Negotiation and Conflict Resolution

As we noted in Chapter 5, the process of planning a project usually requires inputs from many people. Even when the project is relatively small and simple, planning involves the interaction of almost every functional and staff operation in the organization. It is virtually impossible for these interactions to take place without conflict, and when a conflict arises, it is helpful if there are acceptable methods to reduce or resolve it. ?

Conflict has been defined as "the process which begins when one party perceives that the other has frustrated, or is about to frustrate, some concern of his |29, p. 8911. While conflict can arise over issues of belief or feelings or behavior, our concern in this chapter is focused for the most part on goal conflicts that occur when an individual or group pursues goals different from those of other individuals or groups (25, Ch. 12|. A party to the conflict will be satisfied when the level of frustration has been lowered to the point where no action, present or future, against the other party is contemplated. When all parties to the conflict are satisfied to this point, the conflict is said to be resolved.

There are, of course, many ways to resolve conflict. Brute force is a time-honored method, as is the absolute rule of the monarch, but the rule of law is the method of choice for modern societies—in spite of occasional lapses. Conflict resolution is the ultimate purpose of law.

Organizations establish elaborate and complex sets of rules and regulations to settle disputes between the organization itself and the individuals and groups with whom it interacts. Contracts between a firm and its suppliers, its trade unions, and its customers are written to govern the settlement of potential conflicts. But the var ious parties-at-interest do not always agree about the meaning of a law or a provision in a contract. No agreement, however detailed, can cover all the circumstances that might arise in the extensive relationships between the buyer and the seller of complicated industrial equipment, between the user and the supplier of engineering consulting services, between the producer and user of computer programs— the list of potential conflicts is endless. Our overcrowded courts are witness to the extent and variety of conflict. More than 500,000 lawyers in the United States (301 are employed in helping conflicting parties to adjudicate or settle their differences.

In this chapter we examine the nature of negotiation as a means of reducing or resolving the kinds of conflict that typically occur withiri projects. But before we begin the discussion, it must be made quite clear that this chapter is not a primer on how to negotiate; a course in negotiation is beyond the scope of this book and beyond our expertise (for such information, the reader is referred to the bibliography). Rather, this chapter focuses on the roles and applications of negotiation in the management of projects. Note also that we have excluded negotiations between the organization and outside vendors. In our experience, this type of negotiation is conducted sometimes by the project manager, sometimes by the project engineer, but most often by members of the organization's purchasing department. In any case, negotiations between buyer and seller are admirably covered by 114 and 25|.

Of course, conflict may produce positive outcomes for the organization. Debate over the proper technical approach to a problem often generates a collaborative solution that is superior to any solution orginally proposed. Conflict often educates individuals and groups about the goals/objectives of other individuals and groups in the organization, thereby satisfying a precondition for valuable win-win negotiations (see Section 6.3). Indeed, the act of engaging in win-win negotiations serves as an example of the positive outcomes that can result from such an approach to conflict resolution.

In Chapter 3 we noted that negotiation was a critical skill required of the project manager. In this chapter we describe typical areas of project management where this skill is mandatory. In addition, we will cover some of the appropriate and inappropriate approaches to negotiation, as well as a few of the characteristics of successful negotiation suggested by experts in the field or indicated by our experience. We will also note some ethical issues regarding negotiation. There are probably more opportunities for ethical missteps in handling conflicts and negotiations than in any other aspect of project management. Unlike other chapters, we will use comparatively few illustrative examples. Successful negotiation tends to be idiosyncratic to the actual situation, and most brief examples do little to help transform theory into practice. We have, however, included a vignette at the end of the chapter. This vignette was adapted from "real life"; the names were changed to protect innocent and guilty alike.

No project manager should attempt to practice his/her trade without explicit training in negotiation. We are appalled that the subject is rarely mentioned in books on project management, excepting 114) on buyer-seller negotiations.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment