Conflict Mediation in Project Management

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Collaborative project teams can achieve their shared objectives more effectively and efficiently than individuals working alone. Knowledge and skills are more freely distributed in inclusive and collaborative workplaces with varied personnel possessing a wide range of abilities, knowledge, and experience, resulting in better project outcomes. However, conflicts within project teams are nearly impossible to avoid, with various degrees of impact on teamwork. As a result, controlling conflict is critical in project management. A good project manager can create a good work environment by exhibiting attributes such as transparency, integrity, respect, positive dialogue, support, courage, and success celebration [1]. This leads to healthier communication and a more efficient work environment. The evolution of how conflict is regarded in project management has been significant, and the various types of conflict will be covered later. Despite the benefits of a diverse team enriching a project environment and leading to better project outcomes with different perspectives, the more diverse the project team, the greater the probability of conflict. As a result, effective conflict resolution is an essential component of project management, especially in diverse and inclusive project teams [2]. While conflict can be beneficial in the workplace at times, it can also be disruptive and have a detrimental impact on employees. In such circumstances, intervention may be required to resolve the problem. This is where mediation comes in. A neutral third party facilitates dialogue and negotiation between disputing parties in mediation. The purpose is to assist the parties in reaching a mutually satisfactory resolution that addresses their underlying problems [3].


Understanding Conflict in Project Management

Conflict by it‘s definition is „ an active disagreement between people with opposing opinions or principles“ [4]. Conflict is unavoidable in any project environment. There is always the possibility of conflict in circumstances where people from various backgrounds come together to complete a task, make decisions, and work cohesively. Over the years, three distinct viewpoints on conflict in projects and organizations have emerged.. The traditional view: The first one argues that conflict is bad, always detrimental, and that as conflict levels rise, performance levels decrease. Hence, conflict must always be avoided. According to this perspective, words like violence, devastation, and irrationality are directly related to conflict. From this viewpoint on conflict, it is the managers responsibility to suppress any conflict that may arise. The behavioural or contemporary view: The second perspectives argument posits that conflict is inherent in all organizations and cannot be avoided, and that its impact can be either positive or negative, depending on how it is managed. While some level of conflict can enhance performance, an escalation or lack of resolution can lead to declining performance. This perspective emphasizes accepting and rationalizing conflict. Therefore, project managers should focus on managing conflict effectively rather than suppressing or eradicating it, recognizing its potential benefits. The interactionist view: The third and final perspective contends that conflict is indispensable in enhancing performance. Unlike the second approach that merely acknowledges conflict, this perspective advocates for conflict by asserting that an excessively peaceful, amicable, and cooperative project organization may become unproductive, unresponsive to innovation and changes, and lack vitality. The approach promotes managers to sustain an optimal level of conflict that keeps projects dynamic, self-evaluative, inventive, and innovative [2].

Organizational conflicts are classified into four types: intrapersonal, interpersonal, intragroup, and intergroup conflicts, all of which fall under the umbrella of intra-organizational conflicts. [5].

  • Intrapersonal conflict: The conflict referred to as intraindividual or intrapsychic conflict arises when an employee is tasked with responsibilities and duties that do not align with their skills, preferences, objectives, and principles within an organization.
  • Interpersonal conflict: Dyadic conflict is another term used to describe this type of conflict, which involves disagreement or tension between two or more individuals within the same or different hierarchical levels or units within an organization. Studies focusing on conflicts between superiors and subordinates are relevant to this type of conflict.
  • Intragroup conflict: Intradepartmental conflict, also referred to as intergroup conflict, arises when members within a group or between subgroups within the same group experience disagreement or tension in relation to the group's goals, tasks, procedures, and other factors. This conflict may also occur due to incompatibilities or disagreements between the leader(s) and some or all group members.
  • Intergroup conflict: Interdepartmental conflict, also known as intergroup conflict, arises when two or more units or groups within an organization experience disagreement or tension. Examples of this type of conflict include conflicts between line and staff, production and marketing, and headquarters and field staffs. Another example of intergroup conflict is the conflict between labour and management.

