Mastering the Art of Construction Dispute Resolution

Construction projects, big and small, are inherently complex undertakings involving numerous stakeholders. With so many moving parts, disagreements and disputes frequently crop up that can quickly escalate into costly conflicts if not managed properly. Mastering the art of construction dispute resolution is therefore critical for companies that want to avoid litigation, arbitration, and other alternatives that drain time and resources. This guide covers key strategies and best practices for effectively managing construction dispute resolution.

Prevention is Ideal

The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” certainly applies to construction disputes. The best way to handle disputes is to avoid them completely or mitigate risks early on. Some effective preventative measures include:

  • Carefully vetting contractors/subcontractors for reliability and capabilities
  • Ensuring contracts are comprehensive with clear requirements and quality standards
  • Maintaining frequent and transparent communication among all project stakeholders
  • Documenting everything thoroughly, including change orders and approvals
  • Conducting rigorous quality control and inspections before signing off

When issues do crop up, addressing them quickly before they escalate goes a long way. Having a protocol in place for dispute resolution also helps move things along constructively if prevention fails.

Conflict Resolution Tactics

If a construction dispute has already taken form, swiftly shifting gears into resolution mode is essential. Effective tactics to resolve construction disputes include:


  • Identify the core interests of both parties
  • Look for mutually beneficial solutions
  • Establish objective criteria to support arguments
  • Aim for incremental agreements through compromise


  • Call upon an impartial third-party mediator
  • The mediator helps facilitate interest-based negotiation
  • Parties have control over final resolution details
  • Less adversarial than litigation/arbitration


  • Utilizes one or more arbitrators (subject matter experts)
  • Binding resolution but less formal than litigation
  • Usually, there is no room for appeal


  • Multi-year court process with no guarantee
  • Outcomes determined by judges/juries
  • Can destroy business relationships
  • Last resort due to high costs

The order above represents an escalation towards increasingly adversarial (and expensive) processes. The sweet spot is reaching resolution at the earliest stage possible. However, complicated disputes may require arbitration or litigation, especially when large sums of money are at stake.

Establishing Dispute Resolution Framework

Rather than handling disputes in an ad-hoc fashion, formalizing plans and procedures upfront creates efficiency. Core elements to consider for a construction dispute resolution framework include:

  • Contractual dispute resolution clauses – Solidify process details/hierarchy in contracts
  • Internal escalation procedures – Route disputes to appropriate leadership channels
  • Selecting outside assistance – Line up mediators, arbitrators, and attorneys well in advance
  • Dispute Review Boards (DRBs) – A panel of experts monitors project progress and issues real-time guidance

For large-scale projects, having an overall dispute resolution board provides built-in guidance and support. They can assist with everything from inspection to documentation to strategic direction when issues emerge.

Getting Dispute Resolution Experience

Managing construction disputes effectively takes patience, emotional control, negotiation skills, industry/legal knowledge, and more. Gaining real-world experience should be a priority for any construction firm. Strategies include:

  • Learn from past disputes—document lessons learned
  • Have mentoring programs led by veterans
  • Engage training programs focused on dispute resolution
  • Shadow mediators/arbitrators occasionally

Ideally, junior staff have opportunities to learn alongside veteran colleagues during actual dispute proceedings. This allows them to absorb strategies deployed, mistakes to avoid, mindsets and behaviors that work best, and more.

Tracking Dispute Resolution Performance

Finally, leveraging data to enhance dispute resolution capabilities over time is hugely impactful. Relevant metrics to track include:

  • Dispute frequency, causes, and costs
  • Which projects attract the most disputes
  • Effectiveness stats per resolution type
  • Duration stats from trigger to close
  • Outside settlement costs
  • Impact on profitability targets

Analyzing such data helps identify chronic pain points, process improvements, training gaps, and more. Over time, the benchmarking power grows significantly. Companies can track rolling success rates, cost reductions, and faster settlement times as proof of operational maturity.

Learn More

  • Clearly define dispute resolution procedures in every client contract to align with process expectations. Outline specific mediation, arbitration, or litigation options.
  • Assemble dispute review boards early, comprising technical experts who monitor projects and provide swift guidance on emerging issues before they escalate.
  • Emphasize open communication across the contractor/subcontractor/client ecosystem. Nip potential disputes in the bud through ongoing coordination and transparency.
  • Thoroughly track and catalog dispute data, including causes, resolution methods attempted, costs incurred, and days lost. Identify systemic weaknesses.
  • Explore the core triggers of recurring disputes across projects formally to close the process gaps.
  • Negotiation should take precedence as the means of resolving disagreement more than to concentrate on the issue of who is in the right or wrong.
  • Conduct supplementary dispute resolution skills training, from negotiation techniques to relationship management strategies during stressful mediation.
  • Immerse less experienced staff in actual dispute proceedings as observers and understudies to speed up learning. Let them pick up applied methods of solving issues which are the privilege of veterans.


Coping with the reality that construction dispute resolution is a routine activity is part and parcel of firms in this sector. Yet, not all companies tackle the resolution process with the utmost efficiency. With prevention as the core, setting out complete plans, drawing from practices, and taking full use of performance data—construction leaders can keep promoting dispute resolution capabilities. All this, in the end, can lead to great savings and economic well-being. The ’success and time’ generate change from a source of problems into a source of competitive advantage in the process of dispute resolution.

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