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People Skills 101: A Construction Supervisor's Intro to People Skills

1.   Do I Believe I Can Change?
1.1 What is a Fixed Mindset vs a Growth Mindset?
1.2 Why is it risky to even try to develop a Growth Mindset?
1.3 How do I develop a Growth Mindset?
2.   What is the Secret of Success?
3.   Why is Communication to Important?
3.1 Words, Tone of Voice or Body Language: What Matters?
3.2 Who is Responsible for Effective Communication?
4.   Why Should I Learn about Personality Types?
4.1 What are the Four Personality Types?
4.2 How do I Deal with Different Personality Types?
5.   Why is Construction a Business of Conflict?
5.1 Should I Cooperate or Compete?
5.2 How do I Go for Win-Win Solutions?
6.   What is Emotional Intelligence?
6.1 What are the Primary Emotions?
6.2 What are Emotional Hijackings?
7.   Why Should I Care about Time Management?
7.1 What are the Urgent and the Important?
7.2 How do I Better Manage My Time?
7.3 Why is What I Know about Motivation Probably Wrong?
7.4 Why Do I Need to Train Myself?


People Skills 201: Habits of Effective Construction Supervisors

8.   How to Understand Perceptions and Choices?
9.   How to Begin with the End in Mind?
10. How to Put First Things First?
11. How to Go Win-Win or No Deal?
12. How to Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood?

Do I Believe I Can Change?

None of these people skills will help you unless you believe you can actually change how you live and what you do.  Dr. Carol Dweck wrote Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and after much research on how people think and act. She found that people generally have either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. A fixed mindset sees our talents and abilities as unchangeable, they are what they are. Conversely, a growth mindset knows talents get developed and abilities built over time.

When asked, most people express confidence in their ability to grow and change. Most people initially claim to have a growth mindset. Upon further reflection, though, most realize that they often truly live with a fixed mindset.

What is a Fixed Mindset vs a Growth Mindset?

To understand the differences, the chart I developed below, which I made as I read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success should be helpful.

Fixed Mindset

Growth Mindset

1. Intelligence, Interpersonal Skills, Character and Competence are mostly fixed. I am who I am. 1. Intelligence, Interpersonal Skills, Character and Competence can grow though effort. I can learn and change.
2. Proud of my innate abilities (things come easily to me) or afraid of people finding out how deficient I really am (so I have to prove myself over and over and over). 2. Honest and fairly accurate self-evaluation, I understand my areas of weaknesses and strengths accurately.
3. I try to avoid problems so I don't look foolish. Mistakes reflect badly on me. 3. I embrace problems to solve as an opportunity to learn and to grow. I don't worry too much about mistakes, knowing they are a part of learning.
4. Low level of self-control in stressful situations. I tend toward revenge. 4. High level of self-control in stressful situations. I tend toward forgiveness.
5. I feel I shouldn't need to try so hard. 5. I like the struggle of continual learning, even with the failures.
6. I focus on improving my weaknesses. 6. I focus on improving my strengths.
7. Non-learners 7. Learners
8. People with natural talent shouldn't need to put forth so much effort. 8. Success comes from hard work.
9. I do what I feel like doing or I mostly do what I'm told. 9. I make plans to change things.
  What a Growth Mindset is not:
  Not just positive thinking, failures are anticipated and embraced.
  Not just working harder, proving one's self worth over and over is such hard work.
  Not a quick fix, it's a process of self-transformation.

Why is it risky to even try to develop a Growth Mindset?

Many people, especially those raised in the current education system in America that focuses on self-esteem, live with a sense that they are naturally good at a few things. Everyone knows that naturals aren't supposed to put forth much effort. Accomplishments just come easy to those of us with natural talents and abilities. So if you've been raised with some of this nonsense consistently shoved in your direction, you probably believe, at some deep level, that you really shouldn't have to try too hard. That it isn't becoming to a person of your talents.

In the wonderful movie Chariots of Fire, the sprinter Harold Abrahams (who hires a professional coach) laments the English tradition of expecting excellence without effort. He correctly points out that no one excels without effort, it's just a destructive myth.

There is another reason you may hesitate to put forth effort. If you fail, you are then without excuse. If your self-esteem comes from this sense of your natural ability, you can do little, but feel like a natural who just doesn't bother to try. But if you really put forth effort, if you really try your best and fail, you risk having to consider that you aren't really a natural. You have to look at yourself differently, more critically. Most of us don't want that hassle.

So before you embrace the growth mindset, think deeply about what has held you back thus far.

How do I develop a Growth Mindset?

Start by defining success as doing your best. Let go of arbitrary measures of self-worth and begin to value your efforts. Pay attention to learning. Make it a priority to learn, to truly understand, to improve.  Realize that regardless of your age or circumstance, you can transform yourself.

Then realize that you need to look at mistakes and failures differently. You must learn to embrace failures. Learn from your mistakes, be motivated to do better next time because of what you learned. Setbacks should be a wake-up call for changing your approach.

Finally, make a plan to improve and stick to it. Remember to consider how you will fail and recover. Don't expect your talent or your will to carry you through the difficulties. Remember that you are a work in progress, not a finished project. Try not to lament the things that didn't go well or blame others, just go back to your plan and try again.

