Conflict Resolution for Construction Crews

A seasoned superintendent, an impatient foreman, and a "know-it-all" project manager begin heated discussions on the best approach that will give their project a jump ahead of the schedule but will incur more cost than was budgeted. Within just a few minutes these three construction leaders are almost moved to a physical altercation.

Conflict within a construction crew, like within any relationship between people, leads to communication breakdowns and lower productivity.

However, 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.

Let's consider key steps to resolving conflict.

Recognize that conflict is normal
Conflict is as natural to construction employees as breathing. Remember, not all conflict is bad.

Seek to understand the "root" of the difference
Conflict often arises due to misunderstandings. Always get clarity on the issue at hand. Seek to get to the real root of the conflict; allow the parties time to fully explain their perspectives. Work to have both agree on what the root issue is.

Strive to keep cool heads
Cool heads typically come to resolution sooner. If "temperature" is rising, call a time-out and separate for a short time before reconvening. Bring a little humor into the situation without making fun of those who are in conflict.

Consider personal "baggage"
Some conflict parties simply can't let go of past wrongs or some past negative experience. Considering a person's "baggage" doesn't mean not holding individuals accountable, but it often explains why some folks take a particular negative approach or position that can contribute to conflict.

Remind parties of the desired business result
It is very critical to remind those involved, if necessary, that "it's not about them." The ultimate result must achieve the desired business result even if it means that one or more parties must give up something. Construction is a business and, as a result, not everyone gets their way all the time.

Brainstorm for possible solutions
The effort here must stay focused again on the desired business result: "What is the best decision for this situation?"

Be very clear about the "non-negotiables"
There is little reason to get all chaffed about what cannot be changed. Whatever the "non-negotiables" are for any situation that is experiencing conflict should be clearly communicated and recognized.

Try not to pull rank
If the conflict is between a boss and employee the temptation is to have the boss pull rank and force the conflict resolution. While there may be a need to do that, it is always better to have the conflict parties, - no matter their rank and relationship to each other - come to a mutual resolution effort. Rank pulling often leaves one party the "loser" and looking to get revenge.

Follow-up to test adjustment
Whenever an agreement is reached it is wise to follow up with those parties involved to see how they are adjusting to the resolution and what issues may still exist. Following up also reinforces to both parties that the conflict, although uncomfortable, produced a better than expected result.

If agreement is not amicably reached...
In this case, a senior leader makes the decision and communicates the needed action to involved individuals. The senior leader had better be clear about what is expected and what the consequences will be if a resolution is not supported or maintained.

While conflict is quite normal for construction crews it does not mean that we as leaders should not address the conflict and look for positive and proactive means to resolve conflict.

Brad Humphrey is president of Pinnacle Development Group, a consulting firm that specializes in the construction industry. He is a regular presenter at National Pavement Expo and National Pavement Expo West (www.nationalpavementexpo.com) For more information about Brad's firm visit www.pinnacledg.com or check out resources from Brad at www.gangboxinc.com

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