Change Management II - Recognising Conflicts

Recognise conflicts



Sandra Effenberger
Sandra Effenberger

How does change management become successful?

Who doesn't want their project to run smoothly. Every goal is achieved in the allotted time, everyone involved is in agreement and the budget has been adhered to. There are projects in which this is easily possible. They are manageable in implementation, have a realistic framework for time, quality and budget, and both the people involved and those affected are all in the same boat.

You are right! These are not the reasons why a project goes well or badly. In the end, it is always the assessment of those involved in the project that draws this conclusion.

It is the ability of the project manager as well as his team to deal with the different situations. We know that it is not always the technical point that leads to friction. It is the emotional level on which the people involved find themselves. You can be as prudent as a project manager or be anxious that everyone receives the necessary information. Conflict situations cannot be avoided.

Even if you try to ignore them, this tactic will lead to the project stalling. First of all, not every conflict should be classified as exclusively negative, as conflicts can offer many positive aspects. Be it by reconciling seemingly incompatible views, goals or feelings; be it by discovering new perspectives in a seemingly hopeless impasse.... This alone can bring about valuable change that would not have been possible without this conflict. Conflicts become negative when they are not "heard".

Recognise conflicts

It has existed since the beginning of humanity: wherever people meet, sooner or later there is potential for it. It is crucial that this is recognised and addressed. Only through clear and competent handling can such situations be resolved.

In the meantime, there are many definitions of this topic. According to Berkel (1990: Conflict Training), for example, a conflict is present when at least one side perceives that another person is affecting, interfering with, obstructing, overriding, paralysing etc. them in some way. This is true even if it is unintentional or the cause seems insignificant. If one side identifies a conflict, then it exists. Conflicts have a variety of characteristics. When they occur, they are disruptive to people, interrupt normal processes and slow down efficiency. They also have the potential to escalate.


There are nine stages in the escalation of conflicts. If the conflicts are not resolved, fronts form that are no longer compatible. It is precisely here that it becomes apparent that ignoring the conflict can impair the entire project, or even bring it to a standstill. If the project is completed, there is a danger that it will not continue afterwards. The implementations have taken place, but they do not achieve the desired business goals.

Let us take a brief look at the possible stages (Friedrich Glasl 1990)
  • Stage 1 - Hardening 1

    The first emotions arise. The different points of view collide. Tensions arise. The participants believe that the tensions can be resolved through discussion.

  • Stage 2 - Polarisation 2

    Categorisation according to inferiority and superiority begins. A tunnel vision develops in those affected. However, a conversation is still the possible solution here.

  • Level 3 - Actions speak louder than words 3

    A conversation is no longer seen as a solution. Empathy with others is lost and the urge to create facts grows. Misinterpretations are accepted.

  • Stage 4 - Coalition building 4

    Other people are included here. The parties advertise and portray the other negatively.

  • Level 5 - Loss of face 5

    The opponents go on direct and public attacks.

  • Level 6 - Threat Strategy 6

    Threats from both sides increase and are reinforced by Ultimate.

  • Level 7 - Limited Destruction Strikes 7

    Destruction blows are calculated into the damage. One's own values are no longer taken into account. (Humanity is lost)

  • Level 8 - Fragmentation 8

    The other is seen as the enemy. The goal is to dissolve his system.

  • Level 9 - Together into the abyss 9

    The destruction of the other at the price of self-destruction is accepted.

It becomes apparent that an apparently simple issue can grow into something that, in the worst case, can no longer be reversed. Therefore, it is important to sensitise one's antennae to this.

How can you get out of a conflict?

The simplest and much described method is communication. If it is recognised that there is a dispute, a disagreement, then a frank conversation should be held. As the project leader, work towards a discussion with the people concerned.

Afterwards, agree on solutions and rules on how to continue the cooperation in a positive way. It pays off if those involved go through ups and downs together: achieving the common goal has a positive effect on everyone and unites them. This also applies when it comes to continuing to work together after the project with the jointly achieved goals.

What happens when internal talks don't help?

Before you make a decision with personnel consequences, there is the possibility of mediation. In many companies, especially in corporate groups, this is offered internally.
You can get the support there to help the opposing parties regain access to their own conflict competence. Together, the current relationship is clarified and one or more solutions are developed. Mediators have a professional understanding of conflict.

By means of their discussion methodology, mediators ensure that the conflict is dealt with jointly by the conflicting parties. Conflicts of individuals as well as of groups in all areas of life (private and professional) are dealt with mediatively.