The construction industry is apparently one of the major sectors of Hong Kong construction economy, and as Kenneth and Sai (2006) noted, buildings, the result of construction industry’s activities, are part of the built environment in which several human activities occur.
As a result of the heavy reliance on team work and collaboration, construction activities are often prone to conflict, although it is apparent that this could also be obtainable in other organizational settings. Infact, these authors opine that the traditional construction contracting methods in several countries creates adversarial tendencies in the project team, which tend to foster conflict and thus conflicting behaviors in construction activities.
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It is a known fact that one of the primary indicators of construction success is the timely completion and delivery of the project. However, for any construction project to be completed and delivered as scheduled, a cooperative working environment is vital.
In this light, Harmon (2003) suggested that the characteristic adversarial relationship and lack of a cooperative environment of construction organizational settings constitute one of the major factors that affect timely completion of construction projects.
Because of the apparent importance of conflict management in construction, as well as in some other organizational settings, several scholarly works exist on conflict, conflict behaviors and conflict management. The term conflict has been severally defined, from different perspectives, even within construction literatures, as a result, several different understandings of conflict behaviors, and by extension conflict management styles, have been proffered.
Kenneth and Sai (2006) argued, however, that the numerous construction literatures on conflict have essentially focused on conflict causes, prevention and management within a contractual and/or legal context. They suggested that equal importance should be accorded the human factors involved in conflicts, since according to them, conflicts is ‘stemmed and handled’ by the people involved, thus the role played by human factors, especially behavior, should be considered an integral part of conflict management.
It is this call that this paper intends to heed. This paper intends to look at construction conflict from the behavioral perspectives using Rene Thom's Catastrophe Theory. It has been suggested that continuous changes in human behaviors often display a discontinuous lapse.
In this light, it has been argued that the catastrophe theory provides a ‘grounded approach for modeling conflict behavior in construction’ (Kenneth and Sai, 2006 p.439). This paper emphasizes the human factor in conflict by examining behaviors in response to conflict, known as conflict behavior; it then attempts to use a model of the catastrophe theory to explain construction conflict behaviors.
Conflict is a natural outcome of the interrelationships between individuals and groups. As a result, it is a very common and general phenomenon that can hardly be conceptualized in a simple definition. The interaction between individuals and groups brings to the fore, individual differences in goals, objectives or perspectives.
The tension created by these differences, when identified by the parties involved is usually the cause of conflict. Several authors have offered different definitions or concepts of what constitute conflicts (Allred, 2000), however, there is hardly any definition that completely subsumes the entirety of conflicts from both the individual or organizational context.
For example, Rahim et al (2000) positing that conflict is borne out of human interactions explain that conflicts begins when one individual ‘perceives that his/her goals, attitudes, values or beliefs’ are not compatible with that of the other’s (Rahim et al., 2000 p. 9). Here conflict is defined from the context of individual relations.
Examining conflict from an organization context, Roloff (1987) argue that conflict begins when members of a team/organization engage in activities that are considered incompatible with those of colleagues within “their network, members of other collectivities, or unaffiliated individuals who utilize the services or products of the organization" (Roloff, 1987 p.496 quoted in Rahim, 2002).
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