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Conflict in Construction

Every construction project has conflict. There’s conflict within construction teams, conflict between supervisors, conflict within the contractor’s management team, conflict with suppliers and subcontractors and conflict between the client’s team and the contractor’s team. A construction project is a melting pot of egos, personalities and cultures. It’s a stressed environment with everyone trying to do the best for themselves and their company, while getting the job completed as quickly as possible, often in difficult circumstances.

Sometimes you can’t avoid conflict, you have to stand up to the client when they’re being unfair to your company and demanding things which aren’t in the contract document. You have to take a stand when people in your crew aren’t obeying company or project rules. You have to be tough on suppliers and subcontractors who aren’t delivering. But, this must be done without yelling and swearing (regrettably I was often guilty of this). It’s important to explain why you’re unhappy and what’s unacceptable. Successful construction demands good communication

Not the way to resolve conflict (Image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Contain your frustrations

 ​Of course, there will always be some that make you really angry. People make mistakes. Supervisors will put their area of work ahead of other work on the project. They will see their work as coming first and not look at the greater project. They may block access to other parts of the project, maybe use materials needed elsewhere, unfairly hog equipment, like cranes, so that other work areas are kept waiting. It’s good to be so passionate about your work that you care when others are impeding you. But, don’t fly into a rage. Understand that others are also passionate about getting their work done, and often their actions aren’t deliberate – they’re just focussed on their work, without considering the consequence of their actions on the rest of the project. 

Everyone on a construction project is also stressed. Often they aren’t even aware of the impact their actions are having on other work. Explain logically what the problem is, and more importantly how the problem should be resolved. Sure you can show your displeasure and explain that the issue should be avoided in the future. Everyone needs to understand that completing the project is a team effort and the project isn’t complete until all sections are complete.

Unquestionably, there will always be some incompetent people in construction, there will be some arse holes on the project, some managers and client’s representatives will be irritating with poor knowledge and little experience, construction is like that, there are many who shouldn’t hold the position that they have, but learn to work around them. If need be help them, tripping them up is seldom going to benefit you other than the short term satisfaction it may provide.

There will be subcontractors and suppliers that let you down. Why did they let the project down? Was there something you could have done better to prevent the issue? How can the situation be rectified? How can it be prevented from recurring? Shouting and cursing is not going to help! Sure you are passionate and it is only right to show your displeasure, but it’s more important that the problem is fixed quickly.

​Obviously, never be so assured in your knowledge and self-esteem that you’re not prepared to listen to the other person. None of us are so perfect that we can’t learn something new, or a new method of doing things. Sometimes even young and inexperienced managers may see things differently and come up with an innovative solution you hadn’t considered before. 


Resolving issues together (Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay)

There will be times when others will be unhappy with you – rightly or wrongly. They may yell and swear at you. Of course you won’t like that, but that’s not reason to yell and cuss back. Rather stay calm. If you did something wrong admit it and apologise – that will soon diffuse the situation and it most cases the other person will forget that anything happened and move on.

Arguing something where you’re wrong will invariably escalate the situation making it worse.

​Certainly if the other person is wrong then tell them why they’re wrong. Be prepared to argue your case in a clear logical manner without becoming emotional or personal about it – even if the other person is throwing personal insults.

​Sometimes arguments are over stupid small things. Consider if it’s really worth your time and effort to argue some silly point or misdemeanour. Some arguments are best walked away from.

Sometimes though problems can’t be rationally resolved, the other person is never going to understand your point of view. In these cases it may be necessary to involve a third party to settle the dispute.

Conflict within construction teams

On occasion, there may be some in your crew fighting and arguing. This is disruptive and can jeopardise safety and productivity. It’s important to have a harmonious team and to step-in and resolve the dispute.

Listen to each person’s arguments and then logically explain who is right and who is wrong. Sometimes both might be wrong.

Unfortunately, from time to time we get trouble makers in our team, or maybe just somebody that’s obnoxious and gets people’s backs up. If the person is unable to change their behaviour they may have to be moved elsewhere, possibly have their employment terminated.

​There will also sometimes be clashes of personality, someone does not see eye to eye with another. It’s important to understand why there’s a problem. If it’s because of racial, ethnic or any form of discrimination it’s important to stamp it out immediately, and the person being discriminatory should be warned to discontinue the behaviour or disciplinary action will be taken. If it’s simply a clash of personalities and neither party is prepared to back down then one of the workers may have to be transferred to another crew. But always try and talk through the problem with the two people. Talk to others in the crew to check that there isn’t another underlying cause that you’ve missed, a matter that could perhaps arise later in another form. Discrimination in construction – is it holding your company back?

Sure, sometimes it might seem like you’re a policeman, a psychologist, a judge, jury, and even sometimes like a parent, but unfortunately a construction manager or supervisor is all of these and more.  

Conflict resolution

Conflict resolution and prevention is an important aspect of a construction manager’s duty, and potential conflict situations should be quickly dealt with in a fair and impartial manner, otherwise even trivial matters can quickly escalate in to major issues, or fester unresolved in the background impacting morale and productivity.

You cannot always avoid conflict in construction. You cannot walk away from many issues. Rather it’s the way that you resolve issues. Getting people to work together for the best project outcomes.

Successful construction projects are built by harmonious teams working together for the best project outcomes. Solving problems together.
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© 2021 This article is not to be reproduced for commercial purposes without written permission from the author.

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