The change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset isn't about picking up a few's a lifelong quest. You will need to struggle to see everything in a new way. So try your best, don't worry about failing and make you plan. You'll be glad you did.

If this approach connects with you, I encourage you to read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Dr Dweck provides so many helpful and motivational examples. When I completed the book, I summarized it with "Learn something every day, then keep building on what you learn".

What is the Secret of Success?

As a young man working in construction, I came across this concept of the secret of success. Over 25 years I’ve found it to be one of the most useful concepts I’ve ever learned. When I teach classes, I ask Construction Supervisors and wannabe Construction Supervisors, “What is the Secret of Success?”

How would you answer? Hard work? Choosing your parents carefully? Luck?

We can agree hard work is a component of success, but we’ve all seen people that worked tremendously hard and weren’t successful.

Being born into a family that provides solid teaching, helps you develop good habits and creates connections for schooling and jobs certainly is a huge benefit, but lots of people with great families have disappointing lives.

Of course luck plays a role in success, but it’s not the central role.
The answer is surprisingly simple.

The Secret of Success is…
Successful People Do the Things Unsuccessful People Don't Want to Do and Won't Do.

Study any successful person and you'll see this statement proved. You've got to do the hard work to be successful. Successful people consistently do the tasks that they’d rather not do. They work hard, but they work hard doing the hard things.
I probably should define what I'm calling success. Successful people achieve their goals and live with joy, they learn and they grow. So I don't consider wealth or power a necessary sign of success, though they often are.
The secret of success has helped me tremendously through my life. So many times I look at a task before me and just don't feel like doing it. It would be easier and more fun to just not do it. Maybe that could be the slogan for couch potatoes, "Just don't do it!"
But I think about this principle of success, then, often, I do what I don't feel like doing. In most cases I'm glad, after I get started, that I made that choice. I'm almost always glad after the task is done. So, having this truth clear helps me decide how to live, what to actually do, every day.
Let’s look at an example. Say a young Construction Supervisor named Pete works as foreman for a general contractor for a 3 story office building project. As any foreman knows, there are more things to do than hours in the day to get them done. Questions from the crews, bickering between trades, dealing with an Owner who can’t make decisions and a host of other tasks fill the day.

As the footings are starting to go in, the structural steel shop drawings arrive. Now the shop drawings have been reviewed by the project manager in the office and by the structural engineer, so they don’t really need to be carefully reviewed. Pete struggles to understand steel shop drawings anyway and really dislikes sitting down and trying to check each measurement.

Pete knows he doesn’t want to carefully check those steel shop drawings. He knows he doesn’t really have to. Yet he also knows that the entire project will go better if he takes the time to truly understand those drawings. He may catch an error that was missed by others and avoid the footings being put in wrong. Or the study of the shop drawings may allow him to understand something about the sequence of steel erection before it becomes a problem with a crane and crew of guys all waiting.

Pete thinks about the concept that the The Secret of Success is…
Successful People Do the Things Unsuccessful People Don't Want to Do and Won't Do.

Pete takes the time, puts in the effort and reviews those shop drawings. He develops the habit of doing the things he knows he should do, even when he doesn’t want to. Construction Company owners and managers love to see this kind of response and reward it. It’s simply in their best interests to do so.

Please think about this The Secret of Success as you work this week. Remember that
Successful People Do the Things Unsuccessful People Don't Want to Do and Won't Do.

Why is Communication to Important?

I've worked with lots of great people in the construction industry, some Superintendents, some Construction Company Owners, some Trade Foreman. Those that did a great job always excelled at communication. Different guys used different approaches, but they always got the point across clearly. You never walked away from a conversation thinking, "Now what did he really say? What did he want?"

The construction business provides so many challenges, so many opportunities to screw things up. The project nature of the business, with each job being unique and having challenges never exactly handled before, makes communication so important. The Construction Supervisor acts as leader on the jobsite and needs to lead with a good plan and clear communication.

Otherwise, as my former boss Ed Abel would say, "You've got monkeys screwing a football." Or words to that effect. 


Words, Tone of Voice or Body Language: What Matters?

When we communicate, we use words, tone of voice and body language. Studies, repeated often over the years, show the relative importance of each of these items in communication. When you try to get a point across to someone on the jobsite, which of those items do you pay attention to? Most of us would say we focus almost completely on our words. We need to try to clearly say what needs to be done.

The surprising conclusion of studies, though, shows the following:

  1. Words convey 7% of the communication that occurs.
  2. Tone of voice conveys 13% of the communication that occurs.
  3. Body language conveys 80% of the communication that occurs.

 If you take some time to think about the above, if you watch how those close to you talk, their tone of voice, and their body language, you'll begin to see the truth in the studies. Here are a few things to think about regarding body language:

  1. Eye contact: while it varies dramatically from one culture to another, in America lack of eye contact tends to make us feel that the other person isn't being honest or warm.
  2. Distance: move in close to make a point more strongly, but get too close and it comes off as pushy or rude. Deep feelings of fear of attack often come into play, though many people aren't aware of the feelings specifically, just having a vague sense of discomfort.
  3. Posture: it's amazing how much others read from our posture. Next time you're feeling a bit blue, look at how you're standing or sitting.
  4. Head position: a tilted head indicates friendliness, while straight on shows seriousness.
  5. Mouth: I just saw John Stewart on the Daily Show lampoon ex New York governor Eliot Spitzer for trying to show contrition for his prostitute fling by biting his lip so deeply it looked like he was going to swallow his head. People also purse their lips and twist them, showing various emotions.