Figure 1: Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)(own figure, based on reference [6])

Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument

To gain a deeper understanding of conflict management in project management, it is essential to recognize not only the various types of conflicts but also the different conflict styles and preferences that individuals may exhibit. To achieve this, the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI) has proven to be a valuable resource. For over 30 years, TKI has successfully aided in a variety of settings to comprehend how distinct conflict styles influence individual and group dynamics. The TKI is split into five conflict handling modes: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding, and accommodating. These conflict handling modes can then be asserted along a two-dimensional chart, assertiveness on the vertical axis and cooperativeness along the horizontal axis. On this chart assertiveness refers to the degree to which an individual attempts to address and meet their own concerns or needs. Cooperativeness refers to the degree to which an individual attempts to address and meet another person’s concerns or needs. The placement of the conflict handling modes can be seen on Figure 1. Competing is placed highly on the assertive axis and low on the cooperative axis, meaning that competing is assertive but not cooperative. Compromising is placed in the middle, meaning that it is neither very assertive nor cooperative. The same logic can be applied to the other three conflict handling modes [6]. Here is a brief summary of each style to provide additional information on the various sorts of conflict styles and how they conform to conflict. The first style is competing, in which an individual emphasizes their own problems while ignoring the concerns of the opposing side. The approach seeks to defeat others and force them to conform to their own desires. Collaborative style, on the other hand, attempts to find a solution that fits all sides' needs and achieves complete satisfaction for all. Compromise is a middle ground method in which the individual attempts to find a solution in which both parties must give in and keep something. Avoiding is were an individual withdraws and refuses to deal with conflict. Because of this flight mode approach, the individual may be perceived as apathetic, secluded, or evasive. Finally, accommodating entails giving in to others at the expense of one's own needs. This self-sacrificing approach may be perceived as weak and withdrawing. By understanding these different styles and how they fit into the TKI framework, project managers can better manage conflicts and find effective solutions that work for all parties involved [7].

Conflict Resolution

When it comes to the resolution of conflict, that is when mediation comes into play. If a conflict has come to an impasse, where it is no longer constructive to the teamwork and outside intervention is needed the mediation process can begin. A mediator's role in conflict resolution is to establish a secure and open environment in which parties are able to speak frankly and strive to resolve the conflict. Similarly, in a team project, the project manager plays an important role in creating such an environment. To create an environment in which team members feel safe communicating and cooperating, the project manager should demonstrate certain behaviours, that will be covered later. The project manager may help to build a trustworthy and collaborative environment in which team members feel comfortable sharing their own methods and opinions, which can ultimately lead to successful dispute resolution by modelling these behaviours. While the roles of a mediator and a project manager differ, they both share the goal of fostering open and productive communication.

The Role of a Mediator

The role of the mediator is to be an impartial third party, who has no authority to render binding decisions on disputes for disputants. The impartiality of the mediator is critical for two reasons. First, the mediator must remain neutral to assist disputants in reaching resolutions that are fair and equitable for both parties. Secondly, impartiality is essential for building trust with the disputants. The parties involved must believe that neither side has an advantage with the mediator and that the mediator does not hold any biases towards one side over the other. Their role is to assist the parties involved to come to together in an open environment and reach an agreement or understanding on the conflict at hand. Mediators help open communication, assure respectful and productive communication, and help disputants understand and consider the needs of the other party [3].

