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Avoiding the Blame Game with Other Trades

The last thing we want to happen on a walkthrough of a jobsite with a client and other tradespeople is for there to be a disagreement between the trades over how to solve a problem, or who is doing what.

The last thing we want to happen on a walkthrough of a jobsite with a client and other tradespeople is for there to be a disagreement between the trades over how to solve a problem, or who is doing what. The best thing to do is try to diffuse the situation and defer the conversation until you can talk one on one with the other person.

Clients just want things to happen, and be done correctly. They don’t want to have to referee arguments between trades, and they almost certainly don’t want to pay any more for work to get done. But no one wants to do more than he or she expected to, either—it is likely going to cost someone money (or at least time). We need the other trades to make the current job go smoothly, and also as referral partners for the future, so we have a vested interest in making this work. You can’t let your emotions get the better of you; you have to keep your cool and kill them with kindness.

For example, who is running the coax? We are the low-voltage integrators, so usually we are; but often it is already in the GC’s contract before we even do our proposal. We’re OK with that; we just let the client know that if we have to come onsite to ensure the wiring goes to the right place or the contractor needs advice or information that we will have to charge for that time. But when we are on the walkthrough and the walls are about to go up, and the coax hasn’t yet been run, and the contractor turns to you and says, “You’re the low-voltage people, how come you didn’t run all of the low-voltage wire?” it is very tempting to call out the contractor in front of the client and inform him or her that you were told it was in the contractor’s contract to take care of it.

Instead, I try to diffuse the situation, and suggest taking the discussion offline after the meeting so we can sort it out. Once I get the contractor aside, I explain that I was informed the wiring was in his contract and was his responsibility, but if it needs to be done ASAP, I can get a box of coax out of the truck, and if he can loan me a guy, we can run it right then and there. I will usually bill him a lower rate than typical, but everyone is happy, and the client is none the wiser that something was amiss. I’ve hopefully solidified my relationship with the contractor and made it smoother for the rest of the project.

This happens all the time, but it doesn’t always end up with everyone singing “Kumbaya” at the end. That is why you need to cover your ass as well. Every time I leave a meeting, one of the first things I do when I get back to the office is write up the meeting notes. I include the topic, the date, who attended, action items (the things people need to do), and general notes (decisions we made, key things we talked about, key dates, etc). This gets turned into a PDF and distributed to everyone who was at the meeting or walkthrough. That way no one can come back weeks or months or later and start a “he said, she said” argument.

It may be a bit of work (it can take 30–45 minutes to type up the notes), but it has saved me many times from being blamed for something that was someone else’s responsibility. And it makes you look like the consummate professional that you are; it builds a lot of credibility with the client when you are buttoned up and organized.

These meeting notes are the same things that your clients are used to getting at the end of meetings in their corporate jobs, so they appreciate it when someone in their personal life follows the same protocol—especially when it is unexpected.

I have gotten many comments from clients who appreciated my meeting notes, and I have even seen project managers and architects start doing it on jobs after I’ve done it a few times. It’s a great tool and keeps everyone on the same page and working toward the common goal: a successful and profitable project with a happy client.

+Todd Anthony Puma is president of The Source Home Theater Installation in New York City.