So these are just a few body language items to consider. If you're interested, these 18 tips to improve your body language will help you better understand.

Who is Responsible for Effective Communication?

Start by thinking about with whom you must communicate. You tell tradesmen what needs to get done. You review changes with Design Professionals. You cover all sorts of things with the Project Owner. You talk with your Project Manager about progress and problems. You better be talking with your boss, convincing him just how wonderful you are and how he needs to fight for a good raise in you wages. Then you might want to have a life outside work, communicating with spouse, buddies, etc.

So lots of communication is going on, but who's responsible to make sure it's effective? How do you make sure that the message you want sent actually gets received and understood? How do you understand and be understood?

If you think about the process of communication, you realize there's a message, a sender and a receiver. Let's assume you try to communicate a message to the Design Professional, say that his drawings neglected to take gravity into account at one location. Who is responsible for the effective communication to happen? You, as the sender, are 100% responsible. You need to make sure that the Architect understands exactly what you are saying.

The thing to remember here is that the Architect also holds 100% responsibility, as the receiver, to achieve effective communication. So both the sender and the receiver are 100% responsible to assure effective communication. Too often, we put forth a meager effort to get our point across, then expect the other person to work hard to understand it. We put forth a 50% effort, the receiver does the same and poor communication happens. So remember the concept, you are 100% responsible to make sure effective communication occurs. You can't always make the other party actually do the work, but often you can. Below are a worthwhile things to remember about good communication in construction.

Begin by realizing that listening takes effort, it's hard and valuable work. Most people listen poorly. Determine to turn yourself into an excellent become someone who really hears and understands what other people are trying to say.

Learn to take notes. One of the first things I instruct a new Construction Supervisor to do is carry a note pad and pen. This business just entails too much complexity to trust memory. Also, the simple step of writing something down greatly aids in your understanding. You are forced to summarize and restate in  writing. You are much more likely to ask questions, which really improve effective communication, if you write some notes.

Finally, a communication tip that focuses more on construction, try to agree to clearly defined action items. So many times our communication in construction involves trying to get something done. Vague agreements don't work. Learn to clearly state what someone is going to do and when they will do it. This simple step will greatly increase your effectiveness as a communicator and as a Construction Supervisor.

Why Should I Learn about Personality Types?

If you treat everyone the same way, you're probably not too successful. Effective people understand that they need to deal with others in a way that works. I do projects for one Owner who makes quick decisions, fires off praises and criticisms swiftly and is smart enough to understand most situations immediately. Now I'm an Engineer by background, I like to provide lots of data to prove my points. If I act that way with this Owner, I just annoy him. He wants the information quickly, with an analysis and recommendation so he can make a decision and get on with his life.

Please understand, this guy isn't a jerk, he's a great guy to work with. He just has what I call a "Type D, Demanding Driver" personality. So when I deal with him, I filter my communications through this Type D lens. I think about how I will tell him things before I'm standing in front of him. I'm prepared to get right to the details and get 'er done.

On the other hand, some one who wants lots of data and time to reflect will need to be dealt with differently. The ability to read personality styles and use that information to effectively communicate will be valuable for your and your company. Take the time to evaluate the information below.

What are the Four Personality Types?

My high school yearbook lists my likes as “sex and money” and my dislikes as “promiscuity and materialism.” I still laugh when I read that and consider how well it describes my personality. Apart from being a wise guy (which apparently I’m not going to grow out of), I still struggle with the way I am vs. the way I ought to be. By studying personality styles, though, I gain some clues as to why I act the way I act.

Over the years I examined many different personality systems, such as “The DISC Personality Profile,” “Myers-Briggs Type Indicator,” Get a Life Without the Strife by Fred and Florence Littauer, The Six Thinking Hats by Edward deBono, etc. I developed my own simple Basic Personality guidelines for your use based on the DISC model.

A Type D personality (Demanding Driver) pushes to get things done. Type D’s dominate relationships; they usually have a strong sense of what needs to be done and move boldly to accomplish the goal. Stubborn and impatient, Type D’s don’t have time to fool around. They want things done and they want things done NOW! The hard-nosed boss is a classic Type D personality.

The Type I personality (Invigorating Influencer) concerns himself less with what gets done and more with having a good time doing it. The Type I is the people person, the social director of any group. With spirit and enthusiasm, Type I personalities want to have fun and usually expect the best of others. The downside of a Type I personality is the tendency to be nave, haphazard and unpredictable. The successful salesperson is a classic Type I personality.

The Type S personality (Sensitive Sustainer) wants everyone to be happy and stress-free. They are often the nice people in our lives, the people who care about the feelings of others. Gentle and cautious, the Type S personality generally is also a good listener. Type S people have a tendency to worry and to be timid. The caring counselor is a classic Type S personality.

The Type C personality (Calculating Controller) wants things to be clear and precise. They want everything to be done properly. An analytical group, Type C’s love details and accuracy. They have a tendency to be fussy, suspicious of those not like them, and overly-critical. The engineer or accountant is a classic Type C personality.

