Have a Nice Conflict


We as project managers are often faced with difficult situations and must resolve any and all conflicts that arise with our stakeholders. We are very adept at our hard skills but often our soft skills are lacking. One of the skills most often called upon, but in most cases the one we are the least comfortable with, is conflict resolution. Most of us are conflict averse and unsure how to manage or resolve conflict.

We know that according to the PMBOK the preferred method of conflict resolution is “confrontation.”

But how do you “confront” a situation without experiencing a lingering effect? What you think is the right way to handle a conflict may be perceived as the wrong way to the other person. Each person handles situations differently, and understanding both ourselves as well as the other person helps to determine the best way to approach each conflict and turn it into a positive change.

I recently finished reading Have a Nice Conflict [1] by Tim Scudder, Michael Patterson and Kent Mitchell. This book takes the Relationship Awareness motivational theory and explains it in a simple story format, which allows us to see ourselves in the behavior of one of the main characters. This helped me bridge the gap from theory to real life, as well as making me want to learn more about the theory itself. It not only helped me understand myself and some of my behaviors but also reinforced the importance of collaborating more effectively with others through the appropriate choice of behaviors.

Since the subject was very timely to my current assignment I took the time to do a little more in-depth research on The Relationship Awareness Theory. I discovered that through the research that has been done, the theory helps us understand and infer the motives behind behaviors of ourselves and others, both when things are going well and when there is conflict. The theory helps people recognize that they can choose the behaviors that are consistent with their values while also taking into account the values of others.

The four fundamental premises within Relationship Awareness Theory (as expressed in the Relationship Awareness Theory Manual of Administration and Interpretation) are:

1.     Behavior is Driven by Motivation for Self-Worth

2.     Motivation Changes in Conflict

3.     Personal Weakness are Overdone Strengths

4.     Personal Filters Influence Perception

This motivational theory combines the psychometric inventory of motivation from the work of Freud and Fromm and addresses the motives that are behind our everyday behavior when we relate to others.

Motivational Value Systems [2] have identified colors which relate to general themes or motives and the corresponding behaviors. These represent ways of relating to others when things are going well. There are four primary types of strengths and three blends. For example, “Blue” has to do with a desire to be altruistic and nurturing. People who are motivated by this desire tend to be seen by others as helpful. Each individual has some amount of each “color” but since no two individuals are alike, the strength of the “color” varies from individual to individual.

The first recommendation for the main character in the book was to identify his individual strength, which translates into the basis for his behaviors. We all need to take the time to identify the strength which matches our behavior. We also need to examine what effect our behavior has on others who have different strengths. Often we can avoid unwarranted conflict when we understand that others do not share our beliefs and motivations. As we become aware of the behaviors and gratifications that others seek from us, their behaviors become more understandable and we can avoid conflict that might have previously arisen.

The third premise of the theory which consumed the major part of the book, and that really struck home with me, comes directly from Fromm: a personal weakness is no more, nor no less, than the overdoing of a personal strength. We need to understand that personal strengths can quickly become personal weakness when we use, or “misuse/overuse” these strengths in a negative manner. This overuse may actually bring on conflict by our own behavior. To be self-confident can be a positive thing, but being overly self-confident may be looked upon as being arrogant. Some examples of overdoing of a trait are: trusting to the point of being gullible, or being cautious to the point of being suspicious. Perceived overdoing occurs when someone with high-motivation values of one strength interacts with someone with high-motivation values of another strength, It’s an over-reaction to a behavior in someone that we feel would be inappropriate for ourselves. When strengths are overdone the ability to achieve a mutually productive environment is threatened. We need to assess the effectiveness of our strengths and beliefs and determine how best to apply these as we interact with people.

Through this book, Have a Nice Conflict, I have taken the time to reflect on situations of conflict in which I have found myself. I feel that I more fully understand conflict and realize that there are tools that can be used to address, as well as avoid, conflict which in turn can lead to more positive relationships and outcomes.

[1] Have a Nice Conflict, Tim Scudder, Michael Patterson, Kent Mitchell, Personal Strengths Publishing, Inc., 2011, ISBN: 978-1-932627-11-4

[2] http://www.personalstrengths.com/sdiblog/?p=129

Published in PMI Information Systems COP newsletter – January 2013