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Interpersonal conflicts are a behavior exhibited for a number of reasons.

Among them are:

1. Personality conflict between individuals

2. Personality issue of an individual

3. Difficult personal (outside) environment

4. Difficult work environment

5. Lack of understanding of one’s role

6. Rejection of one’s role

This book is not and does not intend to be a treatise on psychological issues

and human behavior. However, there are some layman’s observations and actions

that can be taken by the project manager to preserve the objectives of the

project team. These observations and actions follow the numbering scheme

above. Before employing any of these approaches, you may want to attempt to

rectify the situation yourself. That’s fine if it is just a squabble. If it’s a real

problem, however, don’t get any more involved than letting the people concerned

know that you are aware of the situation and that if they don’t fix it

themselves, you will fix it. Sometimes that solves the problem and sometimes it

moves the problem underground. Know your team members and use good

judgment. You personally should not go too much further with these situations.

If possible, turn the problem over to the personnel (HR) office or other professionals

in the company who are equipped and chartered to handle these kinds

of situations. Your job is that of project manager.

1. Personality conflict between individuals. Personality conflicts between individuals

occur for many reasons, most of which are not fully understood. You

can recover from this situation in one of two ways. First, you can choose the

person who is most useful to the team and transfer the other one. Second,

you can determine the most likely fomenter of the problem and transfer or

fire (if you have the authority) that individual.

2. Personality issue of an individual. Individual personality issues occur in a lot

of people. Sometimes you just have to put up with them. There are some

people who are critical to the project and they know it and use that position

to their advantage. How you handle this one is a measure of how you handle

all the personnel issues. The only suggestions I can offer is to take this person

to lunch and try to get next to him. Or, if you have political power, use it.

Or, just put up with him. Or transfer him. Just remember that the good of

the project is the most important factor in your decision.

3. Difficult personal environment. When a difficult personal environment exists,

it sometimes takes a long time to recognize. The situation can manifest itself

in a number of ways—the individual’s work begins to suffer or the individual

becomes cranky or both. The ways to handle these situations can vary widely.

Part of the solution could depend on your company. Does the company have

an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that could help this individual and

relieve the situation? If so, get the person enrolled. Another approach is to

get the person transferred to a staff position somewhere so that the problems

do not affect others. Still another approach is to fire or have the person fired.

This is very difficult in a large company these days. It requires a lot of record

keeping and consulting and a lot of time on your part. Use the option that

benefits the project the most (i.e., produces the least impact).

4. Difficult work environment. This situation is more in your ballpark than the

employee’s. Why is the work environment difficult? Is the source of the problem

the customer, the company, policies and procedures, the facility itself

(e.g., a smelly building), the schedule, the budget, or something else? Only

after you determine and analyze the source of the problem can you begin to

take action. The answers to these questions could easily fill another book.

The only suggestion I can make here is to recognize and fix the situation if

at all possible because it will deeply affect your project. On the other hand,

you may not be able to rectify the situation at all and simply have to live

with it. This is tough and is one of the main reasons people quit projects and

companies. If you can’t solve this problem directly, try to offer an offsetting

positive that is greater than the negative offered by the problem (i.e., offer a

premium such as more money or a cruise or a vacation, etc., for working

this project). Even if you can’t get the problem solved, it needs to be documented

and forwarded. Certainly it needs to be a part of the ‘‘Lessons

Learned’’ paper you will generate at the end of the project. A word of cau-

tion here. If the ‘‘smelly building’’ is the result of an environmental situation

that could harm your team members (and you), you must take action to

remove the people, and perhaps the equipment, from that environment. To

do otherwise is both foolish and possibly criminal. If you have personal

knowledge of a hazardous condition and choose to ignore it, you could be

legally and morally responsible for the harm done to your people or the

equipment. This is not legal advice—it is common sense.

5. Lack of understanding of one’s role. A true lack of understanding of one’s role

resolves to only two possibilities. First, the individual has not been properly

apprised of what is expected of him and possibly of what he should expect

of those around him. Both these issues can be overcome with training. True

team training covers both these issues and is a valuable asset to any project.

Second, the individual has been apprised of his role and still does not understand

it. Try to apprise this person once again. If that fails, neither of us can

resolve the issue—send the person back to his functional manager.

6. Rejection of one’s role. If this occurs, you have a real problem! This is classically

known as a standoff. Who is going to win this one? The first thing for

you to do is to make sure that the role you are asking this individual to

perform is the correct one. Is this what the project needs in order to be

successful? Or was a mistake made when this role was defined? Was a mistake

made in assigning this individual to this role? If you made the mistake, then

you need to reconsider. The mistake could be that the individual’s talents

were not fully considered. How about adjusting the roles to make the project

run smoothly? Can you do that and make the project work properly and

solve the individual’s problem? If you can, do it. If the other side of this

situation is the problem—that is, this individual will reject the role no matter

what, you have only one choice—one of you has to go. Which one is up

to you.


8a (NO) All personnel have not been adequately trained.

Insufficient training is a sad set of affairs. Usually the reason for not providing

training is that it’s expensive or that time has not been scheduled for it. If

you think training is expensive or time consuming, wait until you see the bill

for not training or not training properly. It will not only affect this task but will

show your customer base that you don’t have the trained people to do this kind

of work.


First, you must discover what training is lacking. Is it basic training—the

individual does not know how to perform the basic job assigned? Is it specific

training—the individual does not know how to perform the team-specific task?

The answer is to provide the proper training needed.

If the answer is basic training, you have a personnel competency issue and

need to return to Cause Description 7a and 7a (NO). If the answer is specific

team training, you must provide or arrange to have provided team orientation

or training.

Even though you won’t have the program people you need while they are

being trained, at least they will be trained when they get back. If you are in the

Implementation Phase of your task and just find out you need some special

training, you will find that training can be performed after normal duty hours

or on weekends, or you may be able to bring in others who are trained to

mentor your people on an OJT basis. Where there is a will, there is a way.

For the project, nothing could be worse in the world of training than having

attended the wrong training. Time will have been used that will have to be made

up, and new training will need to be added, which will itself use up even more

time and money. The worst kind of wrong training is the training course that

gives out wrong information that leads to people making the wrong decisions

or taking the wrong actions. Carefully evaluate the content of the courses your

people will attend.

8b (NO) The training program is not economical.

The training program could be too expensive in dollars or in time consumed.

Even if the company pays for training, the project loses the time of its personnel

in attendance. This is particularly true if you are beyond the Implementation

Phase in your project. Look very carefully at training and the real need for it

once the project has started. It could be very expensive indeed. By the way, a

training course may well be too expensive. Usually the training department,

usually a part of human resources, has evaluated the training course before it is

presented, but occasionally something slips through. I have had personal experience

with this situation. It ended up costing three days of the time of two dozen

of the highest paid and most needed persons in the company. Carefully evaluate

the need and the cost of training courses.