The Role of a Project Manager

The role of a project manager in a team project is to establish and maintain certain behaviours from team members for optimal cooperation. The environment should be a safe, non-judgemental and contain open communication. In order to obtain these qualities a project manager should model certain behaviours. The following are desired: Transparency: Transparency in how one thinks, makes decisions, and processes information assists others in identifying and sharing their own processes. This can include being open about one's biases. Integrity: Integrity involves ethical and honest behaviour. To demonstrate integrity a project manager should for example demonstrate risk disclosure, communicate with transparency, and make ethical decisions. Defects and conflicts of interest should also be revealed along with always considering impacts on stakeholders, environment, and finances. Respect: When the project manager demonstrates respect for every team member it sets the tone for the team. Respect should be shown for how people think, their skills, perspective and, abilities to perform tasks. Positive discourse: Diverse viewpoints, techniques, and misconceptions are common in projects. Dialogue is preferable to debate because it allows for the resolution of disagreements and the discovery of solutions that all participants may accept. Debate, on the other hand, is a win-lose situation in which personal wins are valued more than finding the greatest solution to a problem. Support: Projects can present many challenges, and providing a supportive environment can lead to a more trusting and collaborative atmosphere. Support can be demonstrated in several ways, such as encouragement, showing empathy, and listening. Courage: Demonstrating courage by for example making suggestions, disagreeing, or trying something new supports an experimental culture and conveys to others that it is safe to be brave and try new techniques. It can be intimidating to disagree with an expert or someone with more authority or suggesting a new technique. However, if the project manager demonstrates courage it is more likely other team members will do the same. Celebrating success: Project goals and challenges can sometimes overshadow the progress made by individual team members and the team as a whole. While work takes precedence, it is critical to acknowledge contributions such as innovation, adaptation, service to others, and development in order to keep the team motivated [1].

The Mediation Process

Mediation differs from independently or facilitated discussions between people only intended to improve their relationships, develop more understanding or acceptance, or solve a problem in which those involved are not necessarily at odds or in severe disagreement. Mediation is intended to resolve a dispute or conflict, it is a goal-oriented procedure that assists disputants in reaching tangible agreements and solutions on subjects where they disagree significantly. The procedure to mediation can be broken down into steps [3].

  1. Preparation stage: The mediator will in this stage of the process make initial contact with disputants individually. Collecting background information regarding the conflict as well as creating a plan for how to proceed is also an essential part of this step.
  2. Introduction: During the introduction stage of the mediation process, the mediator's primary goal is to establish a positive and respectful environment for all parties involved. This can be accomplished by making introductions for any parties who are unfamiliar with one another and by creating a comfortable and safe environment for dialogue. In addition, the mediator should explain their role in the mediation process, clarify the mediation process, and establish guidelines for the meeting. Finally, the mediator should be available to answer any questions or concerns that the disputants may have. By setting a positive tone at the outset, the mediator can create a foundation for successful conflict resolution.
  3. Opening statements: During the opening stage of mediation, the mediator provides the disputants with an opportunity to express themselves by making an opening statement. This statement may include a brief history of the conflict, its evolution, and the parties' respective viewpoints on their relationship's past, present, and future. It may also address the parties' interactions and dynamics, as well as identify other individuals who may need to be involved in the mediation process. The purpose of the opening statement is to inform the mediator about the issues that need to be discussed as well as the parties' preferred outcomes. This information is critical for the mediator to make informed decisions and successfully guide the mediation process towards resolution.
  4. Issue Framing: The mediator has heard initial statements from all parties at this point and will begin to assess the dispute. The mediator will decide what information must be provided, exchanged, discussed, and comprehended, as well as when and where it should be presented and examined. The mediator will also focus on effective educational presentations and information exchange to ensure that each party fully understands the other's point of view. Furthermore, the mediator will work to understand, present, and explore each party's needs and interests, or uncover them if a party is not aware of or has not yet disclosed them. Finally, the mediator will work towards framing joint problem statements that include all parties' needs and interests, in order to move the mediation process towards a mutually beneficial resolution.
  5. Negation: During this stage the mediator should create an awareness among all parties involved that considering multiple options is crucial. It is also essential to detach the parties from their positions or options that may not be acceptable to the other disputants. Therefore, the mediator should conduct option generation procedures and activities to propose forums, procedures, and strategies that may be effective in resolving the dispute. This approach can help promote open-mindedness and encourage the parties to consider alternative solutions.
  6. Option Evaluation: During this stage options should be evaluated to determine a positive or negative bargaining range exists. The term "positive bargaining range" refers to a group of options or positions that are preferred by all parties involved over not reaching an agreement. Conversely, a "negative bargaining range" is present when no options or positions are mutually acceptable to all parties. Disputants should develop objective standards and criteria to evaluate the acceptability of options. These standards should then be used to narrow down resolution options or move towards an agreement on one of them. A satisfaction comparison should be conducted, both individually and jointly to asses how options satisfy the standards set. The mediator should also urge parties to abandon unsatisfactory alternatives or positions, as well as improve options or stances to better reflect the interests of the parties. Furthermore, if no options or positions developed in mediated negotiations are acceptable to all disputants, exploring one or more parties' Best Alternative(s) to a Negotiated Agreement should be considered.
  7. Closure: At this stage an agreement should be reached. A conformation should be conducted to ensure the understanding of the agreement. Final agreements should be memorialised in oral or written from.

