Conflict avoidance vs Conflict management

As a project manager, when you choose not to deal with a conflict you are utilising the technique of avoiding conflict management. As you will learn at Parallel Project Training this is a strategy that is not always effective however sometimes it may feel like there is no alternative.

What is Conflict Avoidance?

When you adopt conflict avoidance methods you choose not to deal with the conflict you are facing, avoiding confrontation and leaving the other person simply hanging. This is an approach that is risky, because it doesn’t make the conflict you were facing go away. It can also strain any relationships involved as it gives the impression you do not care. It is often seen that conflict management will be a better option for all of those who are involved.

How might conflict avoidance “work”?

Let’s imagine a situation where you make some updates in your system, updates that will affect an item that you have ordered from an external source. When that item arrives it has been created to the original specs rather than the revised ones. The vendor says that they didn’t receive the update, yet you believe you have done your part by updating the details. It is not your fault that the vendor didn’t see them. This is a typical example of avoidance, and in this case, it is unlikely to resolve the conflict.

This is where project management skills need to come into play. It is important to be assertive and explain all the facts in the correct order. Here, you’d explain that updates were made, but they were not carried out. This is the point where you need to carry out an investigation. You need to find a way in which things can work, obviously if the part is not right, then it won’t do but is there something you can work on whilst sorting things out? Is there an easy solution? Communication and keeping those lines of discussion open is key.

Of course, if you need time to think of a response to a situation, the situation is not of significant importance or you are not concerned about any damage you might make to your relationship with the vendor, the avoidance style might suit your narrative.

Using a different type of conflict management

There can be times when a conflict avoidance method is simply not going to work. If your vendor, for example, is the only person who provides the product that you need then you really do have to find a way to work through the situation with them.

This involves discussion on both parts. In this example perhaps you could revert back to the original design that you had, or this can be adapted to accommodate the changes that have been made to the plans.

There is always a solution. It is simply a necessity to have a proper discussion that looks for a solution and is not a case of each party laying the blame at the door of the other.