Dealing With Difficult People

From the Constructors Corner Archive:  Written by Weston DeHart

Every day, our business puts us in situations where we must deal with difficult people. It is easy to let emotions come into play when people act in an un professional way and create an adversarial atmosphere for the remainder of the business relationship. I believe the contracting business can easily set up this adversarial relationship because construction projects have so many unknown and unforeseeable problems that must be overcome in order to have a successful end product.

One of the reasons we have so many repeat clients is because of our reputation for being team players. From the very beginning of each project, we must make everyone involved aware that we are all part of the same team. Our goal is to provide the owner with a quality building, on time, and within budget. At the same time, we want the project to be profitable for each subcontractor, and be a pleasant place to work each day.

The easiest way to create a teamwork atmosphere is by good communication. It is easy to get in a habit of communicating too much by email and not enough in person or by phone. Get in a habit early in the project of communicating verbally with everyone on the team, owner, architect, and subcontractors. However, do always follow up on any decisions discussed by sending an email to confirm. Start the email with the phrase “Per our discussion today....”

Often times not everyone will want to be part of the team. These people will only see problems from their own perspective, often making small problems 

into big issues. When approaching team members like this, it is important to first take all of the emotion out of the situation. If a situation becomes emotional, have the foresight to realize that it might not be the best time to deal with the problem. Let the situation cool off and approach it with a better attitude when the time is right, after consulting several associates to determine if your stance is the correct one. Do not leave the problem unsolved, as this will just create worse communication problems down the road.

Good relationships are priceless for our business. Any chance you have to help a subcontractor make his work easier, take it. Especially if they are difficult to deal with. The effort will pay off when there is a time that you need a favor of them. However, do not deal in financial favors because they will cause conflict of their own.
Also, do not overlook the opportunity to help the architect or engineer. Always offer solutions, do not simply identify problems. The quickest way to get a bad relationship with an architect or engineer is to point fingers when a problem arises. If you do this, those fingers will no doubt point back to us when we make a mistake. In order to keep from doing this, focus on helping with a solution instead of dissecting who was the cause of the problem. With this in mind, make sure we do not take the blame for problems we did not create.