BOB BORSON, ARCHITECT
I was once told by my father-in-law that I would make a great contractor. Considering that he is a construction manager himself and has run projects as large as $730,000,000 (yes – that’s closing in on a billion), if he’s talking construction, I should probably be listening. Did he give me this accolade because of my insight into the construction process? Or maybe it was because my knowledge of materials and methods is superlative? What exactly was it about me that warranted him telling me that I would make a great contractor?
…… He said it was because I’m good at yelling at people.
Sadly, he has heard me on the phone before when tempers were elevated and frustrations running at maximum. In this particular case, I was talking to a credit agency about someone who had used my wife’s identity to get a credit card and I was having a difficult explaining the flawed logic I was hearing from the person on the other end of the line. But that was 10 years ago and is another story for a different day. The truth of the matter is that I don’t really like to yell at people anymore … for any reason. It just isn’t productive, doesn’t accomplish anything, and makes every step for the remainder of the project infinitely more difficult. Sometimes a contractor responds better to getting yelled at but it just isn’t for me.
So what happens when I get onto the job site and there’s a problem? I can tell you this … I don’t start yelling. Whenever there is a conflict – and I’ll define a conflict as something more than a disagreement, it’s a situation in which one or both parties perceives a threat (which means it is going to cost somebody some money.) There are some fairly straightforward measures you can take to resolve the situation.
Sometimes due to the culture of job sites and construction, the person who is upset simply wants to vent and pick a fight. This person cannot be reasoned with in this state of mind so don’t argue, just let event unfold before you respond.
Try to see things from the other persons perspective.
In an effort to build upon the positives, look for common ground and areas where both parties agree and start there. Putting yourself in the other person position will keep you from jumping to conclusions and entering into the situation with a closed mind.
Don’t add fuel to the fire.
Sometimes the language can get colorful and sometimes it gets personal. If things get to this point – take a break and excuse yourself. Never tell the angry party that they are wrong, irrational, belligerent, etc. and that you won’t talk to them until they calm down. It’s generally seen as insulting and diminishes the validity of their anger. You may not care if they have a right to be angry but in the attempt to get things moving forward, be the bigger person and remove yourself.
Let the other person do the talking (and let them finish).
On occasion, it’s simply a matter of giving that person a forum to be heard and feel important. There isn’t always a problem to solve, just a complaint to hear. So listen … it can be that direct and straightforward.
Own up if you're wrong.
If you take responsibility for your actions, let the other person know that you accept responsibility but now you need their help to make things better. Even if you don’t think you’re wrong, tell them that it’s possible that you are mistaken. You can ask them to review the situation and possible solutions with you – because in the end, you both really have the same goal – to get out of that situation with the least amount of damage.
There are a few other techniques I have found to be very effective in resolving conflicts. Many fall into the category of ‘Things I learned in Kindergarten’ but once you hit your professional life, those rules seem to get ignored.
Try to get to Yes.
In my office we go to great lengths not to burn anyone. The only time I won’t try and find a work around to a problem is when it is blatant and looks like a mistake. This isn’t about proving who is wrong or right. Since we tend to work with the same 50+ contractors and our projects tend to be desirable to build (and I hope own) I find that I rarely have the problem of assigning fault to a situation unless things get really messy. Contractors don’t bring up the little issues, they know what we want or what we need and they get it dealt with without coming to me. Since I know that sort of problem solving goes on, if and when something does come my way, I find a way to work with the contractor and situation.
Recognize and Respond.
Try and listen and find out what is important to the other person. Is it timing? Is it financial? What? Figure that out first and move forward from there.
Forgive and Forget.
Everyone has a bad day, look for patterns of behavior and deal with the items that fester. You can’t ignore the one-off incidents but the manner at which you address them can make the difference between a positive conflict resolution and creating a bigger problem.
It isn’t a dirty word. In my world, intent counts for something and mistakes, when they happen, are worked with and fixed, frequently at little to no additional costs.
Right here, right now.
Together and in that moment, work to come up with a list of solutions, good and bad. The basic premise of teamwork is easier to achieve when the team is actually working together.
Hopefully you don’t need any of these tips, or better yet, these tips are already built-in to the way you work with people. Either way, I’ve had a lot of success in my career by not yelling at people, even when I was right and in the position of power (when am I not in a position of power?). The only part I miss is all the zingers that I think of that have to stay put inside my head.
Bob Borson is an architect practising in Dallas, Texas, and writes a blog on what it's like to be and work with an architect. To find out more, visit Life of an Architect, catch up with Bob on Facebook, or follow Bob on twitter @bobborson