Due to the large amount of
literature there are a lot of different definitions of a conflict, which is
also due to the different perspectives on conflicts. The word conflict is
derived from the Latin word conflictus,
which means clash (Mele, 2011).
Therefore a conflict is, according to Mele (2011),
“a clash between divergent perspectives, interests,
objectives, or behaviors” (p. 1378). There are definitions that focus more on
conflicts on the operations of the project and other focus on the issue of
perception. Operational conflicts focus on the disagreement about the execution
or interpretation of tasks and obstructing each other in the tasks that need to
be done (Jaffar et al., 2011). Levi (2001)
focuses on the perception issue and uses the following definition: “Conflict is
the process by which people or groups perceive that others have taken some
action that has a negative effect on their interest” (p. 116).
Wall and Callister (1995)
define conflicts as “a process in which one party perceives that its interests
are being opposed or negatively affected by another party” (p. 517).
A difference between the
operational definitions and definitions on perception, is the amount of people
‘involved’ in the conflict. To disagree about a task, the operational
definition, multiple parties are involved. If someone perceives their interests
are not taken into account, the definition on perception, only one party or
person has to be involved. If one person or party perceives that the other
party is opposing their interests, it can lead to irrational behavior of that
party. In a Best Value project this can change the dynamics of the new type of relation
between client and contractor. This can have a big impact on the collaboration,
performance and can trigger more conflicts. This definition of conflict should therefore
be used in this research.
3.2 Conflicts in the construction sector
The unhealthy attitude mentioned in the introduction, can
often be traced back to the fact that the core interests of the client and the
contractor differ. The client wants to minimize their costs and the contractor
wants to maximize their profits (Cheung, Yiu, & Yeung, 2006; Nicholas & Steyn, 2017). Both parties want good quality, because for the client it
is best to have the best product and the contractor wants to have a good
reputation. For years and years, contractors were selected on their lowest bid.
This resulted in a situation where low quality was delivered and every little
piece of additional work was claimed. This creates a lose-lose situation for
both parties. Best Value wants to create a win-win situation for all parties.
Contractors are not selected on lowest price, but on quality, which creates a
healthier starting point for the client and contractor. However, years of bad
experiences are not just solved by using a different method. Clients still find
it very difficult to let go, which is understandable.
When the core interests differ between the parties, it
is often expected that the party with the power, the agent, will act in the
interest of their organization and not always in the interest of the principal.
This is called the moral hazard problem. During the project, the agent will
know more about the problems and progress of the project and therefore the
principal cannot be sure about whether or not the right decision is made. This
problem is called the adverse selection problem. Both parties want to resolve
these trust issues with iron-clad contracts that specify as much as possible at
the start of a project (Müller & Turner, 2005). However, it is not possible, or desirable, to specify every
detail of the project before the start, because it is impossible to indicate
them in verifiable terms or the transactions costs will become to high (Kadefors, 2004). Contracts cannot and should not be the base for trust in
projects, because it does not lead to an efficient collaboration (Pinto, Slevin, & English, 2009). In Best Value the
contract does not play a big role, since all the activities, risks and
responsibilities are thoroughly discussed in the clarification phase. These
agreements form the base of the contract (van de Rijt & Santema, 2013).
Trust in a contract based relation important creates a
strong and positive atmosphere, and a situation where both parties dare to be
transparent, because they do not fear opportunism. Inter-organizational trust is
also a critical factor for success, because it helps in the project development.
Building trust in projects is difficult, because of the temporary nature and
limited time to build the trust. People are selected on their availability or
expertise, which can make it difficult to steer on a natural forming of trust
between all the people involved (Pinto et al., 2009).
3.3 Conflict types
3.3.1 Task, behavioral and process-related
Conflicts can be triggered by many root causes, such
as cultural differences, scope changes, economical difficulties, poor
communication, availability of information, lack of team spirit, differences in
values, differences in expectations, stress, power struggles etc. (Jaffar et al., 2011; Levi, 2001; Wall & Callister, 1995). The list of conflict causes is never-ending and therefore
researchers have tried to group it into more general conflict types. Jehn (1997) performed a qualitative research
with into the causes of conflicts to reach a categorization of three types of
conflicts, which are (1) tasks conflicts, (2) process conflicts and (3)
relationship conflicts. The research of Jaffar (2011) also merges the conflict
causes into three similar groups, which are (1) behavioral problems, (2)
contractual problems and (3) technical problems.
