constructionA Michigan State University researcher has quantified something rarely measured in studies about productivity in the construction industry: the cost of arguments.

MSU’s Dr. Julie Brockman’s analysis of 41 episodes of “interpersonal conflict” that occurred on construction job sites determined that they averaged about $11,000 in terms of value of the time spent (or wasted) on disputes.

“These are not generally the labor conflicts or jurisdictional disputes we hear about so much,” notes the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR), which funded the study. “Mostly they are just arguments arising out of crowded workspaces, poorly written job specs, or differences over the best way to approach a task.”

Arguments can escalate

Brockman's analysis of this often overlooked economic cost found that arguments between two people can start small and escalate, creating delays not just for the parties involved but for other members of the project team as well.

What can be done to reduce or even avoid such arguments – and the costs they incur?

What causes conflicts?

"Educational opportunities offered at all levels of construction personnel, beginning in apprenticeship programs, would build awareness and skill in managing conflict once it has been triggered," Brockman suggests. "The awareness that conflict is primarily triggered by organizational decisions and/or industry practices would direct people's attention away from the person as the 'root cause' of interpersonal conflict.

“By providing contractors and skilled trades leaders with information on the nature of interpersonal conflict on the jobsite, they can act to address conflict in its beginning stages, and use effective tools to resolve problems early or prevent them altogether."

The Cost of Interpersonal Conflict in Construction can be found in full on CPWR's website.