No matter how hard we try, the world will never be able to automate residential remodeling and construction. This industry will always need people. People to install the carpets, people to climb the ladders and strip the roofs and people to dig the ditches. (Nobody has yet to invent a mechanical spade shovel) This is a great thing because there will always be jobs for those who want them. Our houses will always need people to fix them and keep them working. But, like every coin this also has 2 sides. Yes people will always be needed for any successful repair, remodeling or building project and therein also lies the problem.
There’s no way to get around the fact that all of these projects and jobs require human hands. And with that comes all the bodies that are connected to those human hands that are connected to all of their human problems, dramas, idiosyncrasies and humanness!
My life as a General Contractor is one endless dance with dozens if not hundreds of different people. Customers, employees, vendors, inspectors, sub contractors to name a few. Sometimes the dance is well choreographed and smooth, other times its an all out Charlie Foxtrot. This 24 /7 Soul Train is made more complicated by the fact that I’m not really a social person. I’d rather rake leaves than go mix and mingle with strangers at a cocktail party. Nevertheless, I still need to deal with people and I’ve developed a few strategies in working with all kinds of different personalities over the years.
1. Dont take it personally-it isnt you . This is one of the hardest things to do, but if you can believe it, then it will eliminate at least half of your stress related to your relationships with others and allow you to not get so bogged down every time someone does something to you that you affects you or your project in a negative way. We forget that everyone else is marching to their own beat and answer to a completely different smorgasbord of masters and demons than we do. My priorities are not their priorities, my values are not theirs and so forth and so forth so don’t let their personal demons posses you and ruin your day.
I had the opportunity to practice this today in fact. I had a sub contractor flip out at me because he expected a progress check and when he came by the office nobody was there. He called me and blew a gasket. I calmly told him it was an honest mistake as I thought my office manager had told him his check would be ready the following week. Now my usual response would have been to flip out back at him and explain that we need at least 7 days to process and invoice and that we prefer to mail them out to avoid this exact scenario. However, I realized that this check is probably a big deal for him and his freak out has probably nothing to do with me. Sure enough, once I explained that I was willing to drive down to the office from where I was to write him a check, he apologized and said he was dealing with a lot of crap and he could wait.
2. They want more than money or your services No matter how old they are or successful they might appear, everyone wants to feel appreciated and respected.
Your sub contractors and employees need to hear
- Great job
- You’re an artist
- Thank you for all your hard work
- How do you do it?
Your vendors, professionals and sales people need to hear
- You’re the best
- Thank you for the great service
- I’m going to tell all my friends to call you
- I’d be lost without you
Your customers need to hear
- I’ll take care of that for you
- I’m sorry
- We won’t leave until it’s finished
- I value you as a customer
3. Communicate – If you don’t talk to them, then that little demon in their head will. And if he is doing all the talking, most likely he is saying the wrong thing. Our people need constant and consistent communication. They need to know that they are important and that we have not forgotten about them. Even when the job goes dormant for a while or if you don’t really have anything to say, just reach out to them and let them know that you are there and you are thinking about them. This rule applies to not only our customers but also our subs. They need a constant reminder that we are right there and ready for them at any notice.
So next time one of your carpenters takes a leak in a trench, in the basement on one of your jobs, just remember, (Gulp) he’s only human.
Nathan Dishington has been a General Contractor in the greater Boston area since 2002. He shares his experience, advice and anecdotes from the wild world of residential remodeling to TRY and help bring some sanity for both contractors and homeowners alike.