Limitations of Conflict Mediation

Conflict resolution through mediation in project management can be an effective method, but it has limitations. One limitation of mediation, as mentioned in The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict, is the mediator's limited authority. A mediator is ideally a third-party individual but can be a project manager, which means they cannot make binding decisions if the mediation process fails to result in a successful resolution. Furthermore, no one can be forced to participate in mediation, and for the process to be successful, all parties involved must cooperate and be willing to participate [3]. Resource management is also an important component of project management, and conflict resolution may necessitate time, money, and personnel. Inadequate deployment of resources to dispute resolution may result in an unsuccessful outcome. Effective communication is essential for both project management and conflict resolution. Mediation may prove challenging to cultivate if there is a lack of or ineffective communication. To create an optimal environment for mediation, trust, dialogue, and understanding must be established, which is impossible without effective communication [8]. Poor communication can lead to misconceptions and mistrust, leading in failed mediation. As a result, it is critical to stress clear and open communication throughout the mediation process.

Annotated bibliography

Moore, C. W. (2014). The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict (4th ed.). Jossey-Bass

The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict" by C. W. Moore is a thorough handbook for conflict mediation. This fourth edition offers an overview of the mediation process, including the various stages and abilities required for effective mediation. It discusses the various sorts of conflict and how to recognize and address them. The book also emphasizes the value of communication and attentive listening in mediation, as well as the mediator's responsibility in aiding the resolution process. This book is an excellent resource for anyone interested in mediation, from novices to seasoned practitioners. It is especially beneficial to people seeking practical ideas and approaches for resolving disputes in a range of settings, such as the workplace.

Project Management Institute. (2021). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), 7th Edition. Project Management Institute

The Project Management Institute's (PMI) PMBOK® Guide, 7th Edition is a comprehensive resource for project managers. Project integration, scope, time, cost, quality, human resources, communication, risk, procurement, and stakeholder management are covered in the guidance. The guide also discusses the necessity of conflict resolution skills for project managers, such as the capacity to identify and handle issues early on, as well as the use of mediation as a tool to aid resolution. The 7th Edition of the PMBOK® Guide has been widely recognized as the industry standard for project management practices.

Verma, V. K. (1998). Conflict Management. In R. J. Youker (Ed.), The Project Management Institute: Project Management Handbook, 2nd ed. (pp. 323-330). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute

This chapter provides a comprehensive overview of conflict resolution in project management. V. K. Verma, the author, examines the several types of conflict that might emerge in project management, such as interpersonal, intergroup, and intragroup disputes. Verma also offers conflict resolution tactics such as problem solving, negotiation, and mediation. The chapter also discusses the importance of conflict resolution in project management and project managers' roles in conflict resolution. Overall, this chapter is an excellent resource for project managers who want to better understand and handle conflicts in their projects.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Project Management Institute. (2021). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), 7th Edition. Project Management Institute.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Verma, V. K. (1998). Conflict Management. In R. J. Youker (Ed.), The Project Management Institute: Project Management Handbook, 2nd ed. (pp. 323-330). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Moore, C. W. (2014). The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict (4th ed.). Jossey-Bass
  4. Cambridge Dictionary. (n.d.). Conflict. Retrieved May 9, 2023, from
  5. Rahim, M. A. (2000). Managing Conflict in Organizations (3rd ed.). Westport, CT, USA: Quorum Books, pp. 23-24
  6. 6.0 6.1 Schaubhut, N. A. (2017). Technical brief for the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument: Description of the updated normative sample and implications for use. CPP, Inc.
  7. Poole, J., Marshall, G., Scott, W., & Folger, R. K. (2021). Working Through Conflict Strategies for Relationships, Groups, and Organizations. Routledge.
  8. AXELOS. (2017). Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2® (6th ed.). The Stationary Office.
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