How to Improve Contractor-to-Contractor Communications, Part 2 /01-29-2014

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Regardless of the construction specialty, all contractors have experienced coordination issues and challenges with other contractors. Most of the “opportunities” can be easily resolved with a bit of calm discussion about schedule, needs, customer needs etc.  Yet, many contractors continue to take less-than-the-best professional approach when needing to coordinate with other contractors. 

Last week we examined the four main “Contractor-to-Contractor Prohibitors” that can prevent contractor communications from being less than positive, proactive and professional. Just as a reminder those “prohibitors” are:

  • Work is behind schedule
  • Too much work scheduled in too little time span
  • Past negative experience (with another contractor)
  • Customers setting priority of completion

I also suggested readers look into their own experience and give some thought to instances where Contractor-to-Contractor communication could have been improved. Hope you did and if you have some insights to share I hope you’ll drop me a note.

Now let’s take a crack at how to improve your communication with other contractors.  You might find several of these eight suggestions very helpful to your current situations…and they might have even helped you in the past!

1. Document Your Crew’s Work Schedule

It’s amazing what a one- , two- , or even three-week “look ahead” can do to clarify direction, resource needs and coordinating needs.  Still, too many contractors fail to use a schedule that is documented on a consistent basis.  If you perform work that is often done in conjunction with other construction specialties you will save a lot of frustration, poor behavior and -- even worse -- poor productivity by creating a work schedule and sharing it with those whom you’ll be working before, with, or after.

2. Present Your Schedule First if Possible; Be Flexible

Recently I had a superintendent for a general contractor admit that he often gives a bit of preference to the specialty contractor who provides a thorough and clearly lined-out schedule for work completion.  The old saying “the early bird gets the worm” applies for many contractors who will be first to present their crew’s job schedule.  Even still, it is always important to be flexible. Don’t view a change to your own schedule as failure but work hard at collaborating with other contractors in order to gain better results.

3. Get to Know Other Contractors…Meet Them for Coffee

In the end, most contractors share many similar challenges and problems.  Hard-to-find labor, poor attitudes, mishandling of equipment, hard-to-please customers etc. all provide food for discussion whenever contractors “break bread” together.  Make the first move and contact other contractors with whom you might be working on a project and with whom you’ll need to gain cooperation.  Get around to addressing some of the scheduling needs you might have but start off getting to know the other contractor.  It’s amazing what might be shared, valued and accepted over an early morning coffee or a late afternoon adult beverage.

4. Ask the “Other” Contractor What His Needs Are for Project

A great principle presented in Steven Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is nicely stated:

“Seek First to Understand before Being Understood.”

This is a great principle for many communication situations but it’s especially pertinent to the contractor needing to communicate more effectively with another contractor.  Seeking to understand the needs of others first sends a terrific signal that you are not out for your own good first but very interested in the other individual.  Such an approach often nurtures a “win-win” feeling among contractors, giving other contractors confidence in the contractor doing the initial “seeking first.”

5. Prepare Some “Giveaways” to Other Contractors

I’m not speaking about giving other contractors your company hat or coffee mug.  No, I’m speaking more about giving away a bit of time here or time there, letting another contractor use your back-hoe in exchange for giving your crew earlier access, or even loaning a few of your workers in order to help the other contractor get cleaned up and out of your way.  You might not always be able or capable of providing such exchanges with another contractor but consider what you can share that might make the other contractor a bit more agreeable to meeting your needs.

6. Speak to Other Contractors about Future Projects

It is amazing how many contractors will almost follow each other from one job to another.  As you are moving through one project inquire of the other contractors who might have landed work on other jobs.  This opportunity might enable you to pre-plan some early efforts that will better leverage your crew power, perhaps share some equipment handling with another contractor, or get a jump on meeting with the future owner of a project alongside another contractor.  Customers want as much coordination and collaboration between contractors working on their project as you do – and as much as the other contractors need!

7. If Conflicts with Other Contractors Turn Negative…Seek Out the Senior Leader or Owner

Foremen from two or more construction companies fighting it out isn’t going to solve constructability or scheduling issues.  When things turn “south” on a project involving other contractors determine to first go to the owner or senior leader of the other contractors.  Leaving it for your field guys might not be the best alternative.  The language can get pretty rough fast and then it just goes downhill from there.  Better that you call upon the other contractor personally to deal with what might need to happen to correct a situation.  Certainly, you want to have all of your facts straight first, but make the call yourself.  This will give you a greater chance of resolution in the end.

8. When Communications Turn Negative, Remain Professional and Practical…and Patient

OK, a final suggestion from one of the least patient guys…ME!  I’ve got to admit, once I get going on something I hate to be slowed down or asked to take another route.  Sound like you?

This final effort must be clearly present with every contractor if they are to stand a chance at really improving communication with other contractors.  To be professional is not necessarily to be soft or easy to roll over.  You need to stand up for your company and for what is right on a project, but you will need to present your position in a calm and straightforward manner.  Professional contractors do not lower their behavior to act rude, cynical or reactive; instead they present their issue honestly, with practical thinking and focused on collaborative solutions.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for most contractors is the actual practice of patience.  We often can bite our lip when dealing with an owner but we can just as quickly lose our patience with other contractors.  Refuse to name call or use provocative language and you might increase your percentages greatly to get another contractor to also be professional, practical… and patient.

No doubt communicating with other contractors can be a trying experience. Remember, the construction industry has always been a “high testosterone environment” – owners of construction companies often have a double dose of the stuff!

When you communicate with other contractors remember to first seek to understand where the other contractor is coming from and what he is experiencing.  You might not always get all of what you want but you certainly will gain greater results by applying the suggestions presented in this article.

Keep on Communicating!

Brad Humphrey  

© 2014 Brad Humphrey, Pinnacle Development Group/The Contractor’s Best Friend™