It's inevitable. A seasoned superintendent, an impatient foreman and a "know-it-all" project manager begin a heated discussion on the best approach that will give their project a jump ahead of the schedule while incurring the least amount of unbudgeted costs. Words are thrown out seemingly to first drive home a point of experience, but then the words quickly get heated and are soon misinterpreted as "incoming."
Within just a few minutes these three construction leaders are almost moved to a physical altercation. The superintendent storms out of the trailer, after kicking over the water cooler, the project manager heads back to his room to e-mail his latest complaint about the situation and the foreman finishes his cold cup of coffee and eases on back to his crew convinced he is the only right thinking leader on the job.
This scenario is repeated hundreds of times a day on construction sites across the country. Whether your construction company builds mammoth hospitals or you operate a small specialty trade flatwork company, the same potential for conflict exist. But how do we resolve such conflict that can damage relationships, sabotage performance and leave fewer profits in the end?
Conflict must first be understood before it can be resolved. Conflict is inherent in any work environment where there is more than one individual at work. It's just human nature to consider personal preference over the opinion of others. In the construction industry, there is no shortage of workers and leaders who feel their way of performing, making decisions or addressing other individuals is superior. It takes a willingness to listen to the "other side" to prevent conflict or to resolve
So, what is the source of most conflict within a construction crew or project? Generally speaking, most conflict begins when there is a difference
between two opposing points of views or between the two individuals who hold those views. The opposing views might be based on different opinions or they may be based on different interpretations of some single source such as the interpretation of a drawing, a budget, a procedure or a regulation. No matter the source, a conflict develops when there are differences.
Before we review some solid conflict resolution techniques, let's be fair to the topic of conflict. Not all conflict is bad. In fact, if the two parties engaged in the conflict are mature, much improvement can come out of diverse opinions and experience. It would be fair to say that many of the best solutions on most construction sites, among even the most emotional of crews, probably came as a result of some momentary conflict.
Now, let's briefly address each of the steps to resolving conflict.