Think about how people make decisions. A Type D (Demanding Driver) person makes quick decisions, based on gut-feelings. The Type I (Invigorating Influencer) person considers which option will be the most fun; the decisions also tend to be intuitive. The Type S (Sensitive Sustainer) person must be sure how the decision will affect everyone else; no one must be hurt by the decision. The Type C (Calculating Controller) person wants more information and more data; decisions are careful, deductive and slow.

So try to learn your personality type and the personality style of those with whom you work.  You will be a lot more effective and you will go further.  Understand that lots of good supervisors are Type “D” personalities, but you do not have to be a “D” to be a good supervisor.  You can be a great supervisor with any personality type.

How do I Deal with Different Personality Types?

As an engineer and building contractor, I routinely work with many different building owners. I’ve learned to pay attention to the building owner’s personality type as I struggle to obtain the many decisions to design and construct a building. When working with a Type D (Demanding Driver) owner, I have all the information summarized and quickly explain the options. Usually, I do not even write it down because they don’t want to take the time to read. I can count on a quick decision from a Type D and know he will stand behind it.

With a Type I (Invigorating Influencer) owner, the presentation counts for much more. The Type I owner wants to see enthusiasm for the recommended option. It is easy to get a quick decision from a Type I; the problem is that it is just as easy for them to change their minds in the future.

The Type S (Sensitive Sustainer) owner tends to agonize over every decision in order to keep everybody happy. I have learned to expect Type S owners to get the opinions of others on most decisions, so I am prepared with information that is simple to pass on.

The Type C (Calculating Controller) owner wants all the available data to analyze for every single decision. When I need a decision from a Type C owner, I come prepared with a written analysis and every performance chart and graph I can find. I then expect to wait for all this information to be digested and more information to be requested.

So how can you use this concept in your life? First, determine your own personality type. Quickly read through Work-sheets #9 and #10 and go with your first response on the answers. Determine if you strongly fit one of the four personality types or if you tend to be a combination of two or three of them. Write your thoughts in the margin. Next, consider the personality types of a few people you know well. You will remember the personality types better if you can think of someone who is a good example of each.

Let’s consider a situation where knowing personality styles could help you. Perhaps your boss drives you crazy. Nothing you do meets his standards, and you find him to be picky, inefficient and irritating. You strive to do your job well, and you see your boss as a hindrance. An understanding of personality styles could go far in actually resolving your problem. (Remember, your options are: 1. continue to be miserable. 2. find another job. or 3. solve the problem.)

In reading the personality profiles above, you determine that you are a Type D (Demanding Driver). You look to do things efficiently, quickly and move on to the next task. You are good at what you do, and you know it; you just want to do your job. Your boss, on the other hand, clearly acts like a Type C (Calculating Controller). Everything has to be perfect, and he always wants more details.

Can you see the steps that would diffuse the situation? As a Type D employee, you are struggling to get along with your Type C boss. The solution involves redefining what a completed task means to you. In order to have a completed task, you must provide the level of detail that satisfies your boss. By defining your job tasks from the beginning in a way that will satisfy your boss, you will probably resolve this problem without major effort or aggravation.

To summarize, if you want to get along with your boss, just understand that he needs more detail than you do. With little effort or aggravation, you can provide your boss with the extra information. As so often happens, the problem can be solved easily after it is understood clearly.
Since I have been paying attention to personality types for years, I can attest to their usefulness in day-to-day living. When you identify an individual’s personality profile, you can better predict how that person will react in different situations. You gain a higher level of understanding in that relationship.

On the other hand, some people simply do not fit the personality profiles. For example, artistic people tend not to fit any of the categories. Please don’t try to label every person with a personality type, for you will have gone beyond the usefulness of the concept. Use the personality types where they seem to fit. Used wisely this tool will be valuable in your own life and as you relate to others.

Why is Construction a Business of Conflict?

Anyone working in construction understands that conflict co-exists with the business. Whether we build a simple hut or a huge building, we always have some conflict. Things like:

  1. Different concepts on the best design
  2. Varying interpretations of the controlling building code
  3. Unexpected soil or sub-surface conditions
  4. Different ideas on the best way to get a task done
  5. Unexpected weather conditions
  6. Multiple trades trying (or not trying) to work together
  7. Owners changing their minds, Architects changing their minds, Engineers changing their minds, GCs changing their minds

That's a short list that could easily be made longer, but hopefully one you could relate to. You understand that doing construction will always involve conflict.  I’m not a person who loves conflict.  In fact, I avoid it when I can. If I can quickly talk my way out of a conflict,  I will. But I've learned that many conflicts are important, often presenting great opportunities.

So take some time to learn about various strategies to handle conflicts. Practice techniques and pay attention. You'll find more opportunities in these annoying conflicts than you ever dreamed possible.

So conflicts can be great opportunities, but conflicts can also be huge time wasters. Conflict triangles can easily become one of your biggest wastes of time. Think of two young siblings having an argument. Usually it won't take long for one of those kids to try to drag the nearest parent into the conflict. The kid presents only his side of the story to the parent and tries to include the parent to up his chances of winning. What was a conflict between two kids, now becomes a conflict triangle involving an unwitting parent.

