stick-people-2324013_1280-HIGH FIVE

It is a rare occurrence when things go exactly as planned.  Problems typically arise at the pre-planning stage, during the process, or near the end.  Basically, no matter how perfect a plan is on paper -  something or someone can always find a way to cause trouble.  This is very true in regard to the construction industry.  The reason for this is simply because as humans, mistakes are second nature, even for professionals.  The real focus should not be on how to prevent the unavoidable, but on how to correct and return to the norm when problems occur.  This article will serve as a review and provide simple tips on how to de-escalate when situations become present.

The first step in managing a situation is to accept that it can happen to anybody.  Attitude plays a big role in de-escalation.  Things can escalate further when management or higher-up individuals act in a way as if mistakes never happen to them.  The way we view individuals effects the way we speak.  Not only in a traditional sense, such as being passive aggressive or sarcastic, but in nonverbal ways such as posture and facial expressions. Crossing of the arms and a heavily-stern look are not positive means of coming to a peaceful resolution.  Understand that no one wants to make a mistake; however, some mistakes are blatant, while others are the result of lack in knowledge.  It is never easy to decipher the reasoning for a mistake but addressing the situation immediately and as a human who could have done the same thing is key.

Linked heavily with the attitude we bring into a situation is the way we communicate the resolution.  The way we converse about a problem really sets the tone of how quickly and correctly a solution will be found.  Communication is only achieved when the meaning is properly conveyed and understood by the recipient.  More times than not, orders are given to a contractor in the form of yelling, either by a foreman or management.  This can cause a demeaning affect to the individual.  No matter the position or title, all cogs in the machine that is driving a project or process to the finish line matter.  It is recommended that when tempers become erratic, a discussion is held in a noncombatant atmosphere, such as a jobsite trailer or area not involved with the problem at hand.  Clearly describe the issue and allow responses from all parties involved. Spearheading a conversation can leave others lacking full details.  After all facts and options have been weighed, discuss the best possible resolution.  

After the resolution has been decided upon, documentation and follow-up is always recommended to ensure that the situation has been handled as discussed.  In this present time, documentation is key for liability and contractual reasons.  To better illustrate the methods covered in this article, a sample situation involving the failure to follow fall protection polices will be used.

Example: Subcontractor B was observed by General Contract A to be performing roofing operations without the use of personal fall protection. General Contractor A immediately notifies subcontractor B that work needs to stop immediately on the roof since a falling hazard is present.  Subcontractor B is unaware of the issue and becomes aggravated as operations have fallen behind due to the weather the previous week.  General Contractor A requests that all individuals and the foreman of subcontractor B have a discussion in a vacant room on the floor below.  General Contractor A begins by shaking the hand of all individuals present and gathers their names.  Then it is mentioned that a worker falling is the last thing anybody wants to witness on the project.  

After this, the General Contractor should ask if the subcontractor B has means to provide the workers on the roof with proper fall protection systems.  The General Contractor should listen to what subcontractor B has to say.  If proper fall protection is not available, General Contractor A should inform the foreman of subcontractor B that work may not continue unless the proper measures are provided so that operations may be done in a safe manner.  Subcontractor B indicates that this will be addressed with their company’s management and when the appropriate measures are in place the General Contractor A will be notified.  

At this point, General Contractor A should email that company’s management and inform them that a violation of fall protection polices was observed today and continued issues of this nature will result in further disciplinary actions. Also, General Contractor A should mention that a discussion was held with the individuals for that company in regard to fall protection needs and that work may not continue until proper means are utilized.  The General Contractor A should inspect this area again once the proper method of fall protection is set-up to ensure compliance is met. 

In this example, the General Contractor addressed the issue in a timely manner and with a caring attitude.  A calm conversation was held with the individuals and the foreman of the subcontractor group to allow concerns to be voiced by all involved.  A solution was decided upon and documented as well as a system of checks and balances instituted to ensure the situation was remedied the proper way.  

A mistake is never wanted, but it should not be treated as the end of the world. Your attitude and the way a solution is communicated and documented can mean the difference between a proper or improper resolution.

David Risner 2019