While conflict is inherent in any work environment, employees in the construction industry are especially prone to disputes because of the complexity of the work, the intense pressure exerted by tight deadlines and safety concerns, and the adversarial environment that can arise when the interests of various parties working on a project are not aligned. Yet because unresolved personal conflicts between coworkers can cut into construction companies' profit margins and increase the risk of accidents, your firm should develop a strategy to help employees settle their disagreements before the tension interferes with their ability to successfully complete the project at hand, and to work together in the future
The exact impact of interpersonal conflict on the bottom line of companies is hard to measure, but a study on conflicts between employees in construction firms conducted in 2012 by the Center for Construction Research and Training found that, across the 41 conflict incidents analyzed, companies spent an average of 20 days managing the conflict, and lost an average of $10,948 per incident. Researchers also warned that these estimates may understate the true cost of interpersonal conflict because the consequences of such behaviors can have effects well beyond the observed incident, including lower morale, lower productivity, increased health care and disability costs, more workplace accidents, and higher employee turnover.
While it is clearly in the best interests of your company to find ways to defuse these conflicts, it is also important to recognize that some degree of conflict in the workplace is inevitable and healthy. Disagreement between employees can, for example, flag problems that might otherwise go unnoticed, and bring a diversity of opinions and perspectives to bear on a given issue.
But if coworkers are unable to resolve a contentious issue amicably within a reasonable time frame, it may be necessary to intervene. If you are mediating a conflict, the first step is to try to clarify the source of the difference of opinion between the parties. In many cases, the coworkers may agree on the fundamental issues, but have simply misunderstood each other, or have the wrong information.
Allowing each person to explain his or her position calmly while the other person listens may be enough to resolve the problem. If the parties become angry or emotional, give them time to cool off before continuing the discussion.
n other cases, you may discover in the course of the mediation session that the parties are less angry about the issue at hand than about a past conflict or perceived wrong that led them to mistrust each other. Ask each party to make a list of his or her critical concerns about the relationship, such as the perception that the other person makes unreasonable demands, or interferes with his or her workflow in ways that are counterproductive. In some instances, simply defining the boundaries of the relationship can greatly improve the interactions between the two individuals.
Despite the efforts at mediation, the two parties may continue to disagree on certain points. It may then be necessary to remind them of the need to put aside those differences to ensure that the desired business outcomes are achieved. A compromise can be brokered, or one party may agree to concede his or her position. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to transfer one of the parties into a different role or work setting to minimize the contact between them.
If, however, conflicts between coworkers become a frequent occurrence in your organization, you should consider the possibility that the working conditions or the culture of the company are exacerbating tensions. Your firm can have an organizational psychologist conduct an audit of your workplace environment, and recommend ways the company can change its processes or norms to encourage more effective communication and collaboration.