Since we're just one big, happy family on the jobsite, we also have this family dynamic of conflict triangles. Can you think of a time when someone tried to bring you into an argument that you didn't need to be in? It happens all the time. You can learn to see these conflict triangles for the gross time wasters that they are and steer clear of them. So the next time someone, whether a co-worker, a friend or a child, tries to pull you into a dispute (often with some innocent sounding question) learn to stop and think about the true nature of the situation. When appropriate, just tell them to work it out themselves. Make a conscious decision whether you want to be in that conflict or not. It's a simple technique that can greatly improve your life.

Should I Cooperate or Compete?

When we consider cooperating and competing, we benefit by understanding a few common scenarios. The chart below helps us understand and name various methods of  resolving conflicts.

We've all heard of win-win, but let's not start there. Turns out that win-win is a bit more complicated than most people think. Let's start with the idea of win/lose.

So, in this particular conflict, I'm going to try to win and to make you lose. Say I'm a carpenter foreman and I have a crew working in certain area of the building. The electrical foreman comes by and says his guys need to be in that area and we need to work somewhere else. Because of the nature of the work, both crews can't work in that space at the same time. We have a classic win/lose scenario set up here. Either I'm going to stand my ground and win, as in, "We are already working there, when we're done, you can have the area" or I'm going to give in, "Go ahead and work there, we'll go someplace else" and lose.

Why might I push for the win in this situation? Why would I go for the win/lose.

  1. The work my crew is doing in that area is important to be done now.
  2. I don't want the inefficiency of re-staging at another area.
  3. The electrical foreman is a jerk, if I give in to him, he'll just take more.
  4. I have a reputation to keep, I'm not letting anyone push me around.

Why might I decide to cooperate? Why would I go for the lose/win?

  1. It's easy for my crew to move (minimal lost time) and I know it's important for the electricians to be in that space.
  2. I hate conflict, I just don't want to hassle with it.
  3. I want to be seen as a team player on the jobsite.

Most people think about conflict resolution as this simple version of win/lose (I win and you lose) or lose/win (I lose and you win). It's like eating a cake together. There is only so much cake, so the more you get, the less I get. For some simple conflicts, it really does come down to that fact that either you win or I win.

Lots of Construction Supervisors operate their entire careers using only these options. They compete constantly, always push to win and leave a trail of aggravated and abused people behind them. No matter how smart or tough they are, though, they will find themselves in positions where they need help, a favor, or some cooperation that can't be forced, then it becomes payback time. It gets personal and it gets ugly.

 That's why I'm a big fan of solving different conflicts differently. If we understand the various ways to resolve a conflict and choose the appropriate method for each conflict we face, we will respect and loyalty on the jobsite, not just fear. We've looked at win/lose and lose/win, let's consider the rest of the options.

Why would we ever want to use a lose/lose resolution. Say you think a certain course of action should probably be Plan A and someone else adamantly thinks Plan B is the way to proceed. You have the authority to make the choice, but you're not real sure that Plan A is best. You could decide to put off the choice till a future time. It's a lose/lose, but might be the best decision. With the passage of some time, one option may become clearly the best.

As an aside, lose/lose also gets practiced often for revenge. I don't care if it hurts me as long as it also hurts you. I try to avoid revenge (it's just not efficient), but be aware that it's a common way to resolve conflicts.

We all understand how to use compromise. I get part of what I want and you get part of what you want. Compromise is often easy and relatively quick, not involving much real conflict. I tend to use it too often, because it's easy and quick and doesn't involve much real conflict.

Compromise works well for simple problems that don't matter that much. Sometimes a quick resolution and keeping everything moving ahead is the best result. Compromise is bad, though, when we should have put more effort into trying to find a true win/win solution.

So what does win/win mean? Think back to the splitting of the cake scenario above, to the concept that if you get 60% of the cake, I only get 40%. I win/win solution involves finding more cake. Sometimes you can get another cake just by knowing who to ask. Win/win solutions require creativity. To move toward a win/win solution, learn to reframe the problem. If you want to use the backhoe right now and I want to also, the only solutions available are win/lose or lose/win. Reframe the problem by expanding your thinking.

  1. Is the backhoe the best piece of equipment for either of us to use?
  2. What other equipment is available?
  3. Think about the schedule critical path.
  4. How do the options change if someone else gets the credit for the solution?
  5. Think cooperation, alternate solutions, creative options.

Obviously, win/win solutions don't just appear, they come from someone putting forth some effort and being creative. The win/win resolution to a conflict, however, is where we find the opportunity I mentioned above.

Learn the different conflict resolution strategies and use each one when appropriate. Go for win/lose when the issue is too important to concede. A safety concern may just need the firm answer of "Just do it my way." Consider accommodating others with a lose/win when you can afford to give a little. Know that there is a time for lose/lose, a time when no action may be best. Compromise, but not as your default response to every dispute. Finally, decide when it's worth putting forth the effort for win/win.

How do I Go for Win-Win Solutions?

Let's consider an example of a conflict that got resolved with a win-win resolution. As I write this, I'm working as Project Manager on a bunch of 4 story wood frame apartment buildings. The Project Owner recently noted that he's not happy with the fiberglass batt insulation on the first floors. Since we needed to go to a double 2 x 6 wood stud on the first floor to carry the four story load, the batt insulation doesn't fit well between the studs.

The Owner suggested we consider a spray insulation or some other option. Now I'm responsible to try to control costs on the project and wasn't thrilled about extra costs for something that seemed, "Good enough" to me. But this wasn't a good time to use the lose-lose avoidance type strategy, as the Owner pays me to handle these type of things.

