Communication at the Job Site – Giving Up “Because I Told You So”

Communication at the job site is very often a challenge. From communication between the construction crew in the field and the main office to communication from primary leadership to superintendent to the field crew, there are many opportunities for missteps, miscommunication, and upsets. Yet the key to complete success with every job, whether big or small, is full and complete communication everywhere and at all times!Communication breakdowns lead to poor efficiencies, poor morale, or worse yet poor general outcome of the job! All of which have the potential to affect your personal bottom line. So, if poor communication between team members has the ability to negatively affect the profitability of our construction companies, why do we make communication on the job site so hard?Communication is difficult simply because we are human beings. We have lives outside of the work we do, and separating our lives, our feelings, and the people we are from the work we do simply is not doable. Meaning, that on the job site not only are we dealing with the job we do, the people we work with, and those things we are accountable for, but we are also carrying around circumstances and issues from our lives outside of the work we do. (Examples: family, health issues, bills to pay, homes to maintain, thoughts/feelings, and on and on and on!) Our communications have to filter through all of the “non-work” things on our minds in order for communication to really get through.Now, if we are so gripped by the stuff going on in our heads, how do we break through and become clear, concise, and honorable in our communications, in what we speak and in what we hear?Full and complete communication How-tosStep 1: Stop and think about who you are being.Well, we all know that treating others on the job site like we treat our children isn’t exactly the most effective way to get a job done. However, whether we actually say, “Because I told you so!” or not, the way we say things and how we behave can certainly make whatever words we use feel the same as a parent lowering the boom on their out of control teenager.Instead of being all about your own agenda – in a rush, giving short answers, and resorting to “Because I told you so,” slow down and think about how you are communicating, what you want to communicate and then communicate fully and completely why something is being done the way it is. Stay present to the question of: “Am I communicating so that what I’m saying can actually be heard or are the words I’m using, the tone of my voice or my body language in the way of the message getting through?”Remember: The speaker in any communication is responsible for what the recipient (listener) actually gets from the communication. So, if a gruff and short communication style isn’t going to get through to the team, consider what communication style will get through and adjust what you are saying and how you say it accordingly!Step 2: Do not assume anybody or anything!Assumptions are a part of how all of us communicate – we even make assumptions without realizing an assumption is being made! However, as Henry Winkler is quoted as having said, “Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”Assumptions about what our team members and co-workers do and do not know; are or aren’t going to say, or what they are or aren’t going to do are some of the greatest roadblocks we have to clear and complete communication! Assumptions turn a possibility into an absolute, and in a split second an incorrect assumption can lead us down the wrong path.We assume so much about our team members. Yet, we are working in the construction industry where the lack of training over the last 16-17 years has created an environment where many of the younger people working on-site flat don’t know how to do what you know how to do! So guess what? Not only do we as leaders have to give up our assumptions and be clear about what our team does and doesn’t know how to do, but we are going to have to teach them what they don’t know!Step 3: Teach instead of TellThe definition of Teach is: to cause to know something. The definition of Tell is: to order, or direct.When considering these two definitions, which one do you think communicates most fully and completely?Obviously, when we take the time to teach and explain to our co-workers why we do something the way we do, the results will be much better than if we simply tell them what to do. Yet, in most instances we aren’t teaching those around us anything… we are usually TELLING them what to do, and “Telling” does not translate well into an action or way of being that is easily duplicated.Step 4: Make sure you are not just heard, but understood too!Make sure those around you understand what is being asked of them in terms of the job they are to do and by-when they are supposed to do it; make sure what you intend to teach your team is what they are learning! As leaders, supervisors, or general team members on the job we have to not only know that what we are saying is being heard, but we have to make sure it is being understood too. Luckily there’s an easy way of checking in with crews on the job site to see if what we are saying is being heard. Speak from first person and say:”Some time back I was in a similar situation where Joe asked me to complete a project and after our meeting was over, I really didn’t get or understand correctly what he was asking and I ended up not doing what he wanted me to do. Therefore, would you mind please telling me what you understand out of our conversation so I can help you not to make the same mistakes I did?”Step 5: AccountabilityNow, there is the issue of people saying they heard, they gave it back to you like they heard and understood it, but they don’t do what they said they were going to do. What do you do then? Hold them accountable!Holding People AccountableFirst, you need to ask permission to speak straight with regard to the situation and acknowledge the circumstance from your perspective and any accountability you might have in the situation.Second, ask what happened and allow them the opportunity to share with you their perspective, and look for their understanding and acknowledgment of their responsibility.Third, explain the impact it had on you, them, others, and/or the company. Be careful not to make them wrong, but you do want them to clearly understand the consequences of their actions, or lack thereof.Fourth, provide them with the opportunity to say whatever they need to at this point. What you are looking for is an indication that they are taking responsibility and are willing to take part in any actions necessary to rectify the situation.Fifth, inform them of your expectations for the future and of any possible consequences if this reoccurs.Sixth, get from them their promise regarding future actions and behavior.Finally, say something to complete this issue and move on!Step 6: Give up Make WrongsOften times tense and less than complete communications are the result of upsets and misunderstandings between co-workers that put people in a defensive position. Listening or speaking from a defensive state of mind is no way to communicate fully and completely. After all, how well do we hear or communicate with others when we are continually planning out our own defense in our heads? It is in this case that all sides have to give up making others wrong, and rather than allow upsets to fester, we have got to communicate in a straightforward, but calm manner. For instance, “I really felt like you were accusing me of mishandling my interaction with the trade contractor and this is how it left me feeling.”By communicating directly with the person there is an upset with, there is little room for make wrongs and upsets to fester – meaning mole hills will not be made into mountains on the job site!Step 7: Make “I don’t know” OkayA lot of communications don’t happen simply because we do not want those around us to know that we don’t know!! So, we’ve got to foster an environment where we welcome questions, where we don’t just give lip service to the notion, but actually take the time to answer the questions those on our crew have before we move on to anything else! We’ve got to make it okay for any member on the crew to say: “I don’t know how to do this.” or “I don’t understand.” Also, when we make the room for questions to be asked, never ever make someone wrong for doing so. This is not just about full and complete communication on the human level, it is about building trust as well!The more your crew trusts what is said the more you will grow as a team, and it is inside of a well built team that full and complete communication can really grow.Ultimately the person responsible for the quality of any communication is the speaker. But remember: You can’t read other people’s minds and they can’t read yours, meaning full and complete communication is a two-way street, and just one barrier can throw the flow off. Don’t be the one to create the bottle-neck… Communicate fully and completely everywhere, all of the time!

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