Technical or task conflicts are usually the most
common conflicts in construction projects due to the high amount of complex
tasks in the construction sector. During the project, experts are working to
clarify all the tasks, which can lead to conflicts about the way certain tasks
should be resolved (Jaffar et al., 2011). In traditional projects, the engineering decision-making
process is the responsibility of the client
A second conflict category is conflict due to
behavioral or relational problems.
The third conflict type of Jehn is process-related
conflicts, which includes conflicts about responsibilities and decision-making
processes, or about the how and who. The research of Jaffar calls this
contractual conflicts Mele (2011) separates the how and who
into two different types. Process conflicts are disagreements about how tasks
should continue, whereas role conflicts are disagreements about the level and
type of responsibility team member should get (Mele, 2011). Contract cannot and should
not entail every detail of the projects, because transaction costs will become
too high and it is not possible to know everything before the start of the
project. When conflicts arise, which are not exactly detailed in the contract,
the conflict is then usually about the interpretation of the contract throughout
the project (Jaffar et al., 2011). In traditional project standard contra
3.3.2 Individual and group conflicts
Besides categorizing the conflict types on what the
conflict is about, it can also be categorized who perceives the conflict.
Pieterman (1993) distinguishes individual or
group conflicts into four types: (1) intrapersonal conflicts is a conflict of
one person with him or herself, (2) interpersonal conflicts is a conflict
between two or more persons, (3) intragroup conflicts is a conflict within one
group and (4) the intergroup conflict is a conflict between two groups.
3.3.3 Positive and negative conflicts
In literature two different views on conflicts can be
found. The first view is that conflicts are bad by definition and should be
completely eliminated by taking enough preventive measures. Preventive conflict
management focuses on ensuring a harmonious working atmosphere by providing
healthy competition and being transparent in information (Pieterman, 1993). However, if there are no conflicts in a team, it can be a
sign of dominant leadership or an unhealthy decision-making process (Levi, 2001). The second view is less
drastic and also sees value in conflict. This view believes that conflict can
enhance creativity and development in a project. It should be noted that a
difference can be made between positive and negative conflicts, or sometimes in
literature it is referred to as healthy and unhealthy conflicts. These
different types of conflicts with different effects require a different
management approach. Whereas negative or unhealthy conflicts require being
resolved or prevented, positive or healthy conflicts should be properly managed
and sometimes even be encouraged (Leung, Ng, & Cheung, 2002; Levi, 2001).
Positive conflicts are mostly based on task-related
issues, where there is a difference of opinion or values between experts from
different fields (Levi, 2001). Values and opinions about
impacts and effects largely depend on personal training, expertise and previous
experiences. Different experts have valuable information to bring to the table
and as long as these differences are used to stimulate decision-making
processes about how to perform tasks, the effect should be positive (Leung et al., 2002). The main principle of Best Value is to make use of
expertise of the contractor to find the best solution for a project or task and
therefore should enhance positive task-related conflicts. Positive task-related
conflicts can be even more encouraged when the expertise of the client is also
used, because even though the client is not the expert in how it should be
delivered, they are the experts in the results they want and the goals they set
for the project. The Best Value Approach does not prevent the client using
their expertise in the project. However, in practice there are some
misunderstandings that prevent the expertise of the client to be used properly.
One of the misunderstandings is that Best Value will propose a ‘super-expert’ for
the client that will know it all and a second misunderstanding is that the
client does not have to do anything for the project (Witteveen & van de Rijt, 2013). However, the contractor is the expert in what they do and
know and will be transparent in what they do not know. It is the job of the
client and contractor together to achieve the goals of the project. An involved
client that wants to use their expertise and does not see Best Value as a ‘way
out’ could stimulate positive task-related conflicts, which will benefit the
quality of the outcome of the project.
Negative conflicts often come with a lot of emotion
and stress and cause the conflict to divert from the task. It can be very
damaging for communication, social relations and will continue to have an
effect in future conflicts (Levi, 2001).