Hiring a Contractor: Communication and Conflict Resolution

Keeping open communication is the best way to experience a successful project. never assume that the other person knows what you are thinking or how you want something done. Spell it out in writing. In a communication vacuum, errors are sure to happen.

If it appears that the contractor is not performing adequately, address the issue in a non-confrontational way by explaining your concerns and requesting information. Give the contractor a chance to clarify the issue and, if necessary, rectify the problem. When that is done, express your gratification.

Misunderstandings that are unaddressed can lead to suspicion which may create a tense and less productive working environment. Calmly discussing issues, however, will often bring quick resolution—or a realization that a problem doesn’t actually exist.

Five-Step Problem Solving

Here are five steps you and your contractor can take for problem resolution:

Define the problem – This may be more complex than imagined because of overlapping issues. If a project is not proceeding on schedule, for example, where does the problem really lie: with change orders, weather, conflictions with other projects, money, personnel problems? By discussing all of the possibilities, you can then narrow down the real source of the problem.

Summarize all causes and prioritize the root causes – Don’t try to solve the problem immediately, because you may be overlooking deeper issues. Write down all possible causes and then determine which are the most urgent for you.

Identify all solutions and prioritize them –  Brainstorming is an excellent way to find solutions. Talk openly with everyone directly involved in the dispute and encourage their feedback. Give as much time to listening as you do to talking.

Analyze the potential solution – Once you have identified and prioritized several problems, and done the same with solutions, you can narrow down the entire issue. Now your problem is becoming focused and as such manageable. Is this a problem that affects the cost or the schedule? Is it about cleaning up?

Select the best solution and act on it – Confirm that the agreement is acceptable to all sides, write it down, and note who will do what and by when. Be specific.

In undertaking problem resolution, follow these guidelines:

  • Do not criticize each another.
  • Only one person speaks at a time while the other listens.
  • Allow freewheeling discussion.
  • Encourage a variety ideas.
  • Identify ideas that point toward solutions.
  • Always seek mutual encouragement and understanding.

Consider Mediation

If a resolution cannot be reached, seek a mediator. If you feel the project should not proceed any further, discuss with the contractor how it might be closed and what payments or refunds remain outstanding.

When all else fails and if the amount involved is less than $5,000, consider a small claims court. If you must hire a lawyer to sue, however, recognize that even if you win, it might cost you more than the project itself. This is why good communication and conflict resolution is crucial to a successful project.