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Resolving Conflicts with a Coworker - Part I

I was talking with a friend the other day (let’s call her Samantha) who was having conflict with a coworker who was recently hired into the organization (let’s call him Eric). Samantha has been in the organization for 3 years and is a project manager. Eric was hired 3 months ago and is also a project manager. Samantha has been very successful within the organization and was excited about the opportunity to work with Eric, who she knew from a previous organization where they both worked. They were recently assigned to co project manage a large global initiative. Samantha was thrilled about the assignment as she had been asked who she wanted to co-manage with and she requested that Eric be assigned. They had equal project management experience and had worked together successfully in the past.

Here is the story Samantha shared with me. On Eric’s first day she invited him out to lunch to welcome him to the company and to share with him a bit about the kind of projects they worked on.  Eric, she noted, seemed distant the entire time they were at lunch. At one point, as she talked about the kinds of projects they were working on and their challenges, Eric cut her off mid-sentence and said “I’m well aware of how to manage projects – thank you.” Samantha was a bit taken aback, but moved on to other topics.

A week later, they get together with the team to kick off the project. Prior to the meeting they worked at an agenda with talking points for each of them – topics of discussion Samantha would lead and topics of discussion Eric would lead. They also discussed the approach they would take in co-managing the projects. Here is what happened during the meeting.

As Samantha reviewed the project scope and timeline and expectations from the stakeholders; Eric cut her off numerous times. Each time he said, “Well, that is not quite the best way to approach this initiative Samantha. Here are my thoughts….” or “Wow, I’m surprised you want to do that Samantha. I would recommend….”

Samantha was shocked; especially since they discussed the approach they would take as co-leaders of the initiative. It was as if they never had a conversation. She wanted my thoughts on how I would approach this situation with Eric. She wanted to understand why he did what he did and figure out how they were going to work together. From my perspective, Eric was trying to find his place. He wanted to fit in and fit in quickly into the organization and wanted to establish himself as a leader. Unfortunately, he felt to do so he needed to push Samantha down.  This whole situation made the entire team feel very uncomfortable and Samantha had a few mention as they left the meeting that this project was not going to work out too well.

She reached out to Eric to schedule the meeting telling him she wanted to talk about the first team meeting and how they will work together moving forward. Here is the approach we decided that Samantha would take with Eric.

Her goals at the meeting are to:

  1. Understand why Eric did what he did
  2. Learn how she needs to work with Eric for this initiative (and future projects) to be successful
  3. Come to agreement as to how they will co-manage this project – showing a united front so that the team and project are a success            

Your thoughts? What would you do in this situation?

Stay tuned for Part II where we “listen in” to their conversation.