5 Communication Tips to Improve Commercial Construction Contractor Relationships

Posted January 31st, 2022

Communication between General Contractors and subcontractors is critical to the success of the project and the success of the business relationship. Yet many (if not most) GCs and Subcontractor relationships have so many roadblocks to clear and effective communication that it results in tense conversations and even outright conflict as the norm.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

Here are 5 tips for better communication that you can put into practice today.

1. Be a good partner first.

It all starts here. It is very hard to expect more from your customer than you give yourself. Whether you are the general contractor or the subcontractor, your mindset regarding the relationship will set the tone for every interaction you and your team, has with everyone else on the project. It’s up to you to role model a positive, collaborative partnership relationship.  Look at the relationships and culture within your own organization first – it is very likely that problems you have within your organization will also be problems you have outside your organization, so fix your house first!

2. Set expectations early and clearly.

People will treat you the way you train them to treat you. Setting clear boundaries and expectations early around communication will help general contractors know how you as the subcontractor would prefer to interact throughout the project. 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.  Then make sure you stick to what you say you will do.

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!  It will also allow them to set clear expectations for you up front – then you both can agree how you will move forward with both!

3. Be transparent.

One of the best ways to increase transparency is to communicate in writing and in advance of a situation. Yes, that means you send preliminary notices as a matter of course and yes that means you require change orders to be in writing (even if it is just an email).

No, that doesn’t mean you’re sending a message that you don’t trust the GC to pay you. Unless you frame it that way.

Remember, set expectations and boundaries. In order for everyone on this project to perform at their maximum efficiency and skill, we follow these business practices. That isn’t personal, it’s professional.

Subcontractors, 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. 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.

Written communications build trust as both parties set expectations and meet them. They also leave a clear trail of decisions for both parties to refer to should an issue arise.

4. Become an active listener.

Before your next conversation with your GC or subcontractor partner, commit to being an active listener. Active listening is listening with 100% of your focus on the person who is speaking. It means paying attention to body language as well as what is actually said. Active listening exercises empathy and cognitive thinking, so you understand the issue from the other person’s perspective as well as your own.

When you are actively listening, you aren’t focused on what you’re going to say next or what you need to do after this conversation. You are dialed in completely on what the other person is saying. It can transform how you perceive the speaker and the challenge you are both trying to solve. Jesse Itzler, owner of the Atlanta Hawks says, “Be where your feet are.” That goes for your mind, thoughts, and attention especially!

Active listening isn’t being weak or a pushover. It’s exercising confidence and humility in order to have a greater positive impact on the situation, the project, and your business relationship. It takes a real leader to sit quietly and let someone talk until they feel heard.

5. Create a feedback loop.

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.

Luckily, its also one of the easiest tips to implement, once you get comfortable with it. All you have to do is ask. Ask everyone you talk to. 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.

Conclusion: 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. When we communicate from a place of empathy, transparency, and collaboration, everyone wins.

Like what you just read? Awesome! We’re changing the way the construction industry talks to each other and about itself. Take the DO YOUR PART pledge to become part of this important mission!