I had a yarn today with a builder – he had sent a late-night SOS email to me regarding an issue with a client who was, well, putting it mildly, a bit feral.
I guess any time you are in a situation where you are dealing with people, the odd feral person will slip through, it takes all types to make the world go around!
However, I thought it was probably time to give you guys some tips on how to protect yourself just in case a relationship with a client goes south and you end up in mediation.
To be clear, mediation is where an adjudicator will take stock of all the facts regarding a dispute and make sense of them in full context. They will then make a call regarding the outcome. What you need to be aware of is that they are not always construction experienced, so to make sure that you are putting your best foot forward in a mediation, you want to be as organized and transparent as you can be so the experience is as smooth as possible.
The situation I was chatting to my builder about had ended up in many long-winded emails being fired back and forth. I am definitely not adverse to keeping your facts clear via a well-written email, however, when it simply turns into a situation where the parties turn into keyboard warriors it can do you more harm than good. Some people simply don’t express themselves well through the written word, and you can open yourself up to putting things on paper that could be thrown at you later. My suggestion is that if you really are at an impasse, then suggest a face to face meeting to discuss everything.
- If you end up having a meeting, and also during the general process if you find it becomes important to make things VERY clear with a client, then make sure you write down and get agreement and timeframes for each of the things each party is going to do… the time frames part is important, you don’t need delays that cost you money if you can help it.
- If during the process your client's mind is regularly swaying back and forth on things, then make sure each time you have a conversation where you think you have drawn a line in the sand, or indeed drawn a line under an issue, then follow it up with an email outlining the conversation. No need to go to town… just get it in writing and sent off that same day so that if you need to pull up this history later, you can.
- Speaking of pulling up history, if the client is showing signs that there could be difficulties down the line, keep your own diary of conversations and dates. Again, should this be necessary later it will really help to provide a mediator with some context.
- If you think it will help to ease the situation, bring in an independent body. Either a QS or a well-experienced project manager, just make sure it is someone who is properly experienced and qualified. Document that too, and again, if there is anything to action keep everyone to an agreed timeline.
Overall, despite how hard it can be, try to keep your chill. If you are finding you have received a crappy email late in the evening, or last thing on a Friday, do what you can to leave it at the office and wait until you have a fresh workday to deal with it.