Beacon News - Construction Consulting - Working With Difficult Owners



Dealing With A Difficult Owner?

Top 5 Tips For Resolving Problems
& Finding The Win-Win Solution


By James Bruno, LEED AP, PMP
Vice President, Beacon Consulting Group, Inc.


Tip #1 - Be professional.

Difficult owners are often frustrated and quick to get into arguments. Simply being sure to act in a professional manner can ease that frustration and avoid useless arguments.

A few tips on staying professional:

  • Practice self-control and patience, keep a soft voice and use carefully selected wording.
  • Smile and be as polite and empathetic as possible throughout the conversation
  • Communicate clearly and track all your correspondence accurately. Failing to do this can result in frustrating misunderstandings and disagreements later.


Tip #2 - Listen.


It is very easy to have a tough time working with an owner if you lose their trust or confidence. Being sure to listen to their side of the story is a critical step in building that trust. If the owner doesn’t feel like you are listening to them, they will also likely feel that you aren’t interested in trying to understand their situation or finding a way for them to win.

A few tips on listening to owners:

  • Do not interrupt, hear the Owner out. They are more likely to think you understand their story, if they know you listened to it.
  • Repeat back the commitments for action and be clear of the expectations regarding work product and expected delivery dates.
  • Sometimes Owner issues can be political, or the issues needs to be framed in a certain way for them to move forward with a resolution. This can also give you an idea of what issues are sensitive topics to the owner and what their priorities are.


Tip #3 - Be Fair, Honest, and Reasonable.

Perhaps the most effective way to make progress with difficult owners is to stand out as the voice of reason. If you can establish yourself as someone the Owner can trust to be fair, they are much more likely to cooperate and try to resolve the issue.

A few tips to help establish yourself:

  • Address their concerns. Providing additional backup documentation or letters describing a situation can show that you are able and willing to help the owner by providing honest information to them.
  • Be firm and confident in the facts. Even if the owner feels that your motives are in good faith, you may still lose their trust if you aren’t informed on the issues. You want the owner to be confident that when you present a solution, you have considered all the information.
  • Accept responsibility for any errors or delays on your part. If you make a mistake and try to pin it on others or make shallow excuses, the owner will likely feel that your motivation to protect yourself is stronger than your motivation to maintain a reasonable perspective.


Tip #4 - Set a Schedule / Path for Dispute Resolution.


Regardless of what you do, there will oftentimes be issues that cannot be resolved at that level. The most important action you can take with difficult owners is to establish an agreed-to path to dispute resolution and to create a schedule for that the path.

A few tips for drafting a successful path for dispute resolution:

  • Set a schedule/timeline to move an unresolved issue to the next level. This puts pressure on each level of the chain to resolve the issue quickly. Many people will try and help resolve an issue quickly and quietly simply to avoid it being raised to their boss’ level.
  • Understand the chain of command. Do not skip over any level of management without properly exhausting the levels below it. “Going over someone’s head” is an easy way to create frustration for both the skipped level and upper level management.
  • Create an action items list with names and expected dates. It is critical that the parties involved are responsible for actively working to resolve the dispute. Completing action items helps ensure that future meetings can remain productive and that continual progress is made on the dispute. Be sure to meet the action items that you are responsible for, try to hold your counterpart accountable.
  • Track and communicate all correspondence. This will help avoid miscommunication between meetings and keep it clear what action items are expected from each party.


Tip #5 - Think “Outside the Box”, Find the Win-Win.


Always try to find the win-win solutions. The best resolutions are the ones where everyone can leave happy, and even the most difficult owners will be able to get on board if they can report a win on some front.

A few tips to identify and implement win-win solutions.

  • Divide and conquer. Separate the owners that have conflicts or political issues with each other. This will help prevent owners from digging their heels in on sensitive issues, and some time to cool off may open them up to the win-win idea.
  • Find a way to frame each situation so the owner looks good as possible. Motivation for a stubborn owner can be a matter of pride, providing them a narrative in which they look good can make it easier for the Owner to go forward with the solution.
  • Bring in the difficult person’s piers or subordinates in the conversations and commitments. This will lead to more accountability on the part of the difficult person, and lead to their commitments be met more often.
  • Diffuse arguments. Agreeing with the difficult person to some extent and showing empathy can help establish trust and set you up to present your resolution ideas.
  • Identify priorities. A good place to start looking for win-win solutions is to understand what’s important to each party. If the difficult owner won’t budge on a sensitive issue, maybe that issue isn’t as important to the other party. In turn, maybe the owner cares less about an issue that is important to that party that they are willing to give in to. The relative value of different issues can help craft a win-win solution.


More About Jim Bruno:


Jim Bruno is a Vice President at Beacon Consulting Group, Inc. He plays a leadership role in the overall operation and maanagement of Beacon's Massachusetts office. Jim earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Tufts University. He has extensive construction management experience on high-profile infrastructure projects with contract values ranging from $5M to $420M. Since joining Beacon more than a decade ago, Jim has focused his expertise on assisting surety companies with complex bond default matters including financial assessments, project re-lets, management of construction completion, claims analysis, construction defect assessment, and expert testimony. In the role of construction completion manager, Jim has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to bring severely troubled projects to completion on schedule, despite major project challenges. Jim’s construction industry experience, in-depth knowledge of Beacon’s unique service areas, and understanding of corporate concerns clearly defines Jim as a leader at Beacon.

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