The situation seemed even trickier because the Insulation Contractor had changed personnel and we'd been complaining to them about poor customer service from their office. They just assigned a new salesman/estimator to work with us. So I called him, explained the situation and looked for options. He really came up with the creative solution, the win-win that added more cake to the situation.

He decided not to just price an adder for the extra work. He came to the project and field measured what his firm was really being asked to insulate and found it to be substantially less than they had included in their estimate. He proposed we change to the blown insulation on the first floor, add some more insulation in the attic and still brought the overall project cost down.

You may say, "Well, he could have had a windfall profit, but he shared some of that when he didn't have to." And you'd be right. But you have to look to a longer time line to see his win in this deal. This was the first time I dealt with this guy. I wasn't expecting much, since I was almost asking for a favor when I didn't even know him, I didn't have any foundation of good experiences with him.

There's an old saying, "You only have one opportunity to make a good first impression." The simple reading of that proverb has to do with the first time you meet someone. It's true that a firm handshake and good eye contact help create an important first impression. But my work observations and experiences indicate a different way to interpret that old saw. I've found that the most important and lasting impression comes the first time some one asks me to do a task for them. If I can get that first requested task done quickly, cheerfully and well, I am forever after considered an effective person who gets things done. I've felt this proved many times in my life.

So this new Insulation sales and estimating guy showed me that he wasn't just good at what he did, but he was honest. We was willing to look after my interest as he looked after his own. Unless he proves otherwise to me, I'll forever see him as an effective, honest guy that I can trust. I'll have a tendency to give him work, to give him the benefit of the doubt from now on. So, he may have passed up a small extra profit, but he gained credibility with me that will pay dividends.

In this win-win example, I didn't have to be the creative one. Most times, though, I'm in the middle of the dispute, trying to broaden the question, think about the problem differently, poke and prod others to consider other options and just pushing for the location of that extra cake.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Daniel Goleman wrote a best selling book titled Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than Your IQ. He explains the concept well in the following quote:

In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels…The emotional mind is far quicker than the rational mind, springing into action without pausing even a moment to consider what it is doing.

Most of us can relate to this idea of "Book smarts" and "People smarts". We know people that are extremely intelligent, did well in school, but are lost when dealing with people. We also know those who did poorly in school, yet have the knack of working with others to get things done.

Briefly stated, emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage emotions: your own and others. A person with high emotional intelligence would be competent at the following:

  1. Self awareness – knowing your emotions
  2. Self control – managing your emotions
  3. Motivation – delaying gratification and controlling impulsiveness
  4. Empathy – recognizing emotions in others
  5. Relationships – influencing others toward positive outcomes

The competencies listed above are skills. You can learn and improve these different skills. It's true some people are naturally good at them, but you can absolutely improve from your current state. As in most life changes, a clear goal and plan will help you improve your emotional intelligence skills.

What are the Primary Emotions?

For many years, psychologists studied emotions and disagreed on how to categorize them. The hundreds of human emotions overlap and do not easily group together. Rather than tackling all the complexity of a complete model of emotions, we can obtain value from a simple, common-sense approach. We will use a basic model of eight primary emotions:

  1. Anger
  2. Joy
  3. Fear
  4. Love
  5. Sadness
  6. Surprise
  7. Shame
  8. Disgust

The first letter for each emotion can be remembered by the following saying, “A Jolly Farmer Loves Singing Some Silly Ditties.” Anger, Joy, Fear, Love, Sadness, Surprise, Shame and Disgust.

Thinking about emotions in theory bores most of us. Recalling some of our own powerful emotions, on the other hand, can be fascinating. Take the opportunity, now, to recall some of your most vivid emotions, struggle to recall the power of past emotions.

As I think about my various emotions, I remembered a funny incident which included almost every emotion. Alexey suggested we go on a Saturday afternoon bicycle ride, so away we pedaled on a beautiful, sunny day. We were speeding down a steep hill with the wind in our faces. I could coast much faster than he could, so I got up over the crest of the next hill and lost sight of him briefly. What I did see, however, was a big, old dead groundhog lying in the middle of the road with all four legs sticking up in the air. I had an idea! Jumping off my bike, I laid down next to that groundhog and assumed a similar “dead groundhog position.”

Lex rode over the crest of the hill and saw me lying on the road, on my back with my legs in the air. “Dad, are you alright?” he gasped. Then he looked at the groundhog. Then he looked at me again. Then he understood! He burst out laughing, as did I. He said, “Man, I was worried when I first came over that hill and saw you. I didn’t know what happened.” We continued to laugh as we enjoyed the rest of our long bicycle ride.

Can you see some of the emotions in the story? I remember the sense of joy as we rode down the steep hill with the wind and sun on our faces. When I saw the dead groundhog, I experienced surprise and disgust in quick succession. Then I felt the joy of my prank. Lex feared for me upon first sight, then felt the mixed emotions of surprise, disgust, joy and love. I was a little ashamed that my prank had worried Lex, but mostly we both felt this strong bond of love. When I feel that love for our children, I also feel sadness, knowing how relationships change with time.

Everyone experiences these emotions, yet few think about them. Be one of the few!

What are Emotional Hijackings?

