3 Tips for Handling Conflict on the Jobsite
Successfully resolve the problem & preserve group harmony
by Amy Cash

To successfully navigate conflict on the jobsite, general contractors and project managers must be able to confront team members and stakeholders in a positive, productive manner. Whatever the situation—whether two people are actively quarreling or one person’s behavior is impacting the entire project—an owner or manager must be able to step in and take charge, and do so in a way that does not contribute to the drama. How do you constructively confront team members? How do you get your point across and preserve team chemistry, all the while working to get the job done as quickly and effectively as possible?

For a general contractor or project manager, these conversations can be crucial. Ongoing conflict and drama can have a ripple effect on the entire team, and the last thing any project needs is a dip in morale. Assuming this is not a situation that calls for dismissing someone from the project, a general contractor can take several steps to help resolve the problem and preserve group harmony. When having these conversations, keep the following tips in mind.

1. Use non-accusatory language

For many of us, it is tempting to place blame and pin an entire problem directly on others. After all, aren’t they the ones causing the disturbance in the first place? A constructive solution—despite first impressions—involves shelving the initial urge to blame and taking a step back.

How you phrase your discourse makes all the difference. You can make the conversation productive by focusing the language on you. For example, you can say, “I notice you showed up late the last 2 days,” or, “The other day, I overheard your comments about the architect.” The alternative would look like this: “Hey, you were late the last two days,” or, “You made those comments about the architect.” One statement talks about your observations: what you saw, noticed or heard. The other puts everything squarely on the person you are confronting.

This may seem to be a subtle matter of semantics, but in constructive confrontation, your word choice matters. When you talk about your observations, people naturally feel less defensive. When people do not have their guard up, you will get more accomplished overall.

2. Be clear

As a manager attempting to put a stop to harmful or annoying behavior, you must be clear in this conversation. Your group cannot afford any mixed messages. Be as clear as you can about the following:

  • What you heard or saw—Avoid ambiguities. If you didn’t experience any of the events firsthand, be sure you have gathered sufficient information. The person you are talking to needs to know exactly what he/she is doing to damage your group chemistry.
  • How this impacts the group and the project as a whole—Be clear on this. Often, people do not intend any sabotage, but their behavior may, nonetheless, have a detrimental impact. Be direct about this impact.
  • Your expectations—If you don’t clearly state your expectations for future behavior, this conversation will be a waste of your time. Unclear expectations create needless confusion and can lead to future problems. As a business owner and manager, you must say what you expect. Luckily, this can be done in a non-accusatory manner that strengthens the crew, rather than pulling it apart.

3. Don’t forget to listen

A conversation, even one you must have with a team member about his/her behavior, is just that—a conversation. This means it involves two people. Though you will need to approach the dialogue with an agenda to get your point across, the process will be infinitely more productive if you give the other person a chance to speak and, more importantly, to be heard. This means you must take the opportunity to listen.

When the other person is able to speak and feels you have heard him/her, you relieve much of his/her tension. Defensive posturing that might otherwise stand in your way will disappear. The person may even feel appreciated and grateful that you took time to hear his/her perspective. This can be crucial to maintaining group harmony. Provided you take the opportunity to clearly state your expectations, you have nothing to lose in taking a moment to listen.

If you listen attentively enough, the other person may offer suggestions or solutions you had not considered. You will never know unless he/she gets an opportunity to speak.

Consider these three tips the next time you have to confront somebody on the job. In most situations, you can preserve group harmony, show respect and appreciation for the other person, and be sure you have clearly stated your expectations.

Becoming a true professional at constructive confrontation is possible, and if you do it, your projects will proceed with minimal drama and hassle. You, your business and everyone connected to your work will benefit.