When different people with their own unique personalities get together to get a job done, there is always the possibility of conflict. In an office environment, the single biggest cause of conflict is misunderstanding. Communication through mediums like email have led more than a few people to misconstrue comments by others and the lack of immediate feedback makes it possible for an easily resolvable disagreement to escalate.
On the job site, conflict can take on a whole other level of seriousness. Part of the problem is the number of different stakeholders involved in any one project. From clients and owners to architects and engineers and down the funnel to contractor and subcontractors, everyone has a different perspective on the project, and likely differing opinions on how to get it done.
Here are a few ways that conflict crops up in construction:
- Poor project planning leading to financial difficulties or a general instability in the project timeline.
- Difficulties vis-a-vis the public or others who are not directly related to the project.
- Client initiated scope changes midway through the project, resulting in re-work or other perils.
- Lack of communication and information flow so that the team in the field does not have all the information that the head office does.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it encompasses the large majority of conflicts in the field.
Understanding conflict on the job site
The key to understanding and resolving conflict in most any situation, including on work sites, is to understand perspective.
Each person sees an issue, problem or overall project from the context of their own experience and background. Those variations can result in people seeing the same issue / problem very differently. That can result in a conversation, a disagreement, or even full on conflict.
Perspective is the key to resolving conflict:
“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Let’s say there is a conflict between an engineer and a contractor that relates to an essential step in an excavation project. Both individuals are coming at the problem from their own unique set of experiences and both may have positions with merit in terms of how to proceed. Resolving the disconnect requires both of them to see things from the point of view of the other person.
This can get complicated in highly specialized work environments, where one person may feel that they have the credentials that would simply overrule the other person’s opinion. It’s rare, however, that pulling rank resolves problems effectively, and it could even result in overlooking an important factor that might have improved the project.
Dealing with conflict on the job site
First and most important: don’t ignore a problem. Acting like an ostrich and burying your head in the sand isn’t going to make a conflict go away. If anything, it’s likely to get worse.
Instead, it’s important to move forward in a positive way, to save time and money and keep the project on track.
Dig deep on the problem. Often, a conflict looks like one thing on the surface, but when
you dig a little, it turns out to be something else altogether. Getting to the root of the issue will make it easier to deal with it full on.
This requires active listening and really attempting to understand the perspective of the other person, in order to come to a resolution. If you don’t at least understand the other person’s point of view—whether or not you agree with it—you haven’t dug deep enough.
Don’t get emotional. Believing in your point of view passionately is one thing. Escalating into a shouting match that doesn’t move the needle in terms of resolving anything? Not ideal!
It’s more than likely that a position taken by one person isn’t personal: it’s their perspective. Operating with mutual respect and avoiding engaging in the blame game can go a long way to helping both sides understand one another.
When you look at the reasons for conflict listed at the beginning of this post, and you dig a little deeper, you can see how much each of them revolves around communication. Clear communication in the first place can help avoid so many conflict situations and ensures that everyone understands what the expectations are and where they fit into the whole project. When conflicts do arise, working collaboratively to find a solution is far more effective, efficient and could lead to improvements in the way you do things every single day!