Debby, the kids and I drove from Pennsylvania to Atlanta to attend the 1996 Summer Olympics. We had planned the trip for two years and had a packed itinerary. The first leg of the trip was a nine-hour drive to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee.

The children seemed to be constantly arguing, and I was stressed about all the details of the trip. On the second day, as we were driving through the magnificent beauty of the National Park, the kids were yelling and slapping at each other. I felt my lousy mood intensify.

I bellowed, “That’s enough!” at the top of my lungs as I slammed on the brakes and shoved the transmission into “park.” Unfortunately, I put the vehicle into “park” while we were still moving and that only made me madder. I jumped out, ran around the minivan and jerked open the sliding door.

“I am sick and tired of your constant fighting and bickering! It ends and it ends now!” At that moment, Anna began to giggle, ever so slightly. I went nuts! “YOU THINK THIS IS FUNNY? ARE YOU TRYING TO MAKE A FOOL OUT OF ME?” I grabbed her arm and squeezed hard. Anna started to cry as the other two looked on in shock (this was not behavior they typically saw from Dad). Not a word was spoken as I got back into the car and drove to the motel.

As I drove, I calmed down, and my rational thinking began to work again. Anna’s behavior that pushed me over the edge had not been a disrespectful laugh; it had been a nervous giggle. Anna was the sensitive, peacemaker of the group and did not deserve the treatment she had received. I did apologize, but we all knew I had allowed my bad mood to go too far.

The phrase “Emotional Hijacking” describes this type of behavior. I had allowed my strong emotions to take complete control of me for a short time. My rational thinking system seemed to just shut down, and I let my emotions totally dictate my actions. I did exactly what I felt like doing. And I was thoroughly ashamed of the result.

Most of us can relate to the concept of an emotional hijacking; we have experienced the rush of full-blown anger or fear or even joy. Most of us, at times, simply give in to a strong emotion and let it dictate our actions. Can you recall any emotional hijackings in your life?

I have known people who seemed to let their emotions completely control their responses in almost every situation. These folks are rarely boring, but can be a challenge. On the other hand, I have known people who seem to be devoid of emotions. They are always in control, but are deadly dull.

An over-reliance on our emotions leads to many life problems. When we give in to our emotional hijackings, we are rarely proud of our behavior. On the other hand, an under-reliance on emotions keeps us from living life to its fullest. To live without ever having experienced anger, joy, fear, love, sadness, surprise, shame and disgust is to barely live at all. So how do we find a happy medium? How do we obtain the maximum benefit from our emotions without going out of control?

Simply stated, we manage our thinking process just as we manage other areas of our lives. We need to learn to identify our emotions and use them productively. We can significantly improve our relationships with others by understanding and managing our own emotions.

Why Should I Care about Time Management?

Everybody wastes time, it's part of being human. We can't always be fully productive, we need to relax, reduce tension, etc. For most effective people, though, relaxing seems like a good investment of their time.

The feeling of wasting time, on the other hand, rarely feels good. Wasting time feels unproductive. I hate that feeling when I know I should be doing something else, often that I'd rather be doing something else, but I'm stuck doing what I'm doing. When I ask Construction Supervisors what wastes their time, I hear answers like visitors, telephone calls, waiting for material or contractors, crisis that arise, being disorganized, not being able to say no, procrastinating, lack of interest, gossip, unnecessary perfectionism, etc. Not all those things are bad. Most of the items in that list must be dealt with, one way or another. The trick it to develop tactics to handle these sorts of items without feeling like someone else is wasting your time.

You can feel better about yourself and your work day by being aware of time wasters. Plan how you will handle some of your typical time wasters. For example, you may have tool salesmen stopping by your project frequently. Since these guys work on commission, they chat you up and waste too much of your time. Perhaps you could schedule a regular meeting with the salesman and let him know it can't go beyond 15 minutes. Or maybe you could do your tool shopping online and eliminate the meeting with the tool salesman altogether.

People often say that they do not have enough time, but we all have 24 hours in a day. We all have the same amount of time, we just choose differently how to use it. I find the concept of invested time vs. wasted time helpful. When I feel that frustration that comes from wasting time, when I realize I should be doing something more important or more fun, I try to exercise the self-control to better manage myself and my time. I try to look at the block of time I'm in as something to be invested. Do I really want to continue what I'm doing? Do I want to be frustrated by wasting time or feel better about investing my time in something that matters to me? Anyway, that's the tape loop that runs through my head that often motivates me to change some behaviors.

What are the Urgent and the Important?

Urgent items require your immediate attention. A telephone ringing wants answering right away. A knock on the door has someone standing outside waiting for you. Your boss says you're required to be at a meeting at 9am. An accident occurs on your project and someone gets seriously hurt. All these items are urgent. They seem to require you to act right away. But how many of those items are important? The answer, of course, is it depends.

If the phone call comes from a telemarketer, it's not important and could go into voice mail, never to be returned or waste your time. On the other hand, if your wife calls to say she's going into labor, that's an urgent and important call. An accident on your jobsite will always be both urgent and important. You need to respond immediately.

Important items move you toward your ultimate goals. If you don't know your goals or what you're trying to accomplish, you'll struggle to determine what's important. Most people spend all their time and energy on urgent items, rarely considering if those items are truly important. That strategy may deliver a disappointing life. Don't live your entire life, then look back on it with sorrow for how you lived. That's such a sad idea.

