How to manage your emotion during the construction process
By Bryan Kaplan
The role of project manager in residential renovations is one of the most challenging positions to be in with respect to client service. You are in people’s homes and managing a client’s largest single financial investment of their lives on their largest single asset. So yeah, it’s personal! Some things will go well, and some will not; the client may blame you and your company, but it will definitely be on you to make it right.
So, it’s understandable that they will be emotional, unsteady, and perhaps aggressive in their communications towards you. As the PM, your role is to keep the client within the goalposts of sanity as they manoeuvre this treacherous journey through their renovation.
We often find ourselves as their counsellor through the project as the stress on any relationship is immense, and at times you can end up in the middle. Not a great position to be in for sure. We also have the fun task of deciphering what action to take because one person in the couple says one thing, and the other says something else. And my personal favourite is when couples argue in front of you… awkward!
You can read all the books you want, but nothing can really prepare you for being in between a couple battling over grout colours!
There is a mindset we all need to think through when it comes to managing residential projects: the client experience. Each and every time you communicate, think about what the client’s perspective is. This shift in mindset produces different results in how we position information. Clients are only focused on their project so, despite the volume of chaos going on around you on all of your projects and business operations, always try to put yourself in the client’s shoes before you communicate with them.
One really great way to think about this is that as you roll up to their jobsite (in their eyes it’s their home), and before you get to the front door, drop all of your emotional baggage from the day and be the person you need to be for them.
Also, you never want to let your client see your busyness through your poor communication. Although they know you have other clients and projects, they want to feel like they are your only client and they are your priority.
Below are eight things you should do with your clients if you’re running a residential construction project. Follow these steps and you will very rarely find yourself in the red with a client. Even if you do, using these tactics is the way to handle it. There are naturally the one percent of clients out there that are never satisfied and sticking to these benchmarks is even more important with them in order to protect you and your company from exposure.
Always have a single point of contact for each client
When multiple people are involved in a project, it’s imperative that the project manager knows who they should speak to about decisions and issues. Fail at this and get ready for the “he said, she said” game!
No, not the iPhone kind. In this day and age of technology, we are tempted to use electronic communications over human interaction. Strive to meet with your clients as often as possible, and pick up the phone if you can’t meet in person. Email is a useful tool, but don’t rely on this so heavily. Tone, intonation, and intent are all very difficult to interpret over email and text messaging.
Actively listen first
The best communicators listen way more than they speak. Nobody cares if you’re the smartest person in the room. What’s worse is no one wants to be around people who feel the need to exercise their “smart” muscle consistently. It’s amazing what you will learn if you just shut your mouth. People will, at the end of their dialogue, say the most truthful thing if you let them talk themselves out. Try this at your next meeting: I guarantee you’ll be amazed what comes out of peoples mouths if you don’t try to fill the void.
Actively learn about your clients and shape your communications accordingly
How do they communicate? Ask them how much and what type of communication works for them. It sounds silly but, in my time, I’ve had all sorts of different clients, and a one-size fits all approach to communicating simply does not work.
Be proactive, not reactive
This one is much easier said than done but probably the one I’ve seen the greatest failure rate on in my career. The reason is it’s human nature for people to put in just enough to manage a project team. Instead, think of this as leading the project team. There is a huge difference between the two and playing defence all the time is exhausting and will not score you points with your clients.
Call to action
Not just a marketing term, this tip is so important in the communication stream. Use Gantt charts, tables and lists. to make it clear to your client what you need and when you need it. Don’t be afraid to bombard people with a series of deadlines, and don’t be afraid to hold their toes to the flame if they miss a deadline.
Early and often
Probably the second leading failure I’ve seen over the years is when PMs don’t approach issues – whether they are financial, scheduling, or others – as early as they know about them. I’ve heard every excuse in the book from, “Oh, I just did a change order for X, so I wanted to wait a bit before issuing this one” to “I mentioned it in passing that we’ll be a bit delayed on their move in and told them I would follow up later.” Don’t delay. You think you are doing clients a service, but you are doing everyone the opposite!
Set realistic expectations
This is so important. It ranges from what times of day (and what days for that matter) you communicate, to what a client can expect throughout the process. Clients are all different and one thing they need you to explain to them is what this process will look like for them. Explain what they can expect and lay out the ground rules. Don’t leave any details out and never stop setting these! From scheduling to budgeting, setting proper expectations is one of the most important themes you need to carry with you from before the project starts until it is closed out.
Managing construction projects for residential clients is tough. They tend to feel powerless in the equation because it’s a language they don’t quite understand. And they are often spending hundreds of thousands of dollars that might not actually be theirs to begin with. So it can often feel like a runaway train to them.
Your role as the PM is to control the client’s emotions by including them in the process, taking time to explain the different phases and making sure they know what they can expect each step of the way. And remember to be the person you need to be for them at each step in their journey by wearing the client lens in all of your communications.
Follow these guidelines and you will succeed as a PM, plain and simple. Stay calm and project manage on!