A Few Lessons I’ve Learned About Resolving Conflicts

One of the less enjoyable roles of being a product champion is dealing with people who are not happy either with you, your team, or your product. It does not take very long playing this game before you will find yourself in some embroiled misunderstanding. Working in the construction industry, I have often encountered that big hairy foreman who has no problem getting in my face when things are not going well. Conflict resolution has been essential for keeping my product development efforts from getting derailed over a misunderstanding.

What conflicts arise in a Project Management Role?

Conflict ResolutionCustomers. If you did a real bang up job during your research and development phase as well as working with your focus groups, you might have avoided those bumps during the first release of the product. If not, get ready to take care of some frustrated customers (which you absolutely must do if you want to stay in business).

Vendors. This one can go either way. Sometimes you have failed to fulfill certain sales expectations your vendor had, while other times you are the upset customer and your vendor is on the defense. Your goal is to preserve the relationship while working towards a resolution.

Employees can be upset with each other, the company, or their boss (which happens to be you). It is really important to get these conflicts taken care of quickly and ensure everyone understands and can live with the resolution. Your operation can de-rail quickly if these conflicts go unaddressed.

Competitors. Your goal is to grow revenue which means consuming more market share. That means you are taking someone else’s share. Those individuals can often have a negative emotional response to this situation. Word will travel quickly through your industries grape vine on how you handle these kinds of confrontations. Behave completely above reproach. You and your products reputation are more important than trying to put someone in their place.

Why do conflicts happen?

Lack of communication. I find this to be the most common reason for conflicts. It often comes down to one of the two parties having an unmet assumption that had not been previously discussed. And if you don’t know what the old Hollywood writer Jerry Belson said about assumptions, I would suggest checking out his Wikipedia page. The best solution for this problem is to get all expectations out on the table from the beginning, which is essentially good planning. Maintain consistent and open lines of communications so that any new assumptions are discussed and vetted.

Indifference. This comes down to either you or the other party not taking the time to understand the others position. You can only control yourself. Take the time to consider the other parties stance. Are they justified in their position? What areas have you failed to uphold on your end of the bargain? Start with these questions before you start examining their failings.

Misunderstanding. Mistakes happen and everyone makes them. This includes your customers, vendors, employees, and competitors. It also includes you, which is often the hardest to admit. Be gracious with those who have made mistakes and take ownership for the mistakes you have made.

Somebody is being a jerk. Sometimes it can just be that simple. If it’s the other person then try to point that out in the most professional way possible, don’t just call them a jerk (especially behind their back). If they are unresponsive then
find a resolution you can both live with and move on as quickly as possible. Don’t waste any more of your time and energy with someone who is a jerk and is unwilling to change.

If someone else points out that you are the jerk, thank them. It’s a rare opportunity when you are provided such candid feedback. Use it to your advantage. Modify your behavior and grow your conflict resolution abilities.

Please provide some feedback! Let me know in the comments below how you resolve conflicts.

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