Decide what's important in your life right now, then live in a way that focuses on the important. You will always have to deal with the urgent, just don't let the important get lost.

How do I Better Manage My Time?

The first element in a successful time management plan usually involves gathering data. If you write down what you're doing every 15 minutes for a few days, you'll get a great idea of how you really spend your time. If you're willing to put forth the effort to monitor a few days of time spent, I guarantee you'll be surprised with some of the things you learn.

Most people, when they really watch how they spend their time, become motivated to manage time better. While the managing of time wasters helps our time management, we also need tactics for getting the most out of our productive time. To do lists are the most common tool used.

At the beginning of each day, you write down the things you want to get done. That to do list can be a powerful tool, the "ABC" concept makes it more powerful. Category "A" tasks need to get done, they are important and should be done first. Category "B" tasks also need done, but not right away. Finally, a "C" task is not that important but needs to be completed. The simple step of marking your to do list with "ABCs" turns it into a prioritized to do list, a much more effective tool for time management.

When scheduling your own day:

  1. Know your most productive time of the day and use it well
  2. Avoid over-commitment...learn to say no to the urgent, know what's really important to you
  3. Take some quiet time to think every day
  4. Continually ask, "What is the best use of my time right now?"

Why is What I Know about Motivation Probably Wrong?


If you've ever studied economics or business or taken a class in supervision, you've been taught the basics of motivation. If we reward a certain behavior, we get more of that behavior. If we punish, we get less. It works for teaching Shamus to jump through a fiery hope, so it must work for people, right?

Turns out, many recent studies show that larger rewards can lead to worse performance...especially for creative and cognitive work. The best companies thrive by implementing this knowledge. I've built buildings for some of them and marveled at how they treated their people. Now I understand the theory behind the management.

Regarding money, it's still true that too little money demotivates. The secret seems to be to pay enough so the issue of money is taken off the table. Employees should be well paid, but producing great results that clearly warrant their salary.

So how do we manage to do that? The video below explains the process beautifully. When you have 10 minutes, watch it and take notes.

The three keys to motivation appear to be Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Let's expand that a bit.

1. <strong>Autonomy: </strong>People want to be self-directed. They want to do something worthwhile. It's our job as managers and supervisors to help them remove the barriers to their best performance.

2. <strong>Mastery:</strong> People want to get better at things. Whether practicing the guitar on weekends or writing articles for Wikipedia, people love that feeling of improvement.

3. <strong>Purpose:</strong> We all understand that we need to help our employer make a profit, but that doesn't highly motivate most of us. When our work goes toward a larger purpose, our motivation grows.

I watched this video with my friend Randy, an amazing carpenter who grew to hate commercial construction work. He loved the message of the video. Randy recalled jerk bosses who tried to tell him exactly how to do things that he knew how to do better. He talked about how his mastery of the trade was so often discouraged and demeaned in the name of production (even though I know he got more done, and done right, than almost any carpenter I've worked with).

If you supervise or manage people in construction, think deeply about these three keys to motivation. Try to limit the old carrot and stick approach and move toward a method that works better. It will help you, it will help your employees and it will help the world.

By the way, a hat tip to John Poole and his blog <a href="">Constructonomics: A construction industry blog that digs below bedrock</a>. He's a good writer and a thoughtful guy.

Why Do I Need to Train Myself?


The Construction Industry does a poor job of training people to move up the ranks. 50 years ago, the fellow with the most self motivation would reach out, on his own, to learn the helpful skills to move into supervision or management. He'd watch how his bosses acted and start acting that way. So many things have changed in the past 50 years, but training in construction hasn't kept pace.

Certainly some firms do a good job of spotting potential construction supervisors and developing training that helps them realize their potential. From what I've seen, though, few firms actually do this. Most of the efforts in construction seem to be focused on getting today's work done. Any extra available time goes into a bit of planning for tomorrow's work.

Rather than moaning about this odd lack of construction supervision training, though, you should see it as an opportunity. If you have the desire and the will to learn, you can develop your skill set substantially. You can make yourself more valuable and get paid better. You may have to change companies to get paid what you deserve, which seems to be one of the reasons construction firms avoid training. I've often heard the old saw, "Why bother to train them, as soon as they get a chance to make $1/hour more, they will jump ship and we've wasted our time and effort."

My advice to you. Train Yourself! Start by understanding that your career (and your income) depend on what you do more than on what your company does. Develop a plan for learning the valuable skills that will make you worth more. Don't expect your employer to be looking after your best interests...take that job on yourself.


How to Understand Perceptions and Choices?


This section will be coming soon. It's based on Steven Covey's Seven Habits for Highly Effective People, so if you can't wait, just read the book.


How to Begin with the End in Mind?


This section will be coming soon. It's based on Steven Covey's Seven Habits for Highly Effective People, so if you can't wait, just read the book.


How to Put First Things First?

This section will be coming soon. It's based on Steven Covey's Seven Habits for Highly Effective People, so if you can't wait, just read the book.


How to Go Win-Win or No Deal?

This section will be coming soon. It's based on Steven Covey's Seven Habits for Highly Effective People, so if you can't wait, just read the book.


How to Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood?

This section will be coming soon. It's based on Steven Covey's Seven Habits for Highly Effective People, so if you can't wait, just read the book.