By Neal Flesner, MIPI

Many construction professionals I work with say that people skills are equally important, if not more important, than technical ability is for achieving professional success. We all come across challenging individuals with difficult personalities from time to time, and that’s when our people skills really make a difference.

The larger the project, the greater the likelihood that you will encounter an unruly personality who can adversely impact the schedule, cost and overall success of your project (not to mention the havoc they can wreak on your sanity and the sanity of others on your team). Since uncooperative people on any project not only pose a risk to the team dynamics, but also to the schedule and budget, it’s important to prepare for this challenge, and have a strategy in place to mitigate it. This is an essential subject the Ventura Consulting Group team addresses during the initial partnering sessions we facilitate.

I recently had the opportunity to share my insights on the topic of “Dealing with Difficult People” with more than 150 construction professionals at the American Public Works Association Nevada Chapter’s Fall Conference in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. As part of the session, we discussed situations that create conflict and personality clashes on construction projects, as well as different approaches for working with challenging individuals, beginning with the following three steps:

  1. Give the non-team player the benefit of the doubt and embrace their individuality.
  2. Engage in a calm and open discussion with the individual to gain a greater understanding of their perspective, as well as any underlying issues and reasons for not cooperating with the team.
  3. Explain to the person the importance of becoming a team player.

This open discourse helps to develop trust and understanding between the individual and others involved. It may even bring a fresh or new perspective to the agenda once we learn more about the dissenting individual’s reasons for not working together with the team.

When the above strategy is successful, we keep collaborating with these folks, communicating and garnering their support aimed at reaching the team’s objectives and goals. However, if this approach fails, we must elevate the issue to senior management and let them take control of the situation. Worst case scenario, the individual is removed from the team.

Taking this final step may seem like a drastic measure, but It’s important to note and impart to leadership that there is a significant cost to having these non-team players on your project. One study estimated that each personal conflict, no matter the severity can cost a job approximately $11,000 for each disagreement! Each of these conflicts also contributes to a loss of productivity of 161 hours!

In a nutshell, the key is to work swiftly and resolve the issue by getting the challenging individual on board or getting them off the team!

If you have any other suggestions for working with challenging individuals, please share them in the post comments’ box below.

A Master Partnering Facilitator with Ventura Consulting Group, Neal Flesner, MIPI, is a respected speaker and trusted advisor for construction project teams. He has facilitated partnering on many large-scale construction projects around the world, over the last 10 years.

The American Public Works Association exists to develop and support the people, agencies, and organizations that plan, build, maintain, and improve our communities. Working together, APWA and its membership contribute to a higher and sustainable quality of life. Learn more about the APWA here:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *