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Managing Conflict in Projects: Applying Mindfulness and Analysis for Optimal Results by George Pitagorsky Project Management Institute, 2012, ISBN: 9781935589587, paperback, 132 pp., $23.95 Member, $29.95 Nonmember.

Conflict is a fact of project life. Unresolved, it can create animosities and resentment that will tear at the heart of the project team. Properly managed, conflict can energize the team and enable rigorous analysis and comparison of myriad concepts and plans that will form the foundation for project success. George Pitagorsky offers a new view of this matter in Managing Conflict in Projects: Applying Mindfulness and Analysis for Optimal Results.

At 130 pages of content, the book is not a weighty tome to burden a busy project manager. But neither is it a quick read to be consumed on the fly between meetings or at airport gates. There is plenty of substance here for thoughtful consideration. For ease of consumption, Pitagorsky begins each chapter with an introduction that briefly describes what follows and ends with a summary that wraps up with important take-away points. In between, he makes his case in a logical, readable way. He effectively uses bulleted lists to present complex content in a visually graspable way without reducing the book to simply a text version of a graphic presentation.

In a brief introductory chapter, Pitagorsky defines “mindfulness” as “… the conscious awareness of the thoughts and feelings that are happening in the events … that are happening around us and [in] ourselves”; in other words, think about the other party, too—not just yourself. He also provides definitions and differentiation of the key concepts of conflict management, transformation, and conflict resolution. Conflict management is broader in scope than conflict resolution in that it includes action that will avoid conflict. Transformation occurs when the way people think and behave is changed by the conflict management process.

The next two chapters address conflict and foundational concepts. To the seven types of conflict found in the traditional literature, Pitagorsky adds performance conflicts and supplier selection conflicts. Both are practical and important in contemporary project work. He makes sense of the pieces by tying them in with stakeholder, authority/hierarchy, organizational, and personality/preference issues. His five foundational concepts set the stage on which subsequent processes of conflict management will play out.

In Chapter 4, Pitagorsky defines a seven-step conflict management process. He makes clear that this is not a “cookbook” solution; that is, a no-fail process to be performed uniformly under all conditions with predictable results. It is only a framework, with “how-to” aspects described in following chapters.

Analyzing the nature of conflict is critical. Chapter 5 describes and discusses eight attributes of conflict (complexity, intensity, importance, others) that should be considered. Action without analysis is little more than trial-and-error. Effective analysis allows a manager to step back from reactive behavior and gain better knowledge for better decisions.

People and organizations often have an ingrained style or approach to conflict. Pitagorsky taps into the classic Thomas-Kilman “Conflict Mode Model” to address this issue. His take is rather traditional, and deservedly so, considering this time-proven model. He also taps into existing work on emotional intelligence, cognitive analysis, and awareness of culture influences. His discussion is necessarily a bit heady, so readers should slow down and spend enough time with this to grasp the details.

Chapter 8 is the first of three that deal with the final steps in the conflict management model—the “doing” phase, if you will. Here, Pitagorsky describes rapport, a relationship of mutual trust, emotional affinity, similarity, common interests, and facilitation and mediation. Rapport is the goal; facilitation and mediation are the means to getting there. The following two chapters deal with approaches and techniques, and then closing out the effort in an effective and lasting way.

Managing Conflict in Projects is a new view of an old subject. As such, it offers much to project professionals seeking new ways to surmount ever-present hurdles.

Biographical Information

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  2. Biographical Information

Reviewed by Kenneth H. Rose, PMP, Director, Peninsula Center for Project Management in Hampton, VA, USA, and winner of the 2006 PMI David I. Cleland Project Management Literature Award.