict?
By Global Knowledge

Project managers deal with conflict. If you are a project manager, and you have not yet experienced conflict in your project, don’t be overly concerned – you will soon enough. At some point in your career, you will be called upon to resolve some type of conflict. At times this will be fairly easy, but on many occasions the resolution of the conflict will be challenging. Some conflicts stem from forces and events that are internal to the project, while others derive from external events and forces. Whenever there are two or more of just about anything and people are involved, there is the potential for conflict. It’s a natural consequence of being human and occurs in relationships of every kind. A good project manager always attempts to understand and analyze the nature of any problem he or she is dealing with.

So What is Conflict?

One way of analyzing and understanding a problem is by asking questions that may be directly or indirectly related. A possible first step from a project management point of view is to define what conflict is and what it is not. Therefore, we begin with the question, what is conflict? Following are some of the definitions that seem to fit the context of this discussion:

  1. A state of disharmony between incompatible or antithetical persons, ideas, or interests; a clash
  2. A psychic struggle, often unconscious, resulting from the opposition or simultaneous functioning of mutually exclusive impulses, desires, or tendencies
  3. Opposition between characters or forces in a work

The old business view of conflict was that it was inevitable, it was always negative, and should be avoided if at all possible. If it could not be avoided, at some point, upper management should intervene. The new view of conflict, however, which the PMI embraces, is that conflict can, at times, be necessary and beneficial, help foster team growth, enhance creativity, and is best resolved by the team members themselves along with their immediate manager. Only if an issue cannot be resolved in this manner should it be addressed elsewhere.

Some project managers still feel that conflict is something that should be avoided at all costs, but in many workplace environments – especially those where people have differing backgrounds, experiences, world views, and values – conflict can be said to be inevitable.

For most people, conflict is a natural fact of life. Often it is unavoidable, and some feel it is even needed for innovation and creativity in teamwork. In most project situations, conflict is manageable and should not be viewed as positive or negative. As stated earlier, it is simply an opposition of values, ideas, goals, etc., and is largely about perceptions.

This article was originally published in Global Knowledge’s Business Brief e-newsletter. Global Knowledge delivers comprehensive hands-on project management, business process, and professional skills training. Visit our online Knowledge Center at for free white papers, webinars, and more.

© Copyright 2009, Global Knowledge. All rights reserved.

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2 people have left comments

Indeed, handled correctly, (most) conflicts can improve group performance. That’s the difference between functional and dysfunctional conflicts.
I described an example in a post.

Bruno Collet
Execution in the Information Age

Bruno Collet wrote on January 14, 2009 - 6:07 pm | Visit Link

Awesome read, thanks
helped me immensly in writing my seminar

Luka Sostar wrote on June 15, 2010 - 6:54 am | Visit Link

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