flexiblefullpage -
billboard - default
interstitial1 - interstitial
Currently Reading

5 ways to handle conflict during construction


5 ways to handle conflict during construction

Rider Levett Bucknall's John Jozwick has five ways to curb disputes and prevent the situation from escalating to litigation.

By John Jozwick | January 13, 2016
5 ways to handle conflict during construction

Courtesy Pixabay

Claims, disputes, arbitration, litigation: these are dreaded procedural pitfalls that often dog construction projects large and small. Not only are they time-consuming to work through, but they’re costly, too: The National Research Council estimates that $4B to $11B is spent annually in resolving these cases in the U.S. market.

At the North American office of Rider Levett Bucknall, the approach we take to avoid or minimize the number of conflicts that end up in post-project arbitration or litigation dispute often centers on using Project Neutrals or independent Dispute Review Boards (DRB).

These individuals are trained, neutral advisors who focus solely on the project, not on any one party’s position. Part psychiatrist, part negotiator, DRBs and Project Neutrals understand, manage, and resolve conflicts caused by normal construction processes in order to avoid disputes. They work with owners, architects, contractors, and consultants to transition the industry-collective mindset from conflict to conflict resolution, and ultimately to dispute avoidance.

Here are five core practices that Project Neutrals and DRBs utilize to keep the peace, while keeping a project on-track.

1. Develop trusting relationships with each stakeholder. When trust levels are high, people tend to be less defensive and are more willing to share information to help find a mutually acceptable solution to a problem. If parties mistrust one another, they often act defensively, focusing solely on their own needs and interests. Creating a working relationship that is trust-based makes conflict management and resolution easier.

2. Play an active, integrated role in the overall project team. If you want to be prepared to handle conflicts, it’s important not to sit passively on the sidelines during the design and construction process. Connecting regularly—through meetings, emails, and phone calls—with key players from the start of a project can establish you as a familiar, concerned, and impartial presence, rather than a biased opportunist or outlier.

3. Communicate clearly. The sheer quantity of documentation and communication generated by construction projects can be massive; the quality of those documents, in terms of clarity and meaning, can be ambiguous, inflammatory, or even overwhelming. Using simple and considerate language can avoid small misunderstandings—and keep them from escalating into major conflicts.

4. Treat all parties equally and fairly. If you demonstrate competence, honesty, and respect for the project and all its stakeholders, people will be confident in your ability to protect their interests and provide fair advice, recommendations, and guidance. This empowers each party to be open to conflict resolution, secure in the knowledge that, if necessary, you can be relied upon to provide sincere and balanced feedback.

5. Serve as a resource to help stakeholders explore mutually acceptable solutions.It’s not easy to challenge the traditionally adversarial culture of the construction industry. If you present people with reasonable and effective options to the expensive, ingrained blame game that pervades the business, you’ll earn the esteem of your professional colleagues and be recognized as a leader in the field.

Employed regularly, these fundamental dispute-avoidance techniques can bring a new harmony to construction projects, resulting in streamlined schedules and enhanced bottom lines.

About the Author: John T. Jozwick, Esq., is Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Rider Levett Bucknall North America. With more than 35 years in the industry, Jozwick provides advisory services to owners, contractors, subcontractors, design professionals, sureties, and attorneys relating to construction projects and disputes. He serves clients as an expert witness, provides alternative dispute resolution services as Arbitrator or Mediator, and provides construction dispute avoidance services as a Dispute Review Board member, Project Neutral, or Independent Certifier.

Related Stories

Market Data | Jul 1, 2022

Nonresidential construction spending slightly dips in May, says ABC

National nonresidential construction spending was down by 0.6% in May, according to an Associated Builders and Contractors analysis of data published today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Building Team | Jul 1, 2022

How to apply WELL for better design outcomes

The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) cites attracting top talent, increasing productivity, and improving environmental, social or governance (ESG) performance as key outcomes of leveraging tools like their WELL Building Standard to develop healthier environments.

Building Team | Jul 1, 2022

Less portable potty, more movable restroom

Some contractors are packing up their portable potties and instead using the H3 Wellness Hub.

Market Data | Jun 30, 2022

Yardi Matrix releases new national rent growth forecast

Rents in most American cities continue to rise slightly each month, but are not duplicating the rapid escalation rates exhibited in 2021.

Headquarters | Jun 30, 2022

Lenovo to build its new global headquarters in Beijing

Washington, D.C.-based architecture and design firm CallisonRTKL has announced it will create the new global headquarters in Beijing for Lenovo Group, a Chinese multinational personal technology company.

Mass Timber | Jun 29, 2022

Mass timber competition: building to net-zero winning proposals

The 2022 Mass Timber Competition: Building to Net-Zero is a design competition to expand the use of mass timber in the United States by demonstrating its versatility across building types and its ability to reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment.

Laboratories | Jun 29, 2022

The "collaboratory" brings digital innovation to the classroom

The Collaboratory—a mix of collaboration and laboratory—is a networking center being designed at the University of Denver’s College of Business.

Airports | Jun 29, 2022

BIG and HOK’s winning design for Zurich airport’s new terminal

Two years ago, Zurich Airport, which opened in the 1950s, launched an international design competition to replace the aging Dock A—the airport’s largest dock.

Laboratories | Jun 28, 2022

The California Science Center breaks grounds on its Air and Space Center

The California Science Center—a hands-on science center in Los Angeles—recently broke ground on its Samuel Oschin Air and Space Center.

Contractors | Jun 27, 2022

Reverse mentorship: A model for the future of the construction workforce

Reverse mentorship can help seasoned professionals develop new skills, stay connected with younger generations, and gain future-forward insights for life and business.

boombox1 - default
boombox2 -
native1 -

More In Category

Building Team

How to apply WELL for better design outcomes

The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) cites attracting top talent, increasing productivity, and improving environmental, social or governance (ESG) performance as key outcomes of leveraging tools like their WELL Building Standard to develop healthier environments.

halfpage1 -

Most Popular Content

  1. 2021 Giants 400 Report
  2. Top 150 Architecture Firms for 2019
  3. 13 projects that represent the future of affordable housing
  4. Sagrada Familia completion date pushed back due to coronavirus
  5. Top 160 Architecture Firms 2021


Magazine Subscription

Get our Newsletters

Each day, our editors assemble the latest breaking industry news, hottest trends, and most relevant research, delivered to your inbox.


Follow BD+C: