Conscious Cooperation: How to Create Successful Construction Projects


This book is a guide on how to begin, nurture and finish successful construction projects. Written for contractors, property owners and anyone involved in the construction process, the book is rich in illustrative stories and point-by-point advice. It also contains powerful interviews with noted mediators, customers and construction professionals.

It evolved out of years of working in the construction industry and learning to do just what is described. Contrary to widely held ...

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Conscious Cooperation: How to Create Successful Construction Projects

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This book is a guide on how to begin, nurture and finish successful construction projects. Written for contractors, property owners and anyone involved in the construction process, the book is rich in illustrative stories and point-by-point advice. It also contains powerful interviews with noted mediators, customers and construction professionals.

It evolved out of years of working in the construction industry and learning to do just what is described. Contrary to widely held belief, it IS possible for construction projects to be successful for all concerned, and even fun!

Building on basic principles of clarity, mutual respect and intentional collaboration, this book takes the reader on a surprising journey into the dynamics involved in any successful working relationship, told here through the field of construction. It delves into the power of intention, assumption and expectation, and the importance of a positive attitude for any project.

This book is hands-on, and it is not theory. It is proven practices and real-life stories.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781475944617
  • Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/24/2012
  • Pages: 190
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.40 (d)

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iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2012 Stuart Baker
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4759-4461-7

Chapter One

The Roots of "Conscious Cooperation"

A seventy-two year old man called me several years ago to ask if I could review a partially completed renovation project at his house. He wanted me to estimate the value of the work completed to date, estimate the value of the remainder left to finish, and assess the quality of the work done so far.

During the course of my time with him he said to me about the builder, "I may be old, but I really want to hurt this guy. I have hurt people before, and I am ready to do it to him." I did not doubt him at all. Yet I told him I was hoping he could contain himself, and maybe telling me the whole story would help relieve some of the pressure inside him.

How did a seventy-two-year old man get to such a drastic position?

The story was awful. According to this man, the builder kept saying he needed more money over and above the estimated contract. He left previously remodeled sections of the house unprotected from violent storms, causing ruin, and the whole thing had been dragging on for about two years and was still uncompleted. The entire project should have taken several months. When I met the man, he had already paid the builder more than twice the amount of the original contract, aside from valid extras that were mutually accepted. He also said that the builder demanded money for windows he never actually ordered for the customer.

I asked him how he could have let things get to this state. He said that his wife had been very ill, as had her father, who may have passed away; I do not remember all the details now. The point is, he said that the emotional and health crises were pretty overwhelming, and he kept fearing that if he did not continue to give the builder the money he asked for, the builder would quit, leaving him in even more of a mess.

He said the builder had continual stories and excuses and tried to turn it all around to seeming as though all the conflict was the customer's fault. The house was located by the ocean, and the builder kept telling his customer that his house was worth a pile of money because of the location, so what did he have to complain about!

I really felt for the guy. Not only had he experienced emotional and financial nightmares with his project, in addition I had to honestly tell him that some of the work done was not very good.

That was one horror story from the property owner side of the construction relationship. Here is a story from a builder:

Several years ago the main lumberyard that I use for my building supplies agreed to put on an evening for me with their most valued commercial customers. It ended up being a pretty high-powered group. I knew most of the builders who came to the evening. Some I invited personally. The one who gave me the most resistance did come, but he told me he did not want to come if I was just trying to sell something.

I assured him that the evening was for the guys who came; they would be the stars of the show. What I was looking for was how the contractors who attended the evening were doing with their relationships in their construction businesses; what was working, what was not, and what were they needing or looking for. What was their main source of pain, and what might help?

After introductions and a quick delivery on what the evening was about, the builder who finally really broke the ice in open discussion was the one who gave me the resistance about attending. He spoke for about fifteen minutes about a customer from Heck. This builder is honorable. I have known him for years. He is highly motivated and conscientious. He is good with people. He has a friendly personality. He does careful work.

He said that his customer (I believe an attorney from New York) acted displeased no matter what he did and would not pay money legitimately owed. Whatever their agreements were about finishing final details, the customer always said he was displeased and came up with new demands. The builder was at his wit's end. He clearly experienced some relief simply sharing this awfully painful story with us. Then, at the end of the evening he said, "Hey, this meeting was great! I hope we can continue having them!" I felt for him, as did I think everyone in the room.

There are horror stories on both "sides"—construction people and property owners. You will see that what I contend, and offer training in, is not only that there do not have to be firmly defined "sides," but that holding to such a stance can greatly harm the chances of success for any given project. In general, builders frequently are considered to be on an ethical level equivalent to the oft-maligned car sales people. Right or wrong, this rating is not very high, to say the least. There are strong impressions and attitudes that construction people just cannot be trusted, and that if you stop standing over them for one minute they will take advantage when there is the slightest opening.

Conversely, many builders have stories of misery they have experienced working with certain customers that seem to make them look like the poor victims of scheming, dishonest, rotten property owners. I am sure that sometimes this is the case, but have found over time that the truth generally lies in a place where there is not an evil demon on either side forever tormenting the utterly innocent one on the other side.

The truth is usually somewhere in the middle. The way we see things may be heavily colored by our upbringing and our world experience. We get messages imprinted into our minds that often put an unintentional spin on daily events and predispose us to react in a particular way, which may be pretty far off the mark. Aren't you amazed sometimes at how someone gets from point A to point B in their mind, when you can see nothing at all that led to that journey?

A simple case in point:

When I was finishing college in the Boston, MA area, I drove a cab for the Cambridge Yellow Cab Company. One day I picked up an older woman for a trip of three blocks, if I remember right. Before she even had the door closed she started ranting at me about dishonest cab drivers, how they always try to take you out of the way to jack up the fare, how they will use any trick they can to soak extra money out of you.

By the time I had gone the three blocks to her apartment building, she was foaming at the mouth, yelling at me. Spit was actually coming out of her mouth. I had not said one word. She finished her diatribe with, "And just for that, you're not getting a tip, either!" I, too, was one of those miserable, dishonest cab drivers, even though I drove her down one street for three blocks and did not open my mouth. Obviously, I never forgot her!

* * *

There is a well-known expert on buying, renovating and flipping houses. She is a woman who was highly successful in a depressed, really challenging locale during poor economic times in general. Her level of success was especially noteworthy for where she did her flipping during these times.

I attended a seminar where she was one of the key presenters. I liked much of what she said. She advised the participants to always offer more value than similar houses for sale in the same area. She said you do not have to spend a lot of money to do this, but to make your house stand out. She would also arrange for financing and pre-qualify her buyers for mortgages. She helped applicants fill out the paperwork. She covered all the bases. She was thorough and confident. I was generally impressed.

Then she said if we took further training with her, she would show us "how to keep contractors on a very short leash." That is where she lost me!

An attitude of keeping contractors and their subcontractors and employees under control, as if it is an "us against them" battle, is, to me, exactly what is often wrong!

On the other side, I have known talented, conscientious building contractors who had the attitude that ALL customers would try to get away with something and take advantage if they could. One good friend fit into this category. I told him that I was getting along great with most of my customers, and I had valuable relationships with them. I also told him that I had come to expect to have this kind of relationship, and I was willing to do my part to make it happen. He said that he simply did not have those sorts of relationships—as though it were an inevitable result of who his customers were.

His situation was really a pity, because he was highly talented and honest. He had just convinced himself that he would always have trouble with customers—and sure enough, he always did.

We get what we expect and put out.

John Hochbaum from Contracting Trust told me that it is typical that every year complaints about builders and their work are in the top two categories of consumer complaints in the United States. That is awful!

How has that developed into such a common state of affairs? Many people seem to accept that having construction projects performed is always going to be worse than having root canals done with no Novocain. That being the case, it's a wonder anyone ever has any construction done at all!

* * *

Years ago, I had a wonderful customer who hired me to do some simple remodeling to a half bath at her second home. At the end of the project, she was very happy. We sat and chatted. Eventually she mentioned that she had blueprints to turn her seaside California-style bungalow on Cape Cod into a completely new two-story house. Did I want to see the blueprints? I looked at her in amazement and said "Sure!"

There were significant mistakes with the plans. She asked if we could proceed ahead without an architect. Again, I said "Sure!" I told her I could get the problems worked out and the plans redrawn. She started to get highly excited. Then she told me that all her friends warned her that she would end up hating her builder, no matter what.

I told her I did not expect that to happen, and my intention was to make her very happy. She said she had a good feeling about me, and she was eager to move ahead. What an unexpected development from doing some relatively minor work in a powder room! We did move ahead with this ambitious project.

A big part of what was most interesting about the project was that she was incorporating into the house a handicapped-style suite for her elderly mother. My customer became so involved in the project that during the course of it she constantly came up with ideas and questions about making her mother's suite better and better in terms of its function. She left me many messages at two or three in the morning, because she became so wrapped up in trying to take care of her mother the best she could.

We logged forty-five work change orders by the time the project was completed. The house eventually appeared in Fine Homebuilding magazine, and my customer had her own sidebar. She loved her involvement so much that she decided to become a consultant for people dealing with aging parents and altering their homes to incorporate their parents into them.

All this from a woman who was told that she would end up hating me.

* * *

I have been a building contractor and carpenter for over thirty years. It was not too long into my career that I started to get a hint of just how important the human relations end of the mix is. The relationships between customers and contractors, contractors and subcontractors, contractors and architects, contractors and realtors, contractors and engineers, and all of these relationships, eventually stood out as being every bit as important as the physical work at hand.

Every bit as important, yet so often so poorly attended to!

I started to review how my jobs went. What were the more successful projects which, not surprisingly, also had successful and often mutually rewarding relationships? Where was conflict? How did conflict arise? What could I do to reduce and even eliminate conflict? What did customers have a right to expect of me? What did I have a right to expect from them?

As I mulled over these questions and others, I had the inner nudge to, from that day forward, make blunt discussion with new and old customers a matter of primary importance right at the beginning. Before ground had been disturbed or one nail driven. Before there was even a contract. In time I realized it was important to ask about things no one ever tells an aspiring contractor to explore: their fears, their wishes, what their house would mean for them, how they thought their new home or remodeled home would change their lives, and so on. I needed to find out their expectations, hopes and priorities.

At first, I was somewhat nervous venturing into this territory. How would people react? Would they say, "How dare you ask us questions like these? What kind of nonsense are you talking? Let's just focus on getting this job done and what our contract is." They might feel affronted. They might tell me to leave.

What in fact happened is that when I asked plenty of direct questions before there was even any contract, most people looked at me slack-jawed and then said something like, "This discussion makes us feel very safe. We never dreamt that our builder would bring up things like these questions and issues."

In addition, many of them became friends along the way and remained so afterwards. We had dinners together. Some asked me to stay for dinner after a day of work and then told me to call my former wife and invite her, too. They would ask during the project if I needed money. Could they help me in any way? One friend who worked with me on and off said he had never seen customers chase the builder to hand him money. He said, "How do you do it?!"

By then I knew I was committed to giving my best to my customers, and I let them know this, along with asking all the direct questions. My work started to come almost exclusively from referrals and repeat customers. I had to make a concerted choice to make this commitment. I knew I had opened a door to greater responsibility and transparent integrity. I would have to consistently deliver on my promises to succeed in taking such extraordinarily good care of them!

A number of customers told me they knew I would always have their best interests at heart. They trusted me to give them fine work, to advise them of unexpected situations and make suggestions for extras and changes they might like. Achieving this level of trust became a goal of mine on every project. Frequently it was enjoyable, although it was exacting, too.

Sometimes I had to deliver news that they might not embrace with great joy, like discovering the need to reconstruct part of a house that was assembled poorly in the first place, or some other unexpected development. Yet I spoke honestly, and typically my customers took in the news, asked questions and then asked how best to proceed ahead. Maybe it was a sign of the success of my more open approach to customer communication, but I never had the feeling that they wanted to shoot the messenger.

Again, I found that forthrightness was the way to go. Tell the truth, give options, and leave my customers the space to have their reactions and responses. I became comfortable with silence. Silence at the right time can be more powerful than words.

My customers often felt like teammates. Some took assignments from me, some offered to help if they would not be in the way. I once had one of my frequent customers spray-prime some cedar boards. She had never done such a thing, and she did pretty darned well.

Another customer, newly retired, agreed to do the drawings to get a renovation permit, with my coaching. He did very well, too.

I loved it, and you can bet that I wanted to take excellent care of my customers in return. We often had a mutual admiration society, and could not do enough for each other. Many customers told me I worked too hard. One couple was surprised to see me working on the weekend, and asked why I was doing that. I told them that a crew was coming on Monday to do an important piece of work, and some prep needed to be done ahead of time. This particular couple became friends of mine, and over the years had me do perhaps five projects on their house. Nevertheless, that day, when I was still "just" their contractor, they shook their heads and said I should take some time for myself. In time, they also repeatedly invited me to sail with them. The relationship grew into what seemed to be a friendship that occasionally had work thrown in. This was an interesting development that I had to get used to, and allow myself to enjoy and appreciate.


Excerpted from CONSCIOUS COOPERATION by STUART BAKER Copyright © 2012 by Stuart Baker. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Chapter One The Roots of "Conscious Cooperation"....................1
Chapter Two Key Questions and Statements....................11
Chapter Three Where Does It Hurt?....................22
Chapter Four Going Deeper to Improve Construction Relationships....................40
Chapter Five Wearing New Shoes....................63
Chapter Six Commitment....................72
Chapter Seven Use Your Personal Radar....................79
Chapter Eight Go Team....................85
Chapter Nine Don't Leave it to a Handshake Alone....................93
Chapter Ten Money....................100
Chapter Eleven The Life-Changing Side of Construction....................113
Chapter Twelve Mediation and Arbitration....................119
Chapter Thirteen Be Yourself....................125
Chapter Fourteen Exploring the Depths of Conscious Cooperation....................128
Chapter Fifteen In Conclusion (Bringing Out the Best in Yourself)....................168
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