Whether it’s a minor disagreement over a project detail or a major difference in how you see big-picture ideas, conflict will naturally come up over the course of your project. It can be tough to know how to deal with these issues; for me, in the past I would want to smooth things over, pretending to agree when I didn’t and making jokes to lighten the mood. But over my years as a project manager, I’ve learned that “smoothing” doesn’t work in the long term. Conflict happens, and you should let yourself bathe in that awkwardness, rather than running the other way. Here are three things PMs should keep in mind as these moments arise:
1. Make sure you’re actually listening to your colleague.
Sometimes we hear something (or think we hear something), and we completely shut down. “No! That person is wrong! They are so so dumb!” we scream internally to ourselves. While that can make you feel better, it isn’t going to help. Most likely this person has a fairly rationale reason for their opinion or idea, and if you’re too focused on how you’re going to correct them, you might miss something that matters. By taking the time to listen to the other person, you can better comprehend where they’re coming from and help think of a solution that you both will agree to.
2. Have a respectful discussion with your colleague about the conflict.
When someone is irritating you, you can start to feel that “fight or flight” instinct. To the breakroom you say! But no, you need to stay put and talk to the person about what’s going on. Taking the time to have a discussion can bring to light any misunderstands and help to reach a resolution. If you put off the discussion, you might never have it, and it’s likely the same issue will come up. Of course, if you find yourself losing patience, it can be better to regroup and meet again in an hour or two to talk it out.
3. Find a resolution.
Well, of course, you want a resolution. But sometimes it’s easier to just end things by agreeing to disagree. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve left a meeting wondering what was actually agreed upon. Don’t leave that table until you’ve confirmed you’re on the same page about what’s going to happen. Will you use her idea? Stick with yours? Find a middleground? By taking the time to talk about the resolution, you’re one step closer to avoiding your next workplace conflict.
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