Many people would probably ask instead, “Where is the pain NOT in construction projects?” The field in general is brimming with acrimonious disputes of all sorts, many of which end up in costly, tormenting legal action of one form or another. Frequently, people hear the word “construction” and automatically think pain and ranchorous dispute.
Years ago I took two courses with marketing maven Mark Silver http://heartofbusiness.com Mark is a great guy and highly perceptive about the emotional side of relationships, and in the present discussion, working relationships.
One of our early assignments from Mark was to identify the pain of our actual and potential clients. This assignment was quite a revelation for me, yet not difficult to do. I knew well about the pain, both from people in construction and related fields, and from customers I heard stories from or read about. For the assignment, I focused on people in the industry, yet there is great overlap with the pain experienced by many customers.
Lack of clarity about the project, including the financial details
Lack of trust
Lack of a sense of emotional safety
Lack of discussion about the emotional side of the equation
Insufficient questions asked
Questionable reliability and integrity
These are some of the crucial emotionally-connected factors that are paid way too little attention. Some people in the industry might think this is “fluffy stuff” that has no place in construction. “Show me the plans, ma’am, and let me work. We don’t need to talk much more.” This may be an exaggeration in some ways, and also not. The tongue in cheek statement may be, “We don’t do no stinkin’ talking.” Again, this is an exaggeration, and also not. The truth is, there are plenty of construction professionals who have high emotional intelligence, excellent communication skills, and excellent construction skills.
Nevertheless, so many construction relationships start deteriorating over exactly the factors listed above. There is also a great deal of poor workmanship, corners cut and deliberate misrepresentation, and yet even highly skilled, well-meaning construction professionals get into trouble with the points above. I have known guys who were skilled, conscientious and honest, and their skill and honesty did not save them from painful dispute. I had one real craftsman friend who actually took out a loan to give thousands of dollars back to a customer, when he had, in fact, done nothing wrong at all. The designer involved had wanted his own builder on the project rather than my friend, and he sabotaged my friend.
The designer complained bitterly to the clients about my friend and fed them lies. I knew about this situation and the wonderful job my friend was doing on the project. My friend and his wife had actually been friends with the clients. Needless to say, the friendship was ruined, and my friend had to work at other projects to pay back the loan. I talked with his wife about this miserable scenario, and she said that her husband simply hated conflict and would rather take out the loan than defend himself. Interestingly, he soon landed some very lucrative work and paid back the loan quickly.
Construction disputes of all sorts lend themselves very well to mediation. I have seen both construction professionals and their customers walk away happy and relieved after a mediated end to a dispute. Frequently, settlement is much more rapid than legal proceedings and way less costly. Plus, importantly, the parties get to be the principle contributors to the resolution.
A skilled mediator is aware of the emotional fire, often blinding to some degree, that typically comes along with dispute. This fire needs to be attended to and respected. With a supportive atmosphere that allows for the hearts of the people involved to be heard and acknowledged, magic often occurs. The possibility for forgiveness and unique resolution can arise.
A friend told me a story last night that I would like to include to close this article. I knew some of the players involved in the story. A legal land purchase was executed in India between the chairman of the trust of a large spiritual retreat area and a local landowner. All was signed and done when after the fact the landowner decided he had been cheated. He showed up at the retreat the next day with a policeman. The man argued loudly with the chairman of the trust, an old disciple of the Master who had originally established the center.
Another old disciple showed up and just listened silently for some moments. Then he turned to the landowner and said, “Wouldn’t you like to come inside and get out of the sun and have a cup of tea?” Bear in mind that the disciple who offered the tea was a tough guy. His simple gesture of kindness totally disarmed the landowner. They had their tea, the landowner calmed down, and all was forgotten.
I include this story to point out that good mediation puts focus on the humanity, just as the old disciple wisely did. And magic did happen.