Communication is difficult in construction mostly because of preconceived ideas, misguided assumptions, and bad habits. Not asking for change orders is a bad habit; assuming that your GC will respond negatively to a payment reminder is a preconceived idea. It doesn’t help that many industry pros adopt a persona of almost toxic independence — we don’t ask for help or advice or communicate unless we absolutely have to. But communication in construction doesn’t have to be that way. And improving your communication can lead to faster payments, greater efficiency and performance on the project, and best of all, more opportunities.
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9 communication tips for construction businesses
Here are nine tips for better communication that you can put into practice today to build stronger customer relationships, get paid faster, and reduce delays that hold your company back.
1. Focus on partnerships
Are you doing everything you can to be the best partner to your customer and your employees? It all starts here. It is very hard to expect more from your customer than you give yourself. How can you be a better partner?
At the same time, are you choosing good partners, or are you choosing adversaries?
Before you bid on that next project, research the General Contractor ahead of time. Is this project within their usual scope of work? What do other subcontractors say about working with the GC? Do they have a reputation for prompt payment and good communication, or are they known for being slow and combative? Do they believe in the same core values that you do?
2. Set expectations — and follow through
Every interaction you have with a customer trains them how to treat you. Set clear boundaries and expectations early around communication to help General Contractors know how you plan to interact throughout the project.
For example, sending a preliminary notice at the start of a job communicates two things: That you are a professional outfit, and that you expect to be paid for the work you’re doing. It’s important for everyone on the decision-making chain of command to know you are on this project and that you have an expectation of fair treatment and prompt payment.
Send a Notice for Free
It only takes a few minutes to send a notice for free on any of your jobs.
That starts by including your business policies in your bid’s capability statement. Let the GC know your guidelines for credit and payment terms, as well as how you collect on overdue accounts. Let them also know what they can expect from you and what you will deliver to them.
Nervous about laying down the law with the GC? Don’t be. Most General Contractors will welcome the clear parameters and your company’s attention to the important details. This will separate you from your competition in a good way!
Submit demands for payments promptly. If you have 20-day terms with your GC, send an invoice reminder on Day 14. Still waiting for payment on Day 21? You’ve already told your customer what happens next. Now it’s time to follow through on your promises.
3. Get everything in writing
Get every project agreement in writing. If you can, hire a construction lawyer to review contracts before you sign. The contract is the most detailed written communication you and the GC have, and it is imperative that you both understand the terms and agree to them.
Here are just a few things to pay attention to in the contract:
- Terms of payment (watch out for contingent payment clauses)
- What will constitute a default on the contract
- Who is responsible for negligence and can negligence be transferred
- Clauses regarding responsibility for delays
Make sure you send detailed payment applications, including all related invoices, any change orders — which you should absolutely get in writing — and the project information.
Written communications build trust and keeps a document trail for both parties to refer to should an issue arise.
4. Invest in communication technology that works for you
The more efficiently your site and back-office teams can communicate, the quicker challenges can be addressed and resolved. Similarly, the faster and more transparently you communicate with your GC, the more likely you are to get paid on time. Make the investment in tools and technology that empower you to communicate effectively and efficiently.
Project management software like Procore makes real-time communication easy with staff in the field. Other options, like Levelset, are built to help financial professionals communicate clearly about payments.
5. Communicate with empathy
Starting with your bid, it’s important to adopt a team mindset when it comes to your GC, rather than an adversarial one. Empathy is key. Remember that you and the GC are on the same side.
Read through your bid with the GC’s reality in mind. What challenges will they face? How can your company help?
When communicating with your GC, and with others on the project, use the group speak of “we” to create a teamwork mentality. This implies to the GC that you are here to help solve problems and get the work done.
6. Be transparent about project finances
When you submit a bid to the GC, you are essentially making a promise. Build trust around that project by showing how the project cash flow will impact your team and how you plan to address it.
I talk to a lot of contractors who get hesitant here. They don’t want to show their numbers to the General Contractor. They are nervous about the impression the General Contractor may get.
My advice is always to focus on telling the story around the numbers. The job requires a certain amount of costs upfront; show the GC that you have secured the cash to cover them in the most responsible way possible.
If a change order is requested, come with data on how it will impact the schedule and the project’s cash flow. Come to every conversation with facts and figures. Not to back up your stance, but to help you present the issue clearly in order to reach the best solution for you and all the project stakeholders.
7. Bring solutions to the table
Stuff happens on construction projects; It’s just part of the gig. Communicate potential issues proactively, rather than waiting to jump in when things go wrong. Name the problem for the GC – no beating around the bush – and the possible ramifications of the problem. Then list at least one potential solution and the intended reaction the solution will elicit.
FYI this includes alerting the GC if there are safety or critical performance issues on the job. I know that nobody likes a snitch, but everybody likes a safe workplace.
8. Take emotion out of the equation
There’s too much yelling in construction – and that is coming from a guy who yells a lot himself. The trouble is, when we let emotions take over the conversation, we’re no longer communicating clearly. When someone gets yelled at, or is insulted by language, or gets a hard eye-roll from the speaker, they no longer respond to what is being said. They respond to the way that yelling, insult, or eye-roll makes them feel. Which means soon you are both responding to emotion, rather than actually communicating.
Learn more: The 7 C’s of Communication for Credit Managers
This is another reason written communication is helpful. You can write a draft, delete it, write another, save it overnight, delete that, and then write what REALLY needs to be said to solve the problem. But when you are in a face-to-face conversation, take emotion out of the picture. Focus on the business problem. Remember you are all on the same team – the team building this project.
9. Create a feedback loop to improve communication
The last tip is probably one of the most challenging: You have to ask others how your communication is being received. Then, you have to sit with that feedback and decide what you can change to improve.
Ask the GC at the end of the project what worked for them and what didn’t. Ask suppliers, ask other subs, ask your employees. The more feedback you receive about your communication, and the more you implement that feedback when it is valid, the better your communication will be moving forward.
Communication is a team effort
Everywhere from the shop to the contract to face-to-face conversations on the site, communication is a team effort. Look for partners who communicate well with their subs, and work on your own communication practices diligently to ensure your company is communicating as effectively as possible. When we communicate from a place of empathy, transparency, and collaboration, everyone wins.