- Who is involved in the conflict? Is it more widespread than the immediately obvious protagonists?
- What is the conflict about? What are the facts?
- Why has it occurred? How has it managed to get to this stage?
Without this basic groundwork any solution would be a sticking plaster at best rather than a cure.
You also need to assess and understand the actual or potential impact of the conflict. Any conflict will have some impact on the project but if a disproportionate amount of effort or series of actions is required to resolve the conflict, this could be more detrimental to the project tan the conflict itself.
For example, many employers when faced with a disruptive employee or claims for unfair dismissal or discrimination may decide to pay compensation to settle the claim even if they fully believe the claim is without merit. They do that because the amount of management time and effort and the distraction from the objectives of the business are far more costly than the compensation amount. Some employees make spurious claims for that very reason and therein lies the danger for business taking the pacify route. More and more demands could be made until the situation becomes untenable. That’s exactly what happened in the build up to the Second World War. Let’s hope we don’t get to that level of conflict!
Having analysed the situation and understood the actual or potential impact there are a number of options or strategies.
- Accept and ignore: The effort required to fix the problem, if it can be fixed, far outweighs the damage the conflict is doing. Accept it, move on, but watch for signs of escalation in case the impact increases
- Accept and settle: This is the employee claim situation discussed above. It removes the conflict at least cost but could have future ramifications.
- Delay: It could be this is a heat of the moment situation and if everyone has a chance to cool down and reflect the situation can be rectified much more easily.
- Force: Exert your authority and positional power to insist the issue is addressed and a solution imposed. This may only be a short term solution though as use of authority can leave one or both sides feeling disenfranchised or hard done boy. What seems fair and reasonable to you may not be perceived that way by all parties.
- Accommodation: This is the path of least pain where one side accepts the other’s views or position (whether or not the actually agree).
- Compromise: Here both sides agree to give a little, however grudgingly. It rarely leads to an optimal solution.
- Collaboration: This involves both sides working together to understand the other’s position. It means recognising what might be best for you is actually not best overall for the project or the long term relationship. It requires taking personality out of the equation and focussing on the common goal or objective and subordinating that to personal objectives. This is the real WIN/WIN solution
Whichever option is chosen, you must bring all your communication skills to bear to maximise the chances of achieving the best solution for all parties.