Effective communication is a crucial aspect of any business – but in the construction industry, it can mean the difference between a project that’s completed on-time and on budget, and a completely unmitigated disaster.
Communication plays a role in every phase of a construction project – you’ll need to collect input for planning and design and turn those into accurate requirements, you’ll need to discuss and address issues that arise throughout the process, and you’ll need to pull stakeholders together to make critical decisions when things don’t go according to plan.
Facilitating effective communication between multiple parties in pursuit of a common goal should be as simple task, but the truth is that while we may be experts at many aspects of our jobs, not everyone is a great communicator. We’ve put together five tips that can help contractors, subcontractors, project managers, office staff, laborers, and just about anyone else improve their communication skills and practices, and get the job done better.
Speaking in Layman’s Terms is an Essential Skill
When communicating with your colleagues, it’s important to get out of your own head and realize that other people need to understand you. That means speaking in a language that everyone can understand.
If you’re an electrician, you may have a problem that requires a lot of specific knowledge to even understand, never mind finding a solution. How will you explain that issue to the construction manager, whose background is in supply chain management? How would you explain it to the client, or to an investor?
Speaking in layman’s terms just means being able to explain something in terms that anyone can understand. If you can do this, not only will you appear smarter, but people will respect your input more, and you’ll be able to get your point across clearly without a frustrating misunderstanding or back-and-forth.
Practice Effective Listening
Effective listening produces clarity for the listener and shows respect for and engagement with the speaker – and it ensures that everyone gets on the same page and stays there. Effective listening means:
Stop talking – Give the speaker a chance to get their ideas across on their terms, without rushing them.
Focus – Look at the speaker and pay attention to what they are saying. Relax, and avoid fidgeting or other behaviors that could distract the speaker.
Ask Questions – Verify or clarify anything that was said with a clear and concise question. Asking questions shows that you are engaged and paying attention.
Summarize – If you understand what’s being communicated, offer a summary that verifies your understanding and shows the listener that you got it.
Methods and Mediums Matter
Sometimes, verbal communication isn’t the best way to keep everyone on the same page. It is vital that construction firms adopt communication methods that enable ready access to information for all parties involved in construction projects, from those in the field to the managers and administrators in the construction office.
Construction management software is one of the most effective means of communicating between the field and the construction office. Contractors and laborers can access the software on their mobile devices and instantaneously view project plans and contract documents, drawings, specifications, change order forms, RFIs, and other critical data. This means of sharing information is more effective than one-on-one discussion for ensuring that field workers have consistent access to the data they need to get work done.
If We Put Our Heads Together…
Collaborative decision making that involves the client, construction firm, and other stakeholders is necessary at various stages of any construction project. Change orders that are not outlined in the original contract document may require approval from multiple sources before processing, and as such, it’s important to have a mechanism for quickly getting input and making decisions.
Software solutions that enable stakeholders to interact simultaneously on a single platform, via video or teleconference, are an excellent way of getting to consensus quickly before a project gets delayed. These conferencing methods are an important means of maintaining the flow of communication necessary to push projects forward to completion.
Purpose, Structure, Clarity
If you’re the one facilitating conversations, an effectively structured meeting is crucial for quickly coming to an agreement and moving forward with next steps. Use the ideas of purpose, structure, and clarity to help you hold productive meetings and get to consensus more quickly:
Purpose – Start by telling everyone why the meeting is happening, what they’re expected to contribute, and what the desired outcome of the meeting is. An example could be “The purpose of this discussion is to approve a new supplier for timber beginning on October 20th, as our present supplier is dealing with inventory concerns.
Structure – How will the conversation or meeting be structured? In this case, you might say “We have two possible suppliers lined up. I’m going to give some information about each of the two suppliers, and then we can each give some input before we come to a decision.” Now, everyone is on the same page and ready to listen and decide.
Clarity – Once everyone has a chance to speak, clarify what was said and try to create consensus: “It sounds like the first supplier is too expensive for this project, so it seems like we should go with the second one. Does everyone agree?”
If you can lead a conversation effectively, you can help a group of people come to a decision more quickly while keeping everyone on the same page and ensuring that everyone has their voice heard.
Effective communication between all parties is important for the success of any construction project, especially a large one with a lot of moving parts, and where many things can potentially go wrong. Learning to discuss complex issues in layman’s terms, listen effectively and respectfully to your team members, use technology to effectively and accurately share project data, and learning to bring stakeholders together for engaging and effective decision-making meetings are all essential for any firm that wants to build its fortune in the construction business.