Conflict is virtually unavoidable in any working environment, particularly in construction, as the industry requires you to work with collaborators from many fields and involves critical issues like safety. But conflict itself isn’t inherently bad—in fact, it can actually facilitate creative problem solving.
To positively and effectively engage with conflict, you need a few skills:
- A growth mindset, so that you respond to conflict with a desire to learn and problem solve, rather than with defensiveness
- Emotional intelligence and the ability to empathize with people you might disagree with
- Active listening, to really hear all parties involved
All conflicts are different, so you’ll need to tailor your approach to the situation. “When you’re thinking about how you respond to conflict,” explains Christine Fiori, Program Director of the Construction Management Program at Drexel University and MT Copeland instructor, “It’s really a balance between how assertive you are and how collaborative you are. In certain situations, you need to be very assertive to get your point across. Other times you may be more willing to compromise or collaborate. So you have to figure out where you are on that scale. How assertive do I need to be in a response versus how collaborative do I need to be in a particular situation?”
Typically, responses to conflict are classified into five general types or styles:
- Accommodating style
- Competing style
- Compromising style
- Collaborating style
- Avoiding style
“So if you think of it as a two by two matrix when you look at it, you’re going to see that each one of these types of styles has a different level of either assertiveness or collaboration,” Fiori explains. Read on to learn about the five conflict management styles.
In this article
The accommodating style of conflict resolution is an effective management strategy when you want to avoid conflict, especially if time is of the essence and you’re eager to quickly find a middle ground. In practice, it calls for adapting or readjusting one’s own personal interests and reaching a solution that suits both parties. The accommodating style is useful for small conflicts that may not be worth a major disagreement that could disrupt the schedule, or if you want to avoid upsetting a valued relationship with another team member. It’s not as useful when you need to assert yourself in a situation, or when there is a major conflict already taking place that you need to diffuse, head-on.
Example of the accommodating style
A plumbing crew isn’t set to start working on a project until the electricians have finished, but the plumbers have shown up early and the electricians are still working: now both parties are fighting over scheduling. Technically, the plumbers bungled the schedule, but you want to maintain a good relationship with them, so you give the electricians the day off and let the plumbers proceed. This way, the work still gets done, and you’ve kept your plumbers happy. In implementing the accommodating style, you’ve avoided major conflict and peacefully dealt with the issue at hand.
The competing style of conflict resolution is generally implemented with one individual’s interests and motives in mind, and it doesn’t strongly consider other opinions or perspectives in the process. It can be an effective conflict resolution strategy when decisions need to be made quickly and without debate, or when there is need for an authoritative response. It isn’t a particularly collaborative management style and, if used too often, could potentially harm working relationships with its singular and definitive nature.
Example of the competing style
Imagine one crew member on a large construction site is continually ignoring safety protocol and working irresponsibly. The manager reprimands him and immediately dismisses him. The competing style is used effectively here because it called for an authoritative response to an unsafe, potentially life-threatening situation. A decision was reached quickly and effectively, for the benefit and wellbeing of the project as a whole.
The compromising style of conflict resolution occurs when both parties are willing to adjust their positions and reach a mutually agreed-upon solution. This is an effective conflict resolution strategy if there are several parties involved in a disagreement and a solution needs to be found in order to proceed with the work at hand.
The compromising style is useful to implement when the opposing parties’ arguments have equal merit, when the project will benefit from both parties sacrificing some of their demands, and when maintaining these relationships is a higher priority than the disagreement itself. It is not appropriate to use if matters of legality or industry compliance are involved and concessions cannot be made, or if compromising would cause a widespread sense of discontent in which no one’s needs are met.
Example of compromising style
Let’s say a construction project you’re working on has fallen behind schedule. You want to ask the client for a two-week extension, while your partner wants to ask the crew to work longer hours, five days a week. You agree to request a one-week extension and ask the crew to work longer hours, three days a week. Both of you have compromised, and you quickly move past the conflict.
The collaborating conflict management style is a largely cooperative management style in which you explore solutions that factor in each parties’ needs and concerns. It involves clear, thorough communication, active listening and patience to try to achieve a win-win result. It can take more time than other conflict management styles, but if implemented successfully, it can result in a positive outcome for all team members. It is best used when you’re new to a job and looking to build trusting relationships, or when your main priority is fostering a collaborative environment above all else. It is not best used if time is of the essence, or if finding a solution that satisfies everyone seems increasingly unrealistic.
Example of collaborative style
Let’s say you’re a contractor working with two teams. One team expresses their frustration that the other team gets to work with better tools; you hear from both sides, identify who needs which tools to work successfully, and reallocate the tools accordingly so everyone is satisfied and can continue working productively.
The avoiding style of conflict resolution doesn’t deal directly with the issue at hand and withdraws from any kind of decision-making process or interaction with the disagreeing party. It’s not collaborative or cooperative in nature, doesn’t necessarily solve the conflict, and may lead to disrupted relationships with team members. Sometimes it might be necessary to implement the avoiding style if you need time to formulate a response to a conflict, if the conflict isn’t a priority, or if you don’t care about maintaining the relationship.
Example of avoiding style
Imagine you’re working on a construction project and discover that the steel plate specifications on the plans need to be adjusted. You make the necessary adjustments, but when the plate order arrives from the vendor, they aren’t the correct plates with the updated changes. Now, work can’t be done without the correct plates, and you respond that you did your part, and the vendor is at fault. This approach avoids reaching a solution, but it’s possible that by leaving it in the vendor’s hands, they will take responsibility and resolve their error.
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