To Prevent Legal Problems, Be a Great Communicator

Posted by Kevin Jeffery on Mar 18, 2015

I know a construction foreman who freely shares that contractors are not “411 kind of guys.”  Construction is much more about doing than about talking about doing.  The downside of this ethic is that lack of communication breeds disputes on jobs. 

Communication is absolutely essential to jobsite coordination, but more than that it is the key to maintaining strong relationships with customers.  Customers often go into relationships with contractors expecting the worst.  Good communication can overcome mistrust; bad communication affirms it.

What makes good communication with customers?  The number one rule is that all communication has to be completely honest.  If you tell the customer 99 things that are true, and one that is not, you will be thought 100% untrustworthy.  Being honest means admitting when you don’t have an answer to a question or a solution to a problem.  Saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out,” is much better received than making something up.  It also means not hiding or ignoring problems.  Too often, contractors “go silent” when they have a problem.  Their reasoning is, “I didn’t have any positive news, so I didn’t call you.”  Having been on the receiving end of that flawed logic, I can say that it is far better to communicate bad news than to leave the other person imagining something much worse is behind the silence.

The other key to effective communication, of course, is listening.  As author Steven Covey (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) recommends, seek first to understand, and then to be understood.  This is particularly important when dealing with customers who are not construction professionals.  Homeowners, for example, can feel intimidated dealing with contractors, because they may not understand the technical aspects of the work.  This can turn to frustration if the contractor is not listening to their concerns or is marginalizing their role in the project.  When you find yourself talking louder to get your point across, take the opportunity to listen instead.  It takes effort and patience to listen actively, but it is worth the trouble. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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