Beyond the Build

Customer Relationships

In Construction, Take Disputes Out of the Boxing Ring and Into the Boardroom

This morning we resolved a disagreement involving a large piling and timber wall we constructed in Ohio. How? We finally got everyone together in one room and we talked.

It got me thinking about how we used to resolve disputes. It was similar to a boxing match, when the two sides would spar for a while and then take a break and retreat to separate corners. They stand and punch until one emerges victorious and the other is defeated, usually causing considerable damage to both athletes. When there are breaks in the fighting, the two combatants will speak to their own coach, but not to each other.

Too often, construction or real estate disputes resemble what I just described in the ring. Instead of trying to communicate with each other to reach a mutual resolution, both sides remain in their own corners and let their lawyers do the talking—and punching. It seems the only way to resolve the dispute is to fight it out, at considerable expense to both parties.

In years gone by that was our general reaction as well. A dispute would arise and we’d pick up the phone and call our lawyer. At the end of the year I’d find that we had spent a substantial amount of money, and often not be much further along toward settlement.

Time has taught us to recognize there are two sides to every story, and nobody is ever totally right or totally wrong.

We push for a resolution and try to solve things quickly and amicably. As a result, over the past eight or nine years, we have spent very little on legal expenses to resolve disputes.

When you have been in business as long as we have, it’s inevitable you will have an occasional dispute. But disagreements can still have agreeable solutions. It doesn’t have to be a winner-take-all outcome. We try to communicate and resolve our disputes at the lowest level possible. That way, expensive litigation is avoided, and both sides can win.

How do you resolve your disputes? By communicating or paying